CWSAA holds annual conference in Whistler 

agenda packed with speakers, workshops

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD/WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA/COURTESY OF CWSAA - IN THE WEST Former Whistler Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe chats with Wayne Ragland, whose company SMI Snowmakers put the first snowmakers on Whistler, at a reception for the Canada West Ski Areas Association conference on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.
  • Photo by David Buzzard/www.media-centre.ca/Courtesy of cwsaa
  • IN THE WEST Former Whistler Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe chats with Wayne Ragland, whose company SMI Snowmakers put the first snowmakers on Whistler, at a reception for the Canada West Ski Areas Association conference on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

The Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) often holds its annual spring conference in Whistler, but this year's event — taking place from May 3 to 5 at the Whistler Conference Centre — is the first for new president and CEO Christopher Nicolson.

The former Sun Peaks Tourism president took the reins of the CWSAA on April 4.

"I've been to a lot of the conferences, but wearing resort hats," Nicolson said. "This is the first time in my new capacity."

The three-day agenda is packed with speakers, workshops and courses, and even the CWSAA's Annual General Meeting.

"The majority of the conference is made up of technical mountain operations — everything from lift safety discussions, seminars, education courses, snowcats, that whole operational side of it — as well as the other side, which will be on, for example, the marketing," Nicolson said.

"It's a very robust conference with a lot of different elements."

There will be over 500 in attendance over the course of the conference, Nicolson said, with plenty of opportunities for them to learn and develop new skills.

"From that perspective it's critical, because this is a time of year where we're able to have the manufacturers, the risk and safety governing bodies and so forth come in, so we have our teams or our staff from the various ski areas coming in and actually learning and doing courses," Nicolson said.

"We have Destination BC that will be here presenting and actually working with us on workshops (too)... so there are a lot of working sessions."

This year's keynote speakers include Steve Sammut of Rocky Mountaineer, Mark Colgate from the University of Victoria (and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's Whistler Experience program) and David Coletto of Abacus Data.

Other sessions focused on consultation with First Nations, amusement devices at ski areas and the ongoing struggle with staffing.

"Labour continues to be a challenge for the entire industry, and not just mountain resorts but also tourism across the board," Nicolson said, noting that there is some optimism on the labour front with a new federal government now in place.

"We hope that the federal government is able to look at the uniqueness of mountain resorts, our rural setting and the challenges that we have for recruiting people, so that we're able to offer a world-class experience," he said.

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