With workers scarce entering ski season, Park City employers struggle to find help
The ski season has arrived, and with it, Park City businesses are staffing up in anticipation of big crowds of expectant customers.
While the visitors are all but guaranteed, officials say employees are increasingly hard to come by, for a variety of reasons. Pay at many businesses is insufficient for the cost of living in Park City. The rental market, already competitive, has been cannibalized by short-term rentals such as Airbnb, further inflating the cost of what housing is left. Those who drive into Park City on roads not built to accommodate so many cars are often greeted with a frustrating commute. It’s all compounded by Utah’s minuscule 2.4% unemployment rate, which means most people can simply find work elsewhere.
The result is seasonal jobs outnumbering the workers available to fill them.
“We’re hearing the same thing we’ve heard for quite a few years now,” said Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. “It’s an issue that doesn’t seem to be changing. It’s just a fact of running a business in this town now.”
Malone said long-established Park City businesses remember a time when things were different.
“Years ago, all employers had to do was put the job out there, say what the hours are and the pay, and people would come,” he said. “Now they’re having to get much more creative, because the labor market has gotten very tight.”
Malone said he’s hearing from Chamber/Bureau members who are providing perks like additional benefits, flexible hours and skiing privileges to attract seasonal workers.
“Some of them are providing assistance with housing, transportation, expense reimbursement,” he said. “It runs the gamut.”
One local company, Ski Butlers, is leaning heavily on its company culture to attract seasonal workers. Hiring manager Jesse Schwarz says it’s paying off.
“Our hiring this season has been a success,” he said. “We’ve brought on a great staff. While we are still hiring for reservations agents, we are otherwise completely staffed for this point in the season.”
Ski Butlers is a ski and snowboard rental outfit that brings gear directly to its customers at their hotels, in addition to offering assistance with tuning and other issues. Schwarz said that, as one might expect, workers attracted to Ski Butlers are skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts themselves, and they want to work for a company that is supportive of that hobby.
“To appeal to our potential employees, we make it clear that we’ve been developing a culture here at Ski Butlers that focuses on people pursuing their passions in the mountains,” he said. “So we focus on making sure our employees have a chance to ski or ride.
“I personally went out with two of my new employees this week who are new to Park City and had the pleasure of showing them around the Canyons side of (Park City Mountain Resort).”
The biggest new draw this season, according to Ski Butlers’ Park City general manager Blane Bossung: a pay increase.
“Our goal is 55 employees, and we’re at 46 right now. The pay raises were a big help in that,” he said.
Bossung echoed Schwarz’ comments, as well, saying even Ski Butler’s entry-level ski techs are scheduled so they can ski every day if they want to. With 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shifts, every employee has at least a couple of hours available for skiing daily.
“We also offer an Epic Local Pass,” Bossung said. “So the company culture is a big draw. It definitely was for me.”
Schwarz said that, while Ski Butlers has had success in finding seasonal workers, he sees the difficulties other businesses are facing. He suggested perks like carpools to attract people from the Salt Lake Valley and elsewhere outside of Park City.
“I personally drive up to Park City from Salt Lake City several days a week, and it’s quite easy when I carpool with my friends/coworkers,” he said.
Representatives from Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, two of the largest employers in the area, declined to comment on their seasonal hiring strategies. Jessica Miller, a spokesperson for PCMR, directed attention to the resort’s “perks and benefits” web page, which states that Vail Resorts employees are immediately eligible for things like a free ski pass, discounts on gear, access to a 401(k) retirement plan and access to an employee assistance program, which offers things like financial advice and face-to-face therapy. PCMR also offers medical, dental and vision coverage to seasonal employees, but only after they’ve logged 750 hours of work. Miller said that count carries over from season to season, meaning coverage for return seasonal workers who’ve logged enough hours would kick in immediately upon the start of the season. The first-time worker, though, gains access to medical coverage after 18.75 weeks of work (assuming a 40-hour work week).
The pursuit of labor has led employers to tailor jobs to individual workers, Malone said.
“It might not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach anymore,” he said. “With certain employees, you may approach it from one angle, say skiing, and with others, they might say they have two other jobs and need a lot of flexibility in their schedule. So even within one company you might see different approaches for different employees.”
Malone said while the Chamber/Bureau is not itself in the housing business, it is advocating strongly for affordable housing measures at the local level.
“We’re supportive of what the city and county are doing in that area,” he said. “I think our local governments understand the need. They understand that if our employees live closer by, it helps with things like traffic. But I think we all also understand it’s a regional issue and not just a local one.”
Malone said not all seasonal employees want to live in Park City, even if they could afford to. Some live in the Salt Lake Valley, some in Wasatch County, and they want to stay there.
“So some of that pressure, then, can be dealt with by relieving (cost of living) pressure in Park City, but we also need solutions for those who want to stay where they are.”
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