The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 27, 2019 1:00 am

Ski resorts face worker shortage

Labor market has industry worried as season nears

Associated Press

WARREN, Vt. – It used to be that a free ski pass was enough to lure workers to seasonal jobs at mountain resorts. No longer.

In the current tight labor market, ski areas across the country are having a tough time filling jobs, so they're upping the ante by boosting wages, providing more housing and offering other perks to fill those jobs.

New Hampshire's Wildcat is offering a $1,000 bonus for new snowmakers to come on board, and Sunday River in Maine last year increased its hourly wage from $13 to $20 for that job. Utah's Snowbird is expanding its pool van service to get employees to the mountain, and Sugarbush in Vermont, which has among the lowest unemployment rates in the country, is hiring more foreign college students.

“It's an enormous challenge for us,” Dave Byrd of the National Ski Areas Association said of the labor issue.

Because ski resorts are by their nature in mountainous areas, they are often far from cities from which to draw workers. And with the national unemployment rate recently hitting the lowest level in 50 years, potential workers would rather have full-time jobs with benefits, said Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs for the Colorado-based association.

“We don't have a lot of ski areas that are in close proximity to major metropolitan areas. And even when we do, like the ski areas in Salt Lake ... they're still struggling to find people,” he said.

The country's roughly 460 ski resorts hire about 100,000 seasonal workers each fall, he said. Many rely on foreign guest workers for 5% to 10% of their labor, he said.

“We are not able to fill 100% of the jobs we have available,” he said, adding that the J-1 visa program is critical for the ski industry.

The program is intended to give foreign workers who can be scholars, teachers, camp counselors and au pairs training and experience in those fields in the United States. The ski industry uses about 8,000 J-1 visas, Byrd said.

This year, Vermont's Sugarbush is bringing on more than 100 foreign college students through the program because of the difficulty in filling jobs. A few years ago, it had no one on J-1 visas, spokesman John Bleh said by email. Sugarbush has also been increasing its employee housing over the past several years, according to Bleh.

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