Guest opinion: Vail Resorts should treat ski patrollers like the critical employees they are |

Guest opinion: Vail Resorts should treat ski patrollers like the critical employees they are

Jake Hutchinson
Salt Lake City

I can’t lie. The 20-plus years I spent at Park West and eventually The Canyons as professional ski patroller are unquestionably some the best years and best job I ever had.

They are also some of the hardest years I ever had. I met and worked with people I still call close friends, and 10 years since I “retired” I still suffer from serious symptoms and consequences of PTSD from the combined stresses and events of the job.

For every glorious powder run, there was a serious traumatic accident to manage. For every gorgeous sunrise, there were moments of terror and uncertainty as we made our way through white-out conditions, first attempting to keep ourselves safe, and secondly trying to provide safe skiing for our guests in a timely fashion.

It’s a hard job. One that requires first-aid training (rarely paid for by the resort) and its annual upkeep, avalanche training and experience, exceptional guest service and problem solving, long hours in the elements, grief counseling for friends and family and a strong back. It’s unfathomable in this pandemic age that Vail Resorts is not the one racing to the table to provide better benefits, pay and peace of mind to a critical piece of their front-line staff.

Few patrollers live anything but paycheck to paycheck, and a lone day off, let alone weeks, would be devastating to their livelihood and quality of life. If the patrol didn’t show up to work this week, everyone in town and every visitor to town would be impacted. The resorts couldn’t open and the economic impacts would be felt by all. If the top 10 executives at Vail Resorts took a month off, none of us would know and the resorts would continue to function as usual.

The patrol isn’t making exorbitant demands — they are asking for fair compensation, including attainable sick days, based on their level of education, specific skill sets and the very real job challenges and stresses. Ultimately, they are looking for the same peace of mind that all first responders require in order to perform their jobs safely and well in these chaotic times.

Vail Resort’s cash and cash equivalents rose from $136 million in October 2019 to $462 million in October 2020. It doesn’t appear they have been as hard hit by the pandemic as they want us to believe. To use the tactics they have in light of the current situation only highlights their priority to shareholder value over employee health and welfare.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a day of skiing at a ski resort, then you have been touched by patrol’s efforts. From assessing snow conditions, to marking trail hazards and maintaining pads, rope lines and the like. Their efforts have had a direct part in your enjoyment. If you have been unfortunate enough to be injured, then you already know the lengths these fine folks take to get you off the hill and onto appropriate care as quickly as possible. Let Vail Resorts know you appreciate the patrol and expect them to come to the table and treat and value these critical employees with the respect they deserve.

Jake Hutchinson was the ski patrol director at what was then The Canyons from 2003-2011.

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