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Whistler Blackcomb predicting slow season

Sharing numbers intended to help businesses prepare for unusual winter



The Olympic Games may bring tens of thousands of visitors to Whistler, but most won't be skiing.

For that reason Whistler Blackcomb is hiring hundreds fewer people this season, renting fewer homes in Whistler for staff accommodation and is loaning 750 employees to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC) and its contractors.

"I can tell you the ski hill is not going to be busy," Joel Chevalier, director of Employee Experience at Whistler Blackcomb told over 150 people at a Whistler Chamber of Commerce lunch Thursday.

"Normally we are used to seeing skiers and riders. This time around it is going to be athletes and sponsors and the media.

"So the expectation that we have is that it is going to be a really different demographic so.... we actually expect to be pretty slow during Games time."

Added to the fact that Whistler visitors during the Olympics are not here to ski is the fact that there will be practically no public parking in the resort over the two weeks of the Olympics.

Both mountains will be open with 90 per cent of the terrain open to the public, but regional skiers will have to use private coachlines to get up here during the Olympics.

Whistler Blackcomb normally hires 1,500 staff each year and has a paid staff of 3,600 through the winter. This season they are hiring 900 people and their staff will total 3,000.

Even with that cutback Whistler Blackcomb still expects it will have 1,000 staff too many at Games time.

About 250 of those said they wanted to take time off to enjoy the Olympics. So more than a year ago the company started talking about lending out their staff for the Games. Now 550 will be working with VANOC and the other 200 will be working for two Olympic related contractors.

"This really was a partnership destined for success," said Chevalier.

Whistler Blackcomb does have a make-whole agreement in place with VANOC to compensate the company for the rental of the Alpine ski racing venue and a loss of business due to the Olympics. The specifics have not been released.

Many businesses are keeping a lean staff thanks to the global economy, but Chevalier warned when it gets busy at Games time it would hurt the whole community if people began to steal employees from each other.

"As a community we need to be responsible with each other," he said.

"Poaching each other's staff isn't any good for anybody."

Christmas bookings to date are below the Christmas period last year. Whistler Blackcomb research shows that the resort will be busy for four weeks this winter - at Christmas and for the Olympics - but slow for the remaining 22 weeks of the season.