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Aspen Skiing Co. won’t cut workers – or their pay

ASPEN, Colorado – The Aspen Skiing Co. will fill the same number of positions next winter as the prior ski season and avoid pay cuts despite the recession.

Jim Laing, Skico vice president of human resources, said the company is sticking to a business plan of maintaining its historic levels of staffing. It will focus on hiring more full-time employees, which will reduce the actual number of people hired. However, the full-time equivalent positions themselves and hours will remain the same at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, Laing said.

The Skico has about 3,500 positions at peak season at its mountain operations and hotels.



Laing said the focus on full-time positions is being driven by two factors. First, many applicants want full-time jobs. During past periods of worker shortages, the Skico was forced to hire more part-time workers and patch them together to fill positions.

Second, hiring fewer people to work full time still saves the company in benefits and perks, like health insurance and ski passes.



Skico hourly wages will be flat in 2009-10, but there will be no cuts. Numerous employers in the Roaring Fork Valley – from newspapers to construction firms and architects – have reduced pay from 4 to 10 percent.

The Skico also declined to force employees to cover increases in health insurance premiums.

“These are big statements in that they involve big dollars,” said Laing.



He credited the Skico’s status as a privately held company and its ownership by the Crown family specifically as the reasons for its approach on employment issues. The Crowns take a long-view approach that hinges on maintaining top-notch customer service, he said.

“It’s about who we are as a company and a community,” Laing said.

Many publicly-held companies in the hospitality business in general and the ski industry have reduced payroll because it is one of their few variable costs. The Skico isn’t in the position of having to make “knee-jerk reactions” to appease shareholders, Laing said.

The Skico’s full employment at full pay scenario is bound to give the local economy a boost this winter since it is the Roaring Fork Valley’s largest private sector employer.

“We expect we’re going to be overwhelmed with applications. We’re already starting to see it,” Laing said. There are more applicants than usual from within the valley, reflecting the struggling economy. Laing said the Skico will respond to the need for jobs by hiring more people from within the valley.

The company will not simply hire the first 1,000 people through the door. It will still seek the most highly-qualified candidates. The company will also continue to hire foreign workers, but at a drastically-reduced number. There is a demand for ski instructors and other resort employees who speak foreign languages. Roughly 20 percent of the Skico’s business comes from overseas markets.

Laing said the company intends to apply for less than 200 H-2B visas this year. Those temporary work permits are issued to an employer, which then lines up workers to fill the positions.

The Skico used the temporary work permits to fill about 200 positions last year and 400 the prior winter. “We feel we can satisfy [most of] our demand domestically,” Laing said.

The Skico is also using various channels to try to spread word that it will hire foreign workers only through agencies. Numerous foreign workers on student visas came to Aspen on their own last winter and were disappointed when they couldn’t find work.

With all the domestic applicants, the Skico plans to hold a job fair earlier than usual this season, at a time to be determined in August, so it can talk to college-aged adults. That will help line up workers for peak season. A second job fair will be held later in the season, likely in October.

Laing said he still anticipates that the Skico will fill all vacancies in its employee housing this season. It now has about 600 beds throughout the valley.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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