An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: Ghost town? Not quite yet! There’s always the turkeys on the loose!

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One could be forgiven for thinking upon arrival into this mountain town this week that perhaps the resort and tourism industry here had seen better days. Not because the wandering eye would catch sight of any dilapidated buildings or state of disrepair, but because we have been perhaps a tad quiet on foot traffic. Not surprising to those who’ve lived here long enough, this is the traditionally the ‘off-season’ and we’re now to experience a bit of a lull before the visitor numbers pick up once again.

So, like any good business, what happens around here now? Well, many businesses – such as restaurants, stores and even hotels, these will close their doors for a few days or even weeks to allow them to get in and do some overhauls and make-over’s, switch over from summer to winter production, train new incoming staff, etc and take advantage of cost saving exercises (staffing hours being drastically cut for what is hopefully a brief hiatus).

We’ve also began, somewhat early, to play that perennial ‘game’ that is, ‘watching the snowline go up and down the mountain’. We don’t usually start this ‘game’ until a little later into October, but given our 6 week summer and some of the decent ‘dumps’ we’ve had on top during September, let alone in early October, we’ve invested into the ‘game’ anyway. So, the by-product of snow dropping upon high at this time of year, is that it’s a little wet down here in the valley where it’s marginally warmer. What this means to everyone around here is that we all expect and know that the last few weeks of October and early November will be a tad damp. It needs to be so that where it’s cooler on the peaks, its cold enough to turn this bountiful precipitation to the ‘white stuff’. Hence the common term that’s thrown around here, “well, at least it’s snowing up top!”

Now as much as we all adore living in this stunning part of the world, many of the townsfolk will also give real consideration to skipping town for a week or a few, typically going south to warmer, drier climbs. That said, there will still be many coming into town this long ‘Thanksgiving’ weekend. This is a Canadian holiday and every year at this time, the town’s predominant benefactor, Whistler Blackcomb’, will stage a huge ‘Turkey Sale. During this weekend, they will sell off thousands of pieces of winter clothing, apparel (such as goggles, gloves, hats, etc) and of course, the main winter toys such as skis and boards. There will be huge discounts to be had and the huge tented stage up in Blackcomb, or the ‘upper village’ as it is known, will attract hundreds and thousands through its doors. It’s also the last few days of mountain operations for the gondolas for sightseeing and the bike park. A great excuse to come up, shop, celebrate, stuff your faces with the traditional turkey dinner and prepare yourself for the onslaught of winter that is nearly upon us.

This really will be the last throw of the dice though as far as visitor numbers go. If anyone thought the town had been quiet this past week, just wait and see what its like over the next few weeks. Many individuals arriving in town for the impending winter (typically promised as the next ‘big year’), may have to wait a little to gain employment. The CV’s or resumes are they are known around here, have been handed in across town, but as prospective employers actually look now to cut staffing hours to reduce overheads in this ‘lean’ period, it may be a few weeks before the first paycheque is picked up for some.

It’s actually a difficult dilemma for the employers and businesses each year. What to do? Employ all the staff right now that you think you’ll need to see you operate at maximum capacity throughout winter, only to find that almost immediately you can barely give a few hours each because there simply isn’t the work to go round for now. What happens then? Everyone needs to feed themselves and put a roof over their head still, so some will look for other work that can offer them hours – Who can blame them really? Those that have been in town long enough will hopefully have prepared themselves to ready for a few weeks of low income. Some may even have been lucky enough to have picked up a second or even third job. Others, as I said before, might just do the employer a favour and save them having to reduce everyone’s hours and simply get out of town briefly.

Now, unfortunately we will be out of town for this Thanksgiving weekend as we’re taking off to Vancouver Island and its capital ‘Victoria’ which is also the capital of British Columbia. For myself and a few others that I managed to rope into my scheme, we have the small matter of running in the half marathon in the famous city over there. It’s a popular place to visit, about an hour and a half by ferry from mainland Vancouver and a further hour or so by car on the other side. The city has a colonial feel at times and I for one am looking forward to setting a PB ahead of my New York marathon in early November and then settling in to drink up the atmosphere and surroundings on offer in the capital – not to mention its a few days off work and we may even manage a veritable turkey stuffing or two!!

Be nice to think the weather may have turned a little and we’ll find warm, dry days upon our return….but I doubt it. Who knows, maybe the snowline will have creeped a little further toward us!