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Park City readies for a busy winter amid worker shortage

With winter fast approaching, Park City is expecting a busy season.
Renai Miller
With winter fast approaching, Park City is expecting a busy season.

At Wednesday’s fall tourism forum, the Park City Chamber Bureau said crowds this year are expected to be bigger than last winter’s.

Local business leaders got a glimpse of what to expect this winter. Early season indicators point toward a busy winter -- many COVID-19 precautions have been relaxed and international travel is expected to pick up with borders reopening.

Park City Chamber Bureau CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff told attendees that lodging reservations for the next three months are already filling up.

“Bookings for November, December, and January have already surpassed actuals compared to last year,” Wesselhoff said. 

According to the Chamber Bureau, the peak holiday month of December has 9% more reservations booked now than actual visitors in the entire month of December 2020.

Things are also filling up quickly on the ski resort side. Utah set a record of 5.3 million statewide skier visits last winter, and Deer Valley VP of Marketing Coleen Reardon said the resort’s early season sales have outperformed pre-pandemic numbers.

“All of our advance booking channels are ahead of pace," said Reardon. "We’re actually ahead of pace for 2019, which was gonna be a record year before the wheels came off and COVID happened.”

Despite the strong early economic indicators, many local employers are still experiencing significant staff shortages.

Both of Park City’s resorts, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley, have raised base pay for all employees to $15/hr in order to attract employees, but both are still searching for workers before the season starts.

Reardon said employment will likely be a challenge throughout the winter. She said resorts took a big hit this year by not having access to temporary work visas, known as H2Bs, and added that student visas, called J1s, also help, but only for a portion of the season.

“One of the biggest things that hurt us from a staffing perspective this year is we didn’t get our H2B’s," she said. "The quota in the country was filled before we could apply, because it’s based on their start date. That hurt a lot, especially in skier services and ski school, so there’s advocating to be done there for visas. J1s are great, we’re getting those, but they leave in March. I don’t even know how to emphasize the challenge it is, but, you know, we’ll get through it like we do everything. That is the sad part of the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people chose to exit the hospitality industry. It’s hard work and not great hours.”

The city is also planning for a full winter, with the return of an in-person Sundance Film Festival and Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup expected to bring larger crowds to Park City than last year.

Deer Valley is scheduled to open for the winter on December 4th. Park City Mountain resort has not announced an opening date after postponing its opening day last week.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.