Temporary seasonal workers are the lifeblood of the ski industry. However, two major U.S ski resorts have been planning on a winter season with significantly less temporary foreign workers than usual. Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) and Deer Valley, both located in Park City, Utah, will be facing a season of uncertainty like no other and are adjusting accordingly.
Normally, foreign workers from all over the world travel to the United States for the winter season to help supplement local employment. In response to high American unemployment, President Trump recently signed an executive order suspending most temporary visas for seasonal foreign workers. These temporary foreign workers are hired by ski resorts on H-2B and J- visas, allowing them to work the season and then return to their home countries. The H-2B visa is for seasonal workers performing nonagricultural services or labor, while the J-1 visa is for seasonal “exchange visitors” usually for teaching and instructing.
Todd Shallan, President and Chief Operating Officer of Deer Valley, and Mike Goar, Chief Operating Officer of PCMR, recently held an online “town hall” to address the situation regarding the uncertainty of the ski season ahead. They touched on the unemployment rate affecting local employment and hiring practices, economic factors due to COVID-19 uncertainty, and international travel restrictions as reasons why little to no foreign workers may be hired.
“The belief is that we will be, there will be less of a demand, or need, for international workers. Today, given unemployment rates, we clearly would not be hiring international workers.”
– Mike Goar, Chief Operating Officer of PCMR.
High unemployment, domestic and international travel restrictions, social distancing, and the overall uncertainty of the future of the COVID-19 pandemic are causing ski resorts to re-think their business top to bottom. Will ski resorts have enough local workers to be able to fully run operations with little to no seasonal foreign workers due to these recent travel restrictions? How will food service be accomplished in the age of social distancing and increased health precautions? How will lodging and transportation be adapted? Will ski resorts be able to handle skier demand with limited operations/capacity?
These questions, among countless others, will be major challenges for ski resorts to analyze as they tackle the approaching winter 20/21 season.