Ski Resorts are Struggling to Find Workers

Jack Conroy | | Post Tag for Industry NewsIndustry News
Ski resorts have long struggled with the ebbs and flows of seasonal employment. However, as of late the search to fill jobs at ski resorts has become harder and harder. (Photo: Veronica Kei)

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.

Despite increased wages and incentives at many ski hills, resorts are still struggling to fill positions. (Photo: Colin Cassidy)

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 demand for Short Term Rentals has risen, moderately priced real-estate has become increasingly hard to find in ski towns. (Photo: Olivia Hutcherson)

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.

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20 thoughts on “Ski Resorts are Struggling to Find Workers

  1. I have spent most of my life living at a Ski Resort in Vermont. Had the same problem of workers not being able to afford living close enough to commute to the mountain slopes. Over the years, the people who owned properties in the area seemed to change from those who actually lived there and those who vacationed there. Most every one could afford to Ski and be part of the mountain. Now, it seems that there has been many more Condo’s built at the base of the mountain and along with the local houses in the area owned by property investor’s and those people that do not ski. It seems like the local mountain workers many lived at home with their families sharing a house. Ski Instructor’s and Ski Patrol from out of state usually shared a room in a house or Condo. Now that every thing is so expensive. Many will have to drive in all type of weather conditions to the next town and not live by the mountain ( this is a concern for all the local workers in the Restaurants, Grocery Store, Deli’s, etc. ) . I do think there is a partial solution at the Ski Area’s for setting aside a portion of the
    parking lot for these tiny homes villages ( mini houses ) that might make wonderful affordable seasonal ( or year round ) living for their employee’s. The Ski Resort’s must realize that just raising the wage is not enough, it is the longer commute to the mountain and back home in the Snow, Ice, and Storm’s. It used to be skiing was all about family , friend’s, the local worker’s, as well as meeting new skier’s, but, the local worker’s keep getting financially pushed further and further away from the mountain. Then they can find work and affordable living in a nearby town.

  2. “The Solution is not clear” Bullshit. The solution is clear as day. Pay higher wages!!! Ski resort jobs are amazing and even though the number of new skiers and snowboarders has been decreasing somewhat since the 90s, competitive wages would bring a lot of people to the industry, and I truly believe that the industry would start to grow again as a result. But major resort owners are unabashedly greedy, and don’t want to pay more. I work as an Instructor for 10$ an hour. We spend more facetime with the guests than almost anybody on the mountain, let alone being responsible for the expansion of the sport. There’s no reason an Instructor should make so little.

  3. Ar Tenney Mt. we traditionally tapped into workers from other season: construction workers that could not work with the ground frozen. They made great lift attendants and snow groomers. They lived locally all year long.

  4. Resort operators: “we can’t find Americans to employ” Trump: No you just can’t find Americans at minimum wage. You need to pay them more and offer benefits like housing. As long as ski areas are allowed to hire foreign children of the 1% whose parents payroll them so they can come to the US to practice their English, you’re going to see low wages and inadequate benefits.
    It’s hard to think of a group of people that have benefited more from the Trump Presidency than Ski Resort workers (who aren’t foreigner temp workers, obvi.) Also if you say the foreign workers show up on time more, are more presentable and better at customer service, we’ll you just have to pay a bit more to get those US workers rather than hiring whatever bottom of the barrel stoner you can find.

  5. I have a friend that bartends on Martha’s Vineyard (an island off of Massachusetts where wealthy East-coasters vacation). He says it is the same thing there. The majority of workers there now are J1’s from eastern Europe. He also thinks it is mainly a housing issue. If the restaurants, bars, hotels, etc. want help, they are going to need to start offering employee housing.

  6. How about the obvious facts that:
    1) it is seasonal work
    2) it is low paying
    3) housing is difficult to find and expensive in resort communities

    Except for a small handful of people, ski area employment is not a career, but rather a brief detour on the way to having a real job and raising a family.

  7. There are some good jobs at the resorts that pay better however not most outside ones like lifts, ski school , patrol etc .These are seasonal and any housing during that time is expensive ,they do seem to get folks that want to live the “Dream” however when reality sets in many do not return .I had a summer seasonal job and busted it then and tried to put away money to live on during the winter so I could work on snow in winter. Financially it was not good but I have years of great memories and life long friends , some things aren’t all about $$

  8. Because you bust ass at a ski resort to make minimum wage. 3 years as a Lift operator in NH where I managed and maintained two lifts and the most I ever made was 7.75$/hr…

  9. Supply and demand at work. Fewer working willing to work at a lower wage requires resorts to lift their wages. Better opportunity elsewhere causing resorts to have to raise their wages in order to compete for labor.

  10. Dont worry. The fake economy based on massive debt and extreme overpriced assts , particulary housing mkt , will implode once again like 2008 except worse . 12.00 an hr wage will stay while 600.00 a sq ft homes will be decimated back down to realistic prices of 100 .00 to 150.00 a sq ft price range. Its coming. Nothing can stop it.

  11. Ski resorts used to provide employee housing. if they really thought it to be an issue they would go back to that model.

    Someday they will have to solve there own problems, that they helped create.

    1. many or most do provide housing. The change has been that in the last few decades they’ve been able to hire rich foreign children whose parents pay for their housing (and more). As long as resorts can hire these workers, they have no reason to provide housing benefits and wages much above the minimum.

  12. “Ski Resorts are Struggling to Find Workers”…who will work 5 months a year for $12/hour…lift tix @ $100+ and demand through roof…absolutely no market forces at work here…why would the greedy Vail swine pay an american a competitive wage when they can import some Latvian @ $12…how about some go getter from denver @ $20 who will work hard to get ahead

  13. As a former huge skico employee, I can tell you why they can’t keep employees: They do not want to ! If they really cared they would pay a living wage and work on some reasonable decent employee housing instead of trophy homes. and no, living 30 or 40 miles away is not a good idea, especially with the cost of commuting. All they care about is trophy home development, that’s where the $$ is.

  14. I’ve been lucky to have blown all my savings twice to work and live in a mountain town.

    I grew up idolizing snow cat operators.

    $12/hour operating a $300,000 machine where everything is Manhattan-like expensive is fun until you have to move. There is no investment into long term employment. It hasn’t changed in the 25 years between my two adventures!

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