Pay hike helps Aspen Skiing Co. fill entry-level positions

An Aspen Skiing Co. lift operator clears snow off the loading pad during the 2016-17 season. An increase in base pay to $15 will help Skico recruit entry-level workers.
Aspepn Times file photo

Aspen Skiing Co. has successfully filled several entry-level positions for this season, probably due to an increase in the company’s minimum wage to $13.50 from $12, according to recruiting director Caleb Sample.

“I’m feeling pretty good where we’re at,” said Sample, who joined Skico in December in a new position. “These entry-level workers, we’re feeling good right now.”

That includes positions such as chairlift operators and other mountain operations. Skico still faces challenges filling other openings, he said. Cooks and other back-of-house workers at restaurants are a perennial problem for the company as well as just about every restaurant throughout the country, Sample said. Certified child care providers and commercial drivers also are areas of desperate need.

“We still have 136 jobs up there” on the Skico’s online job listings page, he said. In some cases, there are multiple positions open within a job category, so the actual number of employees needed is greater than 136, he noted.

Skico has streamlined its website to make the application process easier for prospective employees.

Numerous positions are listed for the Limelight Hotel in Snowmass, which will debut this ski season. Skico also had greater needs this season because of expanded summer operations in Snowmass.

Skico traditionally has about 2,000 positions to fill going into a given season, human resources officials have said in the past. In August, the company anticipated hiring about 1,200 new employees this season.

Sample said a strong economy and low national and local unemployment adds to the challenge. Retirements also are an issue.

Then, of course, there’s the limited amount and expense of housing in the Roaring Fork Valley. Skico has about 600 beds for seasonal employees. Somehow, Sample said, he still has some open housing to offer employees.

Skico has experienced an annual average reduction of about 2.5 percent in the number of applicants since 2013 — when the economy rebounded from the Great Recession, Sample said. The company has responded by increasing base pay for the past few years. The $1.50 increase was the biggest single-year bump.

Sample was brought in last season for his recruiting skills. He previously headed hiring efforts for the Chipotle restaurant chain and Sports Authority.

One of his goals is to recruit more Roaring Fork Valley residents who already have housing. For example, he wants to find a way to attract school bus drivers to work for Skico during the month or so they have off for Christmas break.

He also wants to entice area residents who have time on their hands during winters but don’t necessarily need to work. Sample wants to sell Skico for what it is — a fun place to work.

Some positions, such as ski patrol, have a great retention rate and a long average number of years of service, he noted.

“People want to work here and stay here,” he said.

Another unknown factor this season is the effect of the Ikon Pass, a season pass offered by Skico’s sister organization, Alterra Mountain Co. It’s good for as many as seven days of skiing at Aspen Snowmass.

Skico officials want to see if buyers of that pass will come to Aspen and Snowmass outside of the traditionally busy times of Christmas through New Year’s, Presidents Weekend and spring break. If so, that could create a steady need for workers rather than peaks and valleys, Sample noted.