We're now less than a month out from the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, and despite some tough challenges from the economy the sports side of the festival could actually be the best ever - with two recognized industry events on the schedule promising to bring out some of the biggest names in skiing and snowboarding.
"I think that's what's so exciting about this year's festival," said spokeswoman Lisa Richardson. "For a while we've seen the ski and snowboard industry kind of walk away from these kinds of events, so we've focused on the grass roots a little more in recent years. It's exciting to see industry brands pick it up again - smaller brands that see the benefit of building a community. It's time consuming for them, but it's much more authentic and core, which is a great thing to be associated with."
The two main events this year are the fifth annual Orage Masters, a ski industry event that is taking place in Whistler for the second consecutive year, and the Grenade Games, a snowboard industry event started by the legendary Danny Kass.
Athletes are still being confirmed, but the events are invite-only and include a good mix of up and coming athletes, active pros, and veterans.
The events are also unique.
The Orage Masters basically pits factory teams against each other, with eight teams of four (three men and one woman) facing off in a custom slopestyle event. Teams wear costumes, hang out on team towers, and score each other through a few rounds of competition before crowning the winners.
Billed as the anti-comp, last year's competition took place above the Glacier Creek lodge, with lots of room for spectators on the side of the course. This year's setup for the contest, which takes place April 19, should be similar for fans, but with some changes of course to challenge skiers.
The Grenade Games differ in that it's actually a series of events. In the four short years this contest has been around, the Grenade Games have become one of the most popular industry events with top pros, up and comers, and legends coming out of retirement to take part in a mixed bag of events that range from fun to hardcore.
The fifth annual Grenade Games will take place April 20-25.
A new event, the Poker Run, takes place on Tuesday, April 21 with athletes collecting cards from five card tables around the mountains, and playing their hand back in the village. The winners go into the finals for a chance to win cash and prizes.
The Dual Slalom Moguls takes place on Wednesday, April 22 with athletes going head to head on a mogul course. There are "air time" and a snowball components to make things a little more interesting..
Athletes compete in Superpipe April 23-24, alongside the top pro skiers in the World Skiing Invitational. The qualifier is on the first day, with the jam taking place on Friday.
There is also a Mini Ramp Contest on Friday afternoon, with pro judges.
The Grande Finale is the Monster Air big air competition on Saturday, which also takes place alongside skiers in the World Skiing Invitational.
There is still opportunity for grass roots involvement. The Orage Masters and Monster Air are invite-only, but skiers and snowboarders will be able to register for spots in the Grenada Games events and the ski halfpipe.
The schedule is still being finalized and more events may be added. For example, Richardson said organizers are considering adding a ski and snowboard cross competition to the schedule, which would coincide with training camps for the national teams taking place during the festival.
The list of confirmed athletes is still being finalized, but skiers confirmed for the World Skiing Invitational include Sarah Burke, returning from an injury at X Games, Jen Hudak, Jessica Cummings, Anna Segal, Kaya Turski, Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle, T.J. Schiller, Colby West, Matt Margetts, Taylor Seaton, Mike Olenick, Alexis Godbout and Phil Casabon. The only snowboarder confirmed by organizers is Grenade Games organizer and two-time Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass.
In addition to on-mountain events the festival is also hosting the Grease grime Park 'n' Fly Skate Jam from noon to 6 p.m. on April 17. The street skateboard event will be held in the underground parking lot at Telus Whistler Conference Centre, and will be followed by the "Skate of the Art" party which opens the festival.
For more information on the festival, visit www.whistler2009.com.