Case Study: Whistler Adventure School Presents Job-Ready Students

Opened in April 2014, the Whistler Adventure School is a unique trade school that caters to the unique employment needs of Whistler and other BC ski/snowboard and summer resort communities through courses such as bike mechanics, boot fitting, custom ski building and more. A vital part of the school’s curriculum involves co-op work placement programs that provide students with practical work experience in their field of study, while also providing local employers with qualified, skilled candidates who are job ready and ready to work.

With five full programs focused around outdoor recreation (Media Manager Program, Retail & Manufacturing Program, Ski Guide Training, Rock Guide Training and Alpine Guide Training), every student is required to complete a co-op work placement with a local employer in order to graduate.

As of now, the Whistler Adventure School has official agreements in place with 10 employers for its work placement curriculum, including Whistler Blackcomb, Ziptrek Ecotours and the Whistler Film Festival.

“We’re always looking for more employers for the school’s work placement programs to help students gain the practical experience they need,” said Eric Hughes, Operations and Marketing Manager at Whistler Adventure School. “In return, employers get qualified, skilled candidates who are responsible, working-aged adults to help support their employment needs over the short and long term.”

As part of the course curriculum, the school matches the employers’ needs with the needs of its students who are seeking co-op opportunities, with placements assigned on an individual basis.

“One of the biggest advantages for employers to participate in the school’s co-op program is that the students have already received a high level of training, which makes them – in turn – highly skilled,” Hughes said. “This saves time on training as well as any costs related to training, and there isn’t a huge commitment for the employers as the co-op programs are short-term placements.”

An added advantage is that employers are able to interview potential candidates and bring them on for a short time, providing them with an opportunity to become acquainted with these students’ personalities, work ethic, skill level, etc. for future hiring possibilities. In other words, through the co-op placement program, employers have an opportunity to “test” out the students before deciding to hire them on as either permanent or seasonal team members.

An unforeseen benefit of the school’s impact on the community? The fact that many international students enrolled in the programs are also able to acquire work permits – creating another important labour source and more workers for this resort community. Effectively, the work permits allow these international students to work anywhere – not just in their field of study – for up to 20 hours per week, which helps to address the ongoing labour shortages in Whistler.

Surefoot Whistler has been in business for 20 years, providing comfortable ski boots and a guaranteed ski boot fitting system for skiers of various abilities from across the globe. Over the years, the company – similar to many other businesses in the community – has consistently experienced a dearth of qualified and skilled team members to join its team, said Sam McDonald, Manager of Surefoot Whistler.

“With Whistler’s seasonal business model, especially for ski boots, it’s been challenging to find experienced retail personnel with some knowledge around ski boots,” McDonald said. “Once we do hire people, the onus falls on us to train them – and this training is usually done on the job – which makes the idea of hiring skilled students through a co-op program, and possibly permanently after that, a lot easier for me and eases my workload to tackle other things.”

By welcoming co-op students into their workplace, local employers have an opportunity to partner with the Whistler Adventure School to help grow their business, and possibly improve their customer service and bottom line. As for Surefoot Whistler, the company has collaborated with the school from its inception. McDonald also happens to be an instructor for two of the school’s courses: Boot Fitting and The Business of Sport.

“As far as I’m concerned, there is no downside of working with the school. If anything, it’s an asset to bring in these co-op students on a short-term basis, who are trained by local experts,” McDonald added. “By the time they are required to work in a co-op program, they’ve fulfilled all the other courses and requirements – which means they have the full suite of training and a specialized skill set geared towards working in Whistler or any resort community.”

Since students are still in the process of completing the first full cycle of the school’s programs, Surefoot Whistler has not yet had a chance to welcome any co-op students to its team. However, McDonald said he is looking forward to bringing on the newly trained students and anticipates a positive outcome. “These students have obviously demonstrated a commitment to the program; and I look forward to being involved in the process – I don’t see why any employer wouldn’t want to be involved.”

For its part, the Whistler Adventure School is interested in working with any employer in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor that would offer co-op opportunities related to the students’ field of study.

To get involved or discuss co-op placement opportunities, please contact Eric Hughes, Operations & Marketing Manager at Whistler Adventure School, at 604-962-2220 or email