Ski patrol union compromises with Vail Resorts, avoids strike
It’s unknown whether Northstar, Heavenly, and Kirkwood will receive the same incentive-based program
Many Vail Resorts ski patrollers, both in California and other western states, only make up to $15 per hour for beginner patrollers.
Ski patrollers’ main function on the mountain is to keep guests safe from injury or potential threats. Many patrollers deal with explosives and avalanches on a regular basis.
The work can be life threatening, as it was with Joseph Zuiches, a Palisades ski patroller who died in an explosion in 2017 while performing avalanche control duties.
A Park City ski patrol union — the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association — has been in ongoing negotiations with Vail Resorts and even voted in a secret ballot to approve a strike authorization, stating in an online post, “…we are proceeding with the due process required to strike should we fail to arrive at an acceptable agreement.”
The union on Jan. 13 reached an agreement with the company, and officially approved the deal by a majority vote the following day, avoiding a potential strike on behalf of Park City Resort ski patrollers.
Although there are now new ways for patrollers to add to their pay, the starting base wage for patrollers will remain at $15 per hour.
It has yet to be determined whether Northstar, Heavenly, and Kirkwood will receive the same incentive-based program.
This was the union’s 50th round of negotiating with the company. The meeting lasted over 15 hours.
According to the latest statement posted online by the union, Park City patrollers now have the opportunity to earn up to an average of $19 per hour for their program through a number of different incentives.
Spokesperson for Vail Resorts, Sara Roston, said that as a company, Vail has spent a considerable amount of time listening to patrollers across all of its resorts.
“We have committed to reviewing compensation for next season over the summer and patrol will be an important part of that work, including for our patrol at our three Tahoe resorts,“ Roston said.
“In this contract we secured wage incentives and tenure recognition that we strongly feel reflect the technical and hazardous nature of our job… while this may not be the resolution we envisioned originally, this is a huge step towards fair and livable wages.” the post states.
Park City Ski patroller and spokesperson for the union, Lee Mortiary, said the original goal was a raise of two dollars for rookie patrollers, three dollars for intermediate as well as advanced patrollers, and four dollars for top patrollers.
The union had also pushed to see more sick time for patrollers. Prior to the pandemic, they did not receive sick time until their third season, according to Moriarty.
The company was unwilling to move to a base wage, but preferred incentive pay as an approach to give the most qualified patrollers the better wage.
Patrollers can make additional wages by obtaining an EMT certification, becoming an avalanche route leader, becoming a trainer, and patrolling at different bases in Park City.
According to Moriarty, a livable wage in Park City, Utah, is around $25 per hour.
“We know whatever we are able to do sets the new standard within the industry, which is important because what we’re seeing is that the industry standard has fallen behind what is necessary to maintain a living wage in ski towns..” Moriarty said.
Mortiarty believes that one of the reasons Vail Resorts has been hesitant to go ahead with base wage increases is because it may become the standard for some other mountains who have the same needs.
“It’s not a perfect contract, but it’s a really important step in the right direction for getting livable wages in this career… three years from now a few other resorts will be renegotiating their contracts, and we hope to find some strength in numbers as we go forward,” Moriarty said.
Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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