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Party in April. Sleep in May

WSSF organizers overcome economic challenges to produce crowd-pleasing festival

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This year Whistler Blackcomb is backing up those sentiments with incentives. B.C. residents get 50 per cent off one-day lift tickets and rentals today (April 14), and up to 50 per cent off select snow school programs during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

As the report indicates, people outside Whistler are also attending (and bringing their wallets.) Last year the festival drew 70,390 visitors with 20,000 from the Sea to Sky corridor, 33,151 from elsewhere in Canada and another 17,239 from outside the country. The further those visitors travelled, the more they spent per person, ranging from $54 for a day trip to $940 for overseas trips. The average was $451 per person.

In total, visitors spent the most on food and drink with $7.2 million, then $4.5 million on accommodation and $3.84 million on entertainment and recreation. There's hope that the data could help secure the festival municipal funding in coming years, Eckersley says. "I think (it helps) any time you're looking at empirical data as opposed to who is the squeakiest wheel, who out there is the best lobbyist," she says. "If we're talking about lobbying, I don't think the World Ski and Snowboard Festival is very good at it. We think we can rest on our laurels and you can see the impact we have."

It's also important to consider the season, she adds. The festival was conceived in 1994, in part, as a way to breathe life into Whistler during a slow month while drawing attention to spring skiing. "One of the things we need to do as decision makers when we're looking at whether this money is spent in a good way is imagine April without the World Ski and Snowboard Festival," Eckersley says. "I think each event needs to be looked at as, 'OK this is how much economic dollars it brings into the village' and if it didn't exist is that entirely going to disappear?"

Another concern for organizers this year was the timing of the festival, falling after Easter. Eckersley says that holiday weekend marks the end of ski season for many outside of the Sea to Sky. "We try to have it the week before Easter," she adds. "This year, (Easter was) two weeks before and to have this kind of strength in numbers of people coming to the festival, again, shows how important the festival is to the economic activity of the resort."

According to Tourism Whistler, also part owners of the festival, bookings for the festival are slightly behind pace compared to last year. But, adds Patricia Westerholm, communications manager for Tourism Whistler, in an email, bookings for the festival usually see a late surge. She adds, "We have seen a strong pickup in bookings in the last couple of weeks since the (music) lineup was finalized."