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Shortened WSSF hits the right notes

Organizers happy with newest edition of season-ending festival

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While this year's instalment may have been scaled back compared to years past, the 2018 World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) maintained its reputation as a great season-capping event.

"It's sort of like a recap of the ski season—the après of the season, almost," said Crankworx Inc.'s Darren Kinnaird, one of the festival's directors.

"We just had a wrap meeting here, a debrief meeting, and that was the general sense—that people were reminded, 'Hey you know what? Whistler is awesome, and it's a great place to be and a great place to live, and only in Whistler could you pull something like this off."

The revamped WSSF was truly a team effort, with Whistler Blackcomb (WB), Gibbons Whistler and Crankworx Inc. (WB's in-house event producer) combining to take the reins from former producer Watermark Communications Inc.

"It's a challenge wrangling all this support and figuring out how to get the economics to work and pull off a great event that is fun for people. I felt great about it," said WB Chief Operating Officer Pete Sonntag.

"I think the events were impactful, the feedback was really good, and it was awesome bringing back the Couloir race, it created a lot of buzz."

One key takeaway for producers moving forward is that there is still a lot of interest in the event, Sonntag said.

"I think if there was any question around if the community still wants something like this, we heard it loud and clear: if we put it together, they'll support it and do their part," Sonntag said.

"Just the attendance we had in basically everything—in the pouring rain ... we had 3,000 people show up for a big air show. Where else would that happen?"

Final attendance and room night numbers during the event, which ran April 10 to 15, are not available at this time, but room nights were pacing behind comparable dates last year, said Tourism Whistler's senior manager of research and product development Meredith Kunza.

"The important thing to remember there is Easter ... last year Easter overlapped with WSSF, so that makes a big difference," Kunza said.

Looking at comparative dates from 2016, this year's WSSF was pacing 57-per-cent ahead, she added.

Asked about next year's event, Kinnaird said it's still too early to talk about what might be improved or changed.

"We had three teams coming together to pull this off in a short period of time ... so bringing all that experience together, we probably did things differently than they've been done in the past, but also learned a lot and probably scratched the surface on opportunities for the future, as well," Kinnaird said.

"But yeah, it's a little early to say."

One question still unanswered is whether organizers will look to return the event to its former length of 11 days.

"An event has to make sense financially, and I think it's very easy to get ambitious with events and drive your cost up significantly and maybe not get a whole lot more bang ... for your event. I think that's part of what's happened periodically with this event," Sonntag said.

"This was much tighter, more consolidated. For some, maybe not quite as impactful, but I don't know—it felt like we had it at the right level. We'll certainly look at it and we're absolutely willing to talk about it."

What's more certain at this point is the future of the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme, which returned this year for the first time since 2001.

The hope is to bring the event back annually.

"That's absolutely our goal," Sonntag said. "We'll take the time to debrief and learn everything we can about what went wrong and what we feel we can do differently or better."

But overall, organizers were impressed with WSSF, especially given that the Whistler Cup was taking place at the same time.

"To think how this place can host multiple events simultaneously and pull them off at a world-class level and have everyone thinking this is the greatest place to end your season in the world, we couldn't ask for more," Sonntag said.

"I'm proud of my team but I think we should all be proud of our community for what we all pulled off."

-with files from Brandon Barrett

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