Many entry-level workers at the ski resort powerhouse Vail Resorts will soon get big pay raises as their employer looks for ways to attract and retain help in a tough labor market.
"Ski towns, anywhere across the country, are very expensive," noted Jay Connors, a ski patroller at Vermont’s famous Stowe Mountain Resort.
Resorts can struggle to keep patrollers because their training means they’re in demand in medical fields. However, Connors just got some good news that has him more likely to want to stay in his current job.
"The fact I get a pay raise, I’m happy about it," Connors beamed.
Vail Resorts, which owns 37 properties in North America including Stowe and six others in New England, just announced a $20 minimum wage across the board — with higher pay levels for experience and for certain skilled positions like patrollers.
The raises for the entry-level workers will amount to $5 per hour at Stowe, Okemo, and Mount Snow in Vermont, and $7 per hour at Attitash, Crotched, Sunapee, and Wildcat in New Hampshire, according to Vail. Those figures represent 33% and 54% pay increases, the company said.
Entry-level patrollers and maintenance workers will start at $21 per hour, the resort group added.
"COVID changed the employment landscape," noted Adam White with Vail Resorts, who said his industry has had the same struggles as many others when it comes to finding and retaining talent in this tight labor market.
White emphasized the push will also bring more perks and benefits, an expansion of Vail’s HR department, new pathways from seasonal positions to careers, and in time, more employer-supported housing options for workers on land owned by the resorts.
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"Within New England, we have such a concentration of ski areas, that it’s very competitive," White said in an interview Thursday with NECN & NBC10 Boston.
Even some of those competitors are praising the move.
"I really admire what they’ve done," Bill Stritzler, the managing director of Smugglers’ Notch Resort, said of Vail Resorts.
Stritzler said Smuggs is also always looking at ways to strengthen its workforce.
"I think it raises the image of our industry," Stritzler said of what Vail has called its incremental $175-million annual investment in employees. "Although we focus a lot in our industry on our capital investments and our hardware, we know that day-to-day, the real guest experience is delivered by the employees."
Michael Harrington, Vermont’s labor commissioner, acknowledged some small businesses could receive the news of Vail’s large hourly pay increases with some anxiety — perhaps fearing they cannot compete with those wages.
"Not every employer is going to be able to offer the same thing," Harrington said in an interview with NECN & NBC10 Boston.
However, Harrington said other employers are looking at ways to attract workers, including by offering flexible scheduling, telework when possible, paid time off, and other incentives.
“I don’t think it’s always about the money," Harrington said, suggesting improvements to the overall worker experience can take many different forms.
Harrington encouraged employers and job-seekers to check out this Vermont Labor Department website, which he said currently has about 20,000 open jobs posted.
Harrington said state leaders are focusing on boosting affordable housing, child care, education, and broadband to make Vermont more attractive to transplants who’d consider relocating here and grow the workforce.
As for Vail Resorts, its changes take effect with the 2022-2023 ski and ride season, White said.