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Workers staying after snow melts

Summer just as much a draw as winter for seasonal staff

By Vivian Moreau

Karen Bauckham has worked for Whistler-Blackcomb for nine years but the recruiting manager says she’s never seen a year like this one for staff staying on past the snow.

“We thought we were going to have to go crazy recruiting for summer jobs and so far, knock on wood, it seems quite calm — people are staying,” Bauckham said.

Usually about 2,500 of Whistler-Blackcomb’s 3,800 employees are laid off or leave this month and the corporation traditionally re-hires about 400 a few weeks later for the summer. But this year Bauckham said fewer employees are leaving.

“Last year at this time we had about 120 job postings — this year we’ve got 20,” she said. As employees are still deciding if they will stay through the summer the number of postings could increase, she added.

Bauckham said since Whistler-Blackcomb’s bike park opened on Whistler Mountain four years ago the company has scrambled each summer for staff.

“We started to get busier and we started to say ‘Oh boy, there’s not a lot of people coming through our doors in the summer time’ and then it just got worse and worse,” she said. “Last year was about the same as the year before — lots of jobs and no bodies.”

That employees are staying is a relief.

“This is good news all round,” Bauckham said, “this community really struggles in the summer time finding people.”

Chris Quinlan usually loses more than half of his 15-20 employees at Behind the Grind, his Skiers Plaza coffee shop, once the snow melts. But this year three of his staff decided to stay on, making it easier for him to maintain continuity.

“It’s great when you don’t have to hire new staff,” Quinlan said. “It works out quite evenly because the people that are going will leave just enough room for those that stick around.”

Continuity also means cost savings. Quinlan said with Whistler’s high turnover rate in employees training costs in the resort are two to three times higher than other areas in the province.

He said employees have told him they’re staying for summer because there is just as much, if not more, to do in Whistler in the summer than in the winter.

Scott Taber said the Four Seasons Resort Whistler has also noticed the positive trend. The hotel’s general manager said great snow and the hotel going out of its way to accommodate workers has convinced some to stay for the summer.

“I think it’s a good sign and shows a lot more employers are paying attention to the needs and wants of employees to make it a good career opportunity for them to stay as opposed to people just coming for the season and leaving,” Taber said.

Trevor Novello is one seasonal worker who said he’s staying in Whistler for the summer. Novello, 25, arrived in Whistler from Australia three years ago and each summer he usually leaves to snowboard elsewhere. But not having had a summer in three years the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory confectioner has decided to stay in town this summer.

“Every time I go everyone is like ‘Why are you going home?’ I asked myself that and decided to stick around and see what’s going on here.”

Novello said he will supplement the thrill he normally gets from snowboarding the world by taking up mountain biking.

“I need that rush,” he said, adding that he will also take in Whistler’s “amazing summer vibe, chill out, and get the beach going on.”