How the WSSF Celebrates the Spirit of Whistler

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It’s hard to describe Whistler’s World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF). Competition venues are extremely diverse. One day athletes are going head to head on Big Air jumps and the next it’s a sketchy couloir converted into a proper GS course. And the fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down. Every night there’s something going on, whether it be a concert, art show, or short film competition. This variety has always been a core principle of the WSSF, which aims to create a space to celebrate mountain culture and bring the snowsports community together. We caught up with Julia Montague, the WSSF & Crankworx Communication Manager, to learn a little more about what makes the WSSF so unique. Here’s what she had to say:

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How did the event come to be?

JM: The event started brewing back in 1994 in Whistler. We hosted the World Technical Ski Championships (WTSC) and it brought together ski champions from a variety of disciplines and a bunch of ski media. At that time, a lot of people hadn’t been to Whistler and the area was still growing. Seeing the success from the WTSC gave WSSF festival organizers the idea that Whistler could really attract and host these big-name athletes and creatives.

Also at the time, there wasn’t much happening with resorts in regards to the end of the season. Now that’s changed, but back in the mid-‘90s, hosting spring events was pretty new to most resorts. Plus, Whistler’s snowpack is still amazing in April, so the idea was to showcase the springtime shredding and solidify Whistler’s reputation as a meeting ground in the mountains.

It’s interesting that the WSSF is about more than just snowsports. Why is that?

JM: It was primarily sport-focused in the early years, but in 1998 they started to weave in the free outdoor concert series and a few other cultural events, which laid the foundation to what the festival is today: sport, music, art, and mountain culture.

Over the years the focus has shifted and evolved, but the formula that we’ve settled on is a really solid balance of those four key pillars.

How has Crankworx (Whistler’s famed annual mountain bike festival) influenced the WSSF?

JM: Both influence each other. Crankworx is a bit younger than the WSSF and first started in 2004. Part of Crankworx originally drew inspiration from where the WSSF came from and what it has become. Now we’ve got these two events, that are the two biggest festivals that happen in Whistler, and they both really evolve from each other. We’re looking to make some changes to Dirt Diaries and Deep Summer this year—specifically drawing from how things are done at the WSSF. There are a lot of differences between the snow world and the dirt world, but I’d argue there are a lot of similarities as well. It just comes back to that underlying mountain culture aspect that we all can relate to.

It kind of emphasizes the idea that Whistler is a gathering space for all these kinds of people—would you agree?

JM: Absolutely. I think the reason why we’re able to attract top-name media and athletes for the WSSF is that it’s in Whistler.

My personal favorite events are the film and photo competitions. They sell out every night. We had four nights of them this year and each one was like a packed house of 1500+ people. Overall, it’s an amazing celebration of everything that’s great about skiing and snowboarding.

For example, we have a competition called Intersection which is presented by Protect Our Winters Canada. These are amateur ski and snowboard edits that really celebrate the sports, our backyard, and the creativity and talent that exists within the snowsports world. The feedback I’ve heard from the filmmakers is to have the opportunity to showcase their work in this way—in front of the crowd and on the big screen rather than just on Instagram—is an incredible experience.

The festival seems to have a large range of sporting events. Do you get a variety of athletes that come out?

JM: For the Big Air competitions those are invitation only, and we get some big names like Mark McMorris and Jamie Anderson that come out. What’s interesting about the Saudan Couloir extreme is that it’s actually open to anybody. We get some big pros that come out and do it. Last year Stan Rey won the event. It’s cool that it draws these athletes, but in a way, it’s more of a ski community event.

This was also the second year we hosted the JP Auclair memorial and that’s just kind of like a jam session. You’ve pros, people from the industry, and randos that want to come out and be a part of Auclair’s legacy. So I would say the festival has a really cool participatory element.

Looking back, what’s one of your favorite moments from the WSSF?

JM: Because it’s Whistler, there’s a tendency for these random magical moments that aren’t planned.

Just this last year, Michael Franti, who was already performing for the outdoor concert series, approached us about showcasing his short film. So, last minute we added on a bonus event on Tuesday for the film, he did a Q&A afterward and then broke into an impromptu acoustic session. All of a sudden, on this random Tuesday, we had this massive rager of a dance party. You can’t plan that stuff, but inevitably it happens.

One thing people always bring up when I’m talking about the WSSF, is in 2003 the organizers signed this new band that was just picking up speed. The band was the Black Eyed Peas. They ended up blowing up that year, but they were committed to coming to the event in 2004 and performing on the main stage. Justin Timberlake just happened to be in Whistler and jumped on stage and started singing with them.

I think the WSSF has this incredible magic that sets the stage for these kinds of moments.

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