Speak up for WSSF 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/TOURISM WHISTLER
  • Photo by Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler

The World Ski and Snowboard Festival has long been the end-of-season celebration we all look forward to.

But there is little doubt that as we move further and further away from its former 10-day iteration the vibe of the festival is changing.

I feel like it's moving from wild child to mellow fellow.

Whether the changes we are seeing are embraced by the community, the festival is supported, and we all work to make this an ongoing success, is really up to us.

Change happens; organizers of events turnover. But if Whistler wants the WSSF to be a signature event and not something that dies a slow, lingering death, then we need to make our voices heard.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), less than two weeks out, is still in discussions about what its financial support will look like. Gibbons Whistler is not supporting the festival financially this year and the festival length is even more condensed, running from April 10 to 14 in 2019. For most of the festival's life—it started in 1995—it was 10 days. Last year, it went down to six and this year, it is five-and-a-half.

Are we in danger of losing the festival altogether? And if we are, is the community content with that?

When asked this week about its financial support of the festival, the RMOW had little to say.

"WSSF is moving ahead with our (The RMOW's) committed investment, and the paperwork should be wrapped up in the next few days. As soon as it is, we will share the (Attract Retain Augment) amount with you," said a spokesperson in an email.

According to the WSSF website, this year, the Big Air competitions will be supported by the RMOW. In previous years, these events had received support from Gibbons.

"The Resort Municipality of Whistler, in partnership with funding from the Province of British Columbia, is proud to support the Big Air competitions at this year's World Ski and Snowboard Festival," said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton on the festival's website.

Last year, the RMOW gave the WSSF $100,000 as it had done in previous years. We have yet to learn the amount for this year. However, it will not be funded through the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding from the province, says an RMOW spokesperson.

"In regards to RMI, please note that the (Festivals Events and Animation, FE&A) program is now funded through the (Municipal and Regional District Tax, MRDT)," explained the spokesperson in an email. "Funding of the FE&A program shifted from RMI to MRDT under the direction of the province."

(MRDT—also known as Hotel Tax—applies to short-term tourist accommodation, including hotel rooms.)

Gibbons first got involved in 2014, and by 2018 is was a 50/50 partner with Whistler Blackcomb after Tourism Whistler, a one-third partner, stepped away from the event.

The previous year, 2017, longtime festival producer Watermark Communications Inc. and executive director Sue Eckersley handed the reins of the festival over to Whistler Blackcomb (Vail Resorts) and its events arm Crankworx.

There were several big changes for the festival in 2018, but Whistler also celebrated that there was a festival. Last year, for example, the music mainstage was cut. Many questioned this change, not just because music has always been an integral part of the festival but because without it, it would near impossible to find sponsorship, something Watermark had been struggling with before stepping away.

Music is a driving factor in the lives of young people; it's a passion and brands want to connect with that.

This year, we are seeing a modest return of mainstage music at Skier's Plaza associated with events such as the ski and snowboard invitational competitions, which will now be in the après time slot, 4 to 6 p.m., not at night.

Whistler Blackcomb said last year that it intends to return the festival to its 10-day schedule, but it's hard to believe that considering it is even shorter this year.

Is this condensed version of the festival an opportunity lost?

At its height in 2006, a Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance study found the festival generated $37.7 million in economic activity for the province, of which $21.3 million was spent in Whistler, and there were 28,000 hotel room night bookings. It's unlikely the festival is anywhere near this size of an economic driver any more.

But the WSSF has drawn thousands to town with many businesses relying on the event to round out winter profits year after year—it is an important part of surviving the spring.

But it's not just about supporting business. After all, at no time during the year does Whistler feel more like its true self than during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. It's a time to rekindle our love of the mountains, this corridor, and kick back and relax in our hometown.

And that is something worth supporting and taking part in.

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