UTAH (ABC4) – In August, local workers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming made headlines when it was revealed that they were being forced to live out of their cars or in tents due to the exorbitant housing costs in the resort town. Though this is an extreme scenario, increased cost of living is affecting Utah’s resort workers, too.
“We’ve seen a huge rise in the cost of living,” says Lee Moriarty, who has been a member of the Park City Ski Patrol since 2018. “Right now, our wages don’t really reflect being able to afford seasonal living within Park City. A lot of coworkers that used to live in Park City are having to commute from Salt Lake and Heber and other surrounding communities.”
Aside from the general increase in housing costs statewide, Park City specifically is having difficulties housing seasonal workers due to a lack of long-term options.
According to Lana Harris, a Park City-based realtor with Team Schlopy, this is because many buyers in the area are shopping for second homes and prefer to rent out their properties when they are away. Nightly rentals – as opposed to renting on a monthly or longer-term basis – tend to be more profitable for owners.
“Trying to get a workforce for the ski resorts has been increasingly more challenging with property values that have been increasing,” Harris says. “When buyers have been purchasing a property, a lot of their criteria is to have allowable nightly rentals. In our environment, nightly rentals tend to, in the winter season, have a higher ROI than long-term.”
This trend has accelerated over the last five years, Harris says, and she is now seeing less seasonal workers with the ability to live in the Park City area.
Moriarty is one of the lucky few that have been able to stay, but it wasn’t easy.
“I’ve managed to get one of the few remaining yearly leases in Park City now, but that search was really challenging,” she says. “As a fourth-year patroller, it’s a little daunting to think how much longer I’ll be able to find that housing as I continue my patrol career here.”
According to Harris, an average two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Park City costs somewhere between $900,000 and $1.2 million. The median rent rests somewhere near $1,900 per month.
While these prices are a stretch for many, they are especially difficult for resort workers, whose minimum wage is $15 per hour.
Moriarty says that ski patrollers are also afforded opportunities for performance-based raises, but the amount of compensation increase usually falls between 3 and 3.5%.
“That is less than the increased cost of living. It doesn’t match the inflation rate,” she says.
Park City ski patrollers are currently protesting their wages, and their union has been negotiating their contracts with Vail Resorts – the conglomerate that owns Park City Mountain Resort – for 14 months. The last step in the negotiation process is lobbying for a pay increase.
“We want wages that reflect the experience of our patrollers, that will relay into retention [of employees] and therefore safety and will also allow us to actually live and be a part of the communities that we work in,” Moriarty says. “We want to be valued as important members of the community in Park City.”
But increased cost of living isn’t just affecting Park City employees. Workers at the resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons are also struggling to pay for their expenses.
Slade Dahlen, who has taught ski and snowboard lessons at Brighton during the winters since 2017, says this is the first year he’s had to pick up a second job to make ends meet.
“I just can’t afford it,” he says. “If I have a light check come in, I don’t have enough left from the other checks to float me.”
Dahlen, like Moriarty, is fortunate to have secured a rental close to the resort, just a mile from the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. But he knows from helping colleagues that finding lodging in the area can be difficult.
The scarcity and cost of housing causes some resort workers to move further west, where rent tends to be less expensive. But according to Dahlen, it’s important in terms of both finances and convenience to live as close to the resort as possible.
“If I lived further away, I couldn’t justify the drive, the gas, all of that [to work at the resort],” he says. “I have some friends that live closer to West Valley, and most of those guys don’t work there more than a season. You’re adding on an extra half hour or 45 minutes to your drive in both directions, on top of whatever junk show the canyon is that day.”
And resorts don’t cover commute time or gas for workers, Dahlen says. Some days, it can take upwards of three hours to get up the canyon. If resort workers live far away, this excessive commute time eliminates the possibility of working a second job in the evenings.
“If I lived any further, I wouldn’t even entertain that idea,” Dahlen says of his decision to find secondary employment.
Whether its ski patrollers protesting for fair pay amidst the sky-high housing prices in Park City, or resort workers in the Cottonwood Canyons unable to justify a prohibitive commute, it’s unclear what will happen if resort staff have to find other work due to these financial hurdles.
“They bill it as you get a pass and you get to work in an awesome spot,” Dahlen says. “That’s definitely true, but I can’t pay my rent with a season pass and I can’t buy groceries with a beautiful view.”