The past week has been the calm before the storm in Whistler, a chance to recharge before the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival descends on the resort — the biggest spring festival of its kind in the world.
The stage is set — a record snowpack for March, increased bookings through festival week (April 12 to 22), huge interest in arts and cultural events, pro sanctioning for the snowboard events, intense interest in the ski events and, hovering over everything, the possibility that an X Games Global event will be featured during next year's Telus WSSF.
Sue Eckersley of Watermark Communications, which organizes the festival, said the X Games possibility is always front of mind, but the festival will go on whatever happens, and is gaining momentum every year.
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't feel different for us producing the festival (with the X Games bid)," said Eckersley. "But in terms of what the output is, and what the festival itself is, it isn't any different. If anything, it's a point of pride for us. We're still an internationally respected event that is the envy of many resorts in North America, and if this is the last one as usual then we're going to make sure we go out with a bang. It's business as usual, with a little bit of pride."
Interest in the event is higher than last year, which was record setting in a lot of ways. For example, ticketed events are selling out faster than in 2011.
"The (72 Hour) Film Festival and Pro Photographer Showdown sold out two months in advance of the festival this year," said Eckersley. "Last year they sold out in six days, this year they sold out in four. Intersection (presented by Pique) is almost sold out, Fashion Exposed is almost sold out, sales for The End after-party are going tremendously well. It's hard to break last year's record where everything sold out, but things are selling in advance of last year."
Eckersley said their only regret is that the Whistler Conference Centre, as big as it is, limits ticket sales for events. "When the Olympics were coming and there was talk of building an arena there was nobody more excited than I was because we would have finally had a venue with 3,000 seats for the film and photo events. Because frankly I could probably sell 4,000 tickets to those events."
Room night advance bookings are also up this year, about three per cent higher than last year — and 46 per cent ahead of 2010, which was a poor year for the resort outside the Olympic Games.
"But to be three per cent ahead of last year — that was an epic year for us, and it also included Easter. So for us to be three per cent of a festival year that contains Easter is big. Really big. That's what our job is, to fill rooms, and those numbers make us really excited."
Sponsorship is down slightly compared to last year, but Eckersley said 2011 was one of the festival's best years yet and this year's sponsorship is strong. "We had a banner year last year, and this year we're having a pretty strong year, which is reflected in prize money for the athletic and arts components, and the strength of the musical lineup."
One thing Watermark is excited about this year is the transition of The Shred Show presented by Monster Energy into a five-star TTR sanctioned event — the first event of the 2012-2013 TTR World Tour. She regrets that there wasn't time or funding to include a women's component, but if the X Games pass on Whistler she said it will be in there next season.
"That's the only thing we wish was different, and Monster wants the same thing, but based on the timeline and the resources we had — and the fact that the riders wanted a 5-star TTR event — that was where we were at," said Eckersley. "If X Games doesn't come next year we will have a massively strong athletic component, with a second year TTR event. The AFP (Association of Freeskiing Professionals) Championships said they would be back next year as well if there is no X Games. So everything is moving in the right direction."
Eckersley is encouraging people to come out this year. "We just want everybody to go out and have an awesome time, and do what we always do at the festival," said Eckersley. "Burn the candle at both ends. Party in April and sleep in May."