Nov 15, 2021 - Business

Labor shortage extends to seasonal workers

Illustration of a blue mountain with dollar sign made of ice on top.

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The national worker shortage is hitting Colorado's ski industry, forcing mountain towns to take extraordinary steps to fill jobs that power the state's winter tourism industry.

Driving the news: Aspen Skiing Co. is renting a hotel to house workers, despite adding 150 beds to its employee housing complex this year, the Aspen Times writes.

Arapahoe Basin is struggling to get work visas for international workers who are key to filling jobs, the Summit Daily News reports.

  • And just about all ski areas are boosting wages to attract workers.

Why it matters: The industry's concern is focused on providing a quality experience to locals and tourists, alike. The impression the ski industry makes with guests new and old is crucial to its reputation and the state's tourism sector.

  • "This is likely going to impact our guest experiences everywhere," Aspen Skiing's chief human resource officer, Jim Laing, told the Basalt Town Council. "If you're short-staffed, you can't provide the same level of service."

The big picture: The pinch comes at an important time for the winter outdoor industry, but other employers across the state are feeling similar pain.

  • The staffing shortages and pandemic fatigue led to canceled classes in school districts statewide.
  • And even agencies that specialize in hiring Santas for the holidays are struggling to find enough people to fill the role, the Denver Post reports.

By the numbers: As we reported, Colorado has more job openings than the national average.

  • The state posted the 14th-highest rate of job openings in the U.S. at more than 200,000 postings, the latest labor data shows.

Zoom in: The challenges for the ski industry are particularly complex and tied into broader issues.

  • The utmost challenge is affordable housing, which has reached a crisis level in some mountain towns. Tourists are displacing locals and making it harder for seasonal workers to find places to stay.
  • Another is recruiting international employees as seasonal workers on visas. The suspension of international employee visas was lifted after the 2020–21 ski season, but the H-2B program hit its cap, Arapahoe Basin officials told the Summit County newspaper.
  • Seasonal jobs also typically come with low pay, but Vail Resorts and others have moved to $15 an hour. Aspen and Snowmass took it up a notch, announcing Friday the company would make its starting wage $17 an hour.

Yes, but: Ski operators are still preparing to do more with less and restructuring jobs to fill gaps. "We have to figure out how to do this with fewer heads, fewer beds," Aspen's Laing said.

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