Aspen Skiing Co. feeds employees who can’t work because of slow start

Aspen Skiing Co. was able to make snow at Buttermilk Tuesday but the lower slopes remain brown. Skico officials will announce later this week if Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk will open as scheduled on Saturday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Aspen Skiing Co. has set up a soup kitchen for employees who haven’t been able to work yet because of low-snow conditions.

Skico started feeding unemployed workers dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays since the day after Thanksgiving, according to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications. The meals are provided on a rotating basis at Bumps Restaurant at the base of Buttermilk and the Treehouse at Snowmass.

The number of diners has ranged from 100 to 160, Hanle said.

“As long as we can’t get those guys fully employed, we’ll keep feeding them,” Hanle said. “It’s meant for workers who would be starting full time but they’re not able to.”

That applies primarily to lift operators and other seasonal workers who have arrived from out of town.

All Skico employees, not just the unemployed ones, will be offered dinner tonight at the all-employee dinner.

Skico’s unemployed ranks could swell this weekend, depending on whether Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk can open Saturday as scheduled.

Hanle said Katie Ertl, senior vice president of mountain operations, met with the four mountain managers of the Aspen-Snowmass ski areas Tuesday afternoon so she could advise the executive team later in the day on terrain openings. Hanle said public announcements would be made later in the week about opening Highlands and Buttermilk and any potential terrain additions at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.

Colorado ski resorts are all in about the same boat when it comes to conditions, according to the comprehensive reports by Aspen Mountain had 143 of its 675 acres open while Snowmass had 59 acres available as of Monday.

Elsewhere in the state, Arapahoe Basin had 156 skiable acres, Beaver Creek had 65, Breckenridge had 186, Crested Butte had 67, Keystone had 138, Loveland had 217, Steamboat had 30, Vail had 71 and Winter Park had 50 acres.

The big winners as far as open terrain at this point are Monarch Mountain with 463 of 800 acres and Wolf Creek with 960 of 1,600 acres.

Utah resorts have not fared any better.

Skico’s dinners for unemployed workers have become a tradition that company officials would prefer to be in a position to avoid. Former Skico President and CEO Bob Maynard starting feeding unemployed workers during slow starts in the early 1990s. In 2002, the company served 1,250 dinners over 18 nights.

In November 2012, a company official said dinners had been provided in six of the past 15 seasons.

Dinners were served last season because conditions were similar to this season.

Skico employs about 3,800 workers at peak season between its mountain operations, hotels and restaurants.

Hanle said Skico leaders feel it is the “responsibility” of the company to aid people who came to the Aspen area with an expectation of working.

“It’s important to take care of people out there on the front lines and representing the company,” Hanle said.