Workers are a little tougher for Aspen Skiing Co. to find | AspenTimes.com

Workers are a little tougher for Aspen Skiing Co. to find

Aspen Skiing Co. anticipates a tougher time filling its positions this winter than in recent winters — but how much tougher isn't clear yet.

"I think we're seeing the pendulum swinging back," said Jim Laing, vice president of human resources and retail operations, referring to the job market. "All resorts are seeing a shift."

Aspen and Snowmass Village, like many western U.S. ski resorts, traditionally have generated more jobs than there were workers to fill them. That changed during the five years of the recession and its hangover. Now it's switching back.

In the Roaring Fork Valley, the construction and development industry has cranked back up. Contractors are reporting that many firms are working overtime because of deadline pressures, and some are having trouble filling all positions. When construction booms, it often affects other sectors of the economy that are trying to fill seasonal jobs.

“We’ll have a really good feel by the time we get through our next job fair.”
Jim Laing, Aspen Skiing Co.

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Skico's focus during the recession was to rely on locals to fill openings because so many people in the valley were unemployed or underemployed, Laing said. But it appears there aren't as many local employees to rely on this year. But Laing said he isn't complaining. An improved economy is a great thing despite the challenges.

"The local pool of applicants is getting shallower than before," he said.

Skico is hosting one more job fair this fall than it did last season. A job fair in Snowmass Village on Tuesday attracted about 115 applicants. Interviewers were generally pleased with the caliber of job-seekers, Laing said. The next Skico job fair is Oct. 23. A job fair specifically for the Aspen-Snowmass ski and snowboard schools held earlier this year was well-attended. The ski schools, as usual, are in good shape in terms of employment heading into the season, according to Laing.

Skico is receiving regular applications from employees using the company's online job center, so the prospects of filling the hundreds of openings remain good, Laing said. Nevertheless, it looks like it will take longer to recruit all the employees needed.

"We're behind where we were last year," he said.

Skico employs 3,800 workers at peak season at its on-mountain operations, hotels and restaurants, Laing said. Many of those employees are year-round or returning seasonal workers. But hundreds of positions need to be filled each year. Lift operators are one of the positions in greatest need, he said, and mountain food-and-beverage positions might require more recruitment to fill.

Skico will not use many H-2B visas to fill positions this year. That was a helpful tool in pre-recession days when the company couldn't find enough workers in the domestic market, Laing said. It used as many as 400 H-2B visas before the recession. Skico would work with the U.S. government to get the visas, and then the company would recruit workers who could come to the U.S. specifically to work those positions.

Last year, Skico used one H-2B visa on its mountain-operations positions and a "handful" in its hospitality division, Laing said.

This year, the company didn't apply for any H-2B visas in April and May — early enough to allow processing and to get employees trained by December, he said.

Skico will use an undetermined number of J-1 visas that are available for foreign students who want to work while they are on their summer break. There are typically a large number of students from Brazil and Argentina who want to work using those visas, he said.

Laing said it should be clear in about one month how much of a challenge Skico will face filling positions.

"We'll have a really good feel by the time we get through our next job fair," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com