With two months to go before Whistler hosts the FIS Snowboard World Championships, organizers are still finalizing the exact details. The big picture, however, is getting clearer every day with the announcement of two new sponsors, and more major sponsors expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks.
"In terms of the scope of this event, its going to be a multi-million dollar production, the biggest event ever to happen in Whistler," said Mark Taylor, vice president of IMG Action Sports.
Nissan recently signed on as the title sponsor for the snowboard cross event, the first event on the World Championships Festival calendar. Vancouver-based Option NFA, a snowboard company, also signed on as supporting sponsor.
More sponsors are expected to sign on between now and the first week of December, says Taylor, which will in turn determine how much money organizers will be able to spend on festival attractions like musical acts.
"Were already ahead of our goals, and I think were going to see a lot of names added in the next few weeks in different categories. Were in discussion with a lot of companies, which are being concluded. Its fair to say theres been a lot of interest," said Taylor.
"Our goal from the start was to make (the festival) the best we possibly can. The final elements of what we can and cant do will be determined by the final budget, but were confident that in addition to the snowboard events and opening and closing ceremonies theres going to be a wide range of pretty high profile attractions going on."
Part of the reason for the sponsor interest is the fact that television deals are already in place with NBC, CBS, Outdoor Life Network and SportsNet. More than 80 hours of world-wide broadcasting is also being planned, which will be seen in dozens of countries. That exposure makes it possible to draw international sponsors, says Taylor.
The event itself is shaping up to be even larger than the organizers originally anticipated. At the beginning they were expecting approximately 450 athletes and officials to attend. That number has grown to between 550 and 650, with participating countries bringing the maximum number of athletes they are allowed in order to compete for quota spots in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games at Torino, Italy.
The total athlete quota for 2006 is 140 athletes in six snowboarding events; mens and womens halfpipe, snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom. Each country can field up to 16 athletes in the Games, with a maximum of 10 men or women on a team. Only four athletes from each country can compete in any one event, providing they win all of their quota spots.
To earn a quota spot for his or her country, an athlete has to place in the top-25 in the FIS World Championships or a FIS World Cup, and earn a minimum of 120 FIS points by January of 2006. If there are too many qualified athletes in any event, then the overall rankings will be used to determine how the spots will be allotted.
According to Taylor, the goal for the World Championships organizers was to book approximately 6,000 room nights. With approximately 600 athletes and officials staying in Whistler during the nine-day festival, "were looking to exceed those numbers," he said, adding that some of the major sponsors will be booking hundreds of rooms each for the duration of the festival.
The sheer size of the event will require between 500 and 800 volunteers. About 300 have already signed on "without even trying," said Taylor. "Getting 300 names already submitted, just through the Web site, is a big step for us. Its pretty early in the game still and we havent started actively recruiting volunteers yet, but theyre finding us. Which is good, because I think our volunteers are going to get an unbelievable package this year."
In addition to merchandise from event sponsors, Whistler-Blackcomb will donate up to seven lift tickets to volunteers that qualify.
The festival runs from Jan. 15 to Jan. 23 and will determine world champions in halfpipe, snowboard cross, parallel slalom, parallel giant slalom and big air. There will also be a pro rail jam event. For more information on the snowboard world championships, or to register as a volunteer for the festival, visit www.whistlerworlds.com.