Foreign visitors out of work, out of luck in Vail Valley |

Foreign visitors out of work, out of luck in Vail Valley

Dustin Racioppi
Vail Valley, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Andres Varela and his group of friends spend each day walking up and down Route 6 and throughout the Vail Valley stopping into local businesses filling out job applications.

It’s the opposite of what the Chilean college students thought their summer vacation ” and first trip to America ” would be like.

That’s because the jobs they were offered in October at Specialty Sports Venture in Beaver Creek weren’t available anymore. They didn’t know this until last week, days after arriving in Denver, sleeping in a rental car and spending at least $3,500 each on plane tickets and J-1 visas.

The group of four, sponsored by the International YMCA to come here, received employment offers and letters from Specialty Sports’ manager Michael Beckley confirming their hours and wages to work at the Beaver Creek store. As far as the group was concerned, they were all set.

“You come here to learn, to travel, learn better English and (get) the job benefits, which is a ski pass,” Varela said.

When they arrived, they said a manager, Travis Cabrera, told them the jobs they were offered just two months ago were no longer available because of the economy.

“Basically he said he was a business man and he had to take care of business. His business right now is in the best interest of the company and due to the economic times, he didn’t need more people in the store,” Varela said.

Cabrera didn’t return a message left on his work phone.

“Why couldn’t he warn us? Because then we wouldn’t have come,” said Cristobal Maack, who was offered a part-time job at the shop.

According to Specialty Sports Chief Operating Officer Kat Jobanputra, Cabrera sent out a general e-mail to all potential employees at the end of November warning them of America’s volatile economy. He said the letter stated bookings and travel in the area was down and it implied that hours previously agreed upon could be reduced, or even entire positions unavailable.

“He spoke about getting fewer hours of work, but it was a remote possibility to not have a job,” Varela said of the e-mail. He added he spoke with Beckley over the phone shortly after. “He said, ‘Well, guys, come up. Don’t worry, we’re waiting for you. Everything’s OK.'”

Obviously, Jobanputra said, the correspondence wasn’t clear enough.

“There’s definitely some things that need to be communicated better,” he said. “That’s why I want to resolve this, because we want to be good partners.”

Since learning of the group’s situation, Jobanputra said he’s tried to contact the YMCA, but with no luck, and will be talking to the group soon to try and figure out what went wrong. It’s the first time he’s ever experienced this type of situation, he said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” he said. “I want to try and work with these four people and see what we can work out for them.”

But the foursome aren’t the only ones here on an empty agreement. They’re staying with Mario Ricci, also of Chile, who has money invested in a three-month lease in Avon, but no job, which he said he had an agreement for.

And there could be more out there. Local businesses have seen a flood of applications in the last two weeks, and mostly from what owners and managers describe as South American or Latino-looking people.

“We’ve had quite a lot of people coming in, more so than ever before,” said Nicole Magistro, co-owner of The Bookworm of Edwards. “One young man was in here looking for a job, he said he knows there’s maybe 200 others looking for a job.”

At Restaurant Avondale, people are being turned away because there are no positions available and the restaurant’s been receiving up to 50 applications a day.

“There’s a lot of what you call J-1 visa (students) coming in,” employee Cecille Nguyen said. “It’s just really tough. We feel for them but we just don’t have the positions open.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all unemployed visitors here came with an understanding they’d have a job, and then denied it.

A local human resources representative, who wanted to stay anonymous because the agency doesn’t have any work available either, said a lot of students take a risk by contracting an independent agency to supply their visa and accommodations, but never have a guaranteed job. The most common agencies, the representative said, are CCUSA, CIEE and Work USE.

And Vail Resorts, of which Specialty Sports is a part, does its own recruiting for students to come and work in the valley.

Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said about 300 people have been offered jobs at all of Vail Resorts’ five locations, and they are either working now or are on their way here to begin work.

The hiring process at Specialty Sports, she said, is separate from the resort’s, though Vail Resorts is concerned about the situation Varela and his friends are in. She said human resource representatives from both companies have met to discuss what happened.

“There seems to be miscommunication going on,” Ladyga said. “We all want to make sure that we find a positive outcome.”

Time is running out for Varela and his friends, though. They are running low on money and still haven’t found a job, though they’ve searched in Breckenridge, Denver and other places. He said if they can’t find work by New Year’s, they’re flying back to Chile.

Jobanputra said he’d rather come to a resolution with the group than send them back to Chile with a bad taste for America in their mouths.

“We’re going to reach out to these guys anyway,” he said. “If there are commitments we need to take care of, we’re going to take care of it.”

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or

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