Ski Corp. cuts international hiring amid local job interest |

Ski Corp. cuts international hiring amid local job interest

Blythe Terrell

Trish Sullivan, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s vice president of human resources, talks about plans to staff the ski area for the upcoming season. Partly because of the recession, Ski Corp. has seen a high number of applications this year, reducing the necessity of hiring foreign workers.

— Steamboat Ski Area is in the thick of ski season hiring, and the recession has changed a lot.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. expects to bring on fewer international workers, but leaders expect employment numbers to be similar to last season. Trish Sullivan, Ski Corp.’s vice president of human resources, said Steamboat Ski Area was seeing far more applicants than usual.

“We’re averaging right now about 35 applications a day, which is a lot compared to previous years,” she said. “But they’re coming from all over the country.”

The ski area still has more than 200 seasonal jobs available and probably will hire through early November, Sullivan said Tuesday.

“We actually tightened up just kind of across the board last year, so I expect to see similar levels to last year,” she said about employment.

About 325 people attended Ski Corp.’s fall job fair, compared with 150 last year, Sullivan said.

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Recruiters are scaling back efforts because of the expense of trips and the already high number of applicants. They took only one road trip this year, to Yellowstone National Park, Sullivan said. In previous years, Ski Corp. has recruited at Glacier National Park, at colleges and in Denver.

Ski Corp. is bringing in about 75 international workers, compared with 300 last year. At the peak about three years ago, Ski Corp. had 350 foreign workers on its seasonal staff, Sullivan said.

Changes and visas

Other ski resorts also have announced cuts to international hiring. The Aspen Skiing Co. announced last month that it wouldn’t use the H-2B visa program to hire 57 ski and snowboard instructors, The Aspen Times reported.

Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga told the Vail Daily in August the company expects to cut international hiring by 70 percent. Karen Gadberry, human resources director at Winter Park, said the resort’s international staff represented 10 percent of seasonal workers at its height a few years ago.

International workers now represent 5 percent to 6 percent, she said. Locals sometimes raise concerns about jobs going to non-U.S. citizens, Gadberry said.

“It’s not at the expense of local workers,” she said, adding that resorts don’t pay international workers less and still hire plenty of U.S. citizens. Ski Corp. parent Intrawest also operates Winter Park and owns Copper Mountain. Copper spokespeople didn’t return requests for comment.

This year, Sullivan said, Ski Corp. will take on workers through the H-2B and J-1 visa programs. H-2B workers come to the United States on a temporary visa. The federal government caps that at 66,000 visas per year, divided into two groups of 33,000.

Ski Corp. also is using two types of J-1 student visas, the regular J-1 and a special training J-1 visa. The company won’t use the Q visa cultural exchange program.

“For the most part, the ones coming in on these visas are returning staffers,” Sullivan said.

Some of the H-2B workers already are in the United States and will work on a visa extension. Those don’t count against the cap.

H-2B employees tend to work in tough-to-fill positions, such as food service and housekeeping, Sullivan said. The J-1 workers in the training program will teach ski and snowboard lessons, and a few will work in lifts and food service, she said.

“With the changes and the increase in unemployment, we were able to reduce that drastically,” Sullivan said about the number of foreign workers.

There are costs associated with international employees. The government added rules this year requiring employers to pay transportation cost for H-2B workers. The investment is minimal in this case because the H-2B employees already are in the United States, Sullivan said.

“That could curtail that program in the future, if we have to pay those expenses for people that are out of the country,” she said.

But Ski Corp. remains concerned about the availability of H-2B workers. When the economy turns around, the company again could face employee challenges.

“The federal government is making it more difficult to get those visas, so we need to continue to lobby for that for those hard-to-fill positions,” Sullivan said.

Depending on ski jobs

Sullivan said she’s seen a flow of returning people who once worked for the ski area. Some left to pursue other opportunities and are coming back amid the recession.

“The big story is definitely how the volume of applicants have increased and how it’s interesting how many people, locals of a variety of ages and a variety of backgrounds, are coming to the ski area to see what jobs might be available,” Gadberry said.

Sullivan said about 60 percent of Steamboat’s workers were returning staff members.

As usual, Sullivan said, the ski area will focus on service as it hires for the season.

“Ultimately, we want to hire the best, most qualified people,” Sullivan said.

Ski Corp. employment

Workers on H-2B visas: 26

Workers on J-1 visas: 37

Workers on J-1 training visas: 12

Workers on Q-1 visas: 0

Total foreign workers: 75

Seasonal workers: 1,500

Total workers: nearly 1,800 including volunteers and temporary staff members