The question hanging over the Telus Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival this year is simple: What happens to the party to end all end-of-season parties when ESPN comes in next year with its hugely successful X Games brand?
The 10-day festival, a rollicking combination of cutting-edge extreme sport and often dazzling and innovative visual and performing arts, is already the largest spring event of its kind in the world.
The American sports broadcasting giant hasn’t officially given Whistler the nod yet, but all signs point to the resort municipality being on the X Games schedule starting in 2013.
The Games will bring four days of ski and snowboard slopestyle and super-pipe, plus ski-and snowboardcross. All those disciplines now are Olympic sports after the IOC realized there was a young demographic there just waiting to be cultivated. The X Games also includes snowmobile trick events.
The arts, culture and music part of the TWSSF, things like the Pro Photographer Showdown and 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown, will be retained in some form, perhaps under an X-Fest title.
“There’s room to be bigger and better and I think there’s room for more people to know how big and good we are,” says Sue Eckersley, whose Watermark Communications organizes the festival and who is on the X Games local organizing committee.
She says the festival’s four major constituencies – the resort municipality, the athletes, the artists, and visitors – all stand to benefit from the increased exposure of an expanded festival.
“It’s going to have everything that it already has and potentially more. I mean, [snowboarding legend] Shaun White comes to down, is that not great for all those kids who idolize him for both snowboarding and skateboarding? Sure it is.
“We’re going to make sure we hold onto the core personality of what we are as our April Whistler event and merge that with all the great things of X Games and ‘Boom!’ It should be a winner for everyone.”
Ashleigh McIvor, the 2010 Olympic ski-cross gold medallist from Whistler, said having an X Games in her hometown will be amazing.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” she said. “It’s such a great venue. Obviously, with the ski and snowboard festival, you can see we’re able to draw the crowds that X Games draws in Aspen and more.
“And it’ll be cool to actually have some input as well, what the course looks like, where it is.”
The sport component of the annual festival, which evolved out of the World Technical Skiing Championships in 1994 as a way to boost spring tourism, wraps up this weekend with the World Skiing Invitational, including the spectacular ski Big Air competition in the village tonight and the ski superpipe taking place on Blackcomb on Sunday.
Some on the X Games organizing committee had hoped an announcement might be made this week, but ESPN is apparently sticking to an April 30 date to reveal all of its new host cities at once.
“It would have been great to have it while we’re still in winter sport sea-son and people are here and thinking about it,” said Rob McSkimming, vice-president of business development at Whistler Blackcomb. “There’s things we need to get started on.”