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Party in April. Sleep in May

WSSF organizers overcome economic challenges to produce crowd-pleasing festival


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Sue Eckersley isn't hiding it: this was a tough year to organize the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

First, Telus, the festival's longtime title sponsor, pulled out. Then, it wasn't until February that the Resort Municipality of Whistler divvied up its Festivals Events and Animation funding giving the festival $135,000 to enhance its free outdoor concert series. It was a blessing to be sure, especially given the sponsorship blow, but it was still tricky to secure a lineup with such short notice when bands plan tours well in advance.

But despite the challenges Eckersley, the festival's event director, is upbeat and optimistic about the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) for 2013,

"This has been a year fraught with challenges," confirms Eckersley.

"Without Telus, without our title sponsor and a good chunk of change that drove the budget of the festival, it's been an extremely challenging year. Trying to replicate what we've done with considerably less money, the team has done an amazing job. I believe this is the best festival ever."

Although this year offers proof that organizers can create a world-class spring festival with around $450,000 less in funding, Eckersley isn't all that keen to try it again. Instead, they hope to woo a new company with this year's events to take Telus' place.

But even without a title sponsor Eckersley is adamant that the WSSF is here to stay.

"I've already put together a budget for 2014 that doesn't (include a) title sponsor, though we're having great discussions with some companies," she says. "We'd certainly love to have a title sponsor.

"But the World Ski and Snowboard Festival isn't going anywhere. It's something that's so intrinsic to who we are in Whistler. It's so critically important to Whistler."

And there is no need to just take Eckersley's word for it — the impact is confirmed in the Economic Impact Assessment for the festival — a report she released to Pique. In April, a month in which ski resort visits begin to slow to a trickle as winter turns to spring, the festival brought $22.5 million in spending to Whistler in 2012.

Those cold hard numbers are just what other partners are looking for. "You can look at that and really see the value of the festival," says Stuart Rempel, senior vice-president of marketing and sales for Whistler Blackcomb, part owners of the festival. "We hope all the businesses in town take advantage of this to promote it and make it more successful. We hope everyone who works in the Sea to Sky comes up to support it... The economic benefit isn't simply to Whistler Blackcomb, but to the businesses in Whistler and the residents. We get an amazing economic driver and a great event we can attend."