Ski resorts are struggling to find workers. This is a problem that has been around for a long time now and is continuing to grow.
One doesn’t have to look very hard or far to see the reality of this issue. There are fewer and fewer American workers at ski resorts. This has left many resorts relying on international workers. About 7,000 workers are employed at our nation’s ski resorts annually through the J-1 visa program, and last year Sugarbush Resort, in Vermont, reported that it hired 100+ international college students to fill vacant positions.
In fact, foreign workers are so crucial to the operations of major ski resorts that when the Trump administration was considering overhauling the visa program, executives from Vail Resorts participated in meetings over the phone with White House officials to try and ensure the J-1 program remain intact.
Furthermore, you can see the desperation for workers on ski resorts job postings. Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire is offering $1,000 bonuses to new workers, Sunday River Resort in Maine raised its wage rate by $7 an hour from $13-$20.
So this begs the question, why is it so hard for ski resorts to find workers? Some are saying that all-time low unemployment could be to blame. Because there are so many jobs available and unemployment is so low, the economy is almost doing too well for itself, creating a shortage of workers.
Another possible place to point the finger could be the weather. Unreliable snow seasons have been on the rise and left many seasonal workers living in ski towns with no work due to the lack of snow. One could argue that relying on the ever-unreliable weather could be making the industry less desirable to work in.
Furthermore, In recent years it has become increasingly harder to find housing for reasonable prices in ski communities. This is partially due to the growing demand for luxury homes for vacationers and transplants alike.
However, the most compelling argument (at least in my opinion) is the skyrocketing cost of real estate in ski communities in conjunction with the rise of the Short Term Rental (STR). Companies like Airbnb have made renting houses for a weekend trip or a week-long vacation easy to do and profitable for the homeowner.
As such, many houses that used to be rented and sold to people like resort employees have been taken off the market in favor of posting them as an STR. And it’s no joke. In Crested Butte, STR’s now make up 65% of all annual lodging tax revenue.
This has left workers without much of a place to live. Many would be forced to live far away from the resort if they chose to work for resorts as many ski resorts are well removed from any metropolitan area. This high cost of living leading to long commutes in order to work in the cold all day could very well be the reason so many are choosing to find work elsewhere.
The solution to this issue is not clear. Some resort towns are trying to regulate STRs by limiting the number allowed in each town as well as how many people can stay in each house. Other resorts are building employee housing or offering shuttle services to work from nearby towns with a more reasonable cost of living.
Regardless, this is an issue that is far from being solved and deserves some attention. It is in our best interest, both just as people and especially as skiers, that people can find work where they live and that ski resorts can find workers to keep our lifts running.