Vail Resorts declines voluntary recognition of Crested Butte lift mechanics union, forcing a formal election

Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski patrollers were among the first to form a union in the 1970s. Now the ski area’s lift crew is seeking to unionize as part of a resort labor renaissance

Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
Nathan Bilow | Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Gerry Reese was a wild-haired ski patroller in charge of explosives at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in the 1970s. 

There were about 25 patrollers at the resort back then and “we pretty much ran the mountain,” said Reese, who is now 80 and living in Manhattan. In the mid-1970s, as Crested Butte transitioned from an end-of-the-road mining town to a tourist-dependent mountain destination, home prices were climbing. It was hard to pay the bills, Reese said. So those patrollers formed Colorado’s first ski patrol union and negotiated as a unit for better pay and increased money for clothing and gear.

“We were all EMT trained and we did very dangerous avalanche control. We were in the driver’s seat when we negotiated with management. We ran the mountain and management knew that. We told them we would shut the mountain down if they didn’t work with us,” Reese said. “We said if you don’t work with us we will organize the lift operators too and that terrified them because they knew we could do it. They knew we could shut them down.”

As part of a resort labor renaissance underway in the U.S. right now, lift mechanics at Crested Butte are trying to join the ski patrollers at the Gunnison County ski hill in the growing United Professional Ski Patrols of America union. The 10 lift mechanics and electricians last month signed union cards that designated the patroller union to collectively bargain for the crew. The team asked the ski area’s owner, Vail Resorts, to voluntarily recognize the union, which would sidestep the need for a formal National Labor Relations Board election. 

Vail Resorts this week told the lift crew the company will not acknowledge the request to form a union, forcing the election process.  

Read more from Jason Blevins at

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