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Prior wowed by topsheet exhibition entries

Artists vie for the chance to see their work on skis and snowboards in annual competition

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Drawings and paintings in every conceivable style have been arriving for weeks at Prior Snowboards & Skis after the call went out for its annual topsheet competition.

Forty-eight entries from Whistler, the Sea to Sky region, and Vancouver Island are all hoping their artwork will grace the company's skis, split skis and boards a year from now.

"It blows my mind what people come up with. This year's entries are all over the map in terms of subjects and representation. There are classic mountain scenes as well as stuff that could have come out of a Marvel cartoon," says owner Chris Prior.

"In terms of what we accept for the competition, we leave it wide open. This is because we sell to a wide spectrum of clients and people can pick and choose what they want.

"People have their own preferences. There's the younger, more edgy type and there's older, more mature, affluent customers who want a design to be more subdued. They're buying into it for the quality and craftsmanship, not the colours."

The winner for the past two years has been Whistler's Raphael Suter, whose most recent entry was a painting of a cougar emerging from the centre of a wooden snowboard.

This year, there will be one winner, with the potential for a runner-up wildcard.

The winner and runner-up (if selected) will win two pairs of skis or snowboards with their design — one to shred on the mountains with, and one to hang on the wall.

Prior added that some clients have returned year-after-year to purchase specific artists' designs — such as Indigenous artist Clarence Mills and Pemberton painter Vanessa Stark — as they come out. Other frequently used artists include Kris Kupskay and the late Chili Thom.

"It has gained a lot of momentum. We never realized how powerful it actually was," he says.

"The reality is that a lot of these artists are up-and-comers and we give them a platform that can provide a lot of exposure. It's also great engaging with the artistic community of Whistler."

Twenty finalists are being unveiled at the competition's annual exhibition at the Prior factory in Function Junction on Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Attendees can vote there or online, from Saturday, Sept. 16 to Sunday, Oct. 1.

"There's always a good buzz about it. I encourage people to drop by," Prior says.

The company began using artists to create designs for its products in 2003.

"Every year since then we have been engaging more and more with local artists," Prior says.

Prior designer Alesha Garden shows off several hand-painted entries, including some designs painted onto snowboards. Some favourite subjects are mermaids (there are three this year) and even an octopus and raspberries.

"You've also got your classic beautiful mountains and animals, too," she says.

"Most were sent digitally, and that has increased in the past few years, but five were made to the correct dimensions.

"It was an extremely tough year to decide on the finalists. We went around the office and got everyone else downstairs (on the factory floor) to help us decide."

Asked what he looks for in a design, Prior says he "leaves it up to the professionals."

"I know what I personally like, but we try to make choices across the spectrum," he says, looking down at the entries on the table before him.

"Every year, we are pleasantly pleased by running it. It's one of these events that has become a staple to the community. And it's a lot of fun."

For more information and to vote online for your favourite topsheet design, visit www.priorsnow.com.

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