By Sara Moulton
Fernie is renowned as a winter tourism hotspot, but as the demand for employment and accommodation swells in an already crowded market, there are a number of issues that arise for the individuals who arrive to fill seasonal positions.
The combination of a thriving mining industry and year-round tourism keeps the demand for Elk Valley rental properties competitive, even during the shoulder seasons, and the arrival of winter creates additional pressure on the market. Similarly, while there are many seasonal positions offered in the hospitality and tourism sector, the demand for employment is also high. Competition for supervisory or management roles can be immense, as well as for hospitality positions that attract high tips. While this reality may not be a surprise for many, it can lead to disappointment for those who are less prepared to accept a potentially lower-skilled position than they expected.
Official community plans from the City of Fernie and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) highlight a housing problem in the Elk Valley and propose the development (or redevelopment) of properties to better cater for seasonal workers, as well as encouraging owners of vacation accommodation to consider offering these properties when not in use. Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR), a primary employer of seasonal workers, does not currently have employee accommodation facilities. The general manager of the resort, Andy Cohen, acknowledges the tight housing market, but believes the current supply is adequate to fulfill seasonal housing demand. The 2012 RDEK plan for FAR promotes the construction of on-site employee accommodation, but as it is not binding there is no obligation for such facilities to be provided. It is stated in both RDEK and City of Fernie plans that no further major developments should be made at the resort until the issue of housing is addressed. Both the Fernie Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Fernie agree it can be difficult for some seasonal workers to find accommodation, but also stressed that no employer should bear the responsibility of correcting gaps in the private housing market.
While difficulties do exist, there are many places that individuals can turn to for help. The Raging Elk Hostel is a popular first stop for new seasonal workers and frequently houses medium-term guests who are searching for seasonal accommodation. Sadie Howse, who owns and operates the hostel with her husband Joe, is all too familiar with the annual rush each winter season. Her main advice for those moving to Fernie is to arrive early and be prepared.
“Even though the job fairs occur in October, many positions do not start until December,” explains Howse. “Seasonal workers should be financially prepared to cover their pre-season living expenses and be able to pay the expenses related to securing a room or house on the spot.”
Websites such as www.ourfernie.com and www.fernie.com are great resources for finding information and have more local content than found on Kijiji or Craigslist. The classifieds section on OurFernie has advertisements for everything from jobs and accommodation to furniture and rideshares. Notice boards at Overwaitea and across from the post office are also popular places to advertise. While many jobseekers and house hunters use the internet as a primary source, The Free Press often features classified ads for opportunities that are not displayed elsewhere.
Landlords and prospective employers frequently have a large number of applicants, so be sure to present yourself in the best possible way. Persistence can be key but it’s also important to be polite. Seasonal workers should not be disheartened to find themselves in a job that is different to what they might normally do.
Many workers return to Fernie year after year for another winter season, and there are some who decide to stay for good. Preparation, an eye for opportunity and a great attitude are the best tools to ensure that working a winter season in Fernie is memorable for all the right reasons.