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WMSC stress

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Mountains help staff, visitors deal with stress Stress can come from any number of sources but many of the most dramatic incidents locally happen on the mountains. From time to time skiers are buried in avalanches or lost on the mountains, it’s part of the risk involved in mountain activities. But that doesn’t lessen the impact that such incidents can have on individuals, including both staff and visitors. The mountains have recognized that situation and taken steps to address it. Gord Ahrens, Whistler Mountain’s director of employee relations, says Whistler Mountain hired local counsellor Jan Derpak on a contract basis following the death of a child in Ski Scamps last winter. A little girl became separated from her class and suffocated in a tree well. Derpak was brought in to talk counsel staff members in what’s called a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. Derpak is on a retainer with Whistler Mountain this winter. She flew back from Europe following the Quicksilver tragedy, where four chairs fell from the line, resulting in two deaths and leaving one person a paraplegic. "We did debriefings in like-groups, for example the ski patrol, the maintenance personnel, lift operators. Then we offered counselling to individuals," Ahrens says. The fact that Derpak is not part of management makes it easier for people to talk to her, Ahrens feels. Derpak spent several days on the mountain talking with staff following the accident. Whistler Mountain also offers her services to guests, including the families of the snowboarders who were missing overnight a few weeks ago. While the CISDs are used in the most dramatic cases, Ahrens says Whistler Mountain also offers what might be called "preventative" measures. Club SHRED (Staff Having Really Excellent Days) has been operating since the 1990-91 season. It’s a social club, run by staff, which may include anything from movie nights to trips to Canucks games to Christmas dinners. Ahrens also gives a talk on "the three temptations in Whistler: sex, alcohol and drugs" during staff orientation in the fall. These efforts are aimed primarily at season employees, because Ahrens notes seasonal workers lives in Whistler can be all-encompassing. "Working hear is a full package, housing, recreation, work..." "Lots of times stress is not work related, it may be financial or housing or ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ But it can all carry over to work." Ahrens suggests in some cases it can be less stressful for someone in Whistler for a season on a work visa, who is only hear for the experience, than for a Canadian with a university degree who can’t get a job that makes use of his or her degree. The university graduate may begin to wonder where their lives are leading and become depressed. Whistler Mountain offers courses to supervisors which help them identify depression, alcohol, drug and emotional abuse in employees, and the supervisors can refer staff to counselling services if necessary, "but it’s usually better if the employee makes the decisions to call for help," Ahrens adds. "There are lots of free services available now, we have to make sure people know about them and act on them," Ahrens says.

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