Q-and-A with Tara Schoedinger, CBMR VP & general manager

Employee, COVID and terrain challenges …

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

What’s up with International still not being open? 

We’re expecting it to open soon, perhaps as soon as next week. To your question, it’s no secret there has been a slow start to the season with warmer temperatures in the early season. It’s been so great to see the new snow pile up since the start of the holiday season, but it’s important to remember that all this snow started falling not long ago, and it’s on top of a previously shallow snowpack. In a normal year, we would have already made snow on this run. Due to the warm temps early on, we had limited days/nights when the temperatures were cold enough to make snow. As a result, we had to get creative this year to maximize our snowmaking efforts to open as many lifts and as much terrain as possible ahead of our peak visitation period to give skiers and riders room to spread out.

Also, as you can imagine, every run is different. Specific to International, in order to maintain and groom this run every night, we need dense, man-made snow in addition to the natural snow. It’s all rocks and talus under the snow on this run, and it requires a dense base in order to maintain and groom the slope. While terrain may look ready to the eyes of a guest, there is still an incredible amount of work that goes into safely opening new lifts and terrain, and that is something we will never rush.

How many lift ops short is the resort? CBMR normally has ___ and this year it’s ___… 

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this because it depends on a number of things, like the number of people who want to work full-time vs part-time and the fact that we combine lift ops and scanning.

As it relates to staffing, one of the biggest challenges we are experiencing at the moment is daily staffing impacts due to cold symptoms and COVID-19 exclusions. We will always prioritize the safety of our guests and employees. We are asking any employee who is sick or experiencing symptoms to stay home. The good news is, our employees are doing the right thing and staying home, and it means we are experiencing operational impacts on the mountain at a higher rate this year due to the spike of the Omicron variant. This is part of the reason you may see certain lifts not open. We are continuing to do everything we can to operate as many lifts as possible, including pulling staff from other areas of the operation to help operate the carpets and assist with scanning.

Has CBMR employed J-1s? Or was there an issue with those #s based on some federal restrictions? 

Yes, we are excited to have international employees working with us this season. Unlike last season, we have had very few impacts due to federal restrictions this winter.

Why is Prospect running (seems redundant to the Goldlink Lift) and High Lift is not? 

I’m sure you can appreciate that there are a lot of factors that go into which lifts we open at which time. We were able to open Prospect earlier than High Lift because the terrain off of Prospect can open with mostly natural snow and it required no avalanche mitigation work. Our goal is to open as much terrain as we can as early as possible, and opening Prospect provided this to guests early on where High Lift wouldn’t have. Prospect lift is not redundant to the Goldlink lift as there are no other lifts that can be accessed from the bottom of Prospect.

We are excited to have been able to open the Headwall terrain this year, as hike-to terrain, earlier than it was scheduled to be opened and earlier than most years. We’re focused on opening The North Face and The Glades terrain next, in addition to International.

Would CBMR use a co-op template? Trade a ski pass to locals to say work four hours a week (or whatever makes sense) as a lift op for example? 

We do offer an employee ski pass for part-time employees. The minimum number of hours varies by department, but we ask that our part-time employees work an average of 15 hours per week.

What about using some of the people who are the information (red coats) people at the base area? 

Yes, we are already doing this. Our guest services team members are critical and have helped out in many areas of the operations, both in the base area and on-mountain, including scanning and the Adventure Center.

Is the problem here low wages? I think your minimum is $15/hr…Or is it lack of housing for seasonal employees? Or something else? 

There’s no simple answer for this, as you’re aware. The biggest dynamic we’re contending with right now is the increase in employee exclusions due to COVID-19 and winter colds. We’re seeing significant numbers of employees experiencing symptoms or testing positive, and in an effort to keep guests and employees safe, we’re asking any employee who is sick to stay home. As a result of these exclusions, our operation has been impacted. We will continue to adjust and manage through this to provide the best possible experience for our guests.

As it relates to wages, our company’s single largest investment this season was a wage increase, including a $15 per hour starting wage as well as increased earnings for other hourly employees. We are also offering paid sick time off to all seasonal full-time employees this season, in addition to COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave (ESL). Additionally, we offer our employees comprehensive benefits and perks, including our Epic Wellness program, employee and dependent passes, and discounts on F&B, lodging, and retail. Our Epic Wellness program is available at no cost to all employees, regardless of full-time or part-time status.

Affordable workforce housing is a complex community issue, one that is really important to me, and it’s something we are continuously working to navigate for our employees and with our community partners. In addition to the housing units we own in Mt. Crested Butte, this year we also entered into a master lease agreement with the Sherpa Inn in Gunnison. We have beds available for open roles across operations, including lift operations.

Is there any plan in the immediate future for CBMR to build or acquire more workforce housing? 

As mentioned, we’re continuously working on affordable housing options for our employees in partnership with and in support of our community partners. There are many affordable housing projects underway in the Gunnison Valley, and we are in discussions with our partners about various opportunities. Affordable housing solutions require a strong collaboration between local officials, employers, community members and developers.   

Where else is CBMR experiencing labor shortages?  

It varies by department and it varies throughout the season. Labor shortages are a challenge across the country right now, especially in the hospitality industry, and we’re experiencing the same thing here at CBMR. Our COVID-19 employee exclusions are increasing right now and are currently the biggest challenge we’re facing to our operations.

Will the Glades and North Face be accessible to hikers soon as well as Headwall? 

The Headwall is now accessible to hikers. We are working to add the North Face and the Glades and expect to have them open in the coming weeks, as well as the west side terrain.

Is CBMR seeing the impacts of the increase in Epic Pass sales like other VR resorts?  

As a publicly traded company, we are unable to share visitation information outside of our quarterly earnings calls. It’s important to note that much of our growth in season pass sales this year came from those who previously visited with a lift ticket.

We are proud to have made our passes more accessible to more people as we work to make skiing and riding more inclusive.

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