A picture from a recent dinner at Aspen, probably. Photo: Courtesy of Kheel Center Archives.
Winter is coming, right?
While the US hasn’t experiencing any drastic changes in average snowfall (yet —we’re actually on average for snowfall), warmer temperatures across the country are keeping snow from sticking and lifts from opening. Everywhere—from the Rockies to the Wasatch—folks are keeping their fingers crossed and sticks waxed hoping that sooner rather than later, it’ll start to feel like winter. Until then, no snow means no business for ski towns across the country.
For seasonal workers who are employed by resorts for the season, a slow start is much more detrimental than just missing out on a few turns. A slow start means no work. And no work means no paycheck. And no paycheck in an overpriced mountain town means…well, you get it.
But despite the challenges that weather is presenting to hills across the west, Aspen Skiing Company is making good out of the bad business by feeding employees who are missing out on wages.
SkiCo has set up rotating soup kitchens at Bumps Restaurant on Buttermilk mountain and the Treehouse at Snowmass. Employees are being served dinner (with several courses and entrée options…not just bulk servings of spaghetti) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week until hours pick up and the snow packs in. Currently, there are between 100 to 160 employees being served during the meal times.
"It's important to take care of people out there on the front lines and representing the company," Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications at Aspen Skiing Company, said in a report from The Aspen Times. "As long as we can't get those guys fully employed, we'll keep feeding them."
The act doesn’t go unappreciated, especially with the weather giving employees a different kind of seasonal depression.
“Right now I’m checking the forecast all the time and the snow chances just keep disappearing,” Seth Rejda, guest services specialist, says. Rejda moved to Aspen last month from Florida, and is still training for this year’s season. “We don’t have anything to do so coming together at dinner and having good food and enjoying the culture with my coworkers is nice. Everyone has the same demeanor—we’re all happy to be here. We’re just anxious for the snow.”
And when Rejda says “coworkers,” he means all of Aspen SkiCo.
“A lot of the execs come to dinner—and they’re in the mix, cleaning up and taking plates and sitting down and talking to everyone," Rejda says. "That’s cool to see and it shows that they really live up to their reputation on how they treat their employees.”
That reputation comes from years of SkiCo putting their money where their employee’s mouths are. Former SkiCo CEO Bob Maynard hosted employee dinners in the early 1990s when snow didn’t show up. In 2002, more than 1,200 meals were served over the course of 18 nights, according to archives from The Aspen Times. Employee dinners were hosted last year as well, when the season got off to a similarly sluggish start.
SkiCo’s dedication to serving meals to dozens of lift operators, ski instructors, ticket/guest service specialists that are hard pressed for work is somewhat of a tradition at this point. But the company is also taking other measures to continue to support the folks who keep the mountain running by working towards keeping roofs over their heads as well as food in their stomachs.
Housing shortages in the Aspen Valley (and most other mountain towns, for that matter) are nothing short of critical, and in 2016 SkiCo announced a unique solution to create more housing in the valley for seasonal workers: tiny homes. To date, there are now 34 tiny homes serving as seasonal homes for more than 100 SkiCo employees.
And even though business is slow and the snow hasn’t shown up, opportunities like housing and free meals are giving mountain town employees something to be thankful for. As Rejda states, “I definitely love it here… Everyone has the same demeanor. We’re anxious for the snow to come but living here still feels like a privilege.”
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