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TWSSF ends? X Games decision April 30

Big Air draws thousands with 43,000 more watching live online



As the curtains close on the 17th annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler is holding its collective breath for the potential big changes coming down the pipeline.

Local X Games Bid organizers confirmed this week that Monday, April 30 is the expected date for the much-anticipated announcement, which could see the multi-million dollar X Games franchise replacing the WSSF as the finale festival capping the ski season in Whistler for at least the next three years.

Tourism Minister Pat Bell has not announced any provincial funding for X Games, but supports the bid.

"We admire Whistler's creativity in finding new ways to highlight their spectacular resort experience," said Bell. "As one of the world's greatest ski resorts, it would be hard to think of a better location for the X Games."

But with bid organizers "cautiously optimistic" of an announcement in Whistler's favour Monday, it was an emotional time for those who have been involved in building the festival.

"No matter what," said TWSSF producer Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications, "we've got something that's pretty great and we have the potential of having something that's pretty great too. And they are different."

Eckersley's own personal highlights this year, layered with bittersweet feelings, included the Michael Franti concert and the iconic Big Air on Saturday.

"We partnered up with Samsung and YouTube for the first time this year to really web cast the Big Air to a wide audience," said Eckersley."We had 43,000 people watching that web cast live."

She's accepted the festival could be different in the coming years if the X Games brand moves in. Specifically, the sporting events will change but the arts and cultural component of the festival, which Whistler has nurtured these past 17 years, could continue under the X Games brand and renamed as "X Fest."

"I'm going to be happy with whatever it is and we're going to make sure that the spirit of our April event lives on," Eckersley said, her voice hoarse after weeks of 20-hour days to ensure another successful end of season festival. "The name, at the end of the day, is a name. It's more what the spirit and what are the goals of the event... I don't think that necessarily has to change that much just because it becomes X Fest."

That "spirit" she describes is the morphing of international big name athletes and talent with the local community feel.

"There is just so much of Whistler in this event," she said proudly.

This community "buy in" has been critical to its success — that fusion of local, grassroots action with international flare.

In the case of top musical draw Michael Franti it also means playing for a "friendly rate."