Weekly ski school programming for some of the resort’s youngest shredders is the latest casualty of Whistler’s debilitating staff shortage.
Parents, including Pemberton local Richard Joce, were informed via email on New Year’s Day that Whistler Blackcomb’s Minis Club weekend program for three-to-four-year-olds, scheduled to start on Saturday, Jan. 8, would not return as planned this season and they would be automatically refunded for the program’s fees. The message cited “several challenging dynamics, including staffing,” as the cause.
Joce said his four-year-old son is disappointed after looking forward to getting on snow for his first-ever ski lessons. “We could have enrolled him last winter, but that was obviously cancelled because of the pandemic,” said Joce. “This year was going to be the first year.
“We take him skiing, but it’s good to get him with a real instructor and skiing with his peers once a week.”
While Whistler Blackcomb apologized for the cancellation and told parents its staff did not make the difficult decision lightly, “as the latest wave of the pandemic advances, it has required careful evaluation of our ability to offer all of our Ski & Snowboard School programs,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“We are dealing with the staffing shortages affecting so many businesses right now, complicated further by COVID-related call-outs and exposures.
“Our goal right now is to focus our staffing resources where we can maximize the overall guest experience.”
Joce said he understands the challenges posed by labour shortages, but finds it “extremely frustrating” that parents were informed of the cancellation at the last minute.
“If they knew they didn’t have enough instructors, they would have known that weeks, if not months ago, in which case they should have told us weeks or months ago. And if they’re short because of sickness, illness, then that’s temporary, right? They would have just cancelled a week or two until everyone’s better again,” he said. “It’s either one or the other.”
While Joce and his family weren’t relying on ski school as childcare, many other families in the corridor were, he pointed out, and might have trouble finding a substitute this late in the game.
“It just comes across that they just don’t care at all,” Joce said. “These kids are their future customers.”
Whistler Blackcomb, however, is hoping an alternative solution can help ease some of the sting of disappointment.
The resort is providing a reduced-price flexible lesson offering for three- and four-year-olds, allowing families to schedule up to 10 lessons, half of which can be on weekends and the other half on weekdays. “We recognize, and apologize for, the disappointment the families that were set to participate in the Weekend Minis program are feeling, and have heard their frustration,” the statement read.
“This allows us to schedule accordingly across the week, based on instructor availability and lesson demand.”
The mountain operator is “committed to growing our sport and will always prioritize bringing new skiers to the mountains—this includes working with the families who trust us with teaching their children,” the spokesperson added.
The reduced price, which comes to $62.40 plus tax per day, is only available for the 2021-22 ski season and cannot be rolled forward.
Joce said he plans to schedule his son for five weekend lessons, as the weekday availability doesn’t work with his family’s schedule. The discounted rate is definitely “reasonable,” he added.
“We’ll do that and see how it is,” Joce said.
“It’s obviously not the same program, because the old program was the same instructor and the same kids every week, once a week for the season ... but it’s better than nothing.”
For skiers under five, “it’s great if they can turn up and see the same face every day—it gives them a lot more confidence,” Joce explained. “Whereas if they turn up and it’s kind of a different situation every time, it takes a while to build the trust.”