Thousands of locals led the charge to Whistler Blackcomb's annual Turkey Sale on Friday (Oct. 11), lining up for first pick on heavily discounted ski and board gear and leaving with the unshakeable opinion that winter is upon us.
"This gets the community excited about the winter to come and it gets them thinking about snow," said Laura Gallant of WB public relations last Friday.
"After tonight we'll start seeing pictures of people (on social media) lining up all their gear on their floor and getting hyped for the winter season. The Turkey Sale amps up the excitement around here."
Two-year resident Ben Ruddy couldn't agree more, having purchased a Lib Tech snowboard for $300.
"This sale is really when I start to get excited about winter," he said. "I just think, 'what do I need?' I'm going to lock it down now. Most likely I'm going to go home now and put my bindings on this just to see how it looks."
By the time the last shopper exited the Blackcomb Daylodge Monday evening it was expected that more than 20,000 people, similar to last year, will have milled through the 20,000 square feet of converted shopping space. The day lots were filled to capacity Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 12 and 13) as shoppers arrived from up and down the Sea to Sky, the Lower Mainland and the United States specifically for the sale — for bargain discounts of up to 70 per cent off quality gear from the 2013 and 2014 product lines, and the mountain's inventory of last year's demo skis and boards.
Vancouver Island resident Meagan Walter attends the sale every year, but this time with her husband James in tow. He summarized his first experience with a wide grin: "(I'm) feeding the compulsive addiction of buying more gear," he said.
Now in it's 20th year, the Turkey Sale began as an effort for the resort to connect with skiers and boarders prior to the official start of the season. While non-residents drive the high volume of shoppers, Gallant says the Friday start is still a direct connection to the original spirit of the sale — to bring locals together. In particular it offers newly-arrived, cash-strapped seasonal workers an affordable avenue to purchase needed gear.
That spirit was also echoed again this year at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club's Ski SWAP (Sale With Amazing Prices), held simultaneously to the Turkey Sale outside the Daylodge. The club's executive director Nigel Loring said the SWAP this year was "massive" with roughly 2,400 items for sale. The money raised helps the club pay for things like coaches and children's ski programs. At press time a final tally wasn't yet available, but Loring said the number would be slightly lower than previous years.
Nonetheless, he said the sale was still the go-to place for Whistler families having to keep up with their children's growth and advancing skill level.
"You got to upgrade, but it's tough for parents to outfit the whole family with new gear. We don't see much older stuff coming through the SWAP anymore. It's pretty current … most Whistler locals have several pairs of skis. They'll move their inventory every year and drop them off here."
For the second consecutive year the Turkey Sale also offered actual turkeys, which sold out in a few hours. One hundred of the frozen birds went for a mere $15 each, raising $1,500 for the Whistler Food Bank.
"It's great to get either food or money, but money means more to us, because it allows us to choose what we purchase, based on what we need at that moment," said Sara Jennings, coordinator at the Whistler Food Bank. "It allows us to purchase fresh food, and to focus more on healthy eating."
The Turkey Sale isn't just a Whistler Blackcomb event, with retailers across the resort hosting sales of their own.
At Skiis & Biikes, manager Erin Keam — a veteran of 12 turkey sales on the other side of the register — said they took a different approach this year and started offering sales the previous weekend to get the locals in, leaving the store less packed during the Turkey Sale.
"I think people know we're here by now and they're coming in to get the basics," he said. "We sell a lot of long underwear, gloves, goggles, helmets — the demo skis have been really popular. But you also get people that are looking for the high-end jackets and brands that don't go on sale a lot."
Larry Falcon at Escape Route said that sales were up this year, and that people seemed to be buying bigger ticket items. Having some snow in the mountains no doubt helped.
"Certainly it helps that there's snow on the peak and Vancouver, it's created a buzz and people are hyped — they want to get out there and ski," he said, adding that it didn't hurt that the event was covered by Vancouver papers.
At Comor Sports, manager Carlos Strachan said sales were on par with last year, which was a record for the store. But despite the crowds, there were plenty of staff on hand.
"We have all of our staff members and all of our alumni staff from the past 12 years in here working, people who were here in 2002 are working the till, selling skis, so it's a great atmosphere to get all the old staff back together," said Strachan.
"It's always a reunion of sorts. And on Saturday night we get together for a meal and play some ping pong — and by ping pong I mean beer pong — although we try to shut it down early because Sunday is also a big day."