Mountains deny 'unprecedented layoffs' claim Local columnist says there are By Chris Woodall Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are not laying staff off in "unprecedented" numbers, as claimed by a Whistler Question columnist, say representatives of the ski corporations. Instead, the mountains say decreases in staffing are normal for this time of year and reflect a normal slow down in business following the Christmas rush. "This past week saw some unprecedented layoffs and cutbacks by both mountain operators as they were no longer able to sustain their winter staffing levels due to a decrease in the projected visitor numbers," wrote Question columnist Paul Burrows in his Jan. 27 article. "We're not laying anyone off at the moment," says Gord Ahrens, director of employee relations at Whistler Mountain. "It's pretty much the same over here," echoes Ellen Wallace, employment manager at Blackcomb Mountain. "We hire extra temporary people for Christmas rush and go down to part-time hours and not replace people through attrition after that," Ahrens says. "But business always picks up later." "January is a quieter month," Wallace explains. "I know it's true and I know it's a fact," says Burrows, defending his column. Burrows claims that, among other layoffs, nine groomers and about 20 liftees have been laid off on Blackcomb alone. They have been able to keep their employee benefits including staff accommodation, although they have to pay more for it during the layoff period, Burrows says. "I'm surprised at the mountains' reaction," Burrows says of their claims that they aren't laying anyone off in unusual numbers. "I haven't had any phone calls from the mountains asking me where I got my information," Burrows says. "The story may well be they are covering something up." While the mountains aren’t releasing their skier visits for January, many people feel the numbers for the season to date are substantially below expectations. A cold snap at Christmas was partly to blame, but good ski conditions at most ski areas across the continent may be a factor, too. Skier numbers generally increase through February and March, as spring break and the Easter holidays approach. Burrows is willing to admit an error if he made one. "If the layoffs aren't unprecedented, then I stand corrected," he says. But it could be that concerns he heard about mountain employees being laid off in January were from staff who weren't told this could happen, Burrows says, suggesting the ski corporations should have been telling staff this in the fall. "Frankly, the rumble was there was a lot of dissatisfaction, but maybe they were newer staff who weren't aware this happens," Burrows says.