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The story behind the festival

Sleepless nights take over for festival organizers



It's quiet on a Thursday afternoon at Watermark headquarters. The shades are drawn and the event management company employees are slumped over their computers, finalizing details for the 2011 Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

But it's quiet in here. A little too quiet, it would seem, for an office tasked with throwing Whistler's biggest annual event in only two weeks.

"We had the volunteer recruitment party last night," says Jess Smith, Watermark's communications manager. "It was probably the biggest turnout we've ever had for volunteers."

She says a bulk of this year's 280 volunteers showed up to the GLC for the event, which meant a big ol' party and that explains the mellowed vibe in the office. Hangovers will do that, but Smith assures that it's not normally like this. No, the pressure has been on, and is on. Like, right now.

"It doesn't look like it but everyone's keeping it internalized," she says. "This is a bummer free zone, see?" She points to cardboard sign on the floor that had fallen from its post on the wall, with "Bummer Free Zone" scrawled in black Sharpie. No one has had the time to pick it up.

Now in it's 16th year, the 2011 Ski and Snowboard Festival will likely be the biggest and certainly the most hyped. The Pro Photo Showdown and 72 Hour Film Competition sold out five weeks before the festival even started. The films to be shown will feature some of the best athletes from around the world. And some are saying the free outdoor music line up, featuring Broken Social Scene, Black Mountain and Tokyo Police Club, is the best it has ever been.

In many ways, TWSSF is as much about the culture as it is about the sport.

"There's an irony in calling it the Telus World Ski and Snowboard festival because there's so much more to it now," says Sue Eckersley, Watermark president and executive director of the festival.

Eckersley has helped organize the festival for 12 years and has been executive director for five, when Whistler Blackcomb hired Watermark to manage the event. In the early days, the festival was ski and snowboard specific, with two thirds of the budget reserved for sports contests. The Pro Photo Showdown was conceived fourteen years ago as way to showcase the sport, not the art itself, and was first on the chopping block if budgets were tight.

But as snowboard companies' revenues dropped and there was less money to throw around, festival organizers had to target new sponsors. A growth of the festival's arts and culture offerings became a method of survival.