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Winter has belatedly arrived at Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border, with roughly six feet of glorious snow, and ski resorts have finally opened after a very dry November. But this year, a warming climate isn’t the only challenge resorts will face. At California’s Sugar Bowl, a workforce shortage is creating problems.
On December 12, season pass-holders received an email with the subject line “This Winter: Operations Update.” In it, they found a letter from Sugar Bowl CEO and president Greg Dallas breaking the news that the resort was cutting back on some guest services over the holidays because it simply doesn’t have enough staff.
“Despite our best efforts, including dramatic wage increases, hiring bonuses, referral bonuses and a host of other measures, we fell short of our staffing goals to run the entire operation for the Christmas holiday period by about 17 percent,” the letter read.
Among other measures, Sugar Bowl will suspend equipment rentals, pare down food and beverage services, and close the Summit chairlift. The email did not provide specific dates for the limited operations.
Dallas pointed to a few factors behind the staffing shortage, notably a lack of affordable housing in and around the nearby town of Truckee. “We have a pretty sizable employee housing bed base, and it’s all full,” he told Outside in a phone interview. “If we had more housing, we could hire more people, but there’s nowhere to rent.”
This fall, Outside Online published a feature story explaining why mountain towns across the U.S. are headed into a full-blown housing crisis. The pandemic has pushed white-collar workers online, freeing many to relocate to rural areas, and real estate prices in ski towns have skyrocketed while inventory has plummeted. In Crested Butte, Colorado, the median list price for homes and rentals shot up 40 percent. With ski season finally here, Sugar Bowl’s plight provides a glimpse into how the housing dilemma will affect the resorts located near these mountain towns.
“The biggest impact for us is rentals and fine dining,” said Dallas. “Rentals is a great business segment and also is connected to tickets, so that was probably the hardest decision.”
According to both Dallas and Tara Zuardo, mountain housing council program director at the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF), the local housing crisis is nothing new. The pandemic accelerated the problem to the point of emergency.
“The issue is, there is such a mound to overcome—it existed before COVID and then it just grew,” Zuardo said. The foundation itself was impacted by the housing crunch, she said, and staffers who had lived in the Tahoe area for decades were forced to relocate.
The TTCF’s primary function is to identify the most pressing needs of the Truckee-Tahoe community and create solutions to address them. Zuardo works directly with employers, including Sugar Bowl, to come up with quick ideas for affordable employee housing. One remedy has been incentivizing second-home owners to rent their unused properties to seasonal workers by issuing them monetary credits and other benefits. As in many ski towns, the housing is available—it’s just not accessible.
“In Truckee alone, we have over 7,000 vacant homes,” said Zuardo. “In the North Tahoe-Truckee region, there’s something like 18,500, and that’s more than double what we need. How can we better access and incentivize the existing stock?”
Unless the tides change and more housing becomes accessible to lower-wage workers, service cutbacks like those at Sugar Bowl Resort could become the new norm in the ski industry.
Shiffrin Will Race in World Cup on Sunday
American skier Mikaela Shiffrin has backpedaled on her plan to skip this weekend’s Alpine Ski World Cup in Val d’Isere, France. After finishing second in the super-G at the World Cup race in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on December 12 Shiffrin told reporters that she would sit out the French World Cup in order to catch up on training.
But on Thursday, Shiffrin said she will race the super-G on Sunday, December 19.
“I was not at all planning on going to Val d’Isere but we decided just last night to give it a go in the Super G… so here goes somethin!’” Shiffrin wrote on Instagram.
The decision comes amid a challenging early season for Shiffrin, who has two victories in ten races so far. In October she missed an important training camp in Colorado due to back spasms, and since then she has been trying to race her way into top condition. Shiffrin, 26, is planning to six alpine events at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.
No Foiling This Boarder
A few weeks ago we showed you the clip of a hydrofoil board being destroyed by a rock-wielding person in San Francisco. The owner of the board—who was not the person smashing it in the video—has thankfully returned to the waves with a replacement.
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