Coloradans flock to the slopes " for jobs |

Coloradans flock to the slopes " for jobs

Joanne Kelley
Rocky Mountain News

Arvana Jarrard and his colleague had to shut their Aspen, Colorado architecture firm last fall after a key client canceled plans to tear down a structure and replace it with a $25 million home.

But the 38-year-old architect made sure to line up another job first: working as a year-round lift mechanic for Aspen Skiing Co.

By necessity or by choice, local residents in Colorado resort towns are turning to ski areas in increasing numbers this season as a source of full-time employment or supplemental income. The reason: a badly weakened economy that’s taken its toll on everything from real estate to the retail sector.

“I jumped on the first thing that came along. It JUST pays the bills,” said Jarrard, who lives in downtown Aspen and hopes to keep his hand in architecture on the side. “Right now, I’m doing everything I can to stay here. I don’t know that I’d want to live or move back anywhere else.”

At Monarch Mountain near Salida, local residents often fill the seasonal jobs that become available each winter. But the economic fallout has made hiring at the ski area easier than ever.

“We were very fortunate this year ” unfortunately for the rest of the world ” that the hiring pool was very good,” said Monarch executive Greg Ralph.

The ski area didn’t have to find any foreign workers through a federal visa program as it has in past seasons. “There seems to be more and more availability of people looking for hours,” Ralph said.

For some, spending time on the mountain ” and the free ski pass that goes with the territory ” still provides the biggest incentive for seeking a ski area job.

Keith Darner, who lives about halfway between Salida and Buena Vista, has been teaching snowboarding part time this season at Monarch. The 44-year-old Nathrop resident also sells real estate and runs a mountain-biking business.

“I’m a ski bum, but I actually have two other real professions where I make a living,” Darner said. “You don’t make a lot of money as an instructor.”

Full-time ski school positions do offer some people a viable way to survive the winter.

After years of teaching on a commission basis at Winter Park, Todd Metz sought a supervisory role at the resort’s ski school this year. He wanted to take advantage of higher pay and benefits to offset a slowdown in his wife’s real estate business.

In the past, Metz was paid on commission for the classes he taught. He augmented his income by working in construction and real estate.

During a break in the action on the busy Friday before Presidents Day Weekend, Metz explained how his new role provides him with a steady salary even though he still gets to spend most days doing what he loves to do best.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘All I really know how to do is ski,’ ” said Metz, who grew up in Golden but moved to the Winter Park area almost three decades ago. “You gotta do what God gave you. I plan on being here until I die probably.”

Even those seeking a life-long “ski bum” experience have been working even harder than usual to make the lifestyle pan out this year.

Hank Kerwin, for instance, has been holding down four jobs this season. But even with only a few hours sleep each day, the Colorado native said he feels as if he’s working fewer hours than he was 10 years ago when he toiled as a chemical engineer in Colorado Springs.

Aside from operating chairlifts part time at Winter Park, Kerwin works as a bartender at Tabernash Tavern. He drives a taxi some nights ” all night long. On top of that, he and his brother still take clients fly fishing in the winter as part of their Mo Henry’s Trout Shop guiding business.

“Most resumes in the valley have an aspect of restaurant, construction and ski area,” the 42-year-old said. “When we moved to the valley, we actually lost the key that unlocks the door to get out. Our lives are what we do. We’re always doing what we do to have fun.”

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