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WB, lay off staff

Decline in destination visitors, economy blamed for early reductions

The latest sour news on the economy has a local angle, with both Intrawest and Whistler Blackcomb announcing layoffs this week. There are also reports of layoffs at, but Pique did not receive confirmation from Tourism Whistler.

Intrawest would not say how many staff members were laid off, but a story in the Steamboat Pilot suggests that most layoffs were at Intrawest’s Vancouver headquarters. They declined to comment on the layoffs, but director of corporate communications Ian Galbraith released a statement on behalf of the company.

“Like many companies in North America, Intrawest is not immune in this current economic environment. As such, we are taking the necessary steps to preserve our ability to be competitive and ensure our future success. As part of this process we have taken the difficult step of reducing and realigning our workforce in our corporate office. Impacted employees have been offered access to outplacement services to help in their transition. Although these are difficult decisions for us, our vision remains consistent and we are committed to delivering exceptional experiences for our guests, homeowners and employees.”

Whistler Blackcomb also confirmed that there have been layoffs of seasonal workers, and that contracts that were expected to last until the end of April will end in late February and early March. Whistler Blackcomb did not provide exact numbers, but also pegged layoffs to the current economy.

“There have also been some layoffs among our seasonal workers as we adjust to business volumes in the latter half of the season,” confirmed Christina Moore, public relations manager for Whistler Blackcomb, in an e-mail to Pique. “In particular we have had to lay off a number of our instructors from the Ski and Snowboard School. With the decline in destination visitors we have not seen the same interest in lessons as we do in a normal year, and there simply isn’t enough work for them.”

Roughly 10 per cent of the ski and snowboard school, representing 1,200 employees, was laid off, and some positions have been moved from full time seasonal to part-time seasonal.

Some of the layoffs were made to boost hours for other seasonal employees, most of whom have seen their hours reduced from normal levels.

“We are… ensuring that those seasonal workers who continue to work for us are getting a reasonable number of hours so they can make ends meet, and we are adjusting staff levels to ensure this is the case,” wrote Moore. “In some cases that means layoffs of part-time, seasonal staff.”

Whistler Blackcomb acknowledged that they are reviewing lift operations, and may not run lifts when there is an alternative. For example, the Franz’s Chair area can also be accessed by Red Chair., a reservations centre owned by the Resort Municipality of Whistler and managed by Tourism Whistler, also laid off five seasonal staff working in their call centre several months early although no permanent staff were let go.

The layoffs were the result of a lower volume of sales, with a drop of eight to 12 per cent of booking. did anticipate a slower season from the outset and hired fewer seasonal workers than normal.

The drop is partly blamed on the economic crisis, and partly due to below average snowfall. Recent storms could help turn that around, and draw visitors through March break and Easter.