At its core, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) is a farewell party of sorts to the previous ski and snowboard season and a pep rally to get people excited about next winter. It's a celebration of life for people who have based their lives, to some degree on snow sports. It's a ritual, an affirmation, a moveable Mardi Gras, a cultural zeitgeist, the final binge before the cleanse.
Snow sports have always been one of the festival's major pillars, and at one point or another every major star in skiing and snowboarding has been part of the events. The events themselves change and morph over the years, from pro to grassroots to pro again, and in the last few years the festival's sports program has been elevated to the status it deserves.
The World Skiing Invitational, the first major "new school" freeskiing event in the world, is now the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) championship event. This year the top skiers in the world will be here to vie for overall titles, points and prize money in slopestyle and big air competition.
The Shred Show snowboarder events include a five star World Snowboard Tour slopestyle competition, which actually kicks off the 2013-2014 season for the tour.
New this year, the festival is also playing host to a roller derby competition, featuring Whistler's Black Diamond Betties and the Squamish Sea to Sky Sirens.
World Skiing Invitational
This year the World Skiing Invitational is kicking off the WSSF, with a big air competition on Saturday night, April 13 at the base of the mountain, running from 5 to 7 p.m.
There's a 30-man elimination round with each athlete getting two jumps and their best score counting. The top eight from that round will move onto the superfinals and will get two more jumps. The top score overall wins $5,000, with second place earning $3,500 and third $1,500.
The invite list is a who's who of pro athletes, including current AFP leader Gus Kenworthy (3,424 points) of the U.S. and runner-up Vincent Gagnier of Canada (3,147). Gagnier could actually take the title with a strong performance in Whistler, providing that Kenworthy has an off day — which he almost never does.
Other athletes in the running include Kiki Jossi Wells, Henrik Harlaut of Sweden, Alex Schlopy of the U.S., Oysten Braaten of Norway, Russ Henshaw of Australia, Mikkel Joraandstad of Norway, Lars Bjorum of Norway and James Woods of Great Britain. The top 10 on the world tour are an international cast to say the least.
Other Canadians to watch for include Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Noah Morrison, Charles Gagnier and TJ Schiller.
As for what spectators can expect, the new standard is triple-corked tricks — variations of spin tricks with three variations of flips or shoulder rolls where skis are higher than the athletes' heads. They'll be coming in, and landing switch for extra points.