By Amy Fendley
Combine mountains, youth and snowboards and the possibilities for personal expression are seemingly limitless.
Unless that person works for Whistler-Blackcomb.
Brent Peppiant’s artfully shaped Statue of Liberty spikes and other jewelry, are not acceptable on a regular basis to Whistler-Blackcomb, which has had an appearance policy for many years. Last year, Peppiant, 21, wore his hair in long, forward pointing spikes and his nametag read: Statue of Liberty, New York.
This year, Peppiant is finding it difficult to get leniency on certain appearance policies he feels are outdated.
"In their (Whistler-Blackcomb) recruitment campaign they said that an outgoing, animated, individualistic personality was what they were looking for," said Peppiant. "They were trying to get away from hiring the guy who looks like he just crawled out from under a bridge.
"I think in order to have an effective company you have to grow with society, rather than against it. Snowboarding is a culture, and as in any culture, there are cultural differences."
Peppiant is a snowboard instructor. With overwhelming enthusiasm and respect for the sport, he teaches his students how to maintain their confidence by "dancing down the hill." It’s a simple technique that allows a beginner to forget about falling by continuously concentrating on moving the body. He has other techniques as well, his personality enhancing most of them. Or maybe it’s the look.
"This is a customer service industry, and we are judged on the quality of service we give," says Peppiant. "It’s also somewhat of an expectation to look radical. All tourists can compare us to is the ‘cool mountain dudes’ they see on TV."
Peppiant is one of the most requested board instructors on the hill. Returning students ask for him by name, and international students, especially Japanese, ask for him by hair. But not any more. The hair has to stay unseen, neatly tucked under a hat, except on the occasional Spirit Days where themes like "crazy hair day" allow some personal expression.
"We have a standard policy," said Gord Ahrens, director of employee experience. "Every company has a policy. Ours has something critical to do with keeping us number one, and we’re not prepared to change that.
"We listen to our staff and guests. How we would like to appear to our guests is important to keeping our number one rating, and the success of our business and our community. We are responsible for how we appear to our guests, and it’s important."
The 1998/99 Whistler-Blackcomb employee handbook outlines the company’s personal grooming standards and says in part: "Long hair on females must be tied back in areas where it is a health or safety issue; for men, your hair must be mid-ear length on the sides and above the collar at the back, and well trimmed; radical hair styles or colours do not meet our standards; mustaches, beards, and sideburns are to be clean and neatly trimmed and grown prior to the start of employment; men may wear one earring — either a small stud or a small ring; other facial jewelry or exposed body piercing must be removed while on the job."
There are two minor additions to this year’s policy. The handbook states: tongue rings or studs are not to be worn and facial tattoos are also not in keeping with the first impression we wish to put forward.
"A lot of times, guests don’t have a chance to really meet the wonderful personalities we have working for us and judgements are made based solely on appearances," said Ahrens. "I don’t think Brent’s situation is a common one. Not every member of staff wants to have Statue of Liberty spikes. Our policy’s, our policy.
"As a company we want to keep ourselves in a number one situation," said Ahrens. "This is a piece to our formula which helped us to get there. Everything is greatly performance-based."
Earlier this year Copper Mountain Resort officials announced the resort had re-evaluated its grooming standards and policies for its employees. Copper employees will now be allowed to better "express their individuality" in respect to their appearance. Under the new policies, men are no longer forbidden from wearing long hair, beards or jewelry.
"Society’s standards have changed over the years, and we’re just doing what is necessary to remain competitive and aggressive in our hiring efforts," commented Tracy Baca, manager of recruitment and training at Copper, which, like Whistler-Blackcomb, is owned by Intrawest.
"The new policies will not adversely affect Copper’s guest service levels," Baca pointed out. "But will rather serve to give employees more incentive to take responsibility in their positions."