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Northeast Ohio ski resorts say worker shortage may affect experience on the slopes

02-04-22 SKI RESORTS.jpg
Posted at 6:41 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 19:14:43-05

PENINSULA, Ohio — A winter storm brought fresh powder for northeast Ohio’s ski resorts, but conditions outside of the weather are less than ideal for the ski season. Like numerous industries across the country, some resorts facing major staffing shortages have been forced to trim hours, reduce business days and limit some terrain options.

“We head straight here and then we’re usually here up getting the skis before the lines start getting bad,” said Kelly Clark, who brings her daughter to Boston Mills Ski Area on Fridays for a ski club.

She said she’s among the guests fortunate enough to arrive early enough to avoid long lines that have plagued the resort this season.

“I think everyone’s just doing the best they can with what they’re faced with,” she said.

Boston Mills, along with nearby Brandywine and Alpine Valley in Chesterland, were acquired by Vail Resorts Management Company in recent years. During the pandemic, the company has faced criticism around the country from season pass holders who feel long lines and limited ski time are the result of prioritizing ticket sales over staffing.

News 5 has received complaints from viewers who believe they aren’t getting their money’s worth from season passes. Some are asking for partial or total refunds.

“We are doing our best and I really appreciate your patience,” said Jake Campbell, the general manager of Vail’s Northeast Ohio properties, when asked about frustrations.

Campbell explained the resorts are facing the same challenges as other industries, namely a shortage of workers.

“We’re continually reevaluating, trying to hire more staff to get this place open more,” he said. “I want this to be open every single day, all day.

In January, Vail began offering a $2 per hour bonus to employees, bringing the minimum pay at the resorts to $13.29. Recent hiring fairs have recruited several new workers, but Campbell estimates dozens more are needed to reach full staffing.

“It takes a village to make these runs come alive,” he said.

To spread resources, the resorts have cross-trained employees to work in multiple roles. Campbell said Vail chose to temporarily halt tubing at Brandywine so staff could focus their efforts on operating ski lifts and running rental shops.

According to Team NEO, a Northeast Ohio economic development agency, the region’s labor force is still down 4.5-5% from pre-pandemic numbers. Nationwide, the numbers have recovered slightly more, with about 1.5-2% of the workforce absent.

Jacob Duritsky, the vice president of strategy and research at Team NEO, explained the arts, entertainment, recreation and hospitality industries have all been forced to raise wages much more quickly than they would have previously been necessary to retain and attract talent.

He added, “I think one of the things we’re seeing from a younger generation of workers is they want that flexibility. They want to think more about work-life balance.”

Duritsky said many young workers who may normally apply for seasonal work, like ski resorts, are choosing jobs in the gig economy.

“If you can do DoorDash or UberEats or Amazon delivery services… and start thinking about it in three or four hour shifts, and not necessarily eight or 10 or 12 hour shifts, it just provides a great deal of flexibility,” he said.

Campbell said the resorts and the company are learning to adapt to the changing workforce. He hopes to attract others who are passionate about the sport and appreciate the benefits of working outside.

Snow Trails, which is the only independently owned ski resort in Ohio, told News 5 it started its recruiting efforts early. Management there said they are not experiencing a labor shortage. Level 3 snow emergencies during the winter storm forced the resort to limit its hours, but it plans to reopen on a regular schedule over the weekend.

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