Ski area job scene takes a turn
Local, state resorts report few openings, more competition

Nancy Vogel, a Durango Mountain Resort snowboard instructor, queues up for the Six Pack with a student in tow last week. Vogel, who has taught at the resort for years, is among a growing number of employees who returned to their jobs at DMR this year./Photo by Ben Eng.

Aspiring ski bums dreaming of a resort job that comes with a free ski pass and plenty of time to use it may find themselves out in the cold this season. Unlike years in recent memory, when many of Colorado’s resorts found themselves chronically understaffed, the ski industry job market for 2002-03 is shaping up to be a tight one – throughout the state and southwest Colorado.

“We do have a few openings, maybe five,” said Mary Helyn Kirwan, Telluride Ski and Golf Co.’s communications manager. “Usually, we have 20 positions available at this time of year.”

Telluride is not alone in the trend, said Kristin Rust, communications director for Colorado Ski Country USA.

“From what I know, all the resorts are full,” she said.

At Steamboat Ski Resort, for example, the annual job fair was cancelled. Heading into the busy season, the resort estimates only 20 positions will need to be filled. Southwest Colorado’s other major ski areas – Durango Mountain Resort and Wolf Creek – also are reporting few job openings. However, DMR spokesman Matt Skinner said the trend at DMR is not quite as dramatic as that seen in the rest of the state.

Longstanding DMR employee John Bowers checks a skier’s lift ticket last week./Photo by Ben Eng.

“We have about two or three openings right now, which is about normal” he said. “In Durango, we’re lucky not to see giant fluctuations in the job market because we happen to be a town that has a ski hill, not the other way around.”

And although he said it is typical for the resort to fill its positions after the fall job fair, the recruitment process was expedited this year by Mother Nature.

“With early snow like we had, we were seeing more applicants coming up looking for jobs,” he said.

Roseanne Pitcher, marketing and sales director for Wolf Creek, said her ski area is also an anomaly in that it typically fills its positions early in the season – without the benefit of a job fair. However, she did say interest in jobs at the resort was up.

“We did have more applications than last year, so I guess there’s more people looking for work,” she said.

Ski industry officials point to a number of economic factors that may be responsible for the job crunch.

Rust, of Colorado Ski Country, said shrinking profits have forced some of the larger resorts to make lay-offs, thus diminishing the amount of jobs available. “A lot of resorts have cut back on the jobs they have,” she said.

However, Skinner and Pitcher said neither of their ski areas have cut jobs this season. In fact, Wolf Creek increased its work force.

“We actually hired a few more than we usually do,” Pitcher said.

Rather, she and Skinner point to low turnover as a contributing factor in keeping job openings to a minimum.

“We did see more people returning to their jobs this year,” Skinner said. “We had a 20 percent increase in returnees.”

Pitcher believes the low turnover rate is a result of the poor economy and rising unemployment.

“I think with the economy, people are hanging onto their jobs,” she said. “People know a good thing when they have it.”

Regardless of the various factors that caused the ski industry to arrive at such a point, resort officials agree on one thing: the few openings that remain are seeing some stiff competition.

“At our job fair, numbers were par for the course, but in the quality of the applicants, we saw a substantial improvement,” said DMR’s Skinner.

Wolf Creek’s Pitcher said she believes the greater competition is a result of an influx of new residents.

“For a long time, it was hard to find qualified people,” Pitcher said. “But now, more people are moving into the area; and the more people, the more qualified people there are.”

Further complicating competition is the issue of recent or soon-to-be college graduates, who often are willing to work for little or no pay. Kirwan, of Telluride, said her resort has hired an unusually high number of interns for the season. She theorizes that less than promising prospects in urban areas may be fueling the increase.

Greer Bohan, left, and Deb Shultz stand ready to dispense information to inquiring visitors at DMR last week. As of this week, the resort was reporting only two or three job openings for the season./ Photo by Ben Eng.

“Maybe these kids coming out of school aren’t going into the corporate world,” she said. “It’s hard to get experience these days, and I think that’s why we have a lot of interns, because it’s hard for them to get their foot in the door elsewhere.”

According to Rust, the incidence of well-educated people working ski resort service industry jobs is a common one throughout the state.

“There’s only so many corporate jobs to be found in a ski town, so you tend to find over-qualified people tending bar,” she said

And although an increased pool of qualified candidates may make the decision-making process more difficult, Pitcher says it’s a quandary she can live with.

“Not every position needs a master’s degree, but it’s nice that there are a few more people to choose from,” she said.





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