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Feature - Untouchable

From humble beginnings the World Ski and Snowboard Festival has become the ultimate celebration of snow sports


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Dangling by a thread and sucking on a life support IV of brilliant ideas and cussed determination, the protoparty struggled for a couple of seasons. Blackcomb Mountain and the Whistler Resort Association came on board as partners. Events appeared and disappeared – think Bigfoot Challenge – and sponsors vaporized, only to be replaced by others. Snowboard events breathed life – or was that blew smoke? – into the mix.

And two things remained constant: Doug’s unwavering belief he could make an end of season festival work and his unprecedented notion that athletes should be the ones who shaped their events. The second idea kept some of the world’s best coming back for more. Tired of being jerked around by governing bodies – bureaucrats whose passion for the sport had long gone limp – the riders and skiers made the events theirs. Their enthusiasm fed the buzz during the lean years.

In a simpler time, what happened next might have been likened to a biblical visitation. If man does not live by bread alone, it suddenly became clear that festivals can’t live on a strict diet of sporting events, no matter how much bread is thrown at them.

Gimme the beat…

"The breakthrough year was 1998," Doug said. "The music was an experiment with the first Westbeach Classic. Finally, there was some injection of energy as a result of the first outdoor music series of concerts. It seemed to flick a switch; the event began to take on its own personality where music – and the energy that comes with the fusion of music and sport – started to let the flame build."

Kristen Robinson was the firestarter. Special K, as she’s known to those who understand her specialness, is a dervish of action, energy, ideas, angst, talent, and prescience. "You can get motion sickness watching her work," said one who has had the opportunity to observe up close and personal.

With a mandate to "rock the valley" and a budget more attuned to tossing pebbles in a lake, Special K scoured the indie scene for up and comers. One of the first acts to hit the Mainstage that first year was an obscure Canadian band from Hanna, Alberta, a town that would need a whole lot more exposure to qualify as obscure.

With none of the organizers knowing what was about to happen, Nickelback grabbed their instruments and laid down a sonic assault that lasted 60 minutes and tilted the village’s complain-o-meter. It probably helped that Kristen couldn’t actually hear much of what the RCMP had to say immediately following the concert. It didn’t really matter; the crowd loved it. Music was here to stay.