Plenty of wild artworks were submitted for this year's Prior Snowboard and Ski's Topsheet Exhibition, but only one stopped owner Chris Prior and his team in their tracks.
It was an evergreen tree with a swirling design above it. The artist behind the adorable design was six-year-old Kerri Nimmons, who has been skiing in Whister since she was three.
"It's pretty cool," says Will Westwood, Prior's product engineer and materials manager.
Whistler-based Prior selected 23 finalists from around 70 entries, and unfortunately Kerri's was not among them.
But the company decided to hang it in the exhibition anyway, in order to encourage kids to enter in the future. Her parents told Prior that Whistler artist Vanessa Stark was Kerri's inspiration after seeing her doing a live-painting exercise in Olympic Plaza.
The 2014 finalists, including Stark, all hail from Vancouver Island or the Sea to Sky region: Alessandro Marengo, Anders Petersen, Andy Fenwick, Baz Carolan, Cailin Carrier, Caitlin Kennedy, Cara Burrow, Dave Petko, Helen Judge, Helen Wojcik, Kate Zessel, Kevin McKay, Kim Eijdenberg, Klara Hanakova, Kris Kupskay, Leah Winhold, Monica Disher, Raff Vaz, Raffaella Dice, Raphael Suter, Steve Kretz, Vanessa Stark and Victoria Hillier.
The topsheet competition is now in its third year. A topsheet, for those not in the know, is the artistic design on the top layer of a snowboard, set of skis, or splitboard.
The 25-year-old Function Junction company is having an online competition for the finalists, with the originals going on display at Millennium Place from Thursday, Oct. 2.
Whoever wins the public vote, which is online only this year, will see their work transformed into skis and snowboards for the 2015-2016 winter season.
Voters will be able to cast their ballots at www.priorsnow.com/vote.
"We sell the products all over the world, so it gives the artists a way in which they can get their names out," says Prior.
"They gain a lot of exposure through the various means that we provide, like our website, which is a huge marketing tool for us; there's an editorial spot on that that tells who they are, and people can pick and choose whatever graphic they want when they buy a board."
Do they sell differently from their other boards?
"For the most part, we've got four or five that are most of our main sellers, but we offer the personal touch; there are people liking the plain look and people who like the busier look," Prior says.
"Fortunately, the artists come from different backgrounds and will represent the various styles that people will be looking for."
The competition has "gained a lot of momentum and I think the artists realize it's an opportunity for them, they're keen for the publicity or to have it as part of their portfolio," Prior says.
The selected artists will get two pieces of equipment with their artwork printed on them, because instead of using the snowboard or skis they were given in the last two years, they had been sticking them on the wall.
Prior's general manager, Emilie de Crombrugghe, says this is because "none of the winners were riding our product because they wanted to hang them on the wall."
The number of winners chosen this year will depend on how close votes are. Likely four or five will make the cut, though one topsheet winner was voted for by attendees at a launch party at Tapley's Pub in Whistler Village on Wednesday, Oct. 1.
This winning design from the night will go through as a wildcard, and be the first to be selected for next season's topsheets. The winner had not been named before Pique went to press.
Prior says that last year's winning designs are now on the company's products and can be seen and ordered online at www.priorsnow.com.
He adds it has been a learning experience to see how varied illustrations and painting can work on the boards and skis.
"When you see something on a piece of canvas, as opposed to a piece of board, there is a significant difference. The rectangle shape is one thing but when it is cut out and has the angles, the tips and tails, it does portray another concept, another look," says Prior. "Sometimes I think something is not going to look good on a board but then it ends up being convincing. Everyone's like, 'That looks pretty damned good!' Goes to show that looks can be deceiving."
Westwood says: "I definitely agree with that. Some won in previous years that I was not so sure about and they turned out really good. And I was surprised how good some of them look on skis, the way your mind fills in the gap."
Westwood says that while a lot of the entries could be classified as street art, they want the sort of range that would cover even acrylics and watercolours.
Prior says he is happy about how engaging the competition is for the artists and the voters.
"It's about getting the locals engaged and our ability to sell a local product with local artwork. It is extremely satisfying and we have the means of getting it out internationally. It's very ambitious."