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Still, she's happy with the final outcome. "Music is absolutely a cornerstone for the festival," she says. "It is the number one thing that drives people and attention to the festival. As amazing as it is that we'll have nine of the 10 best free skiers here, it doesn't drive the same amount of traffic as Nas will or Arkells or K-os. Music is part of our culture. It's something people will be talking about... At the end of the day, it's the thing that draws people up for the festival. This investment by the RMOW into the concerts series is an amazing thing."
While the funding was important, looking ahead, sponsorship is a major key to the festival's success. With only a few ticketed events — including the consistently popular Pro Photographer Showdown and the 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown, this year sponsored by Olympus, and sandwiched between two major parties, aptly titled The Beginning and The End — cash from companies makes up a huge part of the budget.
In the past, ticket sales have accounted for as little as seven per cent of the revenue. This year, it will be closer to 17 per cent. "It becomes very challenging when the market is soft," Eckersley says. "In 2010, we had a heck of a time securing sponsors. Brands spent money in Whistler during the Olympics. Whistler was a dirty word in the corporate boardrooms at the time."
The festival has considered charging for more events, but that would ruin the spirit, organizers ultimately decided. "It's not what we want to do," Eckersley adds. "This is the model we've designed... it's worked for us. We keep tweaking it. From a sponsorship perspective, it's great. If you've got your skrims on the side of the main stage where you're going to see Nas for free, that generates a lot of love for your brand at that moment."
The festival kicks off tomorrow, Friday March 12 and for ten days Whistler celebrates everything that mountain culture embraces. It's a 10-day-and-night showcase of the best of snow sports, music, arts and mountain culture. Of course it also features major professional ski and snowboarding competitions — turn to page 52 for the details on that — the largest annual free outdoor concert series in Canada, and cultural events that match up art lovers with the art makers.
As the festival motto says, "Party in April. Sleep in May."