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Whistler festival celebrates spring skiing

Canadian event combines music, arts with snowsports

By Skiing Magazine editors

The TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival features nearly 50 live concerts in Whistler, British Columbia.
The TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival features nearly 50 live concerts in Whistler, British Columbia.

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(Skiing Magazine) -- Known for its epic spring skiing, big snows, milder temperatures and lots of open terrain, Whistler Blackcomb throws a 10-day party making April a don't-miss at the British Columbia ski resort.

In 2003, record crowds flocked to Whistler for the TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival, making it North America's largest annual snowsports and music festival.

Nicknamed a "blast of rock and awe" by the Vancouver Sun, the festival offered visitors an impressive line-up of snowsports competitions, live concerts, visual arts events and nonstop parties. The snowiest March on record for Whistler Blackcomb also provided excellent spring conditions for skiers and snowboarders.

"Our skier and visitation figures are all the more remarkable when you consider the outside factors that came into play at the time -- the war on Iraq, SARS, inclement weather in Vancouver and a less than vibrant global economy," said Rob McSkimming, managing director of Ski & Snowboard School and vice chair of the TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival board of directors.

"Clearly, the TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival was a bright spot in the 2002/03 season."

The festival continues to push the envelope with snowsports competitions, attracting the world's top skiercross athletes such as Sweden's Lars Lewen and Whistler local Aleisha Cline and other international superstars, including Enak Gavaggio, Xavier Kuhn, Isidore Gruner, and Karin Huttary from Europe; pros Kono Iromi and Shoya Okazaki from Japan; and Canadian favorites Anik Demers, Ashleigh McIvor and Davey Barr.

Amateur athletes also are welcome to compete in open skiercross races.

The races pit a field of four or more skiers in a downhill obstacle-course race of hills, bumps, and banked curves.

This gathering also has evolved its cultural edge by further expanding the music and arts focus, with 50 live concerts and more than 40 other events, including apres-ski gatherings, film screenings, a photography contest and of course ... lots of parties.

Whistler Blackcomb offers expansive terrain for snowsports competitions.
Whistler Blackcomb offers expansive terrain for snowsports competitions.

An eclectic collection of top-billing bands -- including Swollen Members, Swedish rock wonder the Soundtrack Of Our Lives, the explosive quartet I Mother Earth and fast and furious Treble Charger -- satisfied the musical cravings of thousands of festivalgoers.

"A lot of the festival buzz is about how amazing the music line-up was, and how the festival is, in fact, at the center of what is happening in the arts scene in this community," McSkimming said.

"The emergence of such events as the Filmmaker Showdown and the energy that it created further emphasized this point."

Don't forget the rollicking apres-ski happenings that rotated among three base-area hotspots -- Merlin's, Dusty's and Citta's -- offering snow sliders a chance to recap the day's runs and share the latest on conditions over a few cold ones.

According to an independent study commissioned by organizers, the 2003 festival resulted in a $26 million impact on the resort. The economic impact study is based on analyzing the length of stay and individual spending habits of Whistler visitors, who identified the festival as the primary purpose for their visit during the 10 days.

Reflecting on last year's event, festival chairman Doug Perry said it could no longer be simply regarded as a snowsports competition.

"It's not just about the sports anymore," he said. "The festival provides an enhanced and enriched experience in action sports by integrating the music and the arts that support it. This is what sets us apart, and what we will continue fostering so that this festival remains unique to the Whistler community."

The parties, concerts, film and photography events could almost make one forget about the skiing, except that the snow conditions were primed from a series of spring storms and a record-setting March snowfall.

That and the fact that in mid-April skiers have scant options of resorts that remain open with more than a few trails. This event is definitely the way for skiers to close out the season.

This April, the TELUS festival runs from April 16 to April 25 with 50 free concerts, pro ski and snowboard contests, photography and film exhibits, kids and adventure zones, a dog parade and a vibrant nightlife.

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