For many, no snow means no work
and Adam Jensen
Ski resort employees are not eyeing the weather forecast just to see when they’ll be able to take to the slopes for the season’s first ski runs.
In the Sierra, winter recreation depends on snow. So a heavy snowstorm also represents a paycheck to the region’s lift operators, ski patrollers and ski-school instructors.
“It’d be nice to be working right now,” said Warren Hepworth, a 21-year-old university graduate from Melbourne, Australia, who arrived in Tahoe last week to live the life of a Squaw Valley lift operator for the season.
Hepworth said restless frustration hangs in the air, especially at Squaw’s employee hostel.
“They’re all getting quite frustrated (at the hostel) and running amok,” he said.
Several of the hostel’s current residents said they’re strapped for cash and are picking up some extra dollars by playing music in grocery store parking lots.
“All you can do is play music in the streets,” said Matthew Nicholls from Yuba City, who is staying at the hostel. “We’re living on tips from playing drums.”
At the South Shore, Stateline resident Alex Liautaud also is biding his time since he was hired to work as a snow reporter for Sierra-at-Tahoe.
“I saved up some money, so, you know, I’m just trying not to spend it, just hanging in there, waiting to start working,” Liautaud said. “I’ll probably bar tend part time also, but it’s the same thing – no one’s hiring until the snow falls.”
The leanest times appear to be almost over for Liautaud, who expects to start orientation at the resort Friday.
Heavenly Mountain Resort employs about 1,500 people at the height of the winter season. About 1,100 currently are on the payroll, said Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro.
Resort managers have been working to spread available shifts around, as well as hosting inexpensive dinners for would-be full-time employees in search of a cheap meal.
While Kirkwood Mountain Resort’s Daniel Pistoresi did not have data on how many people currently are working on the mountain, the resort, like Heavenly, has been able to get some of the 800 employees expected to work at the resort this season to work because of snowmaking efforts.
“We’re extremely fortunate in that we’re actually open seven days a week already,” Pistoresi said.
Sierra-at-Tahoe employs up to 680 people at the peak of a big year, but the resort, which has yet to open, currently is staffed at about 45, according to Sierra spokeswoman Kirstin Cattell.
All the South Shore resorts draw heavily from South Lake Tahoe for workers.
“I would say 99 percent of our employees live at the South Shore,” Cattell said.
At Squaw Valley, a third of the resort’s 600 new hires have yet to receive full-time schedules, said resort spokeswoman Savannah Cowley. But that’s typical for the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when hopes often outstrip early-season snowfall.
“It’s a notoriously slow season in the ski industry,” Cowley said.
Squaw Valley is not charging its employees staying at the hostel any lodging fees, Cowley said.
Ski resorts aren’t the only businesses where the size of the staff is dependent on snowfall.
South Shore businesses often look to get seasonal employees on board before the typically busy Thanksgiving holiday, but this eagerness is tempered with caution during slow starts, with local businesses not wanting to hire too many too soon.
“When you’ve got a job applicant that is definitely good, you want to get them in and retain them for the season,” said Ted Moorhead, manager of Rainbow Mountain.
The ski and snowboard shop has about 10 employees who have been working part-time shifts in anticipation of full-time hours once the snow hits.
“A lot of them are understanding because they’re familiar with the town,” Moorhead said. “There’s not much employers can do until the snow falls. It’s the lifeblood of this town; it’s what the town survives on.”
– The Sierra Sun’s Seth Lightcap contributed to this article.