When Whistler Blackcomb’s (WB) popular Fire & Ice show returned for the first time in two years on Dec. 31, there was at least one major component from past shows that was noticeably absent. For the first time in nearly two decades, the crew of fire dancers that would normally light up the night sky over Skier’s Plaza every Sunday were nowhere to be found, part of a larger reimagining of the performance that had been on a COVID-fuelled hiatus since the 2020/21 winter.
“We are really sad that we are not a part of something that we were a part of forever,” said Linda Brown, who had been involved with the show since its inception 18 years ago, including as lead coach of the fire dancing crew since the mid-Aughts.
For its part, WB said in a statement it was taking a “reconceptualized approach” to Fire & Ice in 2023 that comes with a “focus on connecting storytelling of the event to the local community and its heritage,” including incorporating Indigenous elements from the local Squamish and Lil’wat Nations.
“It is crucial that we reiterate the importance of our new approach to this event, especially as it returns from its two-year hiatus,” the statement continued. “We spend countless hours and have had so many important conversations about how to connect Fire & Ice back to our community—to tell its stories in a way that highlights local artists and connects to our heritage and history of the people who shaped this land.”
Although disappointed to be left off the program this winter, Brown stressed to Pique it was more so the lack of communication and poor timing from WB that left a sour taste in her and other dancers’ mouths. Brown said when a November post to a private Facebook group for Fire & Ice performers confirmed the show was indeed moving forward this winter, she operated under the assumption the fire dancers would be included, as they have been for years. Brown also took the step of emailing WB’s events department, which had taken over the show from snow school, to notify organizers of the troupe’s plans. They got nothing in response. (Pique reviewed two different email threads, which appeared to show no reply from WB.)
“We were pretty excited about it starting up again this year, but I felt a very strange energy about it from the get-go because I couldn’t get anyone to respond,” Brown relayed.
WB maintained the fire dancers were never confirmed as part of Fire & Ice, and that once a decision was made in November on the new direction of the show, the company said in its statement it “immediately took steps” to notify the relevant parties, including the dancers. “We attempted to reach this group through their primary contact; however, despite repeated attempts, were unable to do so until mid-December.”
In response, Brown said someone from the events department called her twice, and didn’t leave a message either time. On the second instance, she claimed she called back multiple times minutes later, to no answer, after weeks of getting no response to her emails.
“Obviously, they knew long before that that they weren’t going to use the fire dancers, and [they] could’ve responded at the very first email I sent,” Brown added.
By that point, however, auditions had already been held, dancers had been hired, music had been selected, and choreography had been arranged. The dancers were also banking on the season’s ski pass they were historically offered every year, along with hourly pay, for being a part of the show. One dancer Pique spoke with even purchased her ski pass upfront, before the sales cut-off date, under the belief WB would reimburse her later.
“They didn’t tell us that they weren’t having us until after you couldn’t buy a season’s pass anymore,” said long-time fire dancer Holly Jewkes. “Obviously we are going to assume we’re part of the show; we’ve always been part of the show.”
In response, WB said it never offered “any indication that fire dancing would be part of the reimagined approach to Fire & Ice, nor did we provide any indication to hire staff, choreograph performances, or purchase passes. This process happened without our knowledge and without a contract in place.”
Eventually, in mid-December, just two weeks before the first performance of the season, Brown said she got a 90-second phone call from a WB events staffer confirming the dancers weren’t involved. She believes the poor communication was another example in a long line of WB lacking “that personal touch” under the Vail Resorts banner.
“That was my 18 years out the door,” Brown said. “It felt like a slap in the face.”
Part of the issue, Brown posited, was transitioning from being a big fish in a small pond at ski school, to being one of a multitude of events organized by WB’s event department.
“I think the transfer of departments is a big part of it,” she said. “We went from being part of ski school for 20 years to being part of an events department where it was not a big deal.”
Concluding its statement, WB reiterated that timely communication is “very important to us” and recognized the dancers’ longstanding contributions to the show.
“We understand the fire dancers felt we were delayed in our confirmation of their inclusion and do truly appreciate everything they have contributed to Fire & Ice over the years,” it read.
Fire & Ice is scheduled for Skier’s Plaza every Sunday through March 12. The show starts at 7 p.m.