NEDERLAND, Colo. — On Eldora’s snow-covered slopes, in the mountains west of Boulder, patrollers know what it takes to keep skiers and snowboarders safe. Now, they’re learning what it takes to unionize.
Eldora’s Ski Patrol team is the latest to join Colorado’s growing movement to give resort workers more say over their pay and working conditions.
“It is just really exciting to carve out our own tiny, little slice of the labor movement in America this year,” said Nick Lansing, an Eldora ski patroller helping lead the union efforts.
Over the last couple of years, the number of Colorado ski resort workers in a union has almost doubled. Seven resorts across the state — Aspen-Snowmass, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Loveland, Purgatory, Steamboat Springs and Telluride — are already unionized, mostly through the United Professional Ski Patrols of America union.
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As Eldora's patrollers push to join them, Lansing said he and his coworkers hope to dispel “ski bum” stereotypes holding them back.
“When people think of ski patrollers, they think of people who get to ski the powder first and are maybe avoiding a real career,” Lansing said. “But in reality, we are medical professionals who care a lot about our jobs.”
Lansing is a trained Emergency Medical Technician. "We have all sorts of avalanche control certifications. We have EMTs, paramedics, even doctors,” he said.
“Overall, we're responsible for the safety of the guests on the mountain in every way, shape and form,” Lansing said. That includes jobs like maintaining the slopes, mitigating avalanches and providing aid and medical care to skiers or snowboarders who get hurt on the mountain.
“If anything goes wrong when you're out on a ski trip, we're the ones who take care of that, have your back and get you down the mountain as safely as possible,” he said.
But ski patrollers aren’t getting compensated enough to stick around from season to season in mountain areas where the cost of living is rising, Lansing said. He sees that as a safety concern.
Even with medical training and mountain safety certifications, “it's just not plug and play” when you work on a different mountain, he said. “That institutional knowledge, and those years of experience, are just absolutely paramount towards keeping guests safe on the mountain.”
Lansing said Eldora’s ski patrollers hope to secure better pay, safer working conditions and more incentives to keep working at the same resort over the years.
“It's just so important that we're getting compensated fairly for our skilled labor,” he said.
Eldora’s ski patrollers started their union push ahead of this ski season. But Lansing said the process has been slow. The National Labor Review Board is currently deciding when to schedule their union election date. If Eldora’s ski patrollers win the union vote, they would start contract negotiations with their corporate owner, Powdr, which also owns the ski resort at Copper Mountain.
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So far, Lansing said “there certainly has been resistance at the corporate level, and it has been challenging and frustrating to navigate.”
An Eldora spokesperson told Denver7 the company doesn’t “believe a union would benefit” its employees or guests. But safety is Eldora's “top priority” and the resort is "committed to treating all of its employees with respect and dignity and to providing them with excellent benefits, optimum working conditions, and competitive wages.”
While Eldora’s ski patrol team is concerned about staff turnover — Lansing said roughly 75% of the resort’s full-time patrollers have been working there for less than three years — the resort’s spokesperson said, “turnover is quite low.”
At Eldora this season, 85% of patrollers are returning after working there at least once before, the spokesperson said. The company also said their pay is competitive – at $19 per hour for new hires, “with a bump to $20.50 within about four weeks upon completion of paid pre-season training.” Patrollers also get pay increases based on their certifications and experience.
But Lansing said ski patrollers are seeking more than just traditional compensation. They want incentives to stay from year to year, increased safety measures and improvements to the facilities where they work. They are also asking for changes to their overtime threshold, which currently kicks in after 56 hours of work. Lansing said the overtime issue is a big one because of "the wear and tear that this job takes on the body.”
As Eldora’s ski patrollers wait for a chance to vote on their union, Lansing said the months-long legal process hasn’t discouraged them.
“It really blows you away how powerful your voices can be collectively versus when you're left to advocate on your own behalf,” he said.