Internationally-known skiing company Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing announced Jan.13, the decision not to continue with the 2020/21 season, focusing instead on the future and seasons ahead.
Like many tourism businesses in the North Thompson, Wiegele’s, as it is commonly known, had to shut down skiing operations last March with the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, unsure when they would be able to open up to the public again.
But the business was able to open over the summer as they operate two motels in the town of Blue River.
When it was made clear that there wouldn’t be many international travelers, the company changed gear for the upcoming season and started to focus on the local market. While there was some traction, locals were weary about travel, said Matic Vecko, general manager for Wiegele’s.
The decision to shut down for the remainder of the season came after Dr. Bonnie Henry’s announcement on Jan. 7 to extend current provincial health orders until Feb. 5.
“The hard part of this, of course, is it impacts so many people,” said Vecko. “By now we would be providing jobs for around 250 people here in Blue River…That’s our focus, how to mitigate that and how to support all of our staff.”
Most of the staff are local, hailing from nearby Clearwater, Valemount and Kamloops, in addition to other areas, and their guides come from all over British Columbia. The management team at Wiegele’s have kept their staff members in the loop, having weekly and monthly meetings.
“Since June we’ve been saying, ‘These are our plans, but have a back-up plan,’” said Vecko. “No one’s surprised, we’ve been keeping in touch with our staff, which doesn’t make it any easier.”
Safety is also very important to the group, and while the decision wasn’t made lightly, it helped to make their decision to not operate for the rest of the season. Vecko added that the town of Blue River is quite small and the nearest clinic is about an hour away, adding to that element of commitment to safety.
“There is no medical facilities here, so for us to be potentially bringing people into this community right now, it felt the right thing to do,” he said.
About 80 to 90 per cent of their customer base is international, and another large chunk are repeat customers, leading the Wiegele’s team to be optimistic about the future.
“We’re very optimistic about next winter,” said Vecko. “The main comment from most of our guests is, ‘You know what, we’re going to make up for this next year.’”
He added he expects the pent up demand for not just skiing but all outdoor activities to be huge this year in B.C.