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The future of the festival

Arts events now equal to athletics at World Ski and Snowboard Festival

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On a sunny afternoon on an outdoor patio Doug Perry, president of W1, the event planning organization responsible for the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, lays out a tri-circle mathematical diagram.

The orbs in this case represent three elements of the festival: athletic events, music events and arts events. What’s significant about this particular representation is that all the circles are of equal size, and are positioned so that their area contribution to the overlapping heart of the festival is also equal.

No need for a PhD in physics to figure things out.

The official moniker (minus the corporate sponsor) is a reference to the festival’s original focus. Nine years ago organizers brought together several existing ski and snowboard contests and races for a seasonal send-off like no other.

But something interesting has happened along the way. Off-hill events, considered at first to be mere distractions from the on-hill action, began elbowing their way into prominence. Photography showdowns featuring top action/sport sharpshooters from all over the world, outdoor music concerts, film events, and most recently a literary evening have proven themselves integral to the draw and flavour of the festival as a whole.

The tremendous growth of these former side dishes has elevated them to entree status now, as Perry’s diagram indicates, helping to define the Whistler festival as a step above the typical season-ender slush-skiing boozefest common to many North American ski resorts.

And according to Perry, it’s the music and arts events that show the biggest potential for future growth.

It all started in 1997, says Perry, when local ski and snowboard photographer Eric Berger and writer Jack Turner approached him with the idea of hosting an evening during the festival featuring a slideshow of images from a snowboard excursion to Iran.

"I think (Perry) was a little leery at first," recalls Berger. "He was trying to bill an event that was full of excitement and energy and this was like, ‘slideshow? Yawn!’ It was more or less a last minute thing, a few weeks before the fest, and he was concerned it would be a no-show."

The event booked a conservative-sized hotel bar and drew a full-house crowd with people turned away at the door. But it confirmed interest in slideshow photography events during the festival.

With Berger, Turner and Perry at the helm, the event emerged the following year as the first Pro Photographer Showdown at the festival. Three more top action/sport photographers were invited to join Berger to exhibit, the event venue relocated to the atrium of the conference centre and a crowd of what Berger estimates to be 500 people were there for the ride. Berger was awarded Best Of Show by a judging panel, an element the trio had included as a quality and innovation incentive for the participating photographers.

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