The ski industry has a long standing relationship with foreign workers. Both with people traveling winter to winter season, specific skilled labor, and bringing in bodies to fill certain roles. As we head into the ski season, this topic is more relevant than ever. With strict travel regulations in place, many ski areas that rely on foreign workers are having to scramble to staff the season.
The reality is that the ski industry has long relied on and taken advantage of cheap labor. Using the novelty of job and a ski pass as a means to justify low wages.
In previous articles on the topic, some ski areas mentioned that they can't hire enough locals for the jobs. Alluding to a point that locals are somewhat lazy and above working these ski area jobs. The problem with these jobs is that the wages can be very low. I've seen posts on NS and Facebook from the libertarian types talking about how "The market dictates the wage". When the Taco bell starting wage is an instant $2.50 + raise clearly the market has decided that some of these ski resorts pay a garbage wage.
With the ever climbing cost of living in ski town USA, this is a battle that is just beginning. Finding housing in many of these towns has been a major struggle for years. It's less about finding something quality, with good roommates, and more about just finding a place that isn't your car.(even car life can be difficult in many ski towns these days)
If people are willing to work for a particular wage, and you have a steady stream of workers, I get it. When your wages fail to bring in enough workers from your country and you begin to rely on foreign workers things get a little bit dicey.
Mountains and articles written about this topic would like you to believe that this is some great opportunity that they are providing. The locals are lazy and so they provide this amazing opportunity for the J1's from South America etc. In reality many of these kids are only coming for the visa. Getting a visa to travel can be tough, especially coming to America. When they get here, it isn't some plush setup to live the American dream. Many times they are packed into small dilapidated accommodations and hotel rooms.
A guy from Peru I spent a lot of time with in Tahoe was living in a hotel room with one bedroom and a living area. There were 7 people living in there. 2 people to each bed in the one space, and 3 in the bed, eventually an added cot in the bedroom. Their spirits were high and they made the best of it, but it wasn't the dream, the golden opportunity that these ski areas portray. People really want to come to America, and not everyone can. The fact that these mountains exploit this is somewhat twisted, especially while selling the notion that they're providing such a great opportunity.
Businesses have always looked for ways to cheap out. If you look at the history of the world and even this country, a fair wage wasn't always a thing. We've had issues with poor wages, massive work weeks, unsafe conditions, child labor, etc. The issue with many of these ski areas is different, because it's legal, and one could argue that it's not that bad. Unfortunately the wage in one of these ski towns sounds alright compared to a small town in another state but it is very difficult to live on that wage in these places. If this wasn't the case, these skis areas wouldn't struggle so hard to find workers for the price.
You might argue, "it's just business" but when these mountains are charging such large amounts for day tickets, your cheeseburger, etc, it seems in poor taste at best. While some ski areas are hoping that the J1 situation resolves so they can keep on with business as usual, I honestly hope it doesn't. This season has shed light on a problem that's not only been around, but growing for years.
I have no gripes against foreign workers. This isn't a xenophobic post. I rely on similar work visas to go to the southern hemisphere for their winter. This is a situation where ski areas have found a convenient loophole around paying better wages, and they are exploiting it.
When some of these ski areas talk about how sad it is that they won't have these workers this season, it seems a little messed up. If you can't come close to filling a large bulk of your positions without these visas, it's probably because the wages are not great. In a market where rent is ever climbing, why would somebody work for several dollars an hour less at your ski area than what fast food, gas stations, and other businesses are paying? A lot of times, they won't and this is why these mountains have found themselves in this situation. These other businesses know that they have to pay a certain wage to even have a chance to fill these positions, so why doesn't the ski industry do the same?
Ski areas are expensive to run. There are a ton of costs that need to be factored in. When you're paying $200 for a lift ticket, $17 for a cheeseburger without fries, $20 for parking, etc you would think that a person working there was at least getting paid the same wage as a fast food joint down the street. At the end of the day, it's a business, it's a job, but the ski industry isn't something special that should be exempt from the same scrutiny applied to other jobs. People have to work, but people also need to make a living.