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Spring exodus begins

Veronica Whitney

For example:

– Delfina Darquier, 29, a ski instructor from Argentina, and her husband, Ian Parham, 36, who is English, are leaving Colorado for Europe. They’ll spend a month there traveling before going back to Argentina, where the ski season starts in June in Las Lenas.

– Rickie Morris, 35, of Jamaica, who worked as a laundry attendant in Arrowhead, leaves May 9 for his hometown of Ocho Rios, where he lives with his wife, Sonia.

– Aussie Natasha Murray, 25, a ski instructor at Beaver Creek, leaves Thursday for New York City before heading back Down Under to Perisher Blue ski resort, where she teaches skiing.

– And Diana Lopez, 22, of Colombia, who worked as a busser at Spruce Saddle, has an open plane ticket and is still thinking where she’ll travel before heading back home to Bogota.

“It’s a race to see who gets home first – the kids from Michigan or the kids from Melbourne, Australia,” says Les Marsh, director for Human Resources for Vail and Beaver Creek.

Soon, most of Vail Resorts’ employees who live in the 1,300 employee housing spaces the company has in Eagle County will be checking out, Marsh says.

“Staff will reach the lowest in the next weeks, until June, when we start staffing for summer operations,” Marsh says.

In Eagle County this winter, about 4,500 seasonal employees worked for Vail Resorts, the largest employer in the Western Slope. Including both international and domestic workers, the ski and hospitality hired a combined total of 12,000 employees to work this winter at the company’s four resorts – Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge. About 6,200 of those worked in Eagle County. 1,700 became full-time, year-round employees.

To-do list

These days, Natasha Murray has been running last-minute errands, including getting her mail forwarded from her post office box in Avon to Australia and changing her address at the bank.

“What I hate the most is packing all the stuff in my apartment and put it in storage before going back to Australia,” says Murray, who has been a ski instructor in Beaver Creek for the past five seasons. “Then, I get home and I have to unpack my stuff there. And next fall I have to put it back in storage to come back here. So I do it four times a year.”

Murray is one of the 1,200 international employees Vail Resorts hired to work this winter; half of those worked at Beaver Creek or Vail.

“Although their visas expire by the end of May, the company employs them “til the end of the season – first week of April “til end of April,” Marsh says. “We apply the end-of-season ramp-down strategy, but most of the time it’s not a problem because workers are looking to leave.”

For the past years, Vail Resorts has been building its foreign employee program. For the 2000-01 winter season, the company hired about 1,600 international employees, compared to just 600 for the 1998-99 season.

For the 2001-02 winter season, Vail Resorts got 1,500 H2B visas, which were sponsored by the company. However, it only hired 1,060 foreigners with H2B visas, in addition to 100 foreigners with J1 visas, which are sponsored by other, international organizations.

“We didn’t have to hire so many foreigners because there was a tremendous market domestically after the Sept. 11 attacks and unemployment being high this year,” says Kelly Ladyga, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts.

Most of the domestic employees, Laydga says, came from Colorado, New York, Texas and California, Marsh added, although there were employees from every state in the union.

“At one point this winter, we had a lobby full of people and no jobs,” Marsh says. “We had so many qualified candidates across the resorts that we had the highest customer rating ever. That meant we picked and chose our employees.”

When unemployment rates raise, the quality and quantity of the available applicants raise, too, Marsh says. The aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also changed the pool of applicants last winter.

“People wanted to get out of the cities and change their lifestyles,” Marsh adds.

Also, with the layoffs in the travel industry, stewardesses, pilots and ticket agents out of jobs came to the valley to find work until people started traveling again.

“They were applying for jobs in the children’s ski school, in tickets and reservations,” Marsh says. “We had the highest turnout at the local job fair in six or more years.”

Summer staffing

For the summer, Vail Resorts will add to its year-round crew of between 300 and 400 people to handle catering, food and beverage, lift operations and maintenance, and mountain-bike operations, Marsh says.

“We have about 100 positions for foreigners across the four resorts to work at the golf course and in reservations,” Marsh says.

In June, the company will start the four-month-long process of getting H2B visas for next winter season. Vail Resorts pays for the H2B visas, which cost about $150 and are issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I can’t estimate yet how many visas we’ll be requesting. I will assume we’ll have the same domestic interest than this year,” Marsh says. “We’ve been so blessed in the rebound of the ski industry this winter.”

For their part, Murray, Darquier, Parham and Morris say they’re planning to come back next winter season.

“We had a great season,” Darquier said. “It started slow, but after Christmas it was always busy.”


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