Thompson-Okanagan resort towns prepare for summer re-opening, concerned for winter season | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Thompson-Okanagan resort towns prepare for summer re-opening, concerned for winter season

FILE PHOTO - Summer months at local mountain resorts are going to look much different from previous years filled with events and activities.
Image Credit: Silver Star Mountain Resort
June 18, 2020 - 6:30 AM

Workers in tourism communities across the region are learning to adapt to a new normal, while the resort companies struggle to plan ahead for an uncertain future.

Sun Peaks and Big White have brought staff on for the summer seasons, but both feel differently about what the season may bring.

For Sun Peaks Resort, hiring fresh staff was required despite reduced services. Aidan Kelly, chief marketing officer, says the resort has had to make up for lost staff by hiring locally.

“There’s so much uncertainty in terms of what business operations are going to look like. There have been reductions in the workforce, especially on the seasonal side of things right when the pandemic hit,” Kelly says. “Now we’re ramping back up, and we're mostly staffed up in that regards for summer operations.”

Kelly says they began hiring once it was clear the resort would be able to offer activities like hiking, mountain biking and golf. The full number of new hires and existing staff is not yet known, but Kelly says it will likely be a smaller workforce due to the lower expected visitor rates this summer.

Kelly says that the majority of the international seasonal workforce left when COVID-19 first hit, and is concerned about what a second wave or extended travel restrictions could mean for the winter season.

Kelly’s concern is mirrored by Michael Ballingall, senior vice president of Big White Ski Resort Ltd. 

“What we’re really worried about is winter. If the situation arises where we can't get temporary foreign workers, we can't get working-holiday-visa people from the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia and Europe to a certain extent, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble,” Ballingall says.

If international travel is still halted by the winter season, the resort will only need about 65 per cent of its workforce, he says. During a normal winter, he says the resort hires 1,100 seasonal staff, with around 650 of those workers coming in from other countries.

“If they’re not able to come to the country and work, we’re hoping there will be Canadians who can fill their shoes,” Ballingall says. “If (international staff) can’t come, that means the long haul tourists can’t come either... The challenge is, what will the world look like come October and November?”

Although Ballingall is concerned about the colder months, he says he’s had no problem in securing staff for the summer. All the staff you’ll see at Big White over the next few months have been longtime employees and Ballingall says they are happy to get back to work, and will rotate through jobs as necessary.

Unlike Kelly, Ballingall expects a slightly busier summer than usual as sporting events, concerts and more are on hold due to the pandemic.

“Now (British Columbians) are only going to be able to go to the great outdoors,” Ballingall says. “Even in Vancouver, there’s no football, you won’t be able to watch a hockey game in an arena, you’re not going to be able to go to soccer, and your kids aren’t going to be playing… you’re really doing tourism things. So having a resort the size of Big White… we think we’re going to be busier than normal.”

Another Okanagan resort has hired back mostly pre-pandemic staff but hasn’t said if they’re expecting more or fewer visitors. Chantelle Deacon, communications and sponsorship manager with Silver Star Mountain Resort, says the summer hiring is nearly finished, and the resort is already reviewing staff living quarters for the winter months.

“We're shortening the hours we are open, and we will only be open five days a week, whereas previously we would be open seven days a week. For the 20/21 winter season, we are continuing to review staff housing capacity as well as the plan for recruiting staff is still in the works,” Deacon says in an email statement to

Kelly and Ballingall say their staff accommodations vary between private units and shared rooms, and both say they will be looking into how to handle staff accommodation if distancing requirements are still in place. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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