• Tue. Jan 11th, 2022

    Flawed Colorado Ski Industry Storm: Staff Shortages, Illness, Housing Crisis | Subscriber content

    ByStephanie M. Akbar

    Jan 8, 2022

    Last week, Bob Nicolls messaged his fellow owners of Monarch Ski Area, a small, well-to-do group that oversees the mountain in southern Colorado.

    In short, by his story: “All hands on the bridge.

    Nicolls was seen shoveling snow, while other owners were seen flipping burgers and making pizza.

    “Just because we’ve had such a big (coronavirus) outbreak,” Nicolls said. And because the Monarch team was understaffed early on, like other resorts in the state and workplaces nationwide.

    As winter approached, the CEO of Monarch “was like, here are plans A, B, C and D,” Nicolls said. “We had to switch to plan D.”

    So goes life in ski country, which faces a triple threat amid an endless labor shortage, a relentless pandemic and an unresolved housing crisis.

    Representatives from across the state say the numbers are smaller and declining with the omicron variant rampant in destination counties, forcing everyone from cooks to ticket sellers to fitters. boots, chairlift operators, snowmobile operators, snow cannons and patrollers to isolate themselves.

    “This is part of the reason why you may see some ski lifts or areas of land not yet open, retail stores closed, or reduced options at (food and beverage) outlets,” reads -on in a statement by John Plack, speaking for Vail Resorts, which controls its flagship Colorado resort, along with Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Crested Butte.

    The season has placed the industry leader at the center of controversy.

    As winter approaches, after slashing the cost of season passes by 20%, Vail Resorts announced 2.1 million passes and advanced tickets sold, a record high and a 76% increase over the previous year. season 2019-2020. This point was echoed by critical commentators in a recent Facebook post signed by Vail Mountain COO Beth Howard.

    She called the holiday season “the most difficult” she has ever seen in her 37 years in the industry. Some readers sympathized, thanking the staff despite the long lift lines and the enclosed terrain that seemed to be covered in snow, including the coveted Blue Sky Basin. Others echoed a criticism: “You sold too many passes.

    Too many passes, and too little pay for the employees, others blasted. Last year, Vail Resorts announced a minimum wage increase to $ 15 an hour at its largest destinations – an “offensive” level, according to an online report. petition to “hold Vail Resorts accountable”.

    It was signed by more than 31,000 disgruntled customers of Stevens Pass Resort, owned by Vail, Washington. Petition alleges avalanche mitigation as “an excuse for a lack of openness,” claiming it is “illegal for a business to accept payments for products or services it does not have. the intention to provide “.

    Heading into the weekend, with a base depth of 51 inches, Vail Mountain reported 69% of its terrain open, with 22 of 33 lifts in operation. Some longtime industry watchers saw this depth as indicating that Blue Sky Basin was generally ready for skiing.

    In his statement to The Gazette, Vail spokesperson Plack cited Colorado’s relatively rapid snow dump heading into the holidays, “and it adds to a previously shallow snowpack,” a- he declared. “While the terrain may seem ready to a guest, there is still an incredible amount of work to be done to safely open new lifts and grounds, and this is something we will not rush. never.”

    Winter Park, which now also measures powder in feet, was among other Colorado resorts to answer questions about closed lots that looked good to open. The connection to the staff “is a little misleading,” spokeswoman Jen Miller said.

    Jeff Hanle told Aspen Snowmass, also late in expanding the usual land over the holidays: “It wasn’t so much about staff as it was how the snow fell.”

    But the staff “stirred”, as Miller put it. At Snowmass, Hanle said workers could start the morning in rental stores, then fill in the gaps in the cafeteria in the afternoon, then end their days in rentals.

    At the Purgatory Resort near Durango, family attractions such as Tube Hill and Alpine Roller Coaster have been closed. This is for the sake of priorities – “run the maximum number of elevators we can each day based on the number of employees arriving for their shifts,” said spokeswoman Amanda Anderson.

    Purgatory hires nearly 900 workers in a normal season, Anderson said. Thanks in part to the easing of restrictions for international workers with J-1 visas, “we were on track to hire 800,” Anderson said. “But keeping these employees healthy and on the job remains a challenge.”

    And then there’s the challenge that has left vacancies in the ski industry for years.

    The pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis in the ski area, as pointed out by a Co-sponsored 2021 report by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns. In these cities, the study showed that rents had climbed 20 to 40% in one year, with inventory at a “critical” level. Newcomers able to work remotely with strong, stable incomes were beating hourly seasonal workers like never before, according to the report.

    “The system is down,” said Davey Pitcher, owner of the Wolf Creek ski area near Pagosa Springs. “We’re up against the wall and really have nowhere to go.”

    He counted his mountain of about 100 workers short this winter. Thanks to record activity during the 2020-21 season, Pitcher has said he is increasing his hourly wages; starting at $ 17, the average among staff is now around $ 22, he said.

    Yet with a shortage of reinforcements, “a lot of our staff is working way too much,” Pitcher said. “And it’s kind of to show.”

    Earlier this week, it showed up at the upper pavilion. Pitcher saw the exhaustion and panic. “Supervisors were saying they didn’t know how they were going to make things work,” he said.

    “So I said we should just shut up for a few days and give everyone a chance to relax. And yes, you could basically see the relief in their eyes.”


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