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Parents frustrated after Whistler Blackcomb ski-school sell-out

Families who missed out on a spot in their desired multi-week program blame staffing, but the resort said other factors contributed to registration woes
Some local parents are looking for alternative arrangements this winter after failing to secure a spot for their kids in Whistler Blackcomb’s multi-week ski school programs.

Teresa Wood was at work when she noticed an email pop up informing her that Whistler Blackcomb’s 2022-23 winter-long ski-school programs were scheduled to open for registration shortly. She made a mental note to enrol her eight-year-old twin boys in the resort’s all-mountain development academy, when she had a minute. 

"By the time I got to my break, it was sold out,” she explained.

The local mom is one of several Whistler parents voicing their frustration after spots in Whistler Blackcomb’s multi-week ski-school programs flew off the metaphorical shelves last week. According to other parents, an email landed in their inbox at about 5 p.m. on Monday notifying families that enrolment would open at 1 p.m. the following day. Some logged on that afternoon to find programs were almost entirely sold out by 2 p.m.

In an email, Whistler Blackcomb communications manager Nick Voutour confirmed some of the resort’s winter 2022/23 ski and ride school multi-week programs have sold out, but said daily lessons remain available. “We have a limited number of multi-week program spots for participants in order to ensure the best possible instructor-to-student ratio, both for safety and for the progression of participants,” the email read. “Programs often sell out quickly every year, and we always encourage those who are interested to register as early as possible to avoid disappointment (though we do have waiting lists, should anything change).”

Wood, however, said she hasn’t felt rushed to register in the past. Usually after learning from other Whistler parents that registration had opened, “I would go in a couple of days later and fill out the forms and [the twins] would get in,” she said. “One time they were on a waitlist for a day, and then they weren’t anymore. It was just never very stressful.”

Beyond the general disappointment of foiled plans, Wood expressed a sentiment shared by other parents Pique heard from: for children like Wood’s, who are already motivated and committed to follow a specific trajectory—whether as ski racers, freeride competitors, freestyle skiers or otherwise—missing out on a full winter of programming with a consistent, appropriately-trained instructor effectively halts their progression at a key point in their athletic development.

“It’s devastating for the kids of this age,” she said. “I don’t blame Vail [Resorts], I don’t think there’s much they can do about the lack of high-level teachers, I just have no idea what we’re supposed to do now.” Her boys, she added, have “out-skied and out-biked us, and there’s no program that could take them skiing or biking any more at the level they have.”

Compounding the issue was Wood’s and her sons’ frustrating experience with ski school last year, when, as Wood explained, consolidated group levels meant the certified Level 6 rippers were skiing with group-mates below their skill level. The family ultimately opted to drop out of the program and were granted refunds for unused sessions.

Difficulties enrolling kids for ski school also creates a problem for the many local parents who work weekends—missing out on a spot in the program means those families miss out on childcare, Wood pointed out—and, in her view, is logistically unfair to working parents who wouldn’t have been able to get online before ski school spaces were sold out.

Whistler Blackcomb staffing reportedly 'in a solid place' ahead of ski season

According to Voutour, Whistler Blackcomb opened up 4,635 ski school multi-week programming spots this year—most of which are reserved for youth—averaging out to about 18 days per program. “This is on par with previous seasons—we are always working to balance demand across our wide range of multiweek programs, as it can vary year to year,” he explained. “We are also seeing incredible demand as we come out of the pandemic, which is also a factor.”

While most parents cited a lack of instructors, ongoing labour challenges and the interwoven housing crisis as root causes of the issue, Voutour denied a staff shortage was responsible for any perceived drop in ski-school availability. In terms of staffing, “We are in a solid place,” he said. “[W]e have actually hired more new Ski & Ride School staff for the upcoming season than we ever have before!” Voutour said parent company Vail Resorts’ recent investment in higher starting wages for staff this season, amounting to a minimum wage of $20 CAD per hour and expanded benefits “has certainly played a role in this.”

Meanwhile, Whistler Blackcomb is moving its “Kids Club” base from its previous home in Whistler Village to the resort’s Creekside, Blackcomb Base, and Base II locations. “The Village is our busiest snow school location, which often results in longer waits for kids to check-in and a delay in getting classes to the gondola, for example – the experience will be improved with this move, and will be smoother overall, but meant we had to slightly reduce total number of spots available as a result of the switch,” he added.

Voutour also noted that most sold out programs are either higher-end development programs scheduled for weekends, “which requires more specialized and certified coaches who are specifically trained to support coaching for advanced/ expert students,” or the Minis Program, for three- to four-year-olds, “which has a different set of requirements for student-to-instructor ratios.”

Among those higher-end development programs are the all-mountain development academy (AMDP) and race development programs. In an email to parents shared with Pique, Whistler Blackcomb ski school senior managers Brenda Peterson and Donna Kerr announced the resort has cut its Freestyle program “due to lack of registration over the past few winters” and directed those interested in working on their freestyle skills to the AMDP.

Meanwhile, “We want to ensure we are staffed for all programs which has been difficult over the past seasons,” they wrote in the letter, before confirming they will continue to monitor waitlists as registration and staffing numbers firm up towards the end of the month.