soup kitchens 

Mountains providing for employees while waiting for snow The American Thanksgiving long weekend traditionally heralds the start of the ski season in Whistler, but this year it seems to have heralded the start of the monsoon season, and almost 2,000 employees who have jobs at Whistler Mountain or Blackcomb have been unable to start working. With most of their savings invested in travel and finding a place to live, many employees are feeling the pinch as they wait for the rain to stop and their jobs to start. To help, Whistler and Blackcomb have set up support networks for their employees. Cheap hearty meals, free entertainment and individual counselling are part of the packages put together by both mountains. Whistler Mountain, with a high-season staff level of around 900, opened up a "staff clubhouse" in Dusty’s Den on Monday and have been providing staff with lunches and dinners for $1. As well, the video screens in the Den have been filled with movies for staff to watch. The pool tables are open for free billiards and a ping pong table has been brought in to help pass the time. On Tuesday night, Whistler Mountain rented the entire Meadow Park Recreation Centre and opened up the pool, weight room, squash courts and other facilities at Meadow Park free of charge for 100 employees who took advantage of the offer. "All of these people would be working if we had snow, but we don’t so we have got to provide for them," says Gord Ahrens, Whistler Mountain’s director of employee relations. "Many of our staff live in places where they may not know anyone or not have any private space so we are trying to provide a place where they can get out, meet people and have fun at no cost." Ahrens says Whistler has rented the Rainbow Theatre tonight and they will host a free showing of the new Warren Miller film, Endless Winter, to everyone with a Whistler Mountain staff pass. Show time is 11 p.m. At Blackcomb, Bela’s at Base II has become the centre of the staff support network, says Chantal Smitheram, Blackcomb’s director of human resources. Smitheram says some of the 1,000-member staff at Blackcomb have been working while the mountain is open — which is when weather permits. Others have some cash coming in from their training periods. A well-balanced, nutritious meal is being offered for $3 every night and employees in staff housing are being allowed to defer their rent until the cash flow starts again, she says. "We are trying to be creative and find ways to entertain and provide activities for our staff while things aren’t that busy on the mountain," Smitheram says, adding fun sport leagues are being drawn up for staff housing residents to compete in.

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