Ski Utah chief addresses industry shutdown, saying resorts are focused on employee needs
A key figure in the Utah ski industry on Friday made brief comments about the closures of the mountain resorts in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, indicating the resorts have been attempting to address the needs of the workers since the shutdowns.
Nathan Rafferty, who is the president and CEO of Ski Utah, an organization that markets the state’s mountain resorts, appeared alongside Park City officials in a City Hall-hosted Virtual Coffee with Council.
Rafferty did not make extensive remarks, but they were some of the first made publicly to a broad Park City audience since the resorts closed. He said there were an “enormous” number of employees at the resorts at the time they closed. The closures occurred in March, a typically busy month for the industry and a month when the resorts usually are heavily staffed. But the shutdowns halted revenues, he said.
“Their main focus right now has been the employees,” Rafferty said about the resorts.
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He said the resorts are offering assistance such as food distribution. The resorts will later start preparing for the next ski season, he said. Rafferty, though, said the resorts “hit pause” regarding capital projects as they consider their next moves. He did not provide details about the capital projects.
Rafferty described the ski industry shuttering over a period of approximately six days.
“It was an unbelievably difficult decision for all of them,” he said about the shutdowns, adding, “It all just happened so quickly.”
In a later interview, Rafferty said the ski industry, nationwide, is projected to take a $2 billion economic hit.
Rafferty also mentioned discussions are underway regarding so-called uphill access, or the practice of hiking, snowshoeing or otherwise accessing the slopes when a resort is closed. He did not provide details.
Rafferty’s appearance during the Virtual Coffee with Council came as widespread concerns continue regarding the economic impact on Park City of the novel coronavirus spread. The closures of Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort were an early blow to a tourism industry that drives the Park City economy. Numerous businesses in Park City also closed at about the same time as visitor numbers dropped sharply.
Mayor Andy Beerman during the event, meanwhile, addressed a question from the public regarding whether pressure could be put on the resorts to keep the workforce intact. The mayor provided a broad answer that highlighted the federal government efforts to boost unemployment benefits.
Another Park City official who participated on Friday, Jonathan Weidenhamer, who is the manager of City Hall’s economic development programs, said officials are “heavily considering” rent abatements for tenants leasing space from the municipal government. Details were not available. City Councilor Max Doilney, another participant, said private-sector landlords could be influenced to follow should City Hall offer rent abatements.
Events like the Virtual Coffee with Council are expected to continue in coming weeks and likely longer as the community moves toward an economic recovery and plans for summer tourism and then the next ski season.
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A member of the Park City Council said he has seen significant progress in the economic recovery two months after describing June 1 as a key date.