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UBC Whistler Lodge could close

Hostel providing accommodation for UBC students needs repairs

A hostel providing affordable accommodation for UBC students in Whistler is losing money and may have to close.

The UBC Whistler Lodge, a hostel located in Nordic that's managed by the Alma Mater Society, the university's student association, is contributing around $30,000 to the society's deficit and the executive is scrounging for ways to deal with it.

One of those options, said AMS President Jeremy McElroy, is closing the facility altogether.

"It's one of the options on the table," he said in an interview. "(The lodge is) something that we like, students built it, it's part of a tradition for UBC for the better part of 50 years. We don't really want to shut it down."

Karl Ricker, a geologist, mountaineer and former geology student at UBC, served as project manager when the lodge was built in what is now the Nordic neighbourhood in 1965.

He said the Alma Mater Society ought to market the lodge to as many students as possible in order to maximize its exposure and perhaps draw more guests.

"The students should have their own place to go in Whistler, and their friends, and their colleagues from other universities that come to see them, as well as the staff at UBC," he said.
"Not every staff member at UBC is exactly affluent. People who are lab demonstrators and lecturers and things like that are on pretty minimum salaries."

Shannon Wiles, a massage practitioner based in Whistler, worked as lodge manager and caretaker at the UBC Whistler Lodge for seven years. She said closing the lodge would be a "huge loss" for Whistler because there aren't a lot of places where UBC students can stay for cheap.

"There's not a lot of affordable accommodation in Whistler," she said. "Especially in the wintertime, I think that, you know, the post-Olympic recession has definitely opened up a lot more opportunity for people to have affordable accommodation right now, but come wintertime, it's definitely a place for students because it's cheaper."

Beyond university students, Wiles said that the lodge has served as a good resource for the community, providing newly arrived Whistlerites a place to stay as they search for winter accommodation.

"Bringing anybody up from out of town is a benefit to Whistler in general," she said. "Not only do they get rates to stay there, but they spend money on the mountain and they spend money on the restaurants and the bars, at the grocery store. They're feeding the economy. It's definitely a benefit to give them affordable accommodation."

The lodge began construction in 1965 as an initiative of UBC's Varsity Outdoor Club, a student club that takes members on outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, mountaineering and kayaking. It was built to give members a place to stay and was later passed on to the student society.

Today it offers 42 beds to UBC students at $29 a night and $35 a night for the general public in the winter. A private room can be had for $90.

As it stands, the lodge lost $30,000 in 2010, a loss resulting from bookings that were lower than expected, although McElroy said the losses could be closer to $56,000.

"That tied into mainly revenues from what we would have expected to have been a boon from the Olympics," he said. "We thought we would have increased revenues, also, you know, we had weird snow in 2010. It was dead, and then it exploded, that was close to the end of the school year, so students didn't necessarily utilize the lodge."

McElroy was careful to state that the building's closure isn't a sure thing. He said the society has hired a consultant to advise it on how to move forward with the facility.

As it stands, the building is old and in need of repairs to its roof, to internal piping and various other parts of the facility. It was only recently that the society put up money to do some renovations on its deck.

McElroy said the society has "ballpark figures" for how much the repairs would cost but added the consultant would help them decide on the amount of money they would have to pay.