What this is: This is the 10th in a series of conversations exploring the ski industry fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Click through to listen to the first nine: author Chris Diamond, Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher, Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway, NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak, Berkshire East/Catamount Owner & Goggles for Docs founder Jon Schaefer, Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis Cofounder Jeff Thompson, Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz, Mt. Baldy GM Robby Ellingson, Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory
Who: Dave Byrd, Director of Risk and Regulatory Affairs for the National Ski Areas Association
Why I interviewed him: Because as a ski season already overstuffed with uncertainty creeps closer, President Trump added an additional complication late last month when he suspended nearly all work visas through Dec. 31 of this year. That includes the J-1 non-immigrant visas and H-2B temporary worker visas that an enormous number of ski resorts use to fully staff up each winter. Ski areas, which are complex, intricate, and often far from population centers, require enormous manpower to run. The long-running J-1 visa program, filled, for the purposes of ski resorts, mostly by Southern Hemisphere college students on their summer break, has historically provided a pool of eager seasonal workers that local communities have been unable to supply. Already preoccupied with adapting to probable social distancing guidelines and calculating how to make a difficult business work under limited capacity scenarios, ski areas were left a little shellshocked to learn that they would also have to navigate a holiday season without these visiting workers, who have come by the thousands each winter for decades. The NSAA is angling for an exception to President Trump’s proclamation, arguing that the J-1 workers ought to be able to arrive by Dec. 1 to help the mountains ramp up for the holidays. Dave Byrd is leading that effort, and talks us through the importance of J-1s, H-2Bs, and other visas to an already-reeling industry.
What we talked about: The different types of visas the ski industry uses and the sorts of jobs those workers do and don’t do; why most ski areas need these extra workers; the spirit of cultural exchange behind the J-1 program and the requirements ski areas face to immerse the students in American culture; the early 1960s origins of the J-1 program as a Cold War tool to promote capitalism and boost America’s global image; how the ski areas find these workers and what they are responsible for providing them once they arrive in the U.S.; what’s driven large ski areas to invest more in employee housing over the past several years; the economic ripple effect of J-1 workers; the argument that the NSAA is using to request a ski industry exemption to Trump’s proclamation and allow them to bring in visa workers by Dec. 1; the percentage of ski industry revenue that comes from the December-to-January holiday periods; why ski areas are probably going to need a lot more staff for the 2020-21 ski season than they’re accustomed to; why the ski industry isn’t suing to stop the proclamation; why Americans tend not to take seasonal jobs but ski areas go to enormous lengths to try to hire them anyway; why high unemployment in the fall may not automatically lead to a higher available American labor force; the competing forces within the Republican party and how their differing opinions on immigration influenced this proclamation and the president’s actions in general; why this visa suspension is not strictly a Republican-versus-Democrat issue and why many Republicans oppose keeping these workers out of the country; the economic importance of ski areas to rural communities; some federal government 101; how ski areas are reacting to the president’s proclamation; the shocking number of positions that went unfilled at U.S. ski areas last season; speculation on how these visa suspensions could evolve depending on the outcome of the presidential elections; why Dave thinks the business community is likely to overcome hardcore immigration opponents and overturn or modify the proclamation; how deep the impacts will be if ski areas are unable to bring these additional workers in this season; how the industry is approaching safety protocols for next season; why Dave is optimistic about the upcoming ski season.
Recorded on: July 8, 2020
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COVID-19 & Skiing Podcasts: Author and Industry Veteran Chris Diamond | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak| Berkshire East/Catamount Owner & Goggles for Docs founder Jon Schaefer | Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis Cofounder Jeff Thompson | Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz | Mt. Baldy GM Robby Ellingson | Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory
The Storm Skiing Podcasts: Killington & Pico GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack | Liftopia CEO Evan Reece | Berkshire East & Catamount Owner & GM Jon Schaefer | Vermont Ski + Ride and Vermont Sports Co-Publisher & Editor Lisa Lynn | Sugarbush President & COO Win Smith | Loon President & GM Jay Scambio | Sunday River President & GM Dana Bullen | Big Snow & Mountain Creek VP of Sales & Marketing Hugh Reynolds | Mad River Glen GM Matt Lillard | Indy Pass Founder Doug Fish | National Brotherhood of Skiers President Henri Rivers | Winter 4 Kids & National Winter Activity Center President & CEO Schone Malliet