Staffing Shortages Slam Ski Resorts
Is the person loading your lift the one usually cooking your eggs? Is that the reason there were no eggs for breakfast at your ski lodge? Is your favorite chairlift not open yet this season despite there being 3 feet of settled snow sitting on each chair? And most worrisome, how long has the ski patroller worn that jacket?
Given the nationwide labor shortage, it should come as no surprise that the ski industry is not immune to this national trend. Ski areas predicted pre-snowflakes that this could be an issue. See Ski Industry – National Labor Shortage and Employees for the Upcoming Ski Season? Still there was hope that the usual group of young ski bum sorts would show up to load lifts and cook your breakfast in exchange for the usual freebies – food; lodging; and perhaps even a season’s pass. NOT!
With the first month of the active ski season in the books it ain’t pretty. The workers have not shown up in the necessary numbers, and even when they have shown up, Covid has reduced their availability. It doesn’t really matter where you look, the reports aren’t positive. Even smaller areas are struggling with the issue – see this report on a community hill in Alaska – Alaska Issues and this report about Stevens Pass ski resort in Washington state – Stevens Pass Woes.
And of course the issue is exasperated at larger resorts. The 800 lb gorilla in the industry – yes, that would be Vail Resorts – has struggled mightily. (The locals at Stevens Pass are blaming many of their issues on the gorilla given that Vail bought the area in 2018. Even before the staffing shortages of this year, complaints about employee layoffs and cultural issues were rampant.) When you basically control the North American ski industry you are certainly an easy target. But, the criticism directed at Vail on these issues seems warranted.
It probably all started with Vail’s surprise 20% reduction in Epic Pass prices last spring. This spurred eager skiers to buy 2.1 million (a 700,000 increase from the prior year) pre-season tickets and passes providing access to Vail’s 34 North American resorts. Stir into the pot the arrival of holiday season, a surge in Covid cases, and staffing shortages and you get no eggs for breakfast, inexperienced lifties searching for the stop button and loooong lift lines! See a report by the Colorado Sun newspaper which sums up Vail’s problems – Colorado Sun Article.
And then there is the dirty little secret with regards to these issues – reduced open terrain. The eggs you wanted probably aren’t good for you anyway, and the stop buttons on the lifts seem pretty well marked, so perhaps we all live with those problems. But less than 100% of the terrain open at popular western resorts when the snow is plentiful – now THAT is a real issue. And that is the issue the ski areas don’t seem to want to discuss. Yes, the reduced terrain in some cases can be attributed to intense storms in the west – most CA areas reported 200 inch record snowfalls for December and Utah areas have received over 150 inches in the last month. But corner Alta and Snowbird patrollers or staff as we have recently and the truth comes out – they don’t have the personnel to open the whole mountain!
Be Well; Ski Well!