TWSSF key to extending resort's season 

Bookings up as Whistler ready to rock during 10-day festival

With fresh snow expected on the mountains and strong bookings in the hotels the first weekend of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard festival is shaping up to be great for Whistler.

"Bookings for this year are about 30 per cent ahead of last year, which just shows that the festival continues to grow," said Tourism Whistler’s Michele Comeau Thompson.

Even taking in the challenging weather last year, which forced the cancellation of the Big Air contest, this year looks to be positive she said.

Every year thousands pack into the resort to enjoy the dozens of free music concerts, the on-snow competitions and the cultural events. And along with the spectators, media flock to Whistler. This has helped to raise the profile of the festival, which runs from April 14-23, and the resort.

"One of the things the festival has done over its history is really extend the winter season for Whistler," said Comeau Thompson.

"There was a time when very few people would come in April outside of Easter. But now it has really positioned a longer winter season for Whistler and that is huge."

Both W1, the organization which puts on the festival, and Tourism Whistler are planning to carry out surveys this year to look at trends in visitorship and the economic impact of the festival

Each year the festival also brings in a new element to the mix of events. This year there are two additions to the festival; the World Backcountry Freeride Jam, a festival within a festival, which aims to introduce people to the wilder side of winter, and a fashion show.

"We are saying that people should expect the unexpected," said Doug Perry, president of W1.

"This is not going to be a regular fashion show. There will be six large video screens in the room and each brand will accompany their runway time with visuals on multiple screens. So the whole thing is going to be an audio-visual mega production."

For many the festival represents the last big party of the winter season. So while some resorts might be slowing down Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, said the festival re-invigorates the resort.

"It comes obviously at a time when business is slowing down and (the festival) re-generates the business," she said.

"As we head into shoulder season it is vital that we have these kinds of events going on and it is great this year to have so much snow."

According to a study done by W1 two years ago the festival injects about $26 million into the regional economy and brings in about 200,000 people to the resort over the 10 days.

Perry believes it is a chance for those who love mountain lifestyle to really enjoy all the sport and culture associated with it and for those who are new to the idea to explore it in one venue.

"This festival has evolved from what it once was as a sport-based event where all of the events were really athletic competitions on the hill," he said.

"Over the last few years that has gradually changed and music and the arts have become quite a big part of it and now it is often referred to as a lifestyle festival as opposed to a snow-sport festival."

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