In early August 2016, ski-hill industry giant, Vail Resorts purchased host mountain of the 2010 Olympics and popular ski resort, Whistler Blackcomb,for $1.4 billion USD. Vail made a plan to lower prices while promising to make the ski-hill better than it already was. However, three years later, locals are frustrated and empty-pocketed. Prices in food, Edge cards, and day passes have gone up, while the quality of service on Whistler mountain has gone down. Lift workers and other employees are being paid less, and the energy on the mountain is not the same as before, and maybe not ever again.
Vail originated in Colorado and is one of the biggest resort companies in North America. They own 19 ski resorts in the USA and Australia, but recently they have expanded their works to Canada with this purchase of Whistler Blackcomb. Vail has a net worth of 8.73 billion dollars and is lead by CEO Robert Katz.
Whistler, just under two hours north of Vancouver, is known for the best skiing on the continent, and maybe even the globe. That proud feat is beginning to change in the minds of the Whistler locals, as Vail is making major and not so favourable changes.
The downfall all starts with the employees of the ski-hill. People from Canada and all over the globe come to work on the ski hill for a good chance to ski, operate lifts and get discounts on food, but now they are being paid just minimum wage and less benefits than before. According to locals, employees were previously paid $20/hour plus received an unlimited season pass when under the management of former Whistler-Blackcomb Mountain owners, Intrawest.
As a frequent and long-time skier of Whistler, I have noticed a recent shift in mood and enthusiasm in the workers on the mountain. The once high-spirited employees have now shifted and seem to be unmotivated and less attentive towards their work. Other local skiers on the chair lift seem to think the same thing. One ski patroller I rode up the mountain with said, “Previous owners knew the mountain and were on the hill to see what changes needed to be done, but now all the decisions are made over 2000 kilometres away in a corporate office, and no one knows what the people need.”
The price of seasons passes have varied over the last decade, but day passes are now around $150, about $30 dollars more than the previous price. It’s obvious the sales are directed towards a more wealthy touristic audience, especially Americans, as prices for passes are being given in US dollars. Roger Schmidt, an Ottawa man who’s skied Whistler since the 70’s, pointed out to Vancouver Sun that the new ownership is making the less wealthy locals go to cheaper or “smaller hills.” Cancelling the sale of 1 day and 3 day lift tickets, which were discounted for Canadian residents, adds to this impression. “Not everyone has the resources to do a 10 day ski trip,” Schmidt said. This leads to less people skiing on Whistler from Vancouver, and more skiers from place like Texas and California.
The start of Whistler dates back all the way to the 60’s. Whistler-Blackcomb was formed by Intrawest, a company that originated in Whistler itself, was run by local residents of the town, and employers of the company knew people in the community. As this ownership was a part of the town for more than 20 years, earning the respect from locals with deals and good salaries. Now a new owner arrives from far away Colorado. When those local discounts and salaries were dropped, that community feeling was lost.
In my experience over the past five years of going to Whistler I’ve noticed more and more of the skiers are not from Canada. Almost every ski lift I go up, I meet a person from the USA, Europe, Australia or Asia. While locals are dwindling due to the rising lift prices, foreign visitors do not seem put off.
As the 2019 ski season begins to wind down, there are still many skiers from all over visiting Whistler for overall great skiing. Although the new owner isn’t seen favourably among the locals, no matter what changes they make, Whistler will stay remain an extraordinary resort because of its great snow, wide-spanding area and their record-breaking gondola. It is doubtful that Vail will reverse these changes which could lead to local customers and employees staying away. To skiers and snowboarders in B.C.’s lower mainland, it is the end of an era.