Top stories of 2016: A dry start to winter takes an economic toll (No. 9)
December 22, 2016
Editor's note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top 10 stories of 2016.
The late start to winter this year hit Summit County's seasonal workers hard, cutting into their paychecks.
A lack of snow pushed back opening day for many of Summit's resorts. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area was the first to open on Oct. 21. Summit's other resorts were left behind, pushing their openings later and later into the season. Even when resorts did finally kick off for the season, it was with limited terrain openings. Now that the year is almost over, snow has finally started hitting the slopes. After a heavy snow storm last week, Keystone Resort opened all three peaks. Breckenridge Ski Resort announced that it expected to be fully open for the holidays.
But the gap between when employees arrived and when the weather started cooperating left many scrambling to make ends meet. Resort employees who came to the county for the start of the ski season didn't get the hours needed to cover expenses like rent and groceries. A few nonprofits and churches in Summit offer services such as food banks and community dinners. The Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) lets residents use its food banks in Breckenridge and Silverthorne once a month. Because so many workers were strapped for cash, FIRC quickly saw food items fly off its shelves.
"In the shoulder season, we see about a 50 percent increase in our food bank from clients, primarily due to the seasonal workforce," said Tamara Drangstveit, the executive director at FIRC. "This year, we saw about the 50 percent we typically see, and then another 30 percent increase. We'll do our best to help them, but when the need swells like it did this year, we do need to focus our resources on helping families first."
The organization relies on a partnership with Whole Foods, which donates food twice a week. But Jonnah Glassman, the healthy living coordinator at FIRC, also said that the organization frequently receives donations from individuals and churches.
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Several of the churches in Summit, such as St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Breckenridge, offer weekly community meals. In November a church administrator at St. John told the Daily that on average they fed 45 people. That number more than doubled before the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Most of the people here are young people associated with Vail Corporation," said Rev. Charlie Brumbaugh from St. John earlier this month. "We also have people that are transient, people that live on the street, people that live in the neighborhood. Sometimes families come in, but most of them fit this demographic right here — I would say about 90 percent."
Some of the resorts also have ways to help employees when the weather does not cooperate. The chapel at Copper Mountain Resort offers a monthly meal for resort employees, and most resorts offer staff discounted meal options. Breckeenridge Ski Resort pushed rent back for the month of December since workers had not been receiving steady hours.
Vail Resorts EpicPromise Foundation donates $1,500 annually to St. John in order to help cover community meals. They also give a grant to FIRC.
Difficulty with everyday expenses also led to a spike in families that applied for the Adopt an Angel program this year. The Silverthorne Police Department started the program in 1994. Before 2015, the program helped between 300-330 children annually. As the cost of living in the county increases, Adopt an Angel continues to see an increase in families applying for help to make the holidays magical. The program is now run by FIRC and helped provide presents to more than 900 children this year.
"When we have a late snow season and folks don't get a lot of hours right around Thanksgiving, it definitely makes it even more challenging for them," Drangstveit said about the increase in applicants. "Many families do work seasonally and they have to plan for the slow seasons and when those slow seasons are longer than they've anticipated there's really nowhere to go."
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