TWSSF ends? X Games decision April 30 

Big Air draws thousands with 43,000 more watching live online

click to enlarge JOERNE ROHDE PHOTO - End of a big air-a?The next village big air competition could be an X Games Global event. The results of Whistler's bid could be known this week. Photo BY joern rohde
  • Joerne Rohde Photo
  • End of a big air-a?The next village big air competition could be an X Games Global event. The results of Whistler's bid could be known this week. Photo BY joern rohde

As the curtains close on the 17th annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler is holding its collective breath for the potential big changes coming down the pipeline.

Local X Games Bid organizers confirmed this week that Monday, April 30 is the expected date for the much-anticipated announcement, which could see the multi-million dollar X Games franchise replacing the WSSF as the finale festival capping the ski season in Whistler for at least the next three years.

Tourism Minister Pat Bell has not announced any provincial funding for X Games, but supports the bid.

"We admire Whistler's creativity in finding new ways to highlight their spectacular resort experience," said Bell. "As one of the world's greatest ski resorts, it would be hard to think of a better location for the X Games."

But with bid organizers "cautiously optimistic" of an announcement in Whistler's favour Monday, it was an emotional time for those who have been involved in building the festival.

"No matter what," said TWSSF producer Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications, "we've got something that's pretty great and we have the potential of having something that's pretty great too. And they are different."

Eckersley's own personal highlights this year, layered with bittersweet feelings, included the Michael Franti concert and the iconic Big Air on Saturday.

"We partnered up with Samsung and YouTube for the first time this year to really web cast the Big Air to a wide audience," said Eckersley."We had 43,000 people watching that web cast live."

She's accepted the festival could be different in the coming years if the X Games brand moves in. Specifically, the sporting events will change but the arts and cultural component of the festival, which Whistler has nurtured these past 17 years, could continue under the X Games brand and renamed as "X Fest."

"I'm going to be happy with whatever it is and we're going to make sure that the spirit of our April event lives on," Eckersley said, her voice hoarse after weeks of 20-hour days to ensure another successful end of season festival. "The name, at the end of the day, is a name. It's more what the spirit and what are the goals of the event... I don't think that necessarily has to change that much just because it becomes X Fest."

That "spirit" she describes is the morphing of international big name athletes and talent with the local community feel.

"There is just so much of Whistler in this event," she said proudly.

This community "buy in" has been critical to its success — that fusion of local, grassroots action with international flare.

In the case of top musical draw Michael Franti it also means playing for a "friendly rate."

"I love to come to Whistler any chance I can get, and playing for the mountain community, I feel as though I am touching the core of our audience," said Franti by email as he continues his tour.

"Of course the vibe will change if the X Games come to town. It's become a huge international event, almost as big as the Olympics for winter sports.

"Whistler village and ski area is filled with world-class terrain, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs, but at the same time keeps its local flavour intact because the resident community cares. I can't see X Games being a bad thing for the community, as long as the people continue to speak up with Whistler pride."

Freestyle coach Elana Chase has athletes desperate to come to Whistler at the end of every season.

"They all want to go to the WSI (World Skiing Invitational) at the end of the year," said Chase from her base in Colorado the day after leaving Whistler with ten of her athletes. "It's that important."

The WSI takes the best in the world with those young up-and-comers and it's the chance for one of them to break out and make a name for themselves, like so many others have done in Whistler before them. Take Roz Groenewoud, who first competed at WSI aged 15, won the Big Air in 2009 and is now a member of the Canadian Half Pipe Ski Team.

The X Games isn't like that. It's big elite names in a small narrow field.

"It will narrow the field to just the top athletes that get to go to all the high level events already," said Chase. "A lot of these athletes that are up and comers from Canada, the U.S.... have worked hard all season and they're ready to show everybody what they have and put it down at this contest... They won't have that opportunity (at the X Games) because it'll just be the top 15 or 20 athletes."

She's come to Whistler every year for the past eight or nine years and describes it as coming home to a big family.

"X Games is a lot more serious," said Chase, who has coached over a dozen freeskiing athletes at X Games too.

That intensity could take away from the chilled-out Whistler factor that defines the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

There was, she said, a feeling of disbelief at the close of the 2012 festival, that this might be the end of it as the athletes, coaches, community and all the rest have come to know it.

By all accounts 2012 was a success.The Filmmaker Showdown and the Pro Photographer Showdown sold out early, the first in four day, the later in six days.Intersection, now in its second year, sold out the morning of the event.

The Fashion EXPOSED show was sold out the day before, and The END, Saturday's all night party, sold out that evening.

"The calibre of artists that we're attracting continues to increase and I think that bodes well for attendees and the legitimacy of those competitions," said Eckersley.

By many accounts business was good for many throughout the ten days.

Wayne Katz, owner of Mogul's and Zog's, which caters to the festival's late night clientele with its $5 outdoor hot dogs, said he had a good week — consistent business across the week not just spiking on the weekends.

"I think we're up over last year," he said, though he won't know for sure until the accountant does the final tally.

The hotels too won't have festival numbers just yet. But Tourism Whistler's research team has come back with preliminary numbers.

"It definitely looks like the numbers are strong," said Breton Murphy, TW's senior manager of communications.

Perhaps not as strong as the 2011 festival which fell over the Easter holidays but it's shaping up to be stronger than it's been in recent years.

"People always ask me: 'how is the festival going?' and I say 'you tell me,'" said Eckersley.

"Anecdotally the word I'm getting from the street is that people thought it was a great festival and for us, that's what matters."

Readers also liked…

Latest in Whistler

More by Alison Taylor

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation