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World Ski and Snowboard Festival — beyond the big leagues

From the ashes of the World Technical Skiing Championships, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival has risen to an unsurpassed expression of snowsports culture.

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"Jack was in Whistler for the festival and had been asking to see the photos and I was thinking to myself, 'why don't I put a slide show together and show it?'" said Berger.

After approval and endorsement from festival chief Doug Perry, it was decided that a small venue would be suitable as a trial, and to make sure there were not any potentially embarrassing voids in the room.

"My idea when presenting that original show was to tell a story of the trip with the photos," recalled Berger.

"I felt a slide show could, like a short movie, tell a story and bring you on a journey. I just knew there was potential to put something with music, time it so the slides flipped to the beat of the music, and that kind of stuff. Back then it was a slide projector and (manual) hand controls so you had to rehearse it."

The bar in the then Fairways Hotel (now the Aava Hotel) was the designated venue for this unscheduled event, complete with home projector, roll-up screen and compact disc player. The invite show ended up being a packed house and quickly became the talk of the town during the 1997 festival.

After the runaway success of that first solo impromptu show, Turner suggested they invite a handful of the world's best action sports photographers the following year and hold a judged "showdown" at a larger venue. The next year saw Berger competing against Paul Morrison, Scott Markewitz, Dano Pendygrasse and Mark Shapiro. Berger walked away with the Best of Show.

"After we did that first little slide show, I can't begin to tell you when I was selling the idea how many people said, 'it will never work,'" said Turner.

"I remember the photography editor of Transworld Snowboarding, John Foster, looking at me and saying, 'Jack, first of all, no photographer is ever going to want to enter this — it's too much work. Secondly, no one's going to want to watch it.'"

But every year the tickets to the Pro Photographer Showdown sold out earlier and earlier, now making it the most in-demand arts event at the festival. The calibre of photographers continues to rise, with the gaps between finalists narrowing.

"It's taken a little while for the photographers to really understand what we're trying to achieve, but it's really (getting) figured out, which is making the show that much better and becoming way harder to judge," said Berger.

"Every year before we do it we get all the judges together and review everything. We try to keep the judging panel as qualified as we can and maintain as many returning judges as possible for the consistency throughout the years. We try not to move the goal posts too much."