Plans will impact all of Vail’s North American resorts, including Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar.
by Jason Hidalgo, Reno Gazette-Journal, March 15, 2022
Vail Resorts — owner of Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar California ski resorts — announced Monday it was raising its minimum wage and building affordable housing for its workers.
Starting in the 2022-23 winter season, the company’s minimum wage will be $20 an hour, a 30% increase on average for hourly employees, according to CEO Kirsten Lynch. Vail’s pay increase will apply to all employees at its North American resorts, including at Lake Tahoe.
The wage hike is part of an incremental annual $175 million investment that Vail will be making in its employees. Lynch, who recently marked her first 100 days as CEO, told employees that a great employee experience is key to delivering a great customer experience.
“Unfortunately, we have fallen short on that,” Lynch said in a company email. “Addressing this requires a pivotal shift in our company’s direction with a new strategic focus on all of you — year-round and seasonal, hourly and salaried, mountain resorts and corporate.”
In addition to a $20 per hour minimum for workers, including tipped employees, Vail is raising the minimum wage for its patrol, maintenance technicians and certified commercial vehicle drivers to $21 per hour.
Salaried employees will also see a hike in merit pay increases from 3% to 6% starting this October.
Vail also plans to expand its affordable housing program for workers, according to Lynch. Affordable housing is a longtime issue for people who work at resort towns, with the typical wage unable to afford the high cost of housing in places such as Lake Tahoe or Truckee, California.
Housing affordability has only become worse in many cities since the pandemic. Reno, which was already struggling with the impact of growth before COVID-19, has seen record rents as well as median home prices surging past $600,000 as its housing supply fails to keep up with demand.
Vail currently provides about 7,000 affordable housing beds at lower rental rates to employees across all its resorts. The company plans to expand its available affordable housing through a mix of new construction and partnerships with existing developments.
“We plan to aggressively pursue building new affordable housing on the land we own, and pursue company leases in existing affordable housing developments, so we can make housing more accessible and affordable for our employees,” Lynch said.
New construction will likely be challenging given strict regulations in resort cities as well as pushback from residents. Lynch admitted that building new affordable housing at its resorts “is not easy to do.”
“It requires mountain communities to be fully committed to affordable housing, and the approvals needed to allow us to build on the land we own,” Lynch said. “While we understand that some of our mountain communities have concerns about new developments, we believe it’s time for us, and our communities, to make affordable housing a top priority and accelerate the processes to ensure we collectively make progress.”
Other perks announced by Vail include:
- A new development program for employees who want to build a career within the company. This gives people who start at positions such as lift operator a path to management position.
- A $4 million extra investment in human resources, including a nearly 50% increase in staffing with 66 more people.
- A 40% discount at Vail retail stores including brands such as Patagonia, Burton, The North Face, Helly Hansen, Salomon and Smartwool.
- Flexible remote work for employees at its Broomfield, Colorado corporate office.
The new plans were also discussed during a quarterly earnings call that saw tough questions directed to the company, including about its share price. Vail plans to hold town meetings with employees later this month and in April to discuss the announcements.
Employee retention has become especially important since the pandemic as companies compete for workers. One of the effects of the pandemic is an increase in resignations and early retirements, a phenomenon known as The Great Resignation.
The new announcements are just the first step in addressing employee concerns, according to Lynch.
“Does this solve every concern and piece of feedback you have shared over the past 100 days? No,” Lynch said. “But I hope they demonstrate our commitment to continued improvements and progress.”