As COVID-19 restrictions lift and travel picks up, the ski industry is anticipating a busy season ahead.
But it could feel uncomfortably busy if Canadian ski resorts continue to have difficulties finding staff to operate the chairlifts and flip burgers in their mountaintop restaurants.
According to the Canadian Ski Council (CSC), up to 30 per cent of job vacancies at ski resorts across the country could remain empty by the time ski season hits.
The critical lack of workers prompted CSC president Paul Pinchbeck to send a letter to Canada's ministers of economic development and immigration, calling on the federal government to extend working holiday visas for visitors who are still in the country, and whose visas are set to expire between now and the end of the ski season. The letter asks that the government grant an extension until May 1, 2022.
The working holiday visa is a temporary work permit offered to young people from participating countries to work in Canada for either 12 or 24 months.
Pinchbeck also requested the government allocate more resources to process new visa applications.
Big White says it needs hundreds more employees
At Big White Ski Resort, in Kelowna, B.C., senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingal says while they typically require 600 to 700 staff to run the mountain, they only have 250 confirmed employees for the upcoming season.
"In order to run [a ski resort] you need hundreds and hundreds of people. Right now we don't have that," he said.
Sun Peaks Resort, near Kamloops, B.C., is also short on staff, with about 100 positions vacant and only about a month until the start of the season.
Christina Antoniak, director of communications, says about 50 per cent of their staff are typically from overseas, but that has fallen to about 20 per cent this season.
At Revelstoke Mountain Resort, all the ski lift jobs have been filled, but roles in food, beverage, and hotel operations have been challenging to fill, according to Peter Nielsen, vice-president of operations.
"It's quite unprecedented," he said.
Lindsay Bennett has run Dizzy's Ski Shop, a specialized boot-fitting store, in Big White for 17 years. He currently has fewer than half the boot-fitters he normally needs to run the shop.
Bennett says several prospective staff have had to cancel their plans to come to Canada to work for him after being unable to obtain a visa.
"These are people that have an incredible skill set that I need. When you find somebody and then you can't get them in it's really really frustrating," said Bennett.
"The ski industry in North America relies on internationals. When they can't come, the ski industry hurts. And right now, they can't come," said Bennett.
Anthony Voiturin from France had secured a job at Dizzy's for the upcoming winter season. He was supposed to start on Oct. 12. He started the process of getting his visa in July, but has yet to receive it.
Voiturin is now debating whether he should stay in France for the winter.
Pinchbeck said in the CSC letter that if left unaddressed, the labour shortage could result in businesses operating at reduced hours or closing altogether.