Perry leaves, but TWSSF goes on 

Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler buy out W1 shares in spring festival

The producer may be leaving, but the show must go on.

This week it was confirmed that Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival producer Doug Perry has sold his stake in the festival he created 11 years ago and will pursue other projects in Vancouver.

Previously Whistler-Blackcomb owned 50 per cent of the festival, Tourism Whistler 25 per cent, and Perry the other 25 per cent through W1, his event production company. Perry sold his stake for an undisclosed sum to the other partners, with two thirds of that share going to Whistler-Blackcomb and a third going to Tourism Whistler.

In addition to owning a quarter of the TWSSF, Perry was contracted out to manage 100 per cent of the festival. According to Tourism Whistler, that management contract will now go to Sue Eckersley, the former director of events for W1, who has been with Perry for the last seven years.

"It’s important to stress that Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler have always been involved and form the board of directors for the festival, and will continue to be involved," said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher. "We’ve supported the festival through marketing and sales, accommodations support, and we will continue to do so but the leadership of the festival will continue to be independent."

The sale and transfer of festival management became effective July 21 after several months of negotiations, which got underway after the conclusion of the 2006 festival. The exact terms of the transaction are covered by a confidentiality agreement, but Fisher says they will not impact Tourism Whistler’s existing marketing and sales budget.

Perry could not be reached for comment, but in an e-mail he confirmed he was stepping back, and that W1 will open its Vancouver headquarters in August and already has several major projects under development.

"It’s been one hell of a decade," he wrote. "There are countless people who, each in their own way, have made immense contributions to the festival since in debuted in April 1996. For the support, commitment, energy and creativity that so many have put into the Festival’s first chapter, please accept my gratitude. Long live the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival."

Under Perry’s direction the ski and snowboard festival grew every year and evolved from an on-mountain event to a festival of mountain culture. The festival, which is recognized throughout the ski and snowsport world, is credited with extending the winter season in Whistler. Similar types of festivals have sprouted up at North American ski areas in recent years.

Both Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb said they would have preferred to see Perry stay on for another three-year contract, but are confident that the festival is in good hands.

"We had some contract discussions last year and agreed at the end of the 2006 festival to negotiate for another three-year term, and since those discussions started three months ago Doug (Perry) made the decision to move in a new direction," said Fisher.

"From Tourism Whistler’s perspective we’re quite disappointed because we’ve been very pleased with the direction the festival has taken over the years under Doug’s leadership, he was the inspiration behind it, and a creative force.

"But as far as moving forward goes we’re confident that Sue Eckersley, who has been involved in the festival for seven years, has a strong understanding of the festival, its goals, and what makes it appealing… and we’re very pleased Sue will continue to be involved."

Fisher says the festival will continue to evolve with trends and customer interests, and will always test new events and attractions and review events in terms of public interest and response.

"When the festival started it was primarily just a sports event, but since then it has evolved very much into a sports, culture, arts and lifestyle event, and we’re really quite pleased with its forward thinking and ever changing content that keeps it fresh."

Dave Brownlie, the Chief Operating Officer for Whistler-Blackcomb, said their intention was to continue to retain Perry in managing the TWSSF but that the company accepts his decision to move on.

"Doug built the festival to the level it is, and built a great team with Sue Eckersley, and I feel we’re in a good position to continue that festival based on Doug’s template and the team that remains in place," said Brownlie. "So while it’s tough to see the founder move on to new things, on the other side we have a great team, some new energy, and we plan to continue the tradition and hopefully continue to make the festival better."

In addition to building a strong management team, Brownlie credits Perry for also building up a strong core of festival, sponsors – including the headline sponsor Telus. It can be challenging dealing with issues that arise with competing sponsors, "which is one of the tough things as a festival organizer, but Perry was always able to work through those things and keep the sponsors happy," said Brownlie.

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