Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Passing the torch



It was an incredible performance. For 11 years, Doug Perry acted as ringmaster for one of the boldest experiments in mountain resort entertainment. In the same way that Quebec’s Cirque du Soleil revolutionized the circus concept, Perry’s World Ski and Snowboard Festival totally revamped the spring carnival model. And the world beat a path to Whistler to share in the celebrations…

Says Perry: "The thing I’m most proud about the WSSF is that it grew from a uni-dimensional sporting event to a celebration of mountain lifestyle. There are so many high points that stick in my mind: watching the crowd erupt when local shooter Blake Jorgensen won the Pro Photographer Showdown; standing at the base of the Big Air and feeling the wild energy of the spectators; listening to international performers like Michael Franti and the Black Eyed Peas playing on the main concert stage. It was like building a puzzle. There was always the desire to add to the festival. We wanted this thing to grow!"

Unlike so many of Whistler’s experiments in mass entertainment, the WSSF worked on a financial level too. Over its decade-long run, the festival’s budget grew by an average of 30 per cent a year. By 2006, TV viewers in 122 countries were being entertained by images and music from the event. The media exposure was phenomenal. Millions of dollars worth each year, in fact…

So what happened? In the blink of an eye, the decade-long partnership between Perry’s company, W1, Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler was dissolved. Insiders say the relationship wasn’t working anymore. That it had foundered on the rocks of mistrust and dissent. Only at Whistler? You bet…

Doug Perry no longer lives in Whistler. After 23 years as a resident here, he has decided that the time is right for him to move on. But before he left, I got him to talk about the events scene at Whistler. As usual, Doug was forthright with his opinions and generous with his recommendations.

"The first question Whistler needs to ask itself," he says, "is whether the resort is producing the best events in the world. The second question to ask is whether Whistler’s events are realizing their full economic potential."

According to Perry’s analysis, Whistler has experienced more event failures than successes. A disproportionately high number of Whistler events have sustained financial losses, or have never reached maturity. "Why? Where are the big music concerts that were planned for this summer? And why does Whistler have a reputation as one of the most expensive resorts in the world to hold an event?" He sighs. "Today, most of our competitors – whether Vail, Aspen or even Park City – are outperforming Whistler when it comes to successful events. That shouldn’t be happening…"

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