A resort runs on parking attendants, janitors, lift operators, ticket checkers, food-service workers, clerks, groomers, and other entry-level staff. They are people who need to be friendly with guests and perform efficiently every day. Their supervisors need flexibility with scheduling, and a willingness to survive at the lower end of the wage scale with no benefits other than a season pass.
The odds are higher every year that the ideal entry-level resort employee is a snowboarder. If management sends negative messages about snowboarding, how do you think these young people will feel about their jobs and loyalty to the company?
Of 75 lift attendants needed during the 1994¿95 season at Bear Mountain Ski Resort in Southern California, 41 were snowboarders (55 percent). On the same crew, 26 were skiers, eight didn’t ride or ski, and one person indulged in both.
Jodi Slade, Bear’s lift supervisor responsible for scheduling, says that finding enough qualified and enthusiastic workers for the lift department would be nearly impossible if snowboarding was prohibited or if the resort had a negative attitude toward snowboarders.
What does draw so many riders to Bear Mountain’s yearly job fair? Even the most sarcastic wouldn’t suggest the allure is pay and benefits for most resort wannabes. It’s the same motivation that drove more than a few of today’s top managers when they first entered the industry¿the magic lift ticket.
The difference between today and days gone by is that many ski bums are snowboarders, not skiers. The same spirit of independence and thrill-seeking is alive and well in a million young people who ride one board instead of two. Ask almost any resort supervisor, and they’ll tell you that snowboarders make up more and more of the front-line staff. Their numbers are increasing at an even faster rate than snowboarding among the general population.
At Snowmass Ski Area in Aspen, more than 40 percent of the 122 lift attendants are snowboarders, and Lift Operations Manager Nancy Sullivan says the number grows every year. “I have a hard enough time staffing as it is,” says Sullivan. “If I couldn’t hire snowboarders, I would have to draw on another pool of workers that don’t have the same passion for the sport.
“You need people who are excited about being out there talking to the guests, not a bunch of deadbeats.” Sullivan adds, “Guests have an expectation of being serviced by people who look and act like someone who knows how to use the mountain.”
In Vermont, Mount Snow Ski Resort’s Rental and Repair Supervisor Gary King says that too many resorts are missing out on great employees. “There are lots of young people who bring excitement to the resort and can really sell skiing or snowboarding. They walk the walk and talk the talk of Generation X. Snowboarding is an important element of today’s youth culture.”
Twenty five percent of Mount Snow’s rental staff ride snowboards as their primary way to enjoy the mountain. “We have to get beyond how these kids look,” says King, referring to the hair, dress, etc. popular among today’s youth. “It’s really no different than the reaction to styles of the 1960s by the parents of that generation. There is a valuable pool of enthusiastic workers among those kids. And they like snowboarding.”
Resorts that demonstrate sincere support for snowboarding do the same for their employees who are riders. Programs that are only superficial don’t build a feeling of goodwill that most human resource managers believe is a necessary element of strong employee relations. Executives and managers who only tolerate snowboarding as a necessary evil cannot build a loyal following among today’s workers.
In measuring the value of snowboarding to a resort, managers are wise to consider more than direct revenue and guest-service consequences. How the guys and gals in the trenches interpret a resort’s attitude toward snowboarding and “Generation X” will most certainly affect how tthose employees treat all guests.
Jack Turner is “Somebody”.