Where are the winter workers? | AspenTimes.com

Where are the winter workers?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s usual influx of winter workers doesn’t seem to be materializing this fall, at least not at the doorstep of a couple of city housing complexes that are usually well on their way to full by now.

Local housing officials are a bit mystified. Half of the units at Marolt Ranch are still open, as are all but about a dozen of the apartments at the Burlingame/MAA seasonal housing. Both complexes fill up with music students in the summer and ski-season employees in the winter.

“I don’t know what’s up. It’s weird,” said Ed Sadler, assistant city manager. “Who isn’t hiring, or are they hiring later?”

Opening day of ski season ? Nov. 28 ? is a full week later this year because Thanksgiving falls late in November, but that alone wouldn’t account for the sagging interest in seasonal housing, according to Sadler.

The 100 units at Marolt Ranch, which can house two people each, are usually virtually all rented by now, as the seasonal workers who swell the staffs of local hotels, restaurants, shops and ski areas line up their housing well in advance, he said.

“Everybody knows how fast the housing goes ? they know if they wait until November, they’re screwed,” Sadler said.

Apparently not this year, though.

The 82 units available to the general work force at Burlingame/MAA have been even slower to fill than Marolt, reported Mike Henry, property manager, who still had 70 two-bedroom Burlingame units to offer late this week.

This is the third winter of operation for the new complex, located near Buttermilk. Two years ago, it filled up by the end of October, according to Henry.

“Last year, we were probably at 50 percent by now, and all the units were spoken for by the third week in November,” he said. “I’m having a hard time understanding why we’re not renting them. Yesterday, we had one phone call all day.

“People don’t seem to be coming as early this year. I just don’t know why.”

While the past year’s economic downturn has brought down the price of Aspen’s free-market condos and apartments, it’s unlikely seasonal workers will find better housing deals in the newspaper than they would at Marolt or Burlingame, Henry noted.

The Marolt units rent for $720 per month, including utilities and local phone service; the Burlingame units go for $914 per month, including utilities and telephone. For roommates, that’s $457 a month for a Burlingame apartment.

Jim Laing, vice president of human resources for the Aspen Skiing Co., is at a loss to explain the shortage of takers for the cheap housing, too.

The Skico, the resort’s largest wintertime employer, is staffing up as usual for the coming ski season, according to Laing. The ski company’s ranks will swell by about 2,000 people for the winter, roughly half of whom are new faces rather than returning employees, he said.

“We just had a big, very successful job fair last Friday,” he said. “We’re ahead of many prior years in filling positions. We’re ahead of schedule.”

The Skico’s own employee housing is filling up fast, but the company hasn’t added any new units this year that would be a factor in siphoning off tenants from Marolt and Burlingame, Laing added.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which has conducted a fall job fair in past years, opted to forego the event this year after last year’s fair drew just a few employers, according to Debbie Braun, director of membership.

Instead, the chamber will be directing its members to list their job openings on the ACRA Web site (www.aspenchamber.org), and the chamber will be advertising the Web site to get the word out to job seekers, she said.

“There’s always a core group of hotels and restaurants that are hiring at this time of year,” Braun said. “I just think people are holding off. That’s the sense I get.”

At The Gant, front office manager Ken Ryan said he plans to hire the usual contingent of winter workers for the condominium complex.

“Marolt’s not filled up? That surprises me,” he said. “I do think they’re going to fill up in the next month.”

But so far, Ryan said he hasn’t seen the big influx of job seekers who make the rounds during the weeks leading up to the ski season. Just a few applicants so far have drifted into The Gant to inquire about work.

“Usually, you’re inundated at some point,” he said.

The St. Regis Aspen hotel, another big employer, is currently closed for off-season renovations.

The Hotel Jerome will be staffed according to its occupancy projections for the winter, according to Tony DiLucia, general manager.

“As positions come up, we’re hiring,” he said. The hotel is enjoying a more stable work force of late, however, which means the Jerome isn’t engaged in a constant search for employees.

“I don’t think we’re running nearly the ads that we used to,” DiLucia said.

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