Aspen Skiing Co. raises minimum wage for second straight year, to $15 per hour

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
An Aspen Skiing Co. lift operator clears snow off the loading pad during the 2016-17 season. An increase in base pay to $15 will help Skico recruit entry-level workers.
Aspepn Times file photo


Aspen Skiing Co. completed the purchase of property in Willits Town Center on Aug. 1 to pursue an affordable housing project.

Skico purchased Block 9 of Willits Town Center for $2,050,000 from the developer of the property.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Skico hopes to be in a position to break ground on the project this year. There will be 43 units with 150 bedrooms in the development. Eight units will be available for workers outside Skico. Priority will be given to childcare workers in those eight units.

Aspen Skiing Co. has increased its pay rates for a second consecutive year and has maintained what company officials believe is a leadership role in the ski industry.

Skico boosted its pay for entry-level positions to $15 from $13.50 per hour in June during the hiring of new summer employees. The new minimum wage will carry over to ski season.

“Fifteen dollars an hour — it’s kind of unheard of,” said Caleb Sample, Skico director of talent acquisition. “In the industry, that’s going to make us much more appealing (than competitors). That’s the hope anyway.”

The pay hike has a “ripple effect” because it will increase the wages for second- and third-year employees as well as others up the line, Sample said. Raise the basement and it also raises the roof, Sample said. Skico also provided a cost-of-living increase to all salaried, full-time employees this year that was in excess of the rate of inflation.

Skico raised its minimum wage to $13.50 from $12 per hour last season. Following Aspen’s move, Vail Resorts raised its minimum wage at its U.S. resorts to $12.25 per hour last season, according to the Park Record newspaper. Vail hasn’t set the minimum wage for 2019-20.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in a prepared statement that the pay hike reflects how the company values its workers.

“Our company is rooted in humanity and we feel our employees are what sets us apart,” Kaplan said. “We are committed to a sustainable employment strategy, enabling employees to prosper and excel, be that through industry-leading pay rates, career development, continued investment in employee housing, health care for seasonal and year-round workers or expansive wellness benefits.”

Sample said the increased pay was strategically timed and should help his team fill the 1,000 to 1,500 seasonal openings Skico typically has each season. He believes the pay hike will capture the attention of workers looking at options for winter and boost Skico’s already strong retention rate even higher.

No statistics are available on a state or regional basis for minimum wages in the ski industry. However, Sample said he believes Skico is 15 to 20% “ahead of the majority of the ski industry.”

Skico’s pay raise could affect the U.S. ski industry as a whole and spur other resort operators to raise wages, Sample said.

“I hope they’re going to follow suit,” he said.

The hike also could adjust the pay scale for businesses throughout Aspen and Snowmass Village.

The Colorado minimum wage is $11.10 per hour. However, a bill signed into law this year gives municipalities and counties the ability to set their own minimum wage as of Jan. 1, 2021.

Skico has posted all its winter job openings on a new employment website intended to speed the application process. The address is http://www.aspen

It’s the earliest the job openings have been posted, according to Sample.

Jobs are available in mountain operations, ski school, food and beverage establishments and lodging. Skico’s website features sections on career paths, benefits and perks and Frequently Asked Questions. Topics covered range from employee housing, benefits, job duties and living in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley.

Sample said his team’s goal is to contact every job applicant this summer and fall to “create a better candidate experience.” He wants to ensure that every candidate knows where he or she stands and that those who are offered a job know what they’re getting into.

Skico’s first job fair for the season will be held Sept. 17 at Bump’s restaurant at the base of Buttermilk.

While increased pay will help with recruitment, affordable housing remains a key factor for Skico and other employers in the Roaring Fork Valley. Skico owns or rents about 600 beds in affordable-housing units. The demand always exceeds supply but Skico plans to build another affordable housing project in Willits Town Center to chip away at the shortage (See side bar). Skico officials have said that increases in pay alone cannot tackle the housing crisis. Employers must also provide the housing, according to Skico’s philosophy.

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