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Whistler awaits word on X Games funding as April deadline looms

ESPN site inspection means snowmobiling moved out of Callaghan


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With about a month left to go until ESPN's decision on the X Games expansion, the countdown is on in Whistler to get more money on the table.

Without it, Whistler's X Games hopes could disappear.

In addition to confirming revenues from the federal and provincial governments, Whistler must also nail down its operating expenses.

"Both will have a deciding factor in the outcomes of the Games here," said Mark Taylor, Whistler's X Games bid chair, after last week's site inspection from ESPN.

"That was the whole purpose of the site inspection, to create a viable financial model for the X Games to operate in Whistler."

Keeping the costs down was one of the reasons why the Callaghan Valley has now been scrapped from the bid as the venue for the snowmobiling events.

Snowmobiling will now be planned for Blackcomb's Coca-Cola Tube Park.

"We all looked at it in terms of cost and logistics," said Taylor. "Although Whistler Olympic Park (15 minutes south of the village) is an ideal venue with the arena setting for the snowmobile (events), the cost of operating another venue at that level and creating the snow pack... and the cost of transition with the just increased our budgets dramatically."

Nine representatives from the network were in Whistler last week to fine-tune the technical and operational aspects to the resort's X Games bid.

If awarded, Whistler will be one of six stops on a global X Games tour for at least three years, beginning in 2013.

"This was to follow up with a lot more focus and the details," said Tori Stevens, vice president of Global X Games events, operations and development at ESPN, on the second day of the site inspection.

"It's a tremendous mountain, it's a really polished group of people who all have great passion for action sports and have a lot of expertise in running world class events. That pairs up well with what we're looking for. So I'd say we've had a very positive experience and have felt very welcomed by the group here as well as the town itself."

It's down to just nine finalist cities.

The community has already put up funds for the bid — $750,000 in cash, split equally between the municipality, Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler, plus $500,000 of value in kind from other community partners.

It has set its sights on other levels of government to land the deal.

"It's not a shoo-in but we're the only winter venue that's been short-listed and if we can meet the financial requirements there would be no reason why we wouldn't be awarded the games," said a confident Taylor.

There are two winter venues currently — Aspen and Tignes, France — and one summer X Games in Los Angeles.

"All of the events (in 2013) would be the same size, scale and scope as what we're doing in Aspen and L.A. currently, but would have local nuances that would really draw on the region and the culture so that they're each differentiated and somewhat unique," said Stevens. "The core DNA of the X Games will run through all of them... but there will be opportunity for differentiation where the city and the region are the backdrop."

The site inspection also confirmed that at least half a million dollars in on mountain improvements must be complete in order to host the Games.

The super pipe, skier and border cross and the slopestyle events will all be held at the Blackcomb Terrain Park.

Not all the improvements will be visible — fibre upgrades for the TV broadcast, enhanced snowmaking and changing the area at the bottom of the pipe, to name just three.

"For the purpose of running a quality event in April, with quality snow, a valley-based event is not an option in Whistler," said Taylor.

The downside to that of course is that it won't be accessible to the kind of crowds that turn out in Aspen, but said Taylor, Whistler Blackcomb has held events at the park before accommodating 3,000 to 5,000 spectators.

The big air and the X-Fest cultural component and the concert series will be held in the village.

The Whistler Sliding Centre and Lot 8 will be the broadcast and logistics compound.

"We're very excited about the possibilities," said Barrett Fisher, Tourism Whistler's president and CEO. "The Winter X Games Whistler represents an exceptional opportunity for Whistler, for British Columbia and for Canada."


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