Freeriding Whistler's World Ski and Snowboard Festival

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      There are music festivals, film festivals, and sports festivals—and then there is the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, where all three come wrapped in one shiny package.

      In Whistler, the rites of spring just wouldn’t be the same without this annual April gathering where action in the streets rivals antics on the slopes. Hop aboard A Tribe Called Red’s soul train as part of the free outdoor afternoon concert series on opening day tomorrow (April 8), and ride the vibe right through until Tim Hicks’s hot country licks round things out in Skier’s Plaza 10 weeks later. (Correction: 10 days later. Given that each day—and night—of the WSSF features what seems to be a week’s worth of fun, the confusion is understandable.)

      And as wise old Dr. Seuss once counselled (in so many words): “If you haven’t tried partying in your boots, then you should, because it is fun, and fun is good.” Given that the Georgia Straight has been covering the WSSF since its inception, here are some insider tips on how to make the most of the 21st edition.

      For starters, one of the most exciting new additions to this year’s WSSF (which, prior to its inception in 1996, was dubbed the World Technical Skiing Championships) is the North American Junior Freeride Championships. Under the auspices of the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (established in 1996 by the late freeskiing pioneer Shane McConkey), the athlete-driven governing body chose Whistler for this year’s end-of-season wrap-up event, created with 12- to 18-year-olds in mind.

      Anyone who thinks these youngsters are a bit too wet behind the ears to provide much excitement better guess again. Or perhaps take note of the contention in author Malcom Blackwell’s Outliers that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practise to achieve mastery in a chosen field. Nowadays, youngsters begin skiing and snowboarding as soon as they’re toilet trained. By the time they’ve hit puberty, they’ve easily spent that much time or more perfecting control, fluidity, technique, style, and energy.

      The best place to take in the action is either at the bottom of the course beside Blackcomb Mountain’s Glacier Creek Lodge or from an elevated seat aboard the Glacier Express or Jersey Cream Express chairlifts that overlook opening-day action on the Bite run. The finals go off the following day in the Couloir Extreme, site of some of the most memorable ski antics in Whistler Blackcomb’s history, as depicted in the documentary 50 Years of Going Beyond.

      If you miss the opening freeride action, head to Blackcomb’s Terrain Park for the Monster Borderstyle (April 15 and 16), where quartets of riders compete on a combined boardercross-slopestyle course. In the case of this spectator-friendly contest, good aerial viewing is to be had aboard the Catskinner chairlift. Better yet, find a place to tuck in beside the course and enjoy a spring picnic while you’re at it.

      As night falls in the valley, action moves to the Whistler Conference Centre, where seven nightly events, including comedy, photography, and filmmaking competitions, bring the outdoors indoors. Once again, the mountain-themed presentations by eight storytellers at Multiplicity (April 10) take viewers to places few adventurers would otherwise experience.

      This year’s multimedia extravaganza, a fundraiser for the Alpine Club of Canada’s Spearhead Huts project, celebrates the announcement that the initiative to build three rustic chalets dotted across the horseshoe-shaped, 40-kilometre traverse linking Whistler and Blackcomb mountains received final approval in February from B.C. Parks.

      Access: The World Ski and Snowboard Festival takes place April 8 to 17. For a complete listing of on- and off-mountain events, visit