How ski resorts are responding to the affordable housing, labor shortage crisis
As the entire nation grapples with a labor and affordable housing shortage, ski resorts across Colorado, which are located in some of the state’s most expensive cities, are asking themselves what they can do to recruit and retain employees to staff their restaurants, chair lifts and retail shops.
“This is something that we are committed to for the future,” said Trish Sullivan, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. vice president of human resources and risk management.
Going into the 2021-22 season, Steamboat Resort plans to fit more employees into The Ponds at Steamboat, its employee housing complex that houses about 500 of the resort’s 2,000 employees.
Loryn Duke, Ski Corp. communications director, said employees will be able to choose between five-person units, six-person units and a very limited number of standard four-person units. Couples will be able to stay in five-person units in a room that accommodates two people.
Employees in a one-bedroom unit with two people will pay $725 per month per person, $475 per person for a standard unit with four people, $515 per person for a remodeled unit with four people, $440 per person for a five-person unit with two-person rooms, $340 per person for a five-person unit with three-person rooms and $320 per person for a six-person unit.
Though Ski Corp. raised prices from $290 to $390 in 2019 and to $440 in 2021, Duke said the cost is still far below market value in Routt County, and the higher rent will allow the resort to invest more into its housing.
Ski Corp. also raised its entry-level wage from $12 to $15 an hour in July, the largest wage increase in the resort’s history.
“We recognize this is an area we still need to look at in order to staff appropriately,” Sullivan said. “We specifically looked at every position on the company because we’re trying to be competitive within the community and also within the industry.”
Because The Ponds is one of Routt County’s only affordable housing options and it only houses 500 of 2,000 employees, Sullivan said Ski Corp. looks specifically at the positions that are more difficult to staff, such as food and beverage, lift operations, snow sports school, retail and rental, and allocates a certain number of units to each of those departments.
Following a national trend, Sullivan said Ski Corp. is also struggling to hire employees, particularly in its entry-level positions.
“In the summer time, we were still looking for employees, but right now, with our recruiting efforts for the winter, we’re targeting different markets, and it’s coming along,” Sullivan said. “We’re also trying to plan different scenarios if we don’t get fully staffed.”
Jen Miller, public relations and communications manager at Winter Park Resort, Steamboat’s sister resort housed under parent company Alterra Mountain Co, said Winter Park is also struggling to find and retain employees, which Miller attributed in part to the high-cost of living in Colorado’s mountain towns.
“Just the nature of real estate in these small mountain communities exacerbates finding seasonal housing for workers,” Miller said. “We need the people to come and support our tourist economy, but we also need affordable housing.”
Winter Park offers employee housing spread throughout Grand County. Miller said some of it is owned by the resort, but some of it is contracted with lodges and other housing units.
“As with other resorts, the work is very seasonal, so to attract and retain good people, we need to at least help solve the housing challenges that seasonal workers face,” Miller said.
“This isn’t just a Winter Park or a Steamboat issue; this is a Colorado issue, a Rocky Mountain issue and a national issue,” Miller said. “Nationally, wages have not increased along with real estate prices and values.”
Miller said Winter Park does not have a set entry-level wage, but a search of the resort’s job website shows most jobs begin around $14 to $15 an hour.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today made several attempts to contact Vail Resorts, which owns Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge resorts in Colorado, as well as several out-of-state resorts and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada, but the company did not return requests for information.
However, according to the Vail Daily, Vail Resorts announced in June that each of its employees would receive an entry-level wage of $15 an hour.
Steamboat Resort is holding a job fair from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at The Steamboat Grand, and their jobs list can be found at steamboat.com/employment.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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