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Intrawest resort lays off 1,300 due to lack of snow

Blue Mountain running with skeleton staff

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By Andrew Mitchell

Thanks to recent snowstorms and a cold snap that allowed for around the clock snowmaking, Ontario’s biggest ski resort managed to open 12 out of 35 runs by Wednesday, Jan. 17 — a vast improvement over the five runs open last weekend.

All five terrain parks remain closed, however, and the entire resort is being run by a skeleton staff until things improve.

On Jan. 6 Blue Mountain, of which Intrawest is a major shareholder, announced plans to lay off 1,300 workers and close the resort. The resort employs approximately 1,850 staff annually, including hotel and retail operations.

Some of those employees were rehired after a snowstorm hit the region this week, but with just one-third of runs open and the village all but empty the majority remain out of work.

To compensate season pass holders, Blue Mountain has offered free skiing at six Intrawest resorts through Feb. 2, including Whistler-Blackcomb, Mont Tremblant, Panorama, Stratton, Copper Mountain and Winter Park.

Southern Ontario has been reporting record temperatures through December and early January, with people wearing T-shirts in Toronto on Christmas Day. As a result, occupancy rates at Blue Mountain during the holidays were just 40 per cent.

While colder temperatures have made it possible for most Ontario resorts to make snow, a check of resorts reveals snow depths between 20 and 40 centimetres, and closed runs and lifts.

Cross-country ski areas are also partially open, some operating with a base of just four centimetres in places — only enough because of the recent cold snap.

Quebec is better off than Ontario, but most resorts are operating at a diminished capacity. At the recent Freestyle World Cup at Mont Gabriel it rained through the moguls and aerials competitions.

It’s unknown what impact the mild winter will have on the bottom line for ski area operators, but many resorts make over half of annual revenues through December and January.

As well as snow resorts, tourism industries like snowmobiling and ice fishing have also been hard hit. It’s estimated that winter recreation and tourism contributes over $3 billion a year to Quebec.

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