Aspen Recreation Center faces labor shortage, reduces hours

As many as two dozen positions need to be filled before normal services are restored

An Aspen Recreation Center member walks into the main entrance for an evening workout on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The labor shortage that businesses throughout the valley are experiencing has hit the city of Aspen, forcing it to reduce services at the Aspen Recreation Center.

City Manager Sara Ott informed Aspen City Council on Tuesday of the reduced hours at the ARC.

“That is necessary because it’s impossible to find staff currently with the proper certification to operate some components of the building,” Ott said. “We’re trying a lot of different things to hiring but this is exactly the same workforce that (Aspen Skiing Co.), the hotels and a lot of the front of the house operations is looking for in guest services.”

Hours have been reduced to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, with the facility closed on Sunday.

Cory Vander Veen, director of recreation, said he’s heard feedback from users about the changes and is trying to get back to regular hours but he is down as many as two dozen employees.

“We have multiple staffing positions to fill to get back to full operations,” he said.

That’s everything from full-time employees in positions such as guest services and the front desk, to seasonal ones like hockey referees, fitness instructors and lifeguards.

“We are trying to get creative to get the staff we need,” he said, adding the city is using all of its social media platforms to get the word out. “We are also working with HR to recruit and retain employees.”

The largest dearth in the ARC’s employee arsenal is referees, who are needed for junior hockey, this fall’s Fall Faceoff that brings youth players from all over the state and the city leagues this winter.

“Unfortunately, we have to bring refs in from Denver,” Vander Veen said.

It’s been a slow trickle of people leaving their jobs at the ARC for various reasons, like taking full-time jobs elsewhere or moving out of the valley, he said.

Recreation centers in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are experiencing the same thing and have reduced their hours as well.

“It’s a recurring theme industry wide,” Vander Veen said.

The upper valley has experienced labor shortages in the past due to the lack of housing and cost of living but what’s happening currently is mirroring the rest of the country, which is affecting commerce and customer service across the spectrum.

It’s forcing the ARC to compete with other employers for employees, and incentivize them to come work for the city.

“We have really flexible hours and schedules,” Vander Veen said. “We are trying anything we can.”

He added that he’s collaborating with other rec centers to pursue employee sharing and he hopes to get back to normalcy soon.

“I appreciate the community support as we are going through this,” Vander Veen said. “It means everything to provide the services for them.”