Help Wanted: Ski resorts hiring for shoulder seasons

Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 5:51 PM EDT
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WARREN, Vt. (WCAX) - The ski season is winding down for many local resorts, a time when they are typically less busy. But the spring shoulder season is often when many need the most help with housekeeping staff. The Vermont Chamber of Commerce says a pre-pandemic labor gap of 10,000 jobs reached a height of 30,000 during COVID. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, Kayla Martin reports on what the labor shortage looks like at Sugarbush.

Triston Green is a housekeeper at Sugarbush Resort and enjoys what he does. “I like people, I like to take care of them, so the hospitality industry definitely gets that done,” he said. “My favorite part would be interacting with the guest and also cleaning the room.”

Anastasia Mahoney, the housekeeping manager, says workers like Green are hard to come by. “We have obviously quite a few staffing issues and a lot of people came and went,” she said. Mahoney says that low retention makes their job much harder to do.

Green is an international worker using an H2B visa and like many of the resort’s seasonal workers, he will be gone by April.

“Which is tough because if we do get a little busy, it’s very hard,” Mahoney said. After all the international workers leave, Mahoney says one of her departments will be down to just four full-timers. “And we have about 110 rooms just in this building.”

That’s why the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is among those lobbying at the federal level to lengthen the cap on international worker visas. “We don’t have enough Vermonters to take those jobs -- absolutely need to have paths to have more people in Vermont,” said the chamber’s Betsy Bishop.

There are two shoulder seasons a year but the hiring challenges seem to change from year to year. Last year, Mahoney says she had hundreds of applicants but many ghosted her or didn’t stay long. This year, she says the struggle is simply attracting applicants. “I know that our company funneled a lot of money into hiring. So, I know they are using different platforms to get the word out, but from my own personal experience, I haven’t seen it do too much of an impact yet. But I am hopeful,” she said.

Mahoney says the labor shortage has a big impact on the type of guest service and quality they provide as well as putting a lot of stress on the existing staffers. “It’s been a lot of restructuring and moving around,” she said. Some other resorts, she says, have even had to stop or delay taking reservations due to a lack of staff.

Bishop says the shortage ripples through all aspects of the economy. “Difficulty in finding housing, transportation, child care,” she said.

“Employee housing -- it is one of their big focuses going into this year,” Mahoney agrees. She says many resorts are in rural areas with limited housing stock. Another issue is the pay. “One common thing that I am hearing is that the money is there. Surprisingly, the ski industry has been very successful... I know that they’ve allocated some of those funds to hiring but it’s still hard because you can’t force someone to work.”

Sugarbush bumped up minimum wage last summer to $15 an hour. There’s also a long list of benefits -- from a 401K match and health insurance to discounts on gear, local restaurants, and free ski passes for the family. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that keeps people here,” Mahoney said.

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