Sue Eckersley's voice is happy but hoarse on the phone on Tuesday after working non-stop for weeks to put on the 2013 World Ski and Snowboard Festival. And the work isn't over yet — there are hundreds of details to resolve before the WSSF, and its value to Whistler, can be put into context.
Overall, she's pleased with the 10-day festival and the way the community stepped in to ensure that it was as good as could be, despite the unusual challenges she faced with her team at Watermark Communications.
"Obviously we had some obstacles to overcome with the departure of Telus (as a main sponsor), but I felt the event was as strong as it always is with a lot of people in attendance and great acts on stage, epic nights at the conference centre and great things going on in the village," she said. "There are always things you would tweak if given a second chance, but overall I'm very happy."
With the loss of Telus after last season, and General Motors' decision to pull out in the fall, the festival operated on a shoestring — though funding from the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) department supported the musical component of the festival with $135,000 in additional funding this year.
As a result of that commitment, and support from partners Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb, Eckersley said most festivalgoers may not have noticed that the festival's budget had been reduced from $1.8 million to $1.35 million.
"We spent a lot less money, and worked a lot harder at it," she said.
One area where people may have noticed a decline was in the World Skiing Invitational, an event that has also served as the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) championships for the past three years. The prize purse was reduced substantially this year to $26,000 over two events, a big air contest and a slopestyle. The previous year the prize purse was over $60,000, plus a car valued at $21,000. There was also a halfpipe event.
Eckersley said it was a particularly tough decision to cut the halfpipe event this year, as the WSI has hosted one of the orignal, and longest-running halfpipe events for skiers, but they had no choice.
"There was a considerable savings in prize money to ski athletes, so we really do appreciate their loyalty to our event," said Eckersley. "The prize money didn't impact who showed up and what they were doing, which was huge for us. Skiers have always been loyal to the World Skiing Invitational."
Another way that festival organizers reduced costs was to reduce their own management team. Watermark cut its production team, and hired fewer people to work in the village and on the mountains. Those who were hired worked harder.