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Visa crisis a good thing

Brent Schoen, West Vail

I would like to commend Ms. Wong for her coverage of the current foreign visa issue facing our valley and its ability to undermine the way businesses have come to function and flourish (“Lawmakers call for more visas”). I also would like to say to the federal government: hoo-raa! Since my federal stimulus check, this is the nicest thing “The Man” has ever done for me.

As a longtime local I have often struggled with the disparity between the cost of living and the wages available to me. When I first arrived in the valley, I applied for and got a job for Vail Associates, a lowly chairlift operator I became. That first season was a whirlwind and wow, I was hooked. I only skied and drank. Oh, to be 22 again. Point being, I was consistently broke and didn’t care. As the years have gone by, my lucidity has returned, yet still I find that the ability to “get ahead” in the valley remains an elusive objective. Thirteen years after arriving in the valley I no longer swing chairs, but I found out last winter that a liftie still makes very little more than minimum wage. Which brings me to how the valley has changed since I first arrived. For some reason, I remember lots of cowboy hats, Bavarian dress coats, neon, and tie-dyed T-shirts. It was an interesting mix of colorful locals and tourists as I remember, though most of the people I knew back then had been here since the ’60s. In fact, the oldest friends of mine were a chef and a plumber. Miss ya Benno! They had helped build this place into what it is now. And they had made money. Some lived up on Lion’s Ridge Loop, some lived in Eagle-Vail, but they all had been paid well for what they did. So they stayed in the valley and made this their home year-round.

Since then, the valley has been flooded with first Australians, then Venezuelans, and now Russians ,all here on visas for maybe a whole season. Why? Simple, the resort and other businesses in town pay crap! Most Americans get one taste of how tough it is to live here and vroom-vroom off they go. Yet a buy-out of Vail Resorts, as I can best guess, would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $33 billion. Huh? A company worth that kind of money can’t seem to keep employees? A nice roaster chicken at the grocery store costs $8, and a chair lift operator makes less than that an hour after taxes. Gee, what’s the answer?



As I remember the resort used to recruit at colleges and universities here in the states. I guess being able to restrict an employee’s employment options ” H2-B visa holders cannot switch jobs once here in the U.S. ” keeping them in employee housing, and treating them like “warm bodies” has really become a nice alternative to giving someone a leg up. The closed, back-door policy the valley has taken on is appalling. I say good job, Feds, on this one. The lack of employees and the money to be made here will force employers to yield.

I hope so anyway. I think what the long-term result here is that paternalism may be making a come back. Maybe this will force people to care for those who work for them again and keep them working. Someone who cares begets people who care, and bare-bones, that is what this valley was founded on. People. If we don’t live here, we don’t have a local character, which translates to dollars into our economy. People talk about how a resort town “feels” and right now our town feels like the valley of the cranes. We are all waiting for greatness again. In the meantime, how about letting the lifties eat cake?


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