Ski areas recruit workers abroad
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Michael Kiefer
Bruno Barcellona spends his days working on his English language skills as he fits tourists with boots and skis at Deer Valley Resort, an upscale Utah ski area.

The exuberant 20-year-old engineering student is on his summer break from a university in Argentina.

A mile down the road at Park City Mountain Resort, Paula Infante, 22, sells lift tickets, greeting the skiers with her charming Chilean accent. She also studies engineering, but at a university in Valparaíso, Chile.

Twenty years ago, Rocky Mountain ski resorts recruited heavily in the Midwest, reasoning that young people from Minnesota and Iowa were more polite than New Yorkers and more likely to show up for work than Californians.

Now they have to go much farther to find enough well-groomed and well-mannered young people to greet guests and to staff the restaurants and rental shops: the Southern Hemisphere.

"There has been a trend over the years to employ seasonal workers from elsewhere in the world," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. "In the east it's South Africa. We've traditionally seen a bunch of people come up seasonally from Australia and New Zealand."

They come on student visas or on visas for seasonal or skilled workers.

Vail Resorts employs 1,200 to 1,300 Australians and New Zealanders, many of them ski and snowboard instructors at its four ski areas on Colorado's Front Range.

"That's down at least 300 to 400 from past years," said Kelly Ladyga, a Vail spokeswoman.

Aspen/Snowmass has 300 to 400 international employees at its four mountains in Colorado, Aussies more than South Americans.

And Deer Valley and Park City have more than 400, recruited mostly from Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. And that's not to mention the South Americans working the other hotels and restaurants in town.

"The resorts tend to be in rural parts of the world," Berry said. "And as the resorts have gotten larger, the population base isn't there to supply a regular and steady flow of workers. So the industry looks elsewhere.

"First they look for the kids who are looking to take a year off from college here in the states, but that's dwindled," Berry said. "People are not as interested in taking a year off before they get on with their professions."

Chris Lampe is human resources manager at Park City Mountain Resort.

"I wouldn't want to degrade the U.S. workers, because they're phenomenal," he said. "We have to go farther to find enough of those people."

The problem is that the resorts don't fill their jobs with just anybodies. They want elegant bodies with sophisticated social skills.

"We're trying to perform this five-star service level and the employable in the U.S. that are out of work just don't really fit that standard," said Rich Jensen, recruiting manager at Deer Valley. "Not that you don't get any good U.S. applicants, but you get a lot of really quality kids from out of the country."

Jim Laing, vice president of human resources at Aspen Skiing Co., agreed.

"We have very specific standards regarding grooming, appearance, presentation, interaction with the guests," he said. "The guests do expect a certain experience and have come to expect that experience because of our promises, and we definitely want to deliver on that."

Then, he said, he has to convince the U.S. government that he can't find those workers here and has to look elsewhere.

Of course, where there's a need, there are businesses springing up to meet it, including companies that take resort recruiters on free junkets to student job fairs from Sydney to Santiago.

Maria Fagersten, winter programs coordinator for CCUSA, a student recruiting firm, said her company represents about 90 ski areas, setting up interviews and arranging visas for Southern Hemisphere university students who want to work abroad during their December-March summer breaks. Her firm is based in Sausalito, Calif.

"The participants are all educated, they have work experience, they all have legal paperwork to work," Fagersten said, "whereas all of our immigrant population here may not be legal or educated."

Barcellona had about 25 ski resorts and casinos to choose from. Infante chose Park City over Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Copper Mountain and Steamboat Springs in Colorado "because of the benefits (a ski pass she hasn't had time to use yet) and also because of the Sundance (Film) Festival." Both ski during their own winter at Portillo, Chile.

Resort spokesmen say the foreigners rate well with their clientele, including increasing ski visitors from Latin America.

Laing noted that more than 20 percent of Aspen/Snowmass visitors are from other countries.

"Our workforce really is reflective of our guest population," he said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8994.