WSSF caps off record-breaking winter for some businesses 

Annual festival a reflection of the Whistler community once again

click to enlarge PHOTO BY COOCHIPEACE
  • Photo by Coochipeace

For some Whistler businesses, the end-of-season World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) was the icing on the cake after the busiest winter on record.

"It was the best (winter) in 30 years," said Mark Schmidt, general manager of Black's Pub.

"(The WSSF) was super busy for us with our location."

Black's has prime location for WSSF in the heart of Skier's Plaza at the base of the mountains but even those further away from the action could feel the impact of the festival.

"From our side of town, we didn't seem to get as much of the madness (during the day)," said the BrewHouse's floor supervisor Carolina Rivera.

At night, however, the restaurant was packed, in keeping with the rest of the season.

"The season was crazy, absolutely insane," she said.

The BrewHouse, too, experienced a record-breaking winter. For Ingrid’s Village Café, the WSSF helps extend the season keeping the eatery hopping as the snow season comes to an end.

"The WSSF stretches out the ski season and bring more foot traffic to the village — locals and guests," said owner Fiona Minton. "A lot of people would be putting away their skis if it wasn't for this festival."

There were several factors at play to boost WSSF numbers this year — the second weekend of the 10-day festival fell over the the busy Easter weekend with its influx of destination guests, particularly the Mexican market. As well, spring conditions in the alpine were excellent, even if conditions in the valley were sometimes less than ideal for the free outdoor concerts.

Still, that didn't keep the crowds away. Festival organizer Sue Eckersley estimated more than 10,000 people showed up for the Busta Rhymes show on the final Saturday of the festival. This, despite the rapper showing up almost two hours late.

While official room night numbers won't be available until May, Tourism Whistler emailed this statement from Meredith Kunza, senior manager of research and product development:

"Heading into April (at the end of March 2017), the WSSF dates (April 7-16) were pacing 90 per cent ahead of WSSF dates last year. While the pace was strongest for the second weekend which overlapped with Easter (more than 91 per cent over last year, when Easter did not occur), the first weekend was also pacing well before the month started (more than 46 per cent over last year). Although final room night performance for April 2017 will not be available until later in May, the pace leading up to WSSF and Easter dates indicate that room nights during the first half of April will likely be ahead of last year."

Eckersley said based on that, and what she saw on the ground, this could well be the biggest festival of the last 20 years.

"I would be pretty surprised if it didn't break all the records," she said.

Not a bad way, she admitted, to pass the torch; Eckersley and her Watermark Communications team will no longer be producing the festival, a decision announced at the start of this year's festival.

With the change in management, there has been a lot of discussion about the festival's future — WSSF is owned by Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler — and what it means to Whistler.

"(The WSSF) is maybe not as important as it was 10 years ago because April is busier in general than it was 10 years ago but it still does something to bring people here and, more importantly, I think it's a real reflection of who we are as a community," said Eckersley.

For Joey Gibbons, CEO of Gibbons Whistler which owns several local bars in town, the festival is crucial to Whistler, and not just because it keeps his bars busy in the final days of the winter season.

"How many things do we have that really bring the community out?" he asked, of how WSSF draws locals and guests into the village creating this special community experience.

That's what people love about Whistler, he said. It was something he was reminded of once again as he walked around town with his kids during the festival.

When he brings people to town to do business here, that's what they remember; the skiing may be great, the dining may be outstanding but Whistler is something more.

"They love the vibe of this community," he said.

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