Once upon a time the World Skiing Invitational was the biggest event in pro freeskiing, breaking new ground in the sport when only a handful of skiers dared to challenge the terrain park, before twin tip skis were widely available.
Some of the top freeskiers in the world cut their teeth here, some of them as teenagers accompanied by their parents. Careers were launched and legends made.
Soon, it seemed like every resort in the world was hosting freeski events, some of them competing directly with the WSI for top athletes and sponsors. The event never disappeared but it declined slightly and in 2010 there was only one superpipe event on the schedule, complimenting the Orage Masters pro team event.
The 2011 event, however, promises to be the biggest ever with the announcement that the WSI would double as the AFP (Association of Freeski Professionals) World Championships with over $125,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs. That puts the WSI on the same level as X Games and the Dew Tour when it comes to pro contests.
Then, two weeks ago, the International Olympic Committee announced that the sport of ski halfpipe would be included in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. That made the WSI the first major contest with a superpipe since the announcement.
While the competition is still in conflict with the Jon Olsson Invitational, most of the top skiers in the world have decided to come to Whistler.
There are three events in the WSI - the slopestyle today (April 21), the Big Air Finals on Saturday and the Superpipe Finals on Sunday. The Big Air and Slopestyle are invite only, while there is an open qualifier for the Superpipe on Friday.
The course, which is being created in Blackcomb's Highest Level terrain park, is open for training from 9:30 a.m. to 10:15 on April 21. From 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. it's the men's elimination round, where a field of 40 athletes (top 30 of AFP rankings plus 10 wildcards) will be narrowed down to the top 10 on the men's side.
There will be half an hour of training, with the finals running from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The women's field is comprised of 12 athletes (top 10 AFP list plus two wildcards) all of them heading to the finals.
Athletes get two runs and only the best run counts. The top three men will get $8,500, $4,500 and $2,000, and the top three women $6,000, $3,000 and $1,000.