Berta: Finding a balance for Vail Valley’s workers
In a place like the Vail Valley — run at all corners by the hospitality industry — everything around screams the Colorado call of rustic wonder and outdoor adventure.
That wonder and adventure exists all around, and locals know where to find it at its best.
Between expeditions, a vast majority of the young workforce finds themselves behind the operations that keep the small-town ski resort life alive; the front desks, the barrooms, the front doors, kitchens, checkout counters, and back offices. They’re doing the service jobs that support business tending to the visitors that drive our economy.
During a heavy white winter or a lush wildflower-flooded summer, as 2019 has been, there is little most locals do aside from work for a living and plan to fill the times we’re free to be outside.
Every time of year there is a lot to do and a lot to be done in the Rocky Mountains. The small town wrapped in an outdoor junkie’s wish list atmosphere in the valley provides a constant flow of “to-do.” There’s always an excuse for us to get outside.
Shoulder seasons bring downtime travelers and offer a break of sorts for businesses. It rejuvenates our workforce for the next wave of visitors. During these slow periods in late spring and fall the gaps for non-full-time workers show, and the old group of short-term help swaps out for the new crew that will take its place. The valley refreshes itself with this cycle a few times a year. Meanwhile, the full-time residents make use of their time occupying the highest priority of positions.
In a world-renowned location, establishments pride themselves on rising to the occasion and supplying renown-worthy products. With a willing workforce, the offerings at resorts such as Beaver Creek and Vail deliver the goods. The problems, few there may be, arise in those off periods between our peak seasons that present the service industry jobs with a lack of work. This often requires employers to blend jobs together to fill gaps and keep businesses afloat. The reward for dedication and reliability from the existing workforce is experience, usually buttered with the potential of promotion.
Those who aren’t living and working here year-round are coming from across the country or across the world to lend a hand, build resumes and then leave. During this time they occupy the overwhelming majority of employee housing offered. Year-round employees are more or less on their own in the housing department.
Luckily for some, the family atmosphere between locals helps lead those who stick around to the right places to live. As helpful as friends and connections may be, the reality is that options are slim. This paints many service industry adults into a corner. More often than not rates for rent against a low hourly income leave limited opportunities for individuals to build savings.
If housing in Colorado wasn’t the issue that it is, we could say the same for most of our everyday problems, but the truth is to work here and live here you need to play the game.
The result of limited options for affordable housing and local businesses always in need of reliable year-round employees is that barriers rise for employers and employees alike. Coming from Matthew Tarr, Executive Chef of the Chophouse at Beaver Creek, the problem of quality temporary workers and lacking local professionals fosters a “rough riding up and down atmosphere,” in the restaurant industry that leaves staff lacking and operations struggling to keep hold of their service standard.
Staff numbers are low across the board, and with low wages being the same, housing is the hurdle every prospect of the industry must surpass to even play ball. It’s no wonder why outside labor and low wages are the norm.
The valley life remains competitive inside and outside of our businesses. Positions open and fill at all times and the quality housing available goes fast to the proactive and dedicated searchers.
Us locals call it home, visitors call it a place to escape. The Vail Valley embodies the traveling soul’s home away from home, but the limitations that exist make it a working person’s stepping stone.
With a recent growing awareness among locals in regard to the difficulties we face comes a recognition of the problem and a reaction to make change. While we wait for more options and landlords that don’t charge the absolute top dollar possible, opportunities remain restricted yet available for the hardworking people that strive to call Vail home.
The gift of being where we are, a place kids and adults alike dream of while in the grip of their worst days, is silver lining enough to stay happy. A healthy environment and a healthy, sustainable life are what we’re working for. A shift toward comfortable work and home-life relationships would be a shift in the right direction.
With more time, mindfulness and effort our valley can continue to grow toward the reality of sustainability and balance inside industry and at home.
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