Whistler clubs cope with COVID-19 

Organizations feeling variety of effects from pandemic

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF WHISTLER ADAPTIVE - DIGITAL YOGA Volunteer adaptive yoga instructor Amanda Drage helps lead a session for Whistler Adaaptive members.
  • Photo courtesy of Whistler Adaptive
  • DIGITAL YOGA Volunteer adaptive yoga instructor Amanda Drage helps lead a session for Whistler Adaaptive members.

As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on, Whistler sports organizations find themselves in an array of situations going forward.

Like any business affected by the crisis, there are a variety of situations in which a club could find itself, ranging from some that are seeing a fairly equal decrease in both costs and revenue to some that are losing significant funding and are being forced to closely analyze budgets to survive.

One of those in the latter category is the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA), which has postponed several planned events, including races and its large annual bike swap fundraiser, while still planning to responsibly maintain as many trails as possible so it's prepared when the world starts to open up again.

However, a two-thirds reduction of its fee-for-service agreement with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), from $120,000 to $40,000, will present significant challenges, according to executive director Trevor Ferrao.

"It means basically only being able to employ our trail crew for May and June and not the rest of the summer," he said. "That's even taking into account the federal wage subsidy as well."

Ferrao said the focus in the early season would be ensuring trails are safe after the winter, so it would be key for WORCA to frontload the labour if forced to make a choice. After June, the burden would fall on lead trail builder Dan Raymond.

"Looking at the funding, we'd be struggling to get into September. Maybe mid-September, depending on the subsidies," he said. "But that would just be one person, and we'd be struggling to keep up.

"Once we get through the current situation, we're expecting a lot of trail users, not just bikers but hikers and trail runners, so it's going to be a struggle to keep everything maintained to the high standards that we have."

If trails can't be maintained to required standards, it may come about that some will be forced to close.

Without membership fees coming in, Ferrao said in the big picture, WORCA is working with worst-case budgets that see no events held this year.

Meanwhile, Whistler Adaptive executive director Chelsey Walker said the organization could take no risks and shuttered its in-person programming at the first hint of danger.

However, after putting in hard work, the group has moved its services online with eight classes a week for athletes to meet up with coaches through Zoom for everything from strength and conditioning and active stretching to yoga.

"It's been a stressful two weeks just figuring out how we can move forward with operations," she said. "We were one of the first programs to close because with 90 per cent of our client base, our participants and athletes, having compromised immune systems, we had to shut down. There was no other way."

Walker explained that for families of Whistler Adaptive clientele, offering online classes is a "lifeline" and a chance for those caregivers to reclaim some of their own time.

"We're all about providing respite for parents or other family members who might be in a caregiving situation. If we can give them an hour off to go do something else ... it provides that support that is so desperately needed at this time," she said.

Walker said Whistler Adaptive is starting to look into which funding and grant opportunities are available, including as an autism service provider.

While its major fundraiser, an annual gala in May, is off, Walker said Whistler Adaptive isn't ringing alarm bells, especially after holding several successful small fundraisers in recent months.

"We tend to be quite fiscally prudent as an organization and we look to keep six months of core operating funds in the bank so we could carry on if we were able to lose a major donor or sponsor," she explained.

On the youth organization front, president Kevin Creery of the Whistler Youth Soccer Club said the situation has remained stable.

While it's been frustrating to cancel the planned spring soccer season, which was about to start up when the snow melted, the club has kept in touch with its athletes to encourage skill development such as ball work in the garage.

Financially, the club has had to pay out some refunds to players for the spring season, while offering credit to players who signed up for fall. The organization will look to apply to federal programs for non-profits, while keeping an eye on changes to grant programs, but Creery said the club is generally in OK shape.

"We're lucky we don't have a lot of overhead. We don't have an office. [Administrator] Erin Crawford works at home," he said. "We won't be paying for field rentals at this point, so we'll save a bit of money there.

"It's tough, for sure, for everyone, but right now, it's more important for people to support the organizations that can support our community."

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