At the beginning of the season, Vail announced that it had sold 2.1 million season passes, a 47% increase in units from 2020-2021, signifying an enormous leap for the mega conglomerate. As of Oct 31st, 2021, Vail has 1.5 billion dollars cash on hand, with an additional 636.2 million in credit available through both the US and Whistler Blackcomb. Clearly this is a healthy company in the financial sense, but as the season progresses it becomes clear that the massive bundle of cheddar alone cannot deliver The Experience of a LifeTime™. Only, capable, well compensated, happy employees can do that. Stories of broken down lifts, lack of staffing, and angry customers tired of 2 hour long lift lines have made national news. CEO of Vail Resorts, Kirsten Lynch, cited, “A global talent shortage” as a major issue Vail is facing in a company video to employees. Even with all these issues troubling Vail, I believe the most interesting part of their season is about to begin.
At present, a brand new ski patroller at Park City can expect to make a whopping $13.25 an hour. Let us take a step back and imagine yourself as a bright eyed skier in their early 20s looking for work. You have a strong back, and are willing to put your nose to the grindstone. You read this job description: Must be willing to get up 5 days a week at around 4:30 AM, and drive in any conditions to a snow covered mountain. You will then be going out while it is often still dark with a heavy bag of explosives on your back, trudging around in subzero temperatures. You will then arm these explosives, and toss them into areas of the mountain to trigger avalanches that you will avoid. Then, after doing a few rounds of this exercise the ski area can open. During the day, you will be using your EMT training(That you must have BEFORE joining our family) to help a wide range of skiers who have injured themselves on the slopes. These injuries could be anything from a papercut to an open compound femur fracture. You will be tired, you will be exhausted at the end of some days. Think that’s too much? Fear not, you have a nice, long drive to look forward to in traffic back to your humble abode. It is truly a terrific environment to recuperate from a stressful day!. But hey! You’re skiing! You’re living the dream! People would kill just to do this kind of job for free! Now you may be thinking, “Hold on a minute, this sounds like very skilled work that takes many years of training and various certifications to do well! 13.25 an hour?" Yes, people have been doing this job for that salary for some time now, and there lies the dispute at hand.
Now, back to reality. The Park City Ski Patrol Union held its 50th bargaining session with Vail Resorts on Monday evening. Vail did not bring a new contract proposal to the table. These ‘bargaining’ sessions have spanned close to a year and a half now, and the union has finally approved a strike authorization with 98% of the Union voting yes. The union is looking to return to the negotiating table on Wednesday. They are asking for a starting wage of 17 dollars per hour, but perhaps would settle for $16.70 per hour per PCPSA business manager, Patrick Murphy. The Union has also raised $93,790 dollars at the time of this article being written as a Solidarity Fund. (Gofundme Link is listed below) It is up to you whether you would like to contribute to it, or not, but know that your money is going to a terrific cause. In addition, a particular email alleged to have come from Nathan Jones, patrol manager for Vail Resorts, shows a request for temp patrollers at Park City. “All travel plus $600 a day for costs covered.” Vail has denied that this email was authorized.
Quinn Kelsey, director of communications for Vail, said in a written response to the Salt Lake Tribune, ““Given that the Park City patrol union is raising money to prepare for a potential work stoppage. We believe it is our responsibility to also prepare by having internal conversations about how we can minimize any impact of a work stoppage to the resort and to the community.”
Vail has also announced a $2 an hour bonus to be paid for their employees labor at the end of the season. Vail did say that Union members would be eligible for this bonus, but only if they accept the terms of the contract they have been presented with. In response, Patrick Murphy, Union business manager, said that Vail was framing the bonus as a way to address the pay bump the union has been asking for, but a one time retroactive bonus at the end of the year is not equivalent to a wage increase.
Okay, enough professional news speak, this is an opinion piece, let’s get down to brass tacks. I spoke with a friend of mine who works as a ski patroller at a well known Wasatch resort NOT NAMED PARK CITY(REALLY). I thought he would have some insight on the situation that I, and other recreational skiers may not. Here is some of what he said:
“I think it’s mind-blowing that they would risk shutting down the resort over 2 dollars an hour. It takes time to get an employee possessor form through the atf, so these east coast patrollers wouldn’t be able to do mitigation work even if they made the drive for 600 dollars a day. Not a long time but at least a couple weeks. I don’t know, I think If they strike they only will run lower mountain lifts. It’s Pennies compared to how much they will lose by not running for days.”
Let’s say that a strike does take place, there will be a major issue, articulated extremely well by NS member @RIP_leos_shack :
The fact that Vail thinks they can hire temporary patrollers to run the mountain during a strike is criminally negligent at best, lethal at worst. Notwithstanding the more than 100 unique slide paths that require years of experience to know how to mitigate, this completely undermines the primary function of ski patrol: to be a rapid emergency response team. This requires knowing every square inch of the mountain in order to respond as quickly as possible. Imagine Joe Strikebreaker from New Hampshire is dispatched to an unknown injury on Powder Keg, but he takes a wrong turn not knowing the terrain. By the time he arrives on scene 30 minutes later, the patient has bled out from a laceration from a ski edge. The fact that Vail Resorts, king of "Do not raise bar until chair enters top station!" would subject themselves to this kind of liability in order to avoid paying $2/hr is astonishing.
Well spoken, mourner of the best shack to ever exist.
So now we must ask ourselves, why? Why would a company built on the ski industry be so willing to let one of their flagship ski areas go without proper patrol, proper staffing, and create massive lift lines in the process? Everyone has their own thoughts, but here is my opinion:
Vail's cruise-ship-esque business model of ‘own the ski area and everything in driving distance around it’ has led to the skiing experience becoming second rate. People hear the name, Vail, and associate it with skiing. However, with an Epic Pass sold up front, Vail has almost no immediate financial incentive to provide a great skiing experience for the customer. This lengthy bargaining session, and potential ski patrol strike is just a symptom of this reality. Corporate executives making six and seven figure salaries at Vail simply do not care about the plight of the average worker or patroller, and you would be a fool to think they do. If they did, they would pay these employees, not hold a drawn out bargaining session for more than 16 months. In any business Revenue-Costs=Profit. Though their ski areas may be running a skeleton crew, their hotels are booked, their epic passes sold, hell, the giant lift lines may encourage more people to eat at their restaurants instead of standing out in the cold! The lack of staff is actually a cost reduction on their balance sheet. As a famous fictional insurance company boss once said, “We’re supposed to help OUR people! Starting with our shareholders! Who’s helping them out!! Huh???”
To the Park City Patrollers, I hope you do strike, preferably right around MLK day, when the strike would be most effective. Sure, there is the community to consider, Park City needs the mountain to run. But you deserve to be paid a wage that allows you to actually live and thrive in your community. You do not deserve to be exploited for working in a field that you are passionate about. When Vail realizes that they really need you, and they will, ask for more. Do exactly what the suits at Vail have done to you for the better part of 2 years. $17/hr? Tell them to keep going up until you have a wage that you can actually live well on for your hard work and sacrifices.
And as for Vail and its many executives, people are realizing that your product is terrible. You’ll see record lows on your Epic pass purchases soon enough. Then the shareholders will realize what’s happening too. There won’t be enough cash in the world to cushion you as your empire crumbles and your precious stock price goes into a freefall.
I’m sure that it will be the experience of a lifetime!
Go get em Park City Ski Patrol! STRIKE!!!
PCPSPA Solidarity Fund: