WSSF 2017 draws huge crowds

Sue Eckersley steps down from festival’s helm after more than a decade

Another World Ski and Snowboard Festival has come and gone, with this year’s event — the last under Watermark Communications Inc. and its president Sue Eckersley — boasting good vibes, big crowds and a whole host of sold-out competitions.

“It’s been awesome. The crowd and the scene at Busta Rhymes (on Saturday) is the second-biggest crowd we’ve had in the history of the festival, for a concert. It was massive,” said Eckersley, who estimated well-over 10,000 people packed Skiers’ Plaza to take in Busta Rhymes’ performance — despite the rapper being almost two hours late.

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“We’ve had really strong feedback,” she continued. “All you had to do was be in the Village for any of the 10 days. It was packed. One of the business owners came up to me and said, ‘Wow, the Village is just about as busy as the Olympics were’… But it’s not just about the resort being full, it’s about people being out in the resort and the vibe and the energy in the Village that the festival really generates; that sort of great feeling and providing a place for people to have a lot of fun. So much of it is free, and that definitely fuels into people (being) happy. Everywhere they turn, they’re being entertained.”

And it wasn’t just the free events that drew a crowd, either — WSSF’s multimedia-driven events, like the Comedy Showdown, 72 Hr Filmmaker Showdown, the Pro Photographer Showdown and Intersection, as well as the first weekend’s Roller Derby double-header, all sold out as well.

State of the Art, a pop-up art gallery that took over the Whistler Conference Centre’s lobby for the duration of the festival, also proved successful, with over $50,000 worth of art sold.

“We broke all records for the amount of art sold at State of the Art,” Eckersley said. “That’s really exciting because the vast majority of the art we showcase is Sea to Sky artists. It a big opportunity for them not to just to get their name out there, but to actually and sell artwork and put money in their pockets. That’s important for us, to ensure that the artists are reaping the rewards of their hard work.”

Especially popular was the late Chili Thom’s work. A longtime Whistler favourite, WSSF sold $21,000 worth of his art, with all proceeds going towards the upcoming Chili Thom installation at the Audain Art Museum and supporting young local artists.

But despite all the successes, Eckersley, who recently announced she and her team at Watermark Communications Inc. are stepping down from the festival’s helm following this year’s event, said running the festival for the last time was bittersweet.

“It was time to pass the torch,” Eckersley said. “It’s been part of our world, for me, for 19 years and for much of the team over a decade. I have confidence that whatever the ownership of the festival is, it really belongs to the community. At the end of the day, it’s up to the community to make sure that this, which is a world-class festival but was born in community roots, we just have to make sure that that’s the way it stays.”

Whistler Blackcomb (WB) owns 66 per cent of the festival and Tourism Whistler owns the other 33 per cent. In a joint release, officials said they will be meeting to discuss future management of the festival. “The World Ski and Snowboard Festival embodies Whistler’s core mountain culture and is an integral part of the Whistler community,” said Dave Brownlie, chief operating officer at WB, in a release. “Sue and her team have done a tremendous job producing this festival, and can be credited with its success over the past decade. We would like to thank her for all of her hard work.”

Meanwhile, Eckersley said, at its core, the festival is really about the sports and arts talent. She’s hopeful that festival will continue as a strong community event.  

“Whether Watermark’s running it or someone else, I think first and foremost it’s made up of the people — the athletes, the performers, the artists, the photographers,” she said. “It’s made up of so many parts that it’s strong and it’s healthy. My hope is that the next group continues on the great tradition and makes sure they consult with the community and make sure it’s community first, because that’s the way it always has been…  But with change there’s opportunity.”

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