Ski Utah details challenges of labor, housing, diversity and climate change in Park City’s key industry

Many of the issues have long been difficult for the community, but group says progress has been made

Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty holds a highly influential post in the state’s ski industry. He recently was one of the panelists during a discussion held in Park City about the ski industry. | Courtesy of Nathan Rafferty

The ski industry in Utah understands labor is a challenge.

And it also sees the difficulties with issues like housing, diversity and transportation.

The president and CEO of Ski Utah, Nathan Rafferty, during a recent public appearance in Park City offered a list of the challenges in the state ski industry. Speaking at a March panel discussion at the Park City Library centered on the industry, Rafferty presented an intriguing slide outlining what Ski Utah considers to be the challenges. Some are widely known to be difficult topics for the ski industry while others do not generate the same amount of discussion.

The key challenges presented in the slide included:

• labor

• inflation

• housing

• diversity

• snowmaking

• transportation

• climate change, including the impact on the Great Salt Lake

• finding balance with capacity

Rafferty, an influential figure in the industry, in the period after the panel discussion provided prepared answers to a Park Record inquiry about some of the challenges listed by Ski Utah. They are presented below, edited for clarity, in a question-and-answer format.

How significant is the labor challenge and why? Can’t resorts just offer better compensation, or is there something else at play in the labor issue? How does the labor issue impact the entirety of a resort?

While I wouldn’t say the labor challenge has been solved, I think we can all agree that this season has been much better than last in terms of available labor. This is due to a variety of factors including more flexibility with international travel and work visas. As far as resorts offering better compensation, they are. Many Utah resorts offered significantly higher starting wages this season than in previous seasons. Labor is, of course, central to resort operations — it allows the entire resort to function, terrain to open, restaurants to serve patrons and more.

Deer Valley Resort, shown in January, is enjoying an extended season as a result of the heavy snowfall in the winter and into the early spring. Nathan Rafferty, the leader of Ski Utah, during a recent appearance in Park City addressed challenges in the industry, such as housing. | Park Record file photo by David Jackson
Skiing at Deer Valley new years day in heavy snow. | David Jackson/Park Record

The housing seems to be self-explanatory, but what role does the ski industry play in it versus government bodies like City Hall and the County Courthouse? How significant, in your estimation, is the housing shortage, particularly in Park City?

Housing is a multifaceted issue. It’s up to resorts and all businesses in town to work collaboratively with our elected leaders toward improvement on the issue. We don’t have any data about the housing shortage in Park City in particular.

How does the ski industry address diversity, I assume meaning in visitation and in staffing? What benefits could increasing diversity bring to the industry?

Increasing diversity is essential to growing the sport of skiing, and the ski industry is addressing this in a variety of ways. Ski Utah is particularly proud of our Discover Winter program, which just wrapped up its second season. This season, upwards of 150 participants from Future Scholars of AfricaWeber State University’s Diversity Clubs, Morgan Stanley, Outdoor Afro and other organizations had the opportunity to visit a Utah ski resort four times for ski or snowboard lessons. Participating resorts included: Alta Ski AreaBrighton Ski ResortDeer Valley Resort, Sundance Mountain Resort, SnowbirdSnowbasin and Solitude Mountain Resort. In addition to the four complimentary ski or snowboard lessons, Ski Utah provided transportation to the resorts provided by Le Bus, ski and snowboard rental equipment and proper clothing for participants to stay warm.

The Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain, seen in December, is a popular starting point for a day on the slopes. The president and CEO of Ski Utah, Nathan Rafferty, recently appeared in Park City and, as part of his remarks, outlined challenges in the industry, including transportation. | Park Record file photo by David Jackson

What is your ideal solution for transportation in the Park City area and, if relevant, from PC-SLC? How large of a challenge is transportation currently and how does it impact the ski industry?

Ski Utah is always in support of better public transportation, but exactly how that plays out is hard to say. Reduced ski bus service certainly impacted the industry this season (especially in the Cottonwood Canyons), but we were extremely heartened to see Visit Salt Lake’s new Cottonwood Connect program to mitigate the issue, and it seems to be working very well. Very excited to see High Valley Transit’s expansion to Heber and Kamas. Any real improvement will certainly have to see a regional solution.

What can the Utah resort industry accomplish regarding climate change given the global nature of the issue? Is climate change in your mind an existential threat to the Utah ski industry and why?

Climate change is, of course, a threat to the ski industry, but we are lucky that our industry is committed to protecting The Greatest Snow on Earth®. The ski industry has been the canary in the coal mine for a long time regarding climate change, and nearly all Utah’s ski resorts have taken steps to be as sustainable as possible. In particular, eight of Utah’s resorts are a part of The Climate Collaborative Charter which will result in them being carbon neutral by 2025-2030 depending on the resort. They are accomplishing this in a variety of ways, from printing trail maps on water-resistant paper, to composting, to moving towards using more renewable energy or even adding electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lots.

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