Olympic year ‘harder challenge than envisioned’ 

Three weeks before the Games, Whistler Blackcomb’s Brownlie remains positive

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Olympic aversion may have brought its share of obstacles and bumps this winter for Whistler Blackcomb to navigate. But half way through the tricky season, the company's top executive remains calm.

This week, David Brownlie, chief operating officer and president of Whistler Blackcomb, called the Olympic winter season "a harder challenge than we ever envisioned," but added the company is in good shape going forward.

"We knew it was coming and I think we worked hard," said Brownlie, referring to the concept of Olympic aversion, the perception that Whistler should be avoided because it's busy preparing for the Olympics.

"It was a harder challenge than we ever envisioned, in particular with the destination market, but in my opinion, we have weathered through it and now we have the world's greatest sporting event of all time coming to our community."

In October, to cut down on costs, Whistler Blackcomb announced it would be hiring fewer people this season, renting fewer homes in Whistler for staff accommodation and loaning hundreds of employees to VANOC and contractors during the Olympic period.

The company has also decided to close down Franz's Chair and the Whistler T-Bar during the Olympics. If visitor numbers remain low, they might keep the two lifts closed for the rest of the season, said Brownlie.

"Obviously based on visitation, we probably won't need to run those through the Games period and we'll see what happens beyond," said Brownlie, stressing that the terrain around Franz's and the Whistler T-Bar is still accessible through other lifts on Whistler Mountain. "It depends on visitation volumes."

Brownlie did not mention any other areas this week where Whistler Blackcomb has cut costs.

Instead, he spoke positively about the season so far, particularly the snow and "great staff," adding the guest feedback this year has been the highest ever.

He is also looking forward to the Olympics.

When the Winter Games arrive in three weeks, Brownlie said Whistler Blackcomb will have an unaccredited media centre set up in the Westin Resort and Spa, as well as a presence at the accredited media centre in the Whistler Conference Centre. Brownlie said Whistler Blackcomb will "take care" of any media who show up to their centre in the Westin, treating them to free rides on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola and other perks.

"It has been a big, big part of our marketing and sales plan for this year," said Brownlie. "Everybody is going to be involved in making this happen."

Also during the Olympics, over 600 Whistler Blackcomb employees will be deployed to VANOC and two other organizations, XP Events and Behind the Scenes Catering. Through the arrangement, staff will be doing "everything" from driving shuttle buses to working on the courses to guiding people around to helping out with parking.

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