Ski resorts have solved last year’s staffing issues, but is that enough to offer a less crowded season?
- December 10, 2022
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“Although the project is currently on trial, we remain committed to this project and are looking to collaborate on all opportunities to progressively bring affordable housing to Vail,” said Jamie Alvarez, Director of Corporate Communications. The company doesn’t disclose employee size by resort, but says the number of employee beds between Summit and Eagle counties, where Vail and Breckenridge are located, is 3,200. In Jackson Hole, the resort currently houses 20 percent of its workforce in apartments and townhouses. At Big Sky, 142 beds were added over the summer, bringing the current total of 791 staff beds — about 40 percent of winter workers.
These resorts are typically the city’s largest employers, and the way they treat their employees has a resonating effect. Over the past season, Vail Resorts has come under scrutiny from its shareholders, employees and customers. In addition to backlash from overcrowding at several resorts, it has faced two class action lawsuits by employees in California and Colorado alleging unfair labor practices and unpaid wages, as well as lengthy contract negotiations with ski patrol unions at Stevens Pass in Washington, Colorado Breckenridge and Utah’s Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association, all of which made agreements last winter.
Soon after, in March, all 23 of Vail’s North American operations committed to raising their minimum wage for untipped employees from $15 to $20 an hour. This followed an increase at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort from $15 to $18. (Big Sky declined to disclose its minimum wage.) Site closures due to staff shortages are not expected this season, according to these mountains, but it’s always a good idea to check resort websites and social media for up-to-date information on what’s open .
What you can expect in the ski resorts this season
In terms of visitor experience, you’ll likely find this season that these communities have learned to adapt: Many pandemic-era operational measures continue, particularly in hard-to-staff food and beverage facilities. Expect fewer face-to-face interactions, more to-go than dine-in, and shorter hours. That’s also true for hotels, where you’ll continue to see optional daily housekeeping, mobile check-in, and a preference for message requests to the front desk over calls.
As for queues, waiting lists and full parking lots – well, that remains to be seen. All eight mountains are still hiring but claim staffing levels are in excellent shape. Many resorts require single and multi-mountain season pass holders, as well as day pass purchasers, to reserve their days in advance. For some, this is meant to limit overcrowding. For others, it’s a matter of figuring out how best to allocate staff.
As much as these resorts and cities are responsible for providing a certain level of service, the ongoing problems may require us as visitors to revise our expectations. On one day last winter, about 15,000 visitors came to the Big Sky area, which has a population of 3,500.
“If you increased the population in Anywhere, US, fourfold, you would see many of the same problems,” Riverhouse’s Wisniewski says of last season’s long waits and traffic. But there’s also the fact that even if these resorts and towns were packed, they wouldn’t move at a pace that suits every visitor — it’s just not part of the culture: “They get off the plane, grab each other Your rental car, check in at the resort, pick up your rental skis, bring the kids to the ski course on time,” says Wisniewski. “I think what’s missing from all of this is that you came here to relax — and that’s just how we other people who live in places like this live our everyday lives.”
Tips for travelers this ski season
Plan ahead but prepare to be flexible: book your mountain days and make restaurant reservations, but if delays are longer than expected, don’t let your vacation get derailed. If you rent a home with a kitchen, consider cooking or hiring a personal chef. When eating out, plan for a wait and have a backup/take-out plan. As a result of the pandemic, many resorts have prioritized posting real-time availability, from parking lots to elevators, on apps and social media. Check these resources while planning your trip and on days without.