What’s bred in the bone? 

World Ski and Snowboard Festival spooks Whistler from ghost town to most town

Sometimes a word gets used so often that it loses its meaning and you have to break it apart to get back at the bone marrow. To me, “sustainability” essentially means you can do a thing again and again. It refers to a process or state maintained at a certain level, indefinitely.

Founded by Doug Perry in 1996, the festival was created to increase Whistler’s appeal during the then-quiet spring shoulder season. Its impact on skier visits and hotel occupancy during the 10-day April period won endorsements from Whistler’s stakeholders, securing their marketing support. The festival, held in Whistler Village and on independently owned Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, signified the first joint event marketing initiative between the two rival mountains, (now Whistler/Blackcomb), Doug Perry, and the Whistler Resort Association (now Tourism Whistler). The TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival, set for April 11-20, 2008, and going strong in its 13th year, is one of Whistler’s best examples of economic viability in action, in the true sense of the term.

Whistler has proven this festival can happen again and again and enhance our local economy. Kind of like a perpetual motion fun machine. Today, the festival has brought the month of April well into the folds of Whistler’s peak winter season and has made Whistler, by all accounts, the busiest mountain resort in the world during this month.

As a global tourism destination tucked into a remote mountain range in the wilds of British Columbia, Whistler is a microcosm of the wider world. And Whistler2020 is our localized version of the 1992 Earth Summit’s Rio Declaration seeking environmental, economic and social sustainability. Here Whistler2020 is framed by our community’s collective priorities for an enriched community life, a vibrant resort experience, ongoing economic viability, environmental protection, and a collaborative approach to success.

The details embedded within those priorities can be debated, and the Whistler community is rich with debate about a variety of issues. But one thing most everyone agrees on: as the largest annual winter sports and music event in North America, the TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival is a recurring shot in the arm to the Whistler economy, driving international media attention, affirming our mountains as the North American epicentre for skiing and snowboarding, and fuelling innovation and progression from the grassroots up. The event’s mix of music, arts and sports to celebrate the mountain lifestyle has spawned imitators around the globe.

This positive economic gain, of more than $15.7 million annually to the local economy, means the festival’s “legacy” is an ongoing infusion of benefits to local businesses, athletes, residents and aspiring artists. The most intensive ask of the resort is rooms for guests and VIPs. This request is paid back by the festival’s success at driving traffic to the rest of the rooms in town. Whistler in April went from ghost town to the most town. A 2006 economic impact report attributed the sale of 28,118 hotel room nights to the 2006 festival, 86 per cent of which were sold to those visiting Whistler to attend the festival.

The ability to do a thing again and again, to continue to bring festival benefits to Whistler, means festival organizers work behind the scenes to create an inbuilt succession plan — by balancing the budget each year, delivering to the corporate sponsors who fund the bulk of the operational costs, giving back to the community, and offering emerging athletes and artists a chance to share the spotlight with world-class talent.

For its ability to enhance social and economic viability with managed environmental impacts, the festival has been identified as a textbook example of events success, with case studies being written about it this year by students and academics around the world. Closer to home, the festival sees competing sales superpowers like whistler.com and ICR combining forces to promote the TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival, for the greater good of the resort community.

As Festival Managing Director, Sue Eckersley, said, in analyzing the success of the 2007 event, “The festival creates a fantastic ripple effect for the entire resort, and we couldn’t make that kind of impact without the support of the entire community.”

 

Lisa Richardson is the Communications Director for Watermark, producers of the TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival and a member of the Whistler2020 Arts, Culture & Heritage and Food community task forces. This is the second in a series of columns written by Whistler2020 task force members. To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, or to join a task force visit www.whistler2020.ca.

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