Best of Whistler 2016: Media, arts and culture 

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Best Artist/Artisan: Chili Thom

Whistler is still reeling from the loss of painter, DJ and filmmaker Chili Thom, who passed away after a yearlong fight against cancer on Nov. 30. Voted the resort's Best Artist for 14 years in a row, Thom's landscapes and seascapes are much loved — and a retrospective of his work is planned for the Audain Art Museum in June 2017.

Thom's brother Jeremy says he was aware of Chili's seriousness for his art from his early years as a painter, and of the importance of the break his brother got when his paintings went on display at Sushi Village restaurant.

"Watching his career grow and grow ever since, it is unbelievable how much it grew, even in the last month-and-a-half. Interest in his art has just exploded," Jeremy says. "I wish he was here to see it, but he would be so over the moon with joy about the excitement and interest in his art right now."

Vanessa Stark and Andrea Mueller came second and third in the Best Artist category, respectively.

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Best Art Gallery: Audain Art Museum

Nine months into its existence and the Audain Art Museum is Whistler voters' choice for Best Art Gallery. The Audain's executive director Suzanne Greening says she is proud to receive the honour.

"Every day is a learning curve and exciting. We're thrilled with how we've been welcomed into the community, as well as just getting a tremendous write-up in Trip Advisor," Greening says.

"There are so many people involved in making this place accessible and we can't do it without any of them. We've got an incredible building to work in; we've got an incredible collection. We have this opportunity to present special exhibitions of every type, and we have a dedicated board, an excellent staff team and really wonderful group of volunteers. People have been so excited about this organization."

The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre came second, and Whistler Village Art Gallery was third.

Best art gallery: Audain Art Museum - BRAD KASSELMAN/COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Brad Kasselman/coastphoto.com
  • Best art gallery: Audain Art Museum

Best Local Musical Act: The Hairfarmers

The Hairfarmers has again rocked its way to the top of the best-of podium. Going on previous entries it looks like Grateful Greg and Guitar Doug have won Best Local Musical Act for 16 years in a row; they have been performing together for 18 years.

"Our connection with our fans (we call them 'Farmhands') has deep roots. Our longevity is surely a part of it," Grateful Greg says.

"They have watched us grow as musicians and we've grown alongside them as people. They've seen our ups and downs, and we've seen theirs. They've made us a part of their lives by having us as the soundtrack to their important moments... weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, memorials, mortgage burnings, celebrations of just being alive."

Guitar Doug adds: "There is no distinction between us. Our fans are us, we are not separate. The divine energy coming from our listeners and dancers brings us our muse. In a way, they are the musicians and we are the audience. 

"It's an honour to be able to make a difference through music." 

And 2017 sees the Hairfarmers already booked to perform at the Governor General's Leadership Conference in Ottawa next summer, a wedding in Montreal, and a four-night stand at Burning Man.

Neverland Nights came second, and Ruckus Deluxe placed third.

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Best Arts and Culture Event of 2016: Olympus 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown

The Olympus 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown, part of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF), is a gruelling event, with filmmaking teams rushing to create a five-minute short. The finalists are selected and screened just days later, and the winners are crowned.

It's a popular show, and garnered the most votes for Best Arts and Culture Event.

WSSF organizer Sue Eckersley paid tribute to the hardworking teams and to sponsor Olympus.

"It's an event that is well-loved by the community. It's a real honour to win. I'm really happy," Eckersley says.

"Having Olympus as the sponsor and providing the gear (used to shoot the films) has raised the level as well. It's pretty special."

The winner in 2016, Angie Nolan, had entered the competition 10 times before taking home first prize with her team in April Control Shift.

Nolan said, tongue in cheek: "It's just so much freaking fun forcing yourself to create something that resonates with an audience in 72 hours of no sleep, terrible food choices and questionable hygiene."

The Whistler Film Festival came second, and the Deep Winter Photo Competition came third.

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Best Festival/Party of 2016: Crankworx

It may seem a long way off right now, but the height of mountain-biking summer is the 10-day Crankworx Festival in August — and it was once again selected as Whistler's best festival/party in 2016. There are races, of course, along with clinics and lessons, and plenty of opportunities for some fine, hard riding.

"Crankworx is about the cultural hub of mountain biking so it's more than just the racing," says the festival's general manager Darren Kinnaird.

"It's the photography, the film components, and the nightlife. Everything that makes up mountain biking and would make a really great festival, we're trying to encompass all of them here. It's nice to be recognized for those things."

The 10-day World Ski and Snowboard Festival in April came second, and the dining and drinking extravaganza Cornucopia, which takes place in November, was third.

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Best Place to See a Live Act: Garibaldi lift company

Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC) has been selected as the most popular place to see bands, rappers and DJs in Whistler, and manager Mike Wilson says they take note of the popularity of the acts they bring in and part of their success is bringing those acts back.

"If there's a band that historically has done well, we continue to bring them back... I'd be crazy not to book them if people still want to see them," Wilson says.

"We try to bring in new acts that maybe only some people have heard of, interesting bands that people want to check out. And, of course, the Aussie bands tend to do well. Having so many Australians in town, the turnout is huge."

Whistler Olympic Plaza came a close second, and Garfinkel's was third.

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Best Celebrity Sighting: Justin Trudeau

The buzz started with reports of an official-looking car, accompanied by loads of RCMP officers, zipping up the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver. Sure enough, it was everybody's favourite former snowboard instructor, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Prime Dude has been selected as Whistler's top celebrity sighting for 2016. He and his wife Sophie hit the slopes in February and patiently posed for dozens of selfies throughout their stay. To say they were mobbed is an understatement; it was amazing they got any runs in at all.

And that love was returned from the PM, with Trudeau talking up Whistler at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the same month — telling his audience "that they just have to come to Whistler." Not bad, a good money-spending demographic. He must've been well trained when he worked here.

Song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris was second, and actor Woody Harrelson came third.

click to enlarge Best public art: Welcome Figure Totem - BRAD KASSELMAN/COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Brad Kasselman/coastphoto.com
  • Best public art: Welcome Figure Totem

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Favourite Piece of Public Art: Welcome Figure Totem

Visitors from all over the world flock to Whistler, so it is not surprising that the Welcome Figure Totem by indigenous carvers Aaron Nelson-Moody, Delmar Williams and Todd Edmonds — artists from both First Nations in the region, the Squamish and the Lil'wat — was selected from the dozens of works as this year's Favourite Piece of Public Art. The sculpture features iconic indigenous references, including salmon, and incorporates copper into its cedar structure. The Resort Municipality of Whistler commissioned this totem. It is located on the Village Stroll.

The Whistler Museum Mural on Main Street by painter Kris Kupskay came second, and third place went to A Timeless Circle by Susan Point, located next to the Maury Young Arts Centre.

click to enlarge Best  writer: Feet Banks - SCOTT BRAMMER/COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Scott Brammer/coastphoto.com
  • Best writer: Feet Banks

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Best Whistler Writer: Feet Banks

Feet Banks uses skilled wordsmanship and a few well-placed (and relevant) swearwords to make points in his writing — he has been Pique's film reviewer for years, as well as a filmmaker. And this has brought him glory as this year's Best Whistler Writer; it is 10 years since he last won.

"I generally expect to come second. Max (G.D. Maxwell) has put in the time," Banks says.

"I beat him the year I turned 30, when I quit being a waiter. And now I'm 40! I beat him again. But it's not competitive. Nobody's getting a job because they've won favourite writer, it's just more that it's fun and it's great. It's nice to be recognized, of course, but it's also nice to see other people recognized, too. There are a lot of great writers (in Whistler)."

Max, who has won this honour for his sharp-edged Pique columns year after year, came second, and third place completed the trio and went to Pique news guy and playwright Brandon Barrett.

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Best Photographer: Blake Jorgenson

Blake Jorgenson says he is honoured to win Best Photographer in 2016, especially since the number of photos shot per capita in Whistler are among the highest in the world.

Asked why his work is so popular, Jorgenson says it has a lot to do with trying to be original: "I just do what I do, but I am very adamant about trying new things and always putting things out there in ways that have never been done before.

"It's really easy to copy things these days. The Internet provides a complete instruction booklet on how to copy, but to innovate it has to come from you. It's risky and frustrating to re-invent the wheel all the time, but the reward is so great it's always worth (it)."

Jorgenson will be spending much of the winter season outside, "shooting skiing — it will always have a place in my heart and I will always do it because it's still so much fun and I have met so many people along the way. It's impossible to give up on it all."

Talented snappers David McColm and Joern ROHDe came second and third, respectively.

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Best Coach/Personal Trainer: Andy Robinson

"Oh really! That's amazing!"

And with that, Andy Robinson at The Core celebrates being named Whistler's Best Coach/Personal Trainer. Robinson has been at The Core since 2009 and won last year, too. He sees 12 to 18 clients a week and teaches numerous classes. He specializes on in functional movement, sports-specific training and rehab.

"I'm really grateful, really stoked to win," he says. "I see a lot of different people and this support is appreciated."

Originally from London, U.K., Robinson got his permanent Canadian residency earlier this year.

"It's fantastic. This is my home and my community. I happy to live here and be a part of it," he says.

Richard Sievewright, also at The Core, came second, and Jordan Glasser of Crossfit Whistler and Opus Athletics was third.

Best personal trainer: Andy Robinson - SCOTT BRAMMER/COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Scott Brammer/coastphoto.com
  • Best personal trainer: Andy Robinson

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