By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
A small pocket in the Georgian Triangle is getting a lot of attention these days. Blue Mountain, the preferred ski destination of weekenders since the 1940s, is undergoing a radical makeover that's transforming it into the most popular winter destination in Ontario, a haven for retiring baby boomers, and a hot spot for those wanting to work in winter tourism.
A limited employable population means that Blue Mountain has to import 40% of its labour force from outside. Information from Statistics Canada's 2001 census revealed that a quarter of all jobs fell in the areas of accommodation, food service and recreation.
"There are always jobs available here, but even more so now," says Paul Pinchbeck, director of marketing for Blue Mountain Resorts. "The Village has been the main catalyst for our expansion."
Pinchbeck is referring to the Village at Blue, an old Ontario-inspired pedestrian-friendly space at the base of the mountain -- in the same vein of what's at Whistler Blackcomb in B.C. and Tremblant in Quebec -- featuring 60 to 70 shops and restaurants. The project, which is half complete and will take up 100,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, has been spearheaded by Intrawest Corporation, the leading developer and operator of village-centred destination resorts in North America that in 1999 bought a 50% stake in Blue. Future development for the area also includes about 1,000 condo-hotel units and 200 townhouse units.
The investment dollars and marketing heft that Intrawest brings to the table have boosted the appeal of the Georgian Triangle -- Meaford, Town of the Blue Mountains, Collingwood and Wasaga Beach -- as a year-round holiday destination, but much of the area's economy still relies on winter tourism dollars.
To accommodate the flurry of growth, Pinchbeck and his crew of five marketing specialists have found themselves having to significantly boost their hiring initiatives.
Many more hires
The village at Blue is an old Ontario-inspired pedestrian-friendly space at the base of Blue Mountain featuring 60 to 70 shops and restaurants.
"We do a number of things -- advertising in newspapers, and job fairs at the resort and offsite," Pinchbeck says. "We're anticipating having to hire many more individuals in the next few years."
The contrast between the area's annual growth figures in 2000, just after Intrawest arrived, and now, puts things into perspective: winter lodging visits have jumped to 100,000 from 50,000; ski/snowboard visits have grown to 600,000 from 450,000; the number of onsite shops has grown to 24 from eight; and the number of accommodations has grown to 700 units from 200 units.
The numbers make clear the positioning of tourism as a top industry in Town of the Blue Mountain; information from Statistics Canada's 2001 census revealed that a quarter of all jobs fell in the areas of accommodation, food service and recreation. But a limited employable population means that the town has to import 40% of its labour force in this area from outside.
Blue Mountain Resorts currently employs 400 full-time year-round staff, 275 seasonal summer employees and 1,300 seasonal winter employees. Employees work in many different tourism-related positions, including ticket-sellers, equipment rental technicians, food servers, housekeepers, retail sales associates, snowmakers and much more. The resort also employs a stable of 325 ski and snowboard instructors who teach about 3,000 people each week on the mountain's 34 trails.
BLUE MOUNTAIN BY THE NUMBERS|
600,000: The annual number of ski/snowboard visits.
34: The number of ski/snowboarding trails.
25%: The percentage of tourism jobs in Town of the Blue Mountain (accommodation, food service and recreation, according to Statistics Canada's 2001 census).
$10,000,000: The annual payroll of Blue Mountain Resorts.
1,575: The total number of seasonal employees (winter and summer).
5,000: The number by which Collingwood's population jumps during winter weekends.
$500,000,000: The amount that Intrawest Corporation paid in 1999 for half of Blue Mountain Resorts.
$1.09 billion US: The 2003 annual revenue of Intrawest.
One of those ski instructors is Anik Gaumond. The 34-year-old Quebec native, who's taught at resorts in New Zealand and northern Ontario since the early 1990s, followed the powder to Blue in 1999, just after Intrawest appeared on the scene. During that time, she's seen her own department grow leaps and bounds.
"Ski school is a lot busier," says Gaumond, who teaches part time on the weekends. "On the weekends, every instructor is on the mountain."
Burgeoning winter tourism also helped Gaumond score a full-time marketing job at the Cranberry Golf Resort & Conference Centre in Collingwood. In May of 2003, she began doing sales and marketing for Mountain Springs Lodge Resort and Conference Centre, six clusters of 144 chalet-style luxury suites situated at the base of the mountain.
Wide range of perks
Gaumond was able to work out a 9-to-5 arrangement that lets her spend most of her free time hitting the slopes.
"I can teach part time, and ski three to four nights a week. I can also take all my days off in the winter," Gaumond says.
Gaumond is characteristic of many people who work in tourism, in that lifestyle matters far more than moneymaking. Blue Mountain Resorts accommodates that mentality with a wide range of perks for its employees, such as skiing/snowboarding, golf, tennis, food and retail discounts, and five free lift tickets at all Intrawest resorts each winter.
Those with a similar mindset, who don't mind working long days for average pay, are bound to find job opportunities in the area.
"Resort industry people work a lot of hours, and wages are not the highest. You're not going to get rich doing this," she says. "But if you have the passion for it, it's a lot of fun and it offers a great lifestyle."
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