When ski patrollers show up for work, they're usually handed a season pass, not a union card. But this winter, patrollers at two American Skiing Company resorts may be getting both. In December, the ski patrols at Steamboat and Heavenly will vote on whether to unionize.
Both unionization efforts stem from job-security fears, but in Steamboat's case, the vote comes largely as a reaction to the firing of one man: former patrol director and longtime Steamboat Springs resident Pete Wither. Soon after his departure, community opinion swung heavily against ASC's management (a popular bumper sticker read More 'Boat, Less Otten, a dig at ASC CEO Les Otten), and eventually Wither was rehired, albeit in a different capacity.
The conciliatory move didn't placate Steamboat's patrollers: By the end of last season, the unionization idea had become a full-blown movement. "We just want to ensure the highest quality of care," says union committee president Sharon Florence. "To look at the future and the possibility of having less people and less equipment because the company wants to save money is scary."
Though ASC's financials have been worrisome recently, the need for such belt-tightening was eased significantly in July, when ASC caught a $150-million windfall from investor Oak Hill Capital Partners. "Having ASC on sure financial footing is going to be good for the community and employees," says Oak Hill spokesperson Hollis Rafkin-Sax. "We're just trying to get them there." Whether that new footing is enough to assuage patrollers at Steamboat and Heavenly will be decided in December.
North America's three publicly traded ski-resort companies are worth a total of $1.5 billion.