Ski School challenges Intrawest under Competition Act 

Alpina Ski School wants right to teach on mountains

The Alpina Ski School is filing a complaint with the Competition Bureau of Canada against Whistler-Blackcomb after they were denied their request last summer to operate a separate ski school on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, supplying their own instructors.

They believe that the monopoly that Whistler-Blackcomb has on the ski school industry since Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation and Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises Ltd. Partnership merged under Intrawest in 1997, is in violation of the Competition Act.

According to Joe Hallo, the director of Alpina Ski School Ltd., the company was willing to discuss terms with Whistler-Blackcomb to allow the school to operate, but "we didn’t get anywhere with them."

The Alpina Ski School is modelled after a high-end European Alpina Ski School, which operates 15 ski schools in Germany, Austria and Italy. Hallo’s Alpine Ski School shares a name and possibly clients with the European Alpina Ski School, but they are separate companies.

Hallo feels that the Alpina Ski School in Canada could tap into the overseas market, providing European-style instruction for European travellers to Whistler.

In Europe, most mountains have more than one ski school in operation, and sometimes five or six. All offer different levels of services for a different price.

Says Hallo: "(Whistler-Blackcomb) has done a great job with what they’ve done so far, but we think it’s time to let some other people have a kick at the cat."

Hallo says he offered Intrawest a percentage of his business, and would negotiate for privileges like lift line priority.

"We don’t want anything from Intrawest. We’ll buy our lift tickets, will eat in your restaurants, we’ll use your rental stores… They didn’t want to talk about it."

For their part, Whistler-Blackcomb is more interested in partnerships than allowing private companies to operate within their tenure.

According to Rob McSkimming, the managing director of the Whistler-Blackcomb Ski and Snowboard School, the mountain already allows numerous other businesses to guide and teach on the mountains.

"We did provide (Hallo) with a number of different options, ways that he could operate in conjunction with the mountain. There are a number of different ways and there are a number of different businesses that we work with and have worked with for a number of years," he said.

"Basically he wasn’t interested in any of those options. He decided that he wanted to be completely independent, which is something we don’t do."

Under Whistler-Blackcomb’s tenure agreement with BCAL, McSkimming says the mountain is entitled to decide which businesses operate on the mountain and in which capacity. Intrawest lawyers have looked into the Competition issue, and advise "it’s pretty open and closed," said McSkimming.

Hallo disagrees. He believes that BCAL "sold the farm" when they gave Intrawest tenure over the ski area.

The Alpina school wouldn’t compete with the Whistler-Blackcomb ski schools in terms of price, says Hallo – the prices would be similar, and in many cases greater.

Alpina has already met with federal Opposition Leader John Reynolds, and B.C. Assets and Lands Corporation. Hallo is also trying to get an audience with the Prime Minister.

"We’re not going away, and we’re going to go all the way," said Hallo. "We’re filing our complaint after Christmas, and we’re going to make sure they (Competition Bureau) investigate it properly. We’re in for the long haul."

Although there were other contentious issues, one of the major stumbling blocks has been the subject of instructors. Hallo wants to bring in his own instructors, all of whom would be certified by the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance and the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors, and who speak European languages.

"Not everybody wants a Chevrolet, some people want to buy a Mercedes. The people should have a choice. Some hills have five schools, and they don’t compete with one another at all – it’s what the customers want.

"What’s the difference if we bring our own instructors?"

Extremely Canadian is one example of a business that works with Intrawest: a separate company, but which draws guides from the pool of Whistler-Blackcomb instructors.

Other examples of partnerships include Yes Tours, Bally Ski Adventure, the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, and the Whistler Valley Snowboard Club.

"There are smaller groups who may approach us and say ‘I run a program in Europe, I want to come to Whistler for a week and I have some clients, can I bring them over and teach them on your mountain?’

"We have ways of working through those kinds of scenarios as well," said McSkimming.

Sharing instructors was one of the options that was offered to Alpina during the early discussions.

"Alpina could go out and find the clients, and we could work with them to determine which instructors would work on the program," said McSkimming. "We’d worked out a rate structure that we would charge for their time, and it would take care of everything, insurance, lift line priority – all of those issues become quite difficult if you’re trying to operate an independent business."

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