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World Ski and Snowboard Festival secures TV deal with ABC

American broadcaster will air AFP World Tour finals on April 25

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Some of the world's top skiers will have an even larger audience than usual for the finals of the AFP World Tour, scheduled as part of the 20th annual World Ski and Snowboard Festival in Whistler (WSSF).

Sue Eckersley, with festival producer Watermark Communications, confirmed that the final leg of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals tour will be aired on the ABC series, The World of X Games, on April 25. While the AFP will crown its superpipe, slopestyle, and big air champions during three days of competition in Whistler, April 9 to 12, the events will be aired two weeks later to an estimated audience of 650,000. It will also re-air on ESPN and internationally.

While the WSSF has had events broadcast on Canadian and international networks in the past, Eckersley said this deal would be the first with an American network.

"It's huge," she said. "The World of X Games is obviously a huge brand, and we're excited to be working with them."

Organizers were able to secure $113,000 in Resort Municipality Initiative funding for this year's festival, and, in the third consecutive year without a major title sponsor, that money is essential to building the WSSF brand, Eckersley noted.

"It's provided us with a TV show and secured us the AFP World Tour finals, both things that are helping this year in our sponsorship drive and will help us next year in our sponsorship drive," she said. "We're very appreciative of that funding."

Joey Gibbons, owner of several resort bars, will once again sponsor the festival's marquee big air contest after he stepped up at the 11th hour last year with $50,000 to keep the event alive. He donated the same amount this year, and said he's willing to support the festival financially for as long as is needed.

"That event we have at the bottom of the mountain, in the spring, in the sunshine, and having a bunch of people up at Whistler, I feel like it's an important community event that creates that vibe that we only get on a few occasions up here in Whistler when the whole community comes out and supports," Gibbons said.

Without a title sponsor on the marquee, organizers have faced challenges in booking acts and scheduling — only three days' worth of musical acts have been secured so far with sponsorship deals still being negotiated at press time — but Eckersley doesn't see the beloved ski and snowboard festival going anywhere anytime soon.

"There's just too much love for this festival," she said. "It will change in nature each year and we're going to work with the resources we have, but I think, if anything, we've weathered the storm and there are better days in the future."

One challenge event producers don't have much control over is the weather, and with an unseasonably warm winter starting to wind down, Eckersley is confident her team, along with Whistler Blackcomb, will be able to adjust and adapt.

"Whistler Blackcomb has amazing snowmaking capabilities, so obviously the park and alpine events are dialed in," she said. "The only thing we really need to work on is the valley big air (event), and they've made a lot of snow and stored it up, so we've just got to hope for a little bit more cold weather.

"It's not at the point now where we're making serious plans around figuring out other options (for the big air event)."

The World Ski and Snowboard Festival's 10 days of sports, art and music kicks off April 10 and closes April 19.

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