Kamloops, Okanagan ski resorts competing for Canadian workers this season | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops, Okanagan ski resorts competing for Canadian workers this season

FILE. Big White resort.
September 26, 2021 - 10:30 AM

With the lack of international workers due to the pandemic, the region's ski resorts will have to look to Canadians this winter and forced to compete for labour across Canada.

“If you talk to any town, city, Kelowna, Tofino, Vancouver everybody from McDonald’s all the way up to your five-star restaurants, is looking for staff,” said Michael Ballingall, senior vice president of Big White Ski Resort.

“We’re having a real hard time getting working holiday visas for people interested in coming from other countries. There seems to be a backlog of requests (with Industry Canada and Employment Canada). We only really have Canada to choose from.”

That means they are in competition with other resorts across B.C. to find employees.

There are not enough ski instructors in Canada to fill resort positions, he said.

“We need Australians, we need Brits, we need Americans, we need Swedish people and Danes, we need all of those (people) we normally would have,” he said.

When the resort closed in March 2020, there were more than 180 ski instructors. Last year, the resort ran with 43, because they couldn’t find the 44th, he said. This year, they're relying on local schools and alumni from the Kelowna ski clubs that are looking for jobs.

Night skiing will not run this year because the resort doesn’t have the means to support it, along with the school program, he said. The skating rink is opening this year however.

“The hard part is the service industry,” he said.

The resort needs about 650 employees to run the resort this year. A regular non-pandemic year would see roughly 1,200.

“It’s very, very competitive out there right now for key employee positions,” Ballingall said.

The resort is hiring people from across the country, as far as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

“They’re coming to live on the mountain and live the life experience, no one wants to drive up and down the road every day,” he said.

At Apex Mountain, general manager James Shalman said hiring this year will be a challenge but the resort typically ramp up their hiring efforts in mid-October.

It’s unlikely the resort will mandate double-vaccine requirements for outdoor activities but restaurants and other indoor spaces will follow provincial health guidelines, he said. As a smaller resort, they don’t rely on international staff as much as other resorts — they make up only about 20% of employees, he said.

There are some international ski instructors that are coming from Denmark this season through a company called Snowminds, he said, but they will be falling short this year on international staff and are hoping locals will fill the void as they did last year.

Christina Antoniak, director of communications at Sun Peaks Resort, said they're feeling optimistic this year to fulfil staffing needs, but filling the service industry need remains challenging, she said.

"All the other areas remain strong," she said.

The resort will be operating at normal staff levels this season. They won't decrease due to customer volumes since staff are still needed to run lifts, she said as an example, and staff at regular businesses like rentals are needed to assist with COVID-19 protocols.

The resort relies on roughly 50% international employees in a regular year but since the resort has the benefit of a year-round municipality, they're able to fill that need with regional employees and with those from Alberta and Ontario, she said.

SilverStar Mountain Resort did not return a request for comment.

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