Aspen Skiing Co. still aims to add hundreds of beds for workers, officials say |

Aspen Skiing Co. still aims to add hundreds of beds for workers, officials say

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesThe Sopris View complex in El Jebel is among the worker housing already owned by the Aspen Skiing Co.

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. won’t let the recession and slow recovery derail a long-range plan to add up to 600 more beds for its employees, President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in a recent interview.

In the long run, Kaplan said, the company must add housing to ensure it both attracts the workers it needs and operates as a responsible business. He views the current employers’ market as an exception rather than the rule. The recession didn’t alter the long-term trend of a tight housing market and a small employee pool, he said.

As recently as three years ago, businesses in Aspen and Snowmass Village had trouble filling all of their positions. That’s been the typical situation more often than not for decades. In years when it was difficult to find enough employees, the Skico recruited some of its workers from outside the country using short-term, H2B visas.

It’s a far cry today from the 2007-08 ski season. Jobs are scarce, the unemployment level is high, and rental housing is plentiful.

The Skico canceled two of its scheduled job fairs late this fall because it was so successful filling positions, according to Jim Laing, vice president, human resources.

“We would only be disappointing people” by holding the job fairs, Laing said recently. “We’d be getting hundreds of applicants for just 20 positions. We’ll be handling those on an individual basis.”

The Skico employs about 3,500 workers at peak season, during Christmas and New Year’s Day. About 1,200 people are on the payroll year-round.

An increasing number of the seasonal positions have been filled by Roaring Fork Valley residents in the past three seasons, Laing said. People can no longer depend on part-time jobs, like selling real estate, for example, so full-time, seasonal jobs at the Skico are at a premium. Some employees who worked only part-time in the past are working full-time this winter.

So the Skico is filling roughly the same number of positions it always has with fewer workers, Kaplan said. Therefore, the need for housing has eased.

Kaplan noted that when the national unemployment rate is 6 percent or less, the Skico has trouble filling all its positions. The national rate is hovering at 9.8 percent, so it might be another season or two before the employee shortage returns.

Once it returns, the Skico will be prepared. The company added hundreds of beds for employees between 2000 and 2008. It now has roughly 550 beds in properties it owns in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, El Jebel and Carbondale. Kaplan said the company’s strategic plan is to add roughly 600 more beds over the next several years.

While there are no specific development applications for more housing, the Skico has invested in several sites in the midvalley. In general, the Skico focuses on seasonal housing in Aspen and Snowmass, and long-term or for-sale housing downvalley.

In Carbondale, the Skico committed the financing for eight townhouses and 22 single-family homes at Keator Grove, a project along Highway 133 on the south side of town. It’s offering those units to its employees at cost, but the timing didn’t work out well. Sales have been sluggish because lenders have been cautious since the recession, making it tough for prospective buyers to get a mortgage.

The Skico has a 1-acre property in Basalt near Big O Tires. The town has encouraged the company to consider it for affordable housing.

The Skico has another 1.6-acre parcel in that neighborhood, closer to Basalt High School. Farther downvalley, the Skico owns 5.5 acres at the Aspen-Basalt Campground.

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