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world cup fever

World Cup festival building steam By Chris Woodall Forget the racing stuff, the Hongkong Bank Whistler Ski Classic, Dec. 4-8, will be one heck of a party. The pace is quickening as organizers tack down details for parades, creation of a "World Cup Forest," and a discount pass that’ll reward the purchaser with a great whack of freebies, near-freebies and other party inducements. Because the Whistler event is early in the over-all schedule of races held around this planet, this year’s World Cup downhill and super G promise to attract even greater attention to the resort than have races in the past. Initial returns from news outlets seeking press passes for the Whistler Mountain-based races indicates that double the usual numbers of press hounds will be here, says Jane MacCarthy, media co-ordinator. "It’s too early to tell, but I anticipate we’ll have more than 200 press accreditations," she says. In previous years the number of writers, photographers, camera crew and their familiars runs to 100. "And that doesn’t include the CBC," says MacCarthy, hinting at the national network’s "cover it like a blanket" attitude. The 1998 winter Olympics are having an effect, too. "CBS Sports is going to be here to do research on the skiers prior to its coverage of the winter Olympics," MacCarthy says. Although applications come in waves, MacCarthy says that the first rush of requests from Japan, Austria, Germany and France tells her the media mob will be huge. "These are all from journalists who’ve never been here." But you can get too wrapped up in the hype. Calls to the major hotels in Whistler reveal that "White Circus" fever is rather tepid. It's pretty much business as usual, say reservations managers at the Delta Whistler, Chateau Whistler and Powder Resort Property Management. With more than 700 units at its disposal, Powder Resort Properties is the "host hotel" and has donated all the rooms for athletes, coaches and officials. The media have also booked with them, but there are no significant additional bookings yet, says spokesperson Dale Pruden. The Whistler Resort Association has a special multi-day package it is telling the world about that includes a dual mountain ski pass for the length of the stay and discounted meals, but it's too early to chart what the response to it has been, says Tara Wooley. The enthusiasm-o-meter charting the reactions of Whistler businesses will start vibrating when event organizers put together their final plans for a "passport" that purchasers can use to get a valley full of discounts from bars, restaurants, merchandisers and so on. Tentatively called the "Whistler Village Passport Program," it will sell for $15 and resemble a laminated mountain ski pass. Don't fret, Whistlerites! Plans are to offer a discount on the purchase price to those who call Whistler home. Every company participating will determine its own special offer. Entertainment spots, for example, may give pass holders two-for-one cover charges, free appies with an entrée, or a percentage off the price of the dish of the day. Retailers or hoteliers in the program might tempt pass holders with offers of discounted goods, services or room rates. The pass is expected to help raise exposure for the World Cup and for Whistler, says pass organizer Marika Koenig. The plan is to sell 2,000 in Vancouver, another 500 to Whistler locals, and 500 as complimentary passes. Revenue from sales would go to the W5 Foundation. The original idea behind the pass — organized by a different group and called "Paint the Town Red" — was to use the revenues to subsidize participating bars' cost to bring in big-name entertainment. "We decided we didn't need to restrict ourselves to the bars because they'll benefit from the World Cup and they've hired the bands they were going to hire anyway," says Don McQuaid of the Masters Group. Opening participation to other elements of Whistler's business community will help make the passport more valuable, McQuaid says. "If everybody offers a little bit of a discount, the over-all effect will be large" for participating businesses and for passport holders. Among the more interesting World Cup festival ideas is the creation of a World Cup Forest. The details have to be ironed out, but the idea is for visitors to buy a seedling that will be planted in May on a piece of land on Whistler Mountain. As additional trees are planted each year Whistler hosts the World Cup events, the end effect will be a lasting monument to the spirit of the Hongkong Bank Whistler Ski Classic. Trails and other landscaping elements may be included in the forest. Several festival events involve specialty lighting. Included are a Light the Lights simultaneous switching-on of all the Christmas light displays in the resort, a Christmas tree decorating party at the conference centre, the Festival of Lights gala dinner-dance, and an attempt to set a world record for the largest mountain-side torch-light parade. Among other events during World Cup week include a live music festival, a supplier/sponsor trade show, a logging show, snowbody making competition, a big band swing dance, and a pancake breakfast. Ski race-related events include a fund raiser for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, a parade of champions through the village to the opening ceremonies, bib draws and medal presentations. Meanwhile, in Vancouver the Hongkong Bank and Chevron have started promoting the World Cup at their branches and stations. The official World Cup program will also be available at Chevron stations in the next few weeks. Whistler Chamber of Commerce President Rick Clare has some of the Hongkong Bank’s posters and promotional material if local merchants are interested in displaying it.