Barely coping with our summer success 

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We're in the homestretch; the blessed end is now in sight. Our nonstop summer of action-packed, sun-kissed, event-filled weekends is coming to an end... almost.

Brace yourself now for: GranFondo, the Whistler Village Beer Festival, Le Dîner en Blanc, more free outdoor concerts and Labour Day weekend.

Sleep is for the weak. Get back to work, Whistler. There are beds to make, mouths to feed, good times to deliver for our guests.

While the official room-night tally won't be in for a while, it's safe to say that 2014 could be another one for the summer record books, on top of last year's record-breaker.

Take the news this week in the pages of the Pique.

Whistler Blackcomb revealed its third- quarter earnings Friday, posting a 16-per-cent increase in revenue this quarter over last year for the last three months ending June 30.

While ski visits jumped 10 per cent, other visits for Q3 increased by 20 per cent, "as summer business continued to gain traction with both regional and destination visits," said WB president and CEO Dave Brownlie.

Talk about a spring shoulder season shrugging off its bad name.

It'll be interesting to hear what Brownlie has to say after Q4 when the numbers are in for July/August/September. Mark your calendars in three months.

And if the 30,000 people crammed at the base of Whistler Mountain at Saturday's Red Bull Joyride comp wasn't clue enough, Tourism Whistler also confirmed this week that Crankworx 2014 numbers, while not official, are pacing ahead of the last two festivals — not to mention this month's room-night bookings are on pace to break 2013's record-breaking August. Meanwhile, down-to-earth business owners in town are quietly talking about record sales this summer — some with best-ever single day sales and others with best-ever month-long numbers.

Bring it on Whistler. This is what we were built for.

And yet, this week we find ourselves asking this critical question: can Whistler cope?

Are we ready to handle the year-over-year growth — small, single-digit percentage points, or more, of growth that cumulatively are having a big impact?

It's safe to say that right now Whistler is feeling the strain.

Business may be booming but many business owners have never worked so hard for it.

Because they can't find anyone else to do the work.

No one is interested in filling the graveyard cleaning shifts. No one can be enticed to cover the evening dinner rush or steam fancy coffees or sell bike parts. Job ads go unheeded. In response, business owners are working round the clock, counting down the days until shoulder season, too busy to count the dollars rolling in.

It's not exactly a bad problem to have. But it could be.

By all accounts, Whistler is in the thick of a labour crunch, the likes of which it's never seen before... at least, in the summertime.

This is stuff of our winter nightmares, not our summertime woes.

And while the crunch may have gone largely unnoticed by our guests, for the most part, it won't for long.

Cranky, overworked staff running off their feet to accommodate guests, restaurants closing in the evenings, line-ups for half-empty restaurants that can't fully open because there's no staff, booked out activities — none of this is the image we want for Whistler, the place where "something is always happening"... you just have to wait for it.

This problem isn't going away.

If the sun keeps shining and the teachers' strike drags on, there's every chance September will linger on, making this the endless summer in the mountains. No fall shoulder season to regroup and reassess, or to take the annual Whistler fall rite of passage to Hawaii.

And next year, September is looking even busier with the chance that WOMAD —World of Music, Arts and Dance — is coming to town in a three-year deal.

Maturing into a four-season resort was bound to have its road bumps for the small- business owners in town.

But in the drive to drive business and grow our seasons, perhaps more thought should have been given to the problem of handling the success. This is exactly what we wanted after all — how is it possible that we're not prepared for it?

As one business owner lamented this week: if I had known how busy it was going to be, I could have prepared accordingly, snapped up staff in May and June to avoid being chronically short-staffed for the rest of the summer.

We need to spread the word next year — far and wide, at universities and schools, at summer job fairs — that there are jobs to be had in Whistler, not to mention the good times.

And who knows, they might just find that once they get a taste, it's almost impossible to leave.


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