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Piquen' your interest

Breeding Bolsheviks


There’s a class struggle going on in Whistler, although many of the have-nots are too tranquillized by the opiate of the masses – I’m talking about skiing and snowboarding not organized religion – to realize it.

The Whistler employee experience circa 2002 is to be surrounded by the wealthy and privileged, watching the old homes we live in bulldozed to make way for bigger homes, and saying goodbye to the people who have decided that they can no longer afford to live here.

Last week the Four Seasons hotel in Whistler, which hasn’t even been built yet, sold out 242 luxury condominiums worth $152 million in about five hours. According to an eyewitness it was a feeding frenzy, with some people buying two or three units and others storming away angry because they didn’t even get one.

The hysteria was hardly surprising. The week before a KPMG study revealed that Whistler contributes about $1.035 billion in tourism revenues to the province on an annual basis.

Everyone wants a piece of Whistler, this four-season wonderland. It’s just not everyone that can afford it.

The municipality has shelves full of vision documents, plans and strategies that basically say that the future success of Whistler depends on our ability to build and maintain a healthy and liveable community in and around the resort. It ensures the availability of skilled, long-term workers and gives the town colour and culture.

Unlike Colorado resorts like Vail and Aspen, where about 75 per cent of resort staff live in neighbouring towns, Whistler manages to house close to 80 per cent of its 14,000 member workforce during the peak season. It sounds impressive, but for a lot of resort staff living conditions are far from ideal as people are forced into double, triple, even quadruple occupancy. The reality is we’re only barely squeaking by.

By the time we hit buildout, the bed unit cap of 52,500, the Whistler Housing Authority estimates that the peak season workforce will need to be about 16,000 strong.

Putting that 2,000 employee increase into perspective, that’s about the equivalent of 700 more three-bedroom apartments or houses without doubling people up.

The WHA has plans to provide more rental and retail housing in partnership with local businesses, but it’s an uphill battle. Not only do they have a growing workforce to house, they also have to compensate for all the rental houses that are being lost around town. Some are being destroyed. Some are being priced out of the average resort employee’s price range.

So here’s the situation: the price of living is increasing for resort employees, while profits are increasing for local businesses. And yet the wages have stayed more or less the same.