Five FIS World Cup competitions in 10 days, live music, films, entertainment and a host of on- and off-mountain festivities — that’s the Hongkong Bank Whistler WinterStart, Dec. 4-13. WinterStart is the W5 Whistler Foundation’s revamped concept for what was the Hongkong Bank Whistler Ski Classic. WinterStart includes the men’s World Cup downhill and super G races, as well as FIS snowboard World Cup super G, halfpipe and snowboard-cross events. The new festival, unveiled this week, has a new mandate and will have a very different feel to it from previous World Cup events. Essentially the objective of this year’s festival is to bring Lower Mainland and Seattle residents to Whistler. "The W5 people brought in a facilitator after last year’s event to help define their objectives," says Doug Perry, managing director of WinterStart. "They listed a number of objectives, but when they had to prioritize them and found that increasing visitor traffic was number one." "Our original mandate was to get an international TV show on the air early in the season to create international exposure for the resort," says Don McQuaid, director of marketing for the W5 Whistler Foundation. "Now our mandate is to boost the commercial core of the village." Perry is familiar with the mandate. As chairman of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, held each April, his goal has been to increase visitor traffic in the traditionally slow period following Easter and spring break. The World Ski and Snowboard Festival was a major factor in the 51 per cent increase in hotel room nights sold this past spring, and in the 67 per cent increase in skier visits over the same dates in 1997. "I think December is a really under-developed month. I think it has more potential than April," Perry says. "The overall strategy is to bookend the winter season with Whistler WinterStart in December and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival in April," Perry adds. "Both 10-day blocks will be used to drive resort business in what are traditionally non-peak times." A number of packages and promotions aimed at the Lower Mainland and Seattle markets will be unveiled in the fall which will complement the WinterStart festival. Christmas shopping in Whistler — particularly for Americans who enjoy a favourable exchange rate — will be part of the promotion. Perry and McQuaid, who is president of The Masters Group, are now working out of an office in the village which will be headquarters for both WinterStart and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. They will work with Mark Taylor, who has produced the FIS World Cup snowboard events in Whistler the last two seasons. Peter Webb remains as president of the W5. The festival starts on Friday, Dec. 4. The men’s World Cup downhill will be on Saturday, Dec. 5 and the super G on Sunday, Dec. 6. The snowboard events start with the super G on the bottom of the Dave Murray Downhill on Thursday, Dec. 10. Friday, Dec. 11 is a training day for the halfpipe, which may be on Blackcomb, and Saturday, Dec. 12 will be the halfpipe competition. Sunday, Dec. 13 will be the snowboard-cross event on Blackcomb. The five World Cup events will include four hours of live international broadcasts. While this year’s objective with WinterStart is to reach the regional market, more national and international marketing efforts are planned in future years utilizing corporate partnerships. Perry pointed to the Hongkong Bank of Canada, whose parent company is based in Britain, as a corporate partnership that could be used to expand Whistler’s growing popularity among British skiers. McQuaid added that a recent trip to Toronto to talk with potential corporate partners revealed very strong interest in Whistler and the World Cup events, particularly following Ross Rebagliati’s Olympic victory in snowboarding. "We’re starting to realize what a hot property we have on the national scene," McQuaid says. In addition to live music and premiers of new ski and snowboard films the WinterStart festival will include demo days on the mountains, children’s activities and new programs both on and off the mountains. The People’s Parade and A Taste of Whistler, which were introduced at last year’s Whistler Ski Classic, will also return.