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Image is everything

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If the events calendar is anything to go by then the Great Outdoors Festival should keep everyone busy this May long weekend.

From "green" events, to free music concerts, to the Great Snow-Earth-Water Race, it's a weekend packed with choices.

The festival is only in its second year so it's no surprise that growing pains are still being felt — but what will really be on show this year is if the concept of the festival has traction.

Gone are the days when organizers could argue they needed a few good years to build a festival. In today's instant-gratification world if the brand of the festival doesn't deliver no one is coming back the next year.

With the growth in new events this year at GO Fest, and more selection for families too, the hope is that the $255,000 in Resort Municipality Initiative Funds — these are dollars that flow from the province to help boost tourism in a collective of resorts in B.C. — will push the image of the festival to new heights. (Last year the GO Fest received $290,000 from the Original Programming budget. The RMOW is the executive producer of the festival and contracts Crankworx Events Inc. as the festival producer.)

It's all about the image.

In days gone by the May long weekend was about closing up the winter ski cabin and getting ready for summer. The "party" that is winter snow sports in this No. 1-rated destination resort was put to bed until the next season.

But as Whistler drew more and more people from the Lower Mainland and beyond its reputation, or image, as a place to have a good time began to have no season, and we found ourselves in a very dark place on the May long weekend — it became the weekend of choice of droves of youth to escape the city and "celebrate" any number of things from graduation to just being away.

Busloads of youths would come, cram into hotel rooms — often available at cheap spring rates to help draw people in the shoulder season — rented by parents (what were they thinking??) and by midnight the village stroll was a zoo.

Our image? We were the place to party and it seemed that no amount of police — including gang squad members— or public relations messaging aimed at keeping trouble makers away could get the May long weekend back to a place that didn't give Whistler a black eye.

Enter stakeholders, and committees and a few years of good solid discussion — and some venting too — and GO Fest was born.

We don't want to shed our image of being a great place to come and celebrate, and yes, party. That "live fast" lifestyle and the boundary pushing that goes with it are part of our mountain culture. But mountain culture is not about roaming around a pedestrian stroll drunk or high, and fighting with others in similar roving groups.

Let's get rid of that image for good.

This weekend there will, of course, be a beefed up police presence everywhere, most hotels are not discounting room rates, and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has even budgeted up to $1,500 for private security patrols.

The Vancouver daily papers have carried stories and promotion about the GO Fest as well, so the hope would be that troublemakers don't choose Whistler this long weekend.

It's a dilemma though — we survive and thrive on guests from the Lower Mainland and beyond, but at the same time we can't hide from the fact that there is a segment of these visitors who appear to be coming here and bringing their problems with them.

The problems aren't just in the village either, and indeed we may see more in the neighbourhoods this year, as groups book into house or condos in the resort. Last year a group of 20-25 youths were involved in an altercation in the 2200 block of Brandywine.

In the debrief after last year's festival having a highly visible police presence and increased patrols in neighbourhoods was pinpointed as something to take action on, as was improving communication with the media on critical event reporting.

Let's hope that GO Fest's image captures the imagination of visitors and residents alike and it becomes a festival that grows Whistler's adventure seeking side — not the Dark Side.

Editor's Note: Pique is marking a milestone this week – the publishing of 1,000 "Maxed Out" columns. Scribe GD Maxwell, who graces the magazine's back page, has provoked thought and some foul language over the years since his first column in late 1995.

But it has also raised a mirror to our home and allowed us to feel both pride and sheepishness about the decisions we make and the way we face our challenges.

Love him, or hate him, Max is a cornerstone of Pique.

Over the many, many years I have known him I have come to deeply respect him and value his sharp wit — but more than that, I am proud to call him my friend.

Here's to another 1,000...

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