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Festival exceeds expectations

Smaller crowds but ticket sales stronger than ever for TWSSF mainstays

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The crowds were on the light side at the start of the Grenade Games Grand Finale on Saturday evening, but by the time the jam session wrapped up and the 10 final finalists were selected the bottom and sides of the course were packed with thousands of enthusiastic fans.

It was a crowd that wasn't supposed to happen, given Whistler's apparent post-Olympic exhaustion, but happen it did.

Later in the evening all of the tickets for The End all-night rave were sold out at the door, showing once again that the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival can survive just about anything.

Festival Director Sue Eckersley of Watermark Communications acknowledged that it was a difficult event to plan, but said attendance at ticketed events from April 16 to 25 generally broke records. Feedback from athletes and sponsors has generally been positive, although skier visits were down roughly eight per cent compared to last year - which Eckersley says was at least partly due to the weather. No numbers are available yet from the hotels, but she is also expecting accommodation numbers to be down roughly 10 per cent overall vs. 2009.

"We're not wildly happy about the (accommodation numbers) we're seeing because we've always strived to go up as opposed to down, but all things considered we're pretty happy," she said.

The Olympic Games impacted the festival in several ways, she added, although that wasn't the whole story.

"When we look at the Olympics purely from a festival perspective it was mostly a story of challenges," she said. "When we went out into the sponsorship market we repeatedly heard the words that the money they had targeted for the west in the first quarter (of 2010) was all heading towards Olympic activations and hosting and such."

The Games also had an impact on the music lineup as many of the top acts currently on tour played in Vancouver and Whistler during the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics and the festival did not want to book the same musical acts. As well, the decision to run nightly Fire and Ice shows during the Games led the WSSF organizers to cancel the World Skiing Invitational big air competition this year, yielding centre stage in the village to the Orage Masters instead - a decision that was welcomed by the Orage Masters organizers.

Aside from the various direct Olympic impacts Eckersley said the economy in general continues to be an obstacle for attracting visitors and sponsors, although the festival's core sponsors did come through with full funding and have indicated an interest in participating again next year.

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