By Jamie Leary

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Ski resorts in Colorado are finally welcoming back the J-1 workforce for the first time since the pandemic. However, there are some hurdles when it comes to hiring.

“They’re already starting to get their visas with everything opening up. The biggest question now is if they will have the right vaccine to get into the United States. It’s hurry up and wait each step of the way, but we really do depend on them for some of our operations that are a little bit harder to staff,” said Karen Cameron, the Director of Human Resources at Loveland Ski Area.

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It’s the same for any ski areas hoping to bring back this workforce. Winter Park and Aspen both plan to bring back J-1 students, but aren’t sure how many will meet current vaccine requirements.

“Every country has a different set of regulations, different types of vaccines so there’s still some work to be done to get those people, here but we’re looking forward to having them here,” said Jeff Hanle, Vice President Of Communications for Aspen Ski Company.

The number of J-1 workers coming to Colorado last year dropped from 6,855 in 2019 to 214 and while the travel bans for many have been lifted, vaccines aren’t the only hurdle when it comes to getting the students back to work.

“We have a record number of people applying for jobs, but we have a very low inventory of housing,” said Hanle. “Bringing new employees in who need housing is a difficult uphill battle for all of us.”

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Workforce housing remains the biggest issue across the high country.

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“Staffing is always hard at a ski area but with the pandemic, as everyone has experienced, has gotten harder and we have never provided housing in the past and this year we’re dipping our toes in a very creative way into housing,” said Cameron.

Loveland hasn’t previously needed workforce housing, but this year, it partnered with two real estate agents to convert a motel in Idaho Springs into rooms for employees.

“It’s already over half full,” she said.

Aspen Ski Company has added 150 beds to its inventory this year for around 900, but with 1500 seasonal employees, there is still work to do and it’s a large part of the reason it won’t see pre-pandemic numbers of J-1 students this season.

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“We’re not quite back to that level yet. We don’t know if we’re going to get back to that level you know in the future or how things will shake out, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty in our communities especially around housing employees. That’s the most difficult piece right now,” said Hanle.

Jamie Leary