“If you are an HR director at a ski area, you are panicking right now.” -National Ski Areas Association Dave Byrd
If you haven’t noticed, ski resorts across the country source tons staff internationally relying on visa workers, especially J-1s, many of them college students from the southern hemisphere who spend several months at resorts teaching skiing. The Colorado Sun reports with the ski resort industry already on the ropes with the COVID-19 closures, President Donald Trump’s extension on banning visas for immigrant workers through the end of the year couldn’t come at a worse time:
“Tourism is the hardest hit business sector from COVID-19. Throw in the fact that rural communities have been hit hard by the pandemic and our ability to open back up come November and December is really going to be strained if we don’t have a labor force to help us. There is a huge amount of anxiety right now. If you are an HR director at a ski area, you are panicking right now.” -Dave Byrd
The National Ski Areas Association’s annual report showed 51% of more than 400 ski areas in the country were unable to fill all their openings last season, well before the pandemic shut down the industry in mid-March. The average number of positions left unfilled was 44. The larger resorts were unable to fill several hundred jobs.
Finding workers has been a stress point for ski areas for many years, with the astronomical cost of housing in rural resort communities challenging resorts large and small when it comes to filling food and beverage, lodging, housekeeping and on-mountain jobs. For years, resorts have been reliant on H-2B visa workers and more recently, J-1 workers to fill empty positions once taken by American college students and locals.
Resorts are already making plans to cope in the era of COVID-19 and are rethinking business plans including smaller group lessons, more rigorous cleaning, safer practices in lodging, dining and gatherings. All these adjustments could require additional staff like more ski instructors, cleaners and cooks, which are obviously already hard to come by.
The ski industry began lobbying Congress and White House officials on Tuesday, arguing that visa worker programs support rural economies. Ski resorts in 35 of the 38 skiable states use J-1 workers. The ski resort argument will be amplified by major lodging companies and national park concessionaires that also rely on visa workers.
“J-1s are not taking American jobs. We have tapped every single person in local communities who would be interested in taking short-term, temporary jobs. Without these workers, we are losing economic activity.”