Ski areas hiring for season |

Ski areas hiring for season

Soon that day will come when thousands of starry-eyed job applicants will turn into raccoon-eyed thrill seekers at Tahoe ski areas.

South Shore resorts kick off a season of job fairs this week — Kirkwood Mountain Resort on Thursday, Sierra-at-Tahoe on Friday and Heavenly Ski Resort on Sunday.

Heavenly has brought a twist to the upcoming winter — a new parent company that has pledged $40 million in improvements over the next five years and has even given some seasonal employees reason to return.

It’s Vail Resort’s first winter to run Heavenly.

“What brought me back is that Vail took over,” said Geoff Smith, who works for Sport Specialty Ventures at the Heavenly Sports shop in the California Base Lodge.

The retail salesman came back a month ago for his second year, after abandoning the hectic bustle of running a skateboard and surf shop in Santa Monica.

He became familiar with Tahoe skiing when he visited family in Gardnerville.

“I decided to make the move last year. I like the smaller-town environment,” Smith said.

He’s not alone.

In his first year at Heavenly Sports, Ignacio Maldonado traded his career as a buyer for Whole Foods in Santa Rosa for small-town living that closely resembles his roots. Maldonado grew up at Mount Shasta.

“I wanted to live somewhere in the mountains and the trees,” he said.

These people represent a new foundation at Heavenly under Vail, which has focused on seasonal people with gregarious, courteous, customer service-oriented personalities this winter.

“I think there are plenty of opportunities for people who want to have fun, a free season pass and want to meet people,” said Les Marsh, Heavenly’s vice president of human resources. Marsh, an 18-year manager with Vail, came to Heavenly this summer.

Marsh said the biggest benefit employees can expect this year is a season pass that adds Vail’s resorts. Training will also become a perk priority for employees.

Positions start at $6.75 an hour at Heavenly — which peaks at about 1,600 employees. Heavenly plans to keep the same level of new hires this year.

“Whenever a new company comes in, the first question that comes up is ‘What about us?,'” Marsh said. Some employees have asked for salary increases, so over time, Vail plans to re-evaluate departments for payroll adjustments.

As for where to house its employees, Heavenly started an aggressive roommate referral service through its Web site.

There’s no talk of Heavenly’s offering perks to homeowners who rent to employees, Marsh said, as “we’re all landlords in this town.”

Marsh has gained much experience housing employees in Vail, where the issue plagued the Colorado resort town. He believes Tahoe’s volatile market is only catching up to other ski resort towns.

The housing rental market for Tahoe ski area employees has remained steady in comparison to last year, according to property manager Bobbie Cole.

Cole of Alpine Rentals advised employees to try to find housing as soon as possible because it fills up by November.

“It’s a Catch-22. Sometimes they can’t get a job without housing, but they also can’t get housing without a job,” Cole said.

Tahoe is a tough market, she admitted.

“Our housing is quite affordable (in comparison to Vail). Housing is higher than before, and that’s a problem. I try to keep my rentals affordable,” she said. This means tracking the salaries.

Sierra plans to add 10 percent more employees than last winter, spokeswoman Nicole Belt said. Sierra needs about half its 800 workers employed at peak season in areas ranging from ticket sales to lift operator. It will also staff up for a new hospitality tent and smokehouse at the West Bowl.

Sierra and its sister resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe, will again offer a rental rewards program in which it gives lift tickets to homeowners who rent rooms to its employees.

Groomer Doug Dreager, 28, returns for his fifth year as a terrain park builder, a job that represents a departure from his initial career goal — a cop.

“There’s less stress,” Dreager said. The career originally started out as a “job during the winter.”

Amy McCormick, who will return to the Kirkwood Ski Foundation, knows how the slopes can grab hold of skier. After five years, she’s setting aside her art major another year for the summers on Lake Tahoe Golf Course and winters on skis at Kirkwood.

“I think every year I say I’ll do something else, but I never do. I love it,” she said.

The Alpine County resort will hire about the same level of seasonal employees as last year, adding 500 more staffers to its 300 year-round workers.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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