Foreign workers at local ski hills scramble to find flights home after resorts close - InfoNews

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Foreign workers at local ski hills scramble to find flights home after resorts close

A webcam from the morning of March 17 shows the village deserted.
Image Credit: SilverStar Mountain Resort
March 17, 2020 - 7:00 PM

SilverStar business owner Frank Brekers says his staff are now scrambling to get home after the ski hill closed its operations due to the coronavirus.

"They're all in a panic mode right now because they hear that one border after another is closing in their home countries," Brekers said.

The Bugaboos Bakery Cafe owner said he employs 26 staff, 21 of which are from overseas.

Brekers said about six employees have managed to catch flights out of Vancouver, mainly to Europe, and he has a few Australians leaving early tomorrow morning. The employees have had to take the bus to Vancouver to catch flights as getting flights out of Kelowna was too difficult, he said.

While Brekers has accommodation for his workers and said there is no rush for them to leave, he said the stress of the situation is taking its toll on them.

Webcams of the resort show empty ski runs and deserted streets. The closure of SilverStar Mountain Resort comes three weeks before the ski hill was scheduled to close April 5.

The SilverStar workers join hundreds of other workers at local ski hills now trying to get home. Other Interior ski resorts have also shut up shop including Big White Ski Resort and Sun Peaks and Apex resorts.

SilverStar Mountain Resort spokesperson Chantelle Deacon said didn't have precise numbers but estimated over 80 per cent of the resorts 200 frontline staff were from overseas. Deacon said the company has provided its staff with five days pay from their last shift and is providing staff with trips to the airport, along with mental health and other services.

"We will be working with our staff to help in every way that we can, to make this process as smooth as it can be," Deacon said.

The effects of the mass exodus of staff are very obvious from posts to the SilverStar Community Facebook page.

Multiple ads list skis and snowboards up for sale, as staff try to offload gear quickly in preparation for their prompt departure. A multitude of vehicles for sale no doubt represent cancelled road trips. Many ads say "Need gone ASAP" and "leaving this week."

Brekers said the majority of his staff were not going to leave Canada at the end of the ski season and had planned road trips and vacations, before heading to other areas of B.C. to find work for the summer.

There may have just been a few weeks left before the season was due to end but for business, those weeks were important.

"Money-wise... (we were) supposed to have the two busiest businesses weeks of the whole season," Brekers said. "I have a lot of perishable goods that I can not use anymore."

Long John's Pub manager John Kane said the early closure was a blow to business after a season which was looking to be their best in 19 years. Kane said the pub predominantly employs locals who return year after year so his staff weren't faced with the predicament foreign staff were going through.

The Bugaboos Bakery Cafe owner also believes the mountain's foreign staff returning to their home countries may have an effect for summer businesses across the region.

"We totally rely on the foreigners that work here... they all get one-year visas so if they all leave like right now, then there won't be enough staff for the summer businesses," he said.

While Breker says he won't be affected by a possible summer staff shortages because he only employs half a dozen people, his foreign workers would normally head to work in wineries, hotels and resorts around the Okanagan after the ski season is done.

For now, Brekers says he'll probably donate his perishable goods to the food bank and close up shop after the weekend.

Normally busy with skaters, SilverStar's Brewers Pond is empty March 17.
Normally busy with skaters, SilverStar's Brewers Pond is empty March 17.
Image Credit: SilverStar Mountain Resort

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