What is WSSF?
WSSF brings together a high-energy combination of some of the world’s top ski and snowboard athletes competing in awe-inspiring events, the best in mountain culture at film, photography and art showcases, live bands and DJs in Whistler Village, and an endless lineup of parties at Whistler’s renowned restaurants and bars. The result? A multi-day festival that attracts visitors from across the globe eager to get amongst the action alongside locals, all united in their quest to celebrate Whistler’s unique winter culture and make every last moment count as the sun sets on another season at North America’s largest ski resort.
WSSF was first established in 1996 with the intent to increase the appeal of Whistler Resort during the (then) quiet April shoulder season. Today, the World Ski & Snowboard Festival has brought the month of April well into the folds of Whistler Blackcomb’s peak season, and has made Whistler one the busiest winter resorts in North America during this month.
The road to the World Ski & Snowboard Festival began in 1994 with the World Technical Skiing Championships. The event brought together ski champions from various disciplines and attracted a large number of ski media who, up until that time, had never been to Whistler. It seeded the idea of developing an annual event with the potential to attract top athletes and media to the resort at a time when Whistler was just beginning to emerge as an international destination.
The dream? Showcase April’s typically awesome snowpack, solidify Whistler’s growing reputation as mecca for mountain culture and throw the final fiesta of the season.
In April of 1996, that dream became a reality and the World Ski & Snowboard Festival officially launched. The event saw 22 events and competitions take place across Whistler, including the Technical Skiing Championships, the World Masters Alpine Open, the Westbeach Snowboard Classic, the Air Canada Whistler Cup, the Couloir Extreme Race, the World Ski Instructors Festival, Industry Week, and the Lifty Olympics. Since then, the festival has continued to evolve each year. 1998 in particular was a breakthrough year. The addition of a free outdoor concert series and various cultural and community events broadened the appeal of the festival beyond the ski and snowboard industry, growing the WSSF into what we know it as today. The ensuing increase in resort visits during the 1998 festival firmly established WSSF as an iconic Whistler event that celebrated the end of the North American winter season.
Over the years, WSSF has played host to many iconic moments in snowsport and Whistler history, including:
- 1997: Eric Berger and Jack Turner host first action-sport slideshow event, which would eventually pave the way for the Pro Photographer Showdown
- 2000: the first ever Big Air event takes place at the top of Whistler Mountain
- 2002: the 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown debuts
- 2004: Justin Timberlake makes a surprise appearance on the festival mainstage, performing alongside Black Eyed Peas
- 2005: 600 visual artists from all different disciplines join the festival with the debut of Brave Art, a free art exhibit celebrating artists inspired by mountain culture
- 2011: the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) comes on board as host of the World Skiing Invitational (WSI) and helps the WSSF ski events progress to platinum status on the AFP World Tour ranking system, along with X Games and the Dew Tour.
- 2011: the first ever Monster Energy snowboarding event, called The Shred Show, is introduced
- 2011: Intersection debuts
In 2018, the WSSF underwent a shift, going back to its roots and focusing on bringing together a balanced roster of sport, culture and music. Olympians, recently returned from the PyeongChang games, joined for the Ski and Snowboard Big Air competitions. The storied Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme presented by Kokanee made a triumphant return to the fest, under the watchful eye of the legend himself, Sylvain Saudan. The JP Auclair Memorial was brought into the fold. On the cultural side, the newly branded Art+Soul kicked off the week’s events at the Whistler Conference Centre, followed by festival favourites Multiplicity, Olympus 72hr Filmmaker Showdown, Olympus Pro Photographer, and Intersection. Free music showcases in Skiers Plaza and bars and clubs around town drew huge crowds who gave it their all to the tune of A Tribe Called Red, DJ Jazzy Jeff, SkiiTour, and Five Alarm Funk, just to name a few. As the story of WSSF continues to unfold, three major pillars continue to hold its foundation strong: professional athletic competition, artistic expression of mountain culture, and live entertainment. The festival continues to celebrate those on the cutting edge of skiing, snowboarding, film-making, action photography, new media, visual arts, and design who’re excelling on, and are transforming, the field of play.