‘The lifeblood of our community’: Ski area and hospitality employees face an uncertain road ahead
DILLON — The shutdown of Colorado’s ski areas coupled with increasingly severe measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 is rattling Summit County’s tourism-driven economy and putting much of the local workforce out of a job — at least temporarily.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order Saturday night to close the state’s nearly 30 ski areas for one week. In the following days, Loveland Ski Area and Vail Resorts announced they would close for the 2019-20 ski season. Then on Monday, Summit County ordered all nonessential businesses to close, including dine-in restaurants and bars.
The one-two punch has the local hourly workforce on the ropes.
Will Christensen, a former lift operator at Keystone Resort, said employees were informed about the closure minutes before the decision was sent out in a news release and made public on social media Saturday evening.
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According to a statement from Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, all scheduled employees will be paid during the state-mandated, eight-day closure without needing to use sick or vacation time. That includes employees at Vail-owned Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone in Summit County.
In an email to employees Tuesday morning, Katz asked the seasonal workers to use the remainder of the paid week to “transition” now that the season has come to a close. The email also said seasonal employees who are enrolled in the company’s medical insurance plan will have access to coverage through April at no cost. Year-round employees will remain employed and be tasked with helping seasonal employees transition as well as closing operations. A FAQ for employees can be found here.
Over at Loveland, officials announced that scheduled seasonal employees would receive up to three weeks’ pay.
Copper Mountain Resort, which was the last local ski area to announce a temporary closure after the governor’s order, will be paying employees their regular wages during the eight-day shutdown, according to spokeswoman Taylor Prather.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Chief Operating Officer Alan Henceroth wrote in his blog that employees are being paid as they were scheduled through this week but that there is not yet a plan for next week.
While ski area employees were the first to be hit by mandated closures, local hospitality workers were next.
Breckenridge Town Council member and local restaurateur Dick Carleton was one of the first restaurant owners to close his business Sunday, shutting down Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Hearthstone Restaurant in Breckenridge, aside from limited takeout options at Mi Casa.
“I’ve been doing this almost 40 years, and this is the toughest decision I’ve ever made,” Carleton said. “The challenge is this thing is changing by the hour, and you’ve got to make decisions by the hour. We’re all making decisions on what we think is the best thing to do for our staff, customers, students … and the rest of the community.”
To support employees, Carleton said he is paying staff based on the hours they were scheduled to work this week, including factoring in some tip income. After that, hourly staff is encouraged to apply for job-attached unemployment, which allows a temporarily unemployed person to receive unemployment benefits without the work search requirement. Carleton said he is also waiving hour requirements for health insurance, which is available to employees who reach a weekly threshold. Carleton is keeping his management team on full-time to work on projects from home or alone in the restaurants.
“Hopefully, we’re going to come up with some (more) ways to support them,” Carleton said. “These guys are the lifeblood of our community.”
Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said local workers who need assistance can call 970-262-3888. Snow said people can call for help with medical issues or medication, housing or utility assistance, insurance, mental health and parenting support.
The nonprofit is taking the state’s social distancing recommendation seriously and is limiting face-to-face contact by using a drive-through food pantry, which will be offering premade boxes at its locations in Breckenridge and Silverthorne.
FIRC Breckenridge, 1745 Airport Road
10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays
FIRC Silverthorne, 251 W. Fourth St.
10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
Father Dyer, 310 Wellington Road, Breckenridge
10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays
“The problem with this is we have super limited funding,” Snow said. “We have a lot of people in our community that are going to need our help.”
She explained that the center is reaching out for donations and funding and hopes to get emergency funding from the state.
Jeanne Bistranin, executive director of The Summit Foundation, said the community foundation is working with county and community partners to try to fill in any gaps through funding for local nonprofits, such as the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. Bistranin said she anticipates those who are able will donate and that the foundation will get funds back out to the community as soon as possible.
“We’ll basically do anything that we need to do to help lead the effort and be a good community partner,” Bistranin said.
Donations to The Summit Foundation can be made at SummitFoundation.org/give/donate.
- COVID-19: 303-389-1687, 877-462-2911 and firstname.lastname@example.org
- Summit County Public Health Order, which restricts public events, sale of food and retail goods, and lodging and transportation services: 970-668-2992
- Family & Intercultural Resource Center: 970-262-3888
- Food, medication and mental health resources: 970-668-2940
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