Heading into this years Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, W1 founder and president Doug Perry really didnt know what to expect.
With war, economic uncertainty, and SARS influencing and impacting regional and international tourism, there was a very real possibility that the festival, a key draw to Whistler in the spring season, would see a lower turnout than past years.
Still, Perry is an optimist, and was confident that this year would be as good, and in some ways better than previous years.
"We dont have the hotel figures yet, and havent analyzed the survey numbers, but so far the numbers have exceeded our projections," he said. Despite all the outside factors that could have kept visitors away, "our projections remained fairly aggressive, and we were pretty confident."
In its eight years of evolution, the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival has continued to expand and build on its core of events.
"Its really developed its own personality," said Perry. "Its really comprised of three major pillars of content you have sports, music and visual art."
Attendance was strong at the sports and music events, with the big air events each attracting more than 10,000 spectators, and huge crowds for headliner musical acts like Treble Charger and Swollen Members.
The visual arts component really took off this year, according to Perry, with more than 4,000 people attending the events, including the Sony-sponsored pro photographer searches and showdown, the Panasonic Filmmaker Showdown (which had 32 entries in only its second year), and the new Words and Stories evening featuring prominent mountain-themed writers.
"The visual arts events were really popular this year, its what the people seem to want, so well be bumping those kinds of things up again next year," said Perry.
The quality of the music content is also continuing to get better as the festival grows in size and stature, Perry said.
The one thing that Perry feels worked against the festival this year was the weather. Cold, rain and fog kept people off the mountain and away from events like the ski and snowboard superpipe contests and the Saab Solomon Crossmax finals. Weather also kept the crowds down at a number of outdoor concert events as well.
"Still, all the events got off, which is a good thing, and all we can really do is hope for better weather next year," he said.
Even with the hotel numbers and survey results in, Perry feels it will be difficult to measure the success of this years festival in any real numbers, outside of attendance at events, because of the Easter long weekend.
Although the Easter crowd is slightly different than the festival crowd, Perry said W1 made an effort to include the Easter visitors, mostly families with younger children, into the mix as well. One example of that was the decision to run the annual Dog Parade over two days. Another example was the RBC-sponsored kids zone in Village Square, where kids could try out exhibits on speed skating, sledge hockey, hockey, luge, curling, and biathlon.
"The festival is very proud to support the bid, as the Olympics are also a celebration of snow sports and mountain culture," said Perry.
Visitor statistics and the results of an electronic survey will be available in the next few weeks.
But while visitors are important, Perry says he tends to gear events towards locals.
"From the beginning, its been designed to embrace as much community interest as possible, and to keep the local content high. Thats evident in our search for an MC for the concert series, by the fundraisers that were held, by the photography exhibits its really about what this community wants."