‘Booming resort’ town catches up with Whistler Although a huge success, organizers of the WSSF were overwhelmed by visitors By Paul Andrew The collective growth and ultimate success of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival has managed to ring the proverbial alarm bell among officials around Whistler following the Saturday night grand finale, April 17. Two years ago, the WSSF’s biggest estimate for any one day of the 10-day event was 8,400 people. This year’s gathering of some 15,000 people at the village gondola base for the Westbeach Big Air Invitational, which took place prior to WSSF headlining band Sloan, may have upped the festival’s ante to a precarious position. The RCMP, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and WSSF organizers are considering significant changes to avoid any problems next spring. The band was forced to quit performing after a few songs because snowballs from the crowd were dampening the stage and electrical equipment. In addition, people on the Garibaldi Lift Company patio, which is directly below the Big Air snowboard ramp, were the target of hundreds of snowballs. Sponsors and VIPs invited onto the patio for a private function were doused. "We want to drive that event, we don’t want it to drive us," said Doug Perry, managing director of the Resort Management Group and the WSSF. "I’m frustrated that Sloan left the stage early, but we’ve now taken steps to replace the individuals who organized that event," Perry said of Snowboard Canada. "Plus, it doesn’t help when the announcer is provoking the crowd. We’re looking at bringing in a higher level of professionalism and involving the community more on a micro-management level." Perry admitted the WSSF’s attendance was way beyond anyone’s expectations, and the snow conditions were part of the attraction to the resort for the festival. He said Whistler skier visits in the 10-day period between April 9 and 18 topped the combined total of all Colorado ski resorts for the same period. Staff Sgt. Frank Shedden of the Whistler RCMP, who worked the last weekend of the WSSF, put the festival in perspective. "We didn’t have a festival in a resort town, we had a festival in a booming resort town," Shedden said Monday. "I expect the (WSSF) organizers, us and the municipality will be sitting down together to talk. The sheer numbers of visitors in the village, with the unlimited control... well, we never expected that many people in the village on one night, except maybe on First Night." Despite the unprecedented number of people in the village Saturday for the grand finale, Shedden says arrests in the village (12-14), were few and far between, and mostly to set an example in a high-profile area. "We’re not going to wade in and make numerous arrests, because that’s when you start a riot. I mean, you only have to look at the aftermath in the village — broken bottles and what not — there was a heck of a lot more people and more snow, which wasn’t here last year." Shedden said he’s hoping one of the solutions to avoiding potential problems is having the organizers pay for additional RCMP, much like the municipality does for First Night. Perry agreed, saying he intended to have "pro-active" discussions with the municipality and with his own group this week to better mange the individual events. "We had unprecedented growth. We surveyed 12,000 people during the festival and the preliminary results show 3,000 were in Whistler for the WSSF. We don’t want to limit the visitors, but we do want to put in safeguards," Perry said. "Take Saturday night for example; better choreography of the Big Air competition would mean running the competitors closer together so there wasn’t that big space between riders. And maybe we’ll have the band play first. But to go from the halfpipe to the bands then the Big Air and the Stellar Rave all in one day is maybe too much." However, Perry followed those comments by saying Hugh Smythe, president of Resort Operations for Intrawest, provided figures showing Whistler was the busiest ski resort in the world for the week of the festival. Boardwild, a television program broadcast on several networks around the world, called the WSSF the foremost snowsport event in the world. As far as success is concerned, Perry is happy. "We may have to visit an event such as the Innsbrück Air & Style, which is held in December and attracts 40,000 people, and learn from them."