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Vail Resorts Disavows Recruitment Email, Park City Ski Patrol Moves Toward Strike

Park City ski patrollers have threatened to strike against parent company Vail Resorts since summer 2020. Union members overwhelmingly voted to move toward a work stoppage after an email that Vail called ‘unauthorized’ recently leaked.

Ski patrol workers at Salt Lake City’s Park City Mountain Resort have negotiated for higher wages since their last contract expired in summer 2020. Now, increasing turbulence between their union and Vail Resorts indicates they may be closer to a strike than ever.

On Friday, Jan. 7, Vail announced it was preparing for a possible strike after contract negotiations failed yet again the previous night. Then, an email from a Park City ski patrol director leaked to Instagram. In it, the director (who remained anonymous) recruited replacement patrollers from sister resort Attitash, offering to pay $600 a day plus travel expenses.

 

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Vail Resorts Responds to Leaked Email

Pay for Attitash ski patrol workers starts at $13 an hour, or $104 for a full day. At Park City, patrollers start at $13.25.

Per the National Labor Relations Board, employers can legally hire replacement workers during strikes under certain conditions. However, they can’t threaten to replace workers before a strike begins, according to NLRB Section 7 & 8(a)(1).

Vail Resorts responded by denying that the company had authorized the email or pay structure. Director of Communications Quinn Kelsey issued a response in a statement submitted to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“No effort to reach out directly to patrollers to come to Park City was suggested, authorized, or initiated by Vail Resorts,” Kelsey said. “The compensation discussed in the email was also never discussed.” Kelsey did confirm, however, that the company is actively preparing for a union strike.

The union, called the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association (PCPSPA), has piled up $85,000 in crowdfunding toward its efforts since Christmas 2021. In the event of a strike, it will use the funds to support its members during the work stoppage.

“Given that the Park City patrol union is raising money to prepare for a potential work stoppage,” Kelsey said, “we believe it is our responsibility to also prepare by having internal conversations about how we can minimize any impact of a work stoppage to the resort and to the community.”

park city mountain resort crowd
Park City Mountain Resort, crowded in 2019; (photo/Layne V. Naylor)

Park City Ski Patrol Union Votes Decisively to Move Toward Strike

On Monday, the PCPSPA acknowledged the impact a patroller strike would exert on the resort. But ahead of another negotiation round scheduled for Monday night, a vote revealed overwhelming resolve to move toward a strike.

Via secret ballot, members voted 168-3 to “approve a strike authorization.”

“[A] strike has significant consequences reaching far beyond our membership to other mountain employees and the Park City community,” the union stated via Instagram. “A strike authorization does not mean that a walkout is inevitable; however, it does show that our membership is prepared to participate in a work stoppage if necessary.”

 

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Wage Negotiations Status and Outlook

Negotiations have stalled as ski patrollers lobby for a $17-per-hour base wage; Vail Resorts offers $15 per hour. Monday night’s bargaining session was the 50th between the two groups.

Currently, Vail Resorts pays ski patrollers the least of all its Park City employees, including lift operators and lodge staff. The PCPSPA cites the high risk and expert training inherent to the ski patrol trade as reasons for its request.

Patrollers, who also hold first responder certifications, manage hundreds of avalanche paths between Park City and the attached Canyon resort in addition to daily on-piste safety operations.

Ultimately, the union seeks both a $17-per-hour starting wage with a $1 annual pay increase over the first 3 years.

 

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Neither Vail Resorts nor the PCPSPA has announced the results of Monday’s negotiations. Also on Monday, Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch sent an internal email announcing all employees who stay through the end of the season will get a bonus amounting to $2 per hour above their base rate. In a footnote, the email said unionized employees would also receive the bonus if they agree to their contracts.

Vail Resorts stock has taken a nosedive amid the strike rumblings and well-documented guest experience issues.

While the stock market is up nearly 10% since October, prices for Vail’s stock (MTN) have guttered by 21%. Translation: It’s trailing the market overall by 31 percentage points. After hitting $372 a share in early November, MTN traded around $292 on Tuesday morning.

two ski patrollers climbing up a steep slope with their skis
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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.