Breck ski patrol OKs 3 percent raise

by Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE<Members of the Breckenridge Professional Ski Patrol Association agreed Friday to accept a 3 percent raise offered them by Vail Resorts.The raises are retroactive to Feb. 14, and increases will be included on the April 19 paychecks.Calls to patrol president Glenn Cottone were not returned, and a patroller contacted at the Peak 8 patrol hut said patrollers are not yet allowed to comment on the issue.The patrol belongs to a union that has been negotiating with Vail Resorts throughout the ski season for a raise and a $150 equipment allowance the patrollers received last year. Usually, raises are based on employee performance and how well the company did in the previous season. Because the 2000-2001 season was among the best on record, patrollers hoped to receive raises.Then terrorists attacked American landmarks Sept. 11, throwing an already stumbling national economy into an economic tailspin.3Then we took a real hard look at our marketing strategy to have a successful winter, and it worked, said Rick Sramek, vice president of mountain operations at the Breckenridge resort.The resort took budget-tightening measures such as hiring employees later than usual and postponing raises. Many employees were unhappy, but ski patrollers were the most vocal, saying it wasn1t fair that executives in the company received bonuses after the 2000-2001 season.3It was a call that had to be made, Sramek said of the wage freeze. 3We wanted to preserve jobs, but we had the choice of holding off on increases layoffs or turning a blind eye to this, and that1s not financially responsible.Raises were frozen resort-wide, and ski patrollers lost their $150 equipment allowances. Union negotiators met with ski area officials seven times during the winter, but were unsuccessful in getting them to change their stance. After a successful President1s Day weekend, however, the resort offered about 14,000 employees throughout the company 3 percent raises. The offer was extended to the patrol1s union, and members voted on it last week.Sramek said he doesn1t know how the tough negotiations will affect the ranks of patrollers next season.3There1s a whole range of emotion on this, he said. 3We1ll have to see how it plays out in next few months. It1s been a very successful winter here, people have been real busy, but for ski patrol, this has been something they1ve carried within their group for the year.Historically, it is rare for the ski company to see large turnover in the ski patrol.3Every once in a while, someone will leave because they1re going back to school, or they1re getting married, or having kids or have another opportunity, Sramek said. 3It1s completely random. Some people are saying they1re going to move on, but it1s nothing out of the ordinary. But you never know.This season is shaping up to be another banner one<for the Breckenridge Ski Resort, anyway. After Sept. 11, the marketing department shifted gears and targeted the so-called drive market to lure people to the slopes.3It was a combination of things, the synergy of the town offering a good experience after hours and the ski area providing a proven product year in and year out, Sramek said. 3We1ve had a good winter. We1ve been fortunate once again.Whether that pays off in raises this fall will depend on the economy and how well the other resorts owned by Vail Resorts fared in the 2001-2002 season.3We1re very pleased to come to closure on this, Sramek said. 3We certainly wanted the ski patrol to get the raises coming to them, but they have to go through this (union) routine. Now they1ll be rewarded for it.Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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