Vail Valley businesses need lots of seasonal help: there are 1,600 job openings

Of the 1,611 job vacancies advertised on Thursday in Eagle County, 585 were with Vail Resorts. A major problem for employers finding employees is housing.
Special to the Daily

By the numbers

1,611: Eagle County job openings advertised on line as of Thursday, Dec. 13.

$839: Average weekly wage in Eagle County.

$1,075: Average weekly wage statewide.

3.2 percent: Colorado unemployment rate in October.

Source: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

EAGLE COUNTY — With the busy Christmas season looming, many local businesses still have “help wanted” signs out. At this point, though, there are more jobs than people to fill them.

According to data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, there were 1,611 job vacancies advertised in Eagle County on Thursday. As you might expect, a good portion of those vacancies — 585 — were with Vail Resorts. But some of the valley’s bigger lodges also appear on the list.

At the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, General Manager Mark Herron said that hotel is “not all the way” to filling its seasonal staffing. About 100 of those seasonal positions will be filled by immigrant workers — some on student work visas, others on general seasonal work visas.

The student work visas are sometimes only for a matter of weeks, so students can work over their school breaks.

Those visa workers “help a lot,” Herron said. But he added, the people on staff generally have to work more to help fill the gaps in staffing.

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At Vail’s Evergreen Lodge, General Manager Brian Butts said that lodge is also using student-immigrant workers — eight in all. The Evergreen has housing for that crew at a company-owned home in Vail.

‘It’s been a struggle’

“It’s been a struggle,” Butts said of seasonal hiring. “Over the past three years, it’s gotten progressively worse.”

Housing is one of the main complications, both in terms of cost and availability.

Housing is also one of the main problems the Colorado Department of Transportation faces in filling its seasonal snowplow crew. It’s a problem around the state, but worse in Eagle County.

Regional spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said there’s a statewide shortage of about 100 positions, many of which are plow driver jobs. Eagle County has right now a shortage of 17 drivers.

Trulove said the department has boosted its base pay from $19 to $22 per hour. The department is also reaching out to retired department employees who might want to pick up some seasonal work.

Despite the shortage of drivers, Trulove said the department is still able to keep plow crews on local highways by shifting drivers around the state.

Trulove said crews from as far away as Pueblo or Durango will come to this region for a week at a time, staying at local hotels while they’re here.

Trulove said the shortage of plow drivers is indicative of national trends, too.

“With a robust national economy … there’s a shortage in (commercial driver’s license holders) nationwide,” she said.

Wage inflation

Luring even service workers has started to require more of employers.

At the Avon Comfort Inn, General Manager Richard tenBraak said that property offers full health benefits to full-time employees. End-of-season bonuses are available, as are discount stays at other Comfort Inn-branded lodges.

Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce, said a number of employers are increasing wages.

“We’re seeing some wage inflation,” Romer said. “We hadn’t heard a lot about that in the past few seasons, but we’re hearing it a lot now. The fact that businesses recognize they have to pay more, on top of low margins … it’s an increasing concern for front-line employers.”

The worker shortage isn’t just in service businesses.

R&H Mechanical, an Eagle-based plumbing and heating business, is also looking for help.

Tim Braun, of R&H, said that business has right now a need for between five and 10 technicians.

In an email, Braun said the company has built an apprenticeship program, and is “also working with other career development providers in our regionally to hopefully implement a mechanical contracting program, locally or in-house.”

While the valley has more jobs than people to fill them, not all businesses are struggling.

At Base Mountain Sports, Talyor Corey said that business is only about one person short on the retail floor.

Overall, though, the worker shortage comes down to housing, in large part.

“Everybody’s working to address the problem,” Butts said. “Every town is trying to address it.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

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