WB confirms more layoffs 

Ski school hardest hit with 100 jobs lost

The economic crisis and a poor snow year have taken their toll on many Whistler businesses, and Whistler Blackcomb is not immune.

There have been layoffs recently, including 100 employees of the Whistler Blackcomb Ski and Snowboard School.

While many employees are expected to work until end the of April, Whistler Blackcomb said it faced a difficult decision to move planned layoffs up by several weeks.

"What I would say is that we're doing our best to match staffing levels to business levels, like everyone else in town," said Joel Chevalier, director of employee experience at Whistler Blackcomb. "We do not have the business volumes we were hoping for... Whistler Blackcomb is not immune to this global economic crisis."

As the largest employer in Whistler with a winter payroll of 3,600 employees, Chevalier said people notice layoffs more than with other businesses that are paring staff. To keep staff working - which Chevalier says is important to Whistler's ability to provide world class service to guests - Whistler Blackcomb is working closely with Tourism Whistler to bring as many guests as possible to the resort from now until the end of the season.

They have cut other operational expenses in response to the slowdown - like canceling staff Christmas parties this year - and only considered layoffs as a last resort.

"Guests want people to interact with, and we're keeping as many employees around as long as we can," said Chevalier.

"Workforce reductions are the end of the line for us, it's the last place we go and we found ourselves needing to do that.

"Relative to the size of our company it's a small number, but we feel terrible having to make these calls to lay off our employees and for every employee who has been laid off in Whistler."

So far 100 jobs have been cut in ski school, from a staff of 1,350, mostly as a result of the decreased demand for lessons. While Chevalier said it was a tough decision to make, it will ensure other instructors more hours through the end of the season.

Chevalier said Whistler Blackcomb is encouraging those employees to stay and ski the rest of the season, and is offering its cheapest available beds to laid-off workers until they decide to go home. However, he says it's more difficult for employees that are on temporary work visas sponsored by Whistler Blackcomb ski school, as those employees are not allowed to seek other employment in the resort, or even within Whistler Blackcomb.

Those employees need to have return tickets out of the country when they arrive and have a way home, but it's expensive for employees to change dates, and in the meantime they're still paying to live here.

Chevalier said they are meeting face to face with staff to explain the situation, and looking for ways to ease the impact on employees. He says Whistler Blackcomb is very concerned in the short term that the layoffs will make it harder to recruit abroad in the future, but he hopes most people will understand that it's a global issue and appreciate their efforts to keep staff employed.

"We do operate a strong brand, and a lot of good things happen here," he said. "We have great employees that come and stay for a long time, and that will continue to be the case. As for the employees who were laid off, we would extend our arms again to welcome them back but we need to be as honest as possible with them right now."

Whistler Blackcomb did most of its hiring in the summer, before the financial crisis, when the resort expected to be as busy as last winter. It's unknown how much the drop in visitor numbers is the result of the economic downturn, and how much is related to the low snowpack, but hotel visits are down 10 to 20 per cent compared to last year, and day visits are down as well.

When the season winds down after the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, the number of employees decreases from 3,600 to about 900 for the summer.

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