By Andrew Mitchell
New positions may be found internally for some or all of the 15 Whistler-Blackcomb staff that were laid off last week, but the posts they held may be gone forever as part of an internal reorganization to become more efficient.
The layoffs were announced on Thursday, May 3, and affected supervisors and management. As well, the maintenance director position was cut, but former director Rick Temple will remain with Whistler-Blackcomb as the project manager for the Peak to Peak Gondola. Bob Dufour, the vice president of mountain operations, will once again assume management of the maintenance department.
According to Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations, the layoffs were part of an Intrawest-wide initiative to become more efficient.
“It’s an Intrawest initiative looking at all our ski areas, and we probably do this annually at this time of year when we do our business plan for the following year,” he said. “We challenged ourselves more in the past and really looked at setting ourselves up for efficiencies and making the best use of resources that we possibly can.”
Forseth says none of the layoffs were related to performance, and that Whistler-Blackcomb would welcome the affected people back in other positions as they open up.
“It wasn’t performance related at all, they are all fine people and top performers with us, so that was not the issue,” he added. “If we can find new locations for these people, and sometimes at the end of the season we have people move on or seeking other opportunities that arise, then we would gladly take them in.”
In addition to the layoffs, Forseth says 15 or 16 staff members have seen their contracts cut short by anywhere from two to eight weeks as a cost saving and efficiency measure.
“Right now we’re looking at how much time we need on a seasonal basis to do the work, and most of our work is core to the winter season from mid-November to mid-April,” said Forseth. “We’re looking at how much time positions need to ramp up and wind down in that zone, and challenged ourselves to see if we can do that work quicker and make sure we can still be effective with our resources.”
This is not the first round of layoffs for Whistler-Blackcomb or Intrawest. In October, Intrawest cut more than 200 full time positions in a variety of roles, including some ski resort positions. At Whistler-Blackcomb two positions were eliminated, and several seasonal positions were cut before they were filled or rehired for the winter.
In February, Intrawest laid off another 220 employees across its range of resorts and operations, none of them at Whistler-Blackcomb.
Forseth says the latest round of layoffs were part of routine housekeeping, and not connected to the recent purchase of Intrawest by Fortress Investment Group. He also doesn’t anticipate any further layoffs in the near future.
“There are always going to be changes, but I think this is the structure we’re going to be bringing in next year, when we’ll look at it again,” he said. “I can’t guarantee we won’t rethink something somewhere along the way, but it’s not our intention. We don’t want to develop uncertainty in peoples’ minds, and we tried to do (the layoffs) all at once.”
Other Intrawest resorts, including Panorama in B.C., will be doing similar internal reviews, according to Forseth.
The layoffs come as Whistler-Blackcomb is celebrating one of its best seasons in several years, with a cumulative snowfall to date of 1,408 centimetres, compared to an average of about 1,000 centimetres. Visitor numbers were also strong through the winter. In February alone, room nights booked were 16 per cent over the previous winter, which also boasted an above average snowpack.