Summit ski areas raise wages, hire international employees to contend with labor shortage |

Summit ski areas raise wages, hire international employees to contend with labor shortage

Keystone Resort employees greet a skier as she walks to the River Run Gondola on the resort's opening day Oct. 22. All four Summit County ski areas have raised their starting hourly wage to $15 to stay competitive in the area.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News

Employee hiring — or lack thereof — continues to pose a challenge for Summit County businesses. With ski areas being the largest local employers of seasonal workers, where do they stand?

Summit County’s four ski areas — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort — all had different responses to the ongoing labor shortage.

A-Basin spokesperson Katherine Fuller said the ski area’s main challenge is related to work visas. Copper spokesperson Taylor Prather reported that the resort is not having hiring issues. Breckenridge and Keystone spokesperson Sara Lococo said this year has presented unique challenges on the staffing front but would not specify what those challenges are.

Copper typically hires about 1,600 employees for its peak winter season, and about 300 of those employees are part-time, Prather said Oct. 21. While hiring employees for the 2020-21 season saw many challenges related to the pandemic — including the suspension of international employee visas — Prather said the response to seasonal hiring this year is similar to what was seen in 2019. She said the resort is excited to welcome back international employees.

“Although it’s a small percentage of our overall workforce, it’s definitely helpful to be able to bring that program back,” Prather said Thursday, Nov. 4, noting that the resort mainly uses the J-1 visa program.

As many local businesses are struggling to hire employees, Prather said she believes the reason Copper isn’t feeling the same strain is because the resort is a competitive employer within Summit County.

“Being able to offer some level of affordable housing to up to 45% of our workforce has helped us,” Prather said.

Across the county at A-Basin, Fuller wrote in an email that hiring for the season has overall been on par with previous seasons with the exception of food and beverage employees, which have posed unique challenges. One of the main hiring challenges Fuller said A-Basin is contending with is work visa caps.

“The H-2B out-of-country cap was met for the first time ever,” Fuller wrote, referencing the statutory limit on the total number of individuals per year who can be issued an H-2B visa. “We missed that cap, so we could not bring on the cooks we had hired. This has been our biggest challenge this season.”

Despite the setbacks with the H-2B visa cap, Fuller said the ski area was still able to hire international workers and noted that there are a few more international workers than in past seasons. In addition to returning seasonal employees, A-Basin is hiring about 200 new seasonal workers this season. To attract employees, Fuller said the ski area did more local recruiting than usual.

“We have also reached out to social platforms that target under-represented populations within the ski industry,” Fuller wrote.

At Breckenridge and Keystone, Lococo wrote in an email that the resorts are focusing on competitive wages, benefits, company culture and leadership development to attract employees despite labor challenges this year. She noted that Vail Resorts increased its wages ahead of the ski season, bringing the minimum hourly wage up from $12.50 to $15. The companywide announcement was made in June.

Summit County’s ski areas tend to keep their wages similar to one another to stay competitive. Prather reported that Copper also raised its starting wage to $15 per hour as did A-Basin.

Lococo said seasonal employees from prior winters are working at the resorts this season along with new employees. She noted that the majority of the resorts’ workforce is seasonal but did not provide specific numbers.

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