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Mountain News: Aspen Skiing agrees to same-sex benefits



ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. has decided to offer health insurance and ski passes to domestic partners of employees, regardless of the sex of the partners.

Jim Laing, the company’s vice president of human resources, said the decision was made without knowledge of a potential boycott of the gay community, which for the last 12 years has held a Gay Ski Week at Aspen.

“We would not be leveraged or held hostage in this regard,” he said. “We’re open to feedback, but we’re not going to be forced into any action.”

The newspaper spoke with John Bagwell, who identified himself as a gay man from New York City. Bagwell said he was prepared to visit another resort instead of Aspen, including Vail.

Vail Resorts began offering benefits to domestic partners regardless of sex in 2002. Intrawest, the third major ski area operator in Colorado, also offers domestic partner benefits.


Ski towns brace for lack of visas

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The nationwide cap on H-2B visas was reached in late July, leaving many ski areas out in the cold. This means many long-time seasonals from other countries won’t return to teach skiing, but also to work other ski area jobs.

Telluride, for example,   is losing 55 employees who had worked under the H-2B visa program. All but two were ski instructors.

Instead, says Dave Riley, the chief operating officer of the ski company, Telluride has already hired 45 employees from South America with student visas under the J1 program.

Vail Resorts had sought to bring 1,900 seasonal workers into the United States through the H-2B program for its five ski areas in Colorado and California. However, only a few visas were granted for early season employees, such as snowmakers. The company employs 15,000 people at peak season.

The Vail Daily notes that in 2007 Vail Resorts had sought to hire 2,200 employees under the H2B program, about a third of them ski instructors, but with nearly a thousand short-order cooks, lift operators, hotel clerks and housekeepers.

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, told the Telluride Watch that the loss of ski instructors hits ski areas hardest.

“Look who is not coming back… the long-term ski instructors who have a large clientele base, which is very lucrative for the instructor and the company.”

The ski industry sees itself being caught in the national debate about immigration reform.