After four years it's difficult to imagine the holidays without the Whistler Holiday Experience at the conference centre, returning for its fifth year on Friday, Dec. 16.
It was created by the Resort Municipality of Whistler as a place where visitors and local families could go to get warm, and enjoy a badly needed diversion for kids that need something to do once the lifts stop turning.
And by all accounts it gets more successful every year. Last season Watermark Communications — which has been hired by the municipality to run the event — started to count numbers for the first time.
"The number of visitors hit almost 1,000 per day," said Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark. "I was shocked. We used a clicker to count people coming in and on some days we approached 1,500 a day."
The success of the event has allowed Watermark to reinvest in gear. This year there will be more activities in the teen room, including ping-pong tables, more pool tables and foosball tables.
"We build on it each year," said Eckersley. "This year we've invested to bring in more stuff. The big bouncy castles will be coming back and the golf course, and the other room will be the games room with ping-pong, pool, foosball, floor hockey, soccer and those things. The front will be the café that we've always had, with kid-friendly food for lunch and coffee and things for adults."
As well, from 2 to 4 p.m. each day there will be arts and crafts for kids, with the exception of Monday and Tuesday when artists Vanessa Stark and Nancy Smith do live painting. Some of the arts and crafts projects include decorating gingerbread cookies, making pinecone people, decorating picture frames and lantern making — the latter in cooperation with the Whistler Arts Council.
Also new this year is a series of dance shows hosted by the Vibe Tribe Dance Team. They will be putting on three one-hour shows on Dec. 16,17 and 18 at 6:30 p.m., priced at $10 for adults and $5 for kids and students.
There will also be a free Allison Crowe concert at the conference centre, starting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 23.
The Whistler Holiday Experience runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until Jan. 2, with the exception of evenings where there are dance and musical events.
Santa Claus will be making an appearance this weekend, Dec. 17 and 18, from 1-5 p.m. both days.
The conference centre is also part of the First Night festival, which is being organized by the municipality this year after nine years under Watermark's influence. Watermark will continue to oversee events at the conference centre, including the youth dance party.
Tickets to First Night, Whistler's alcohol-free New Year's celebration, are available online at Whistler.com, at the Whistler Visitor Centre, at Millennium Place and at Meadow Park Sports Centre. Tickets — which include live entertainment, arts and crafts, a fireworks show and more — are $15 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and under. Kids under two are free.
Ice Rink to open Dec. 20
There will be even more to do for families over the holidays with the opening of the ice rink and ice path at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Dec. 20. The rink will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with the exception of Christmas Day (noon to 4 p.m.) and New Year's Eve (from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., reopening at 7 p.m. for First Night ticket holders). The rink is free to use, and skate rentals are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for $5.