Ski corp. looking Down Under

Company trying to recruit more Aussie workers

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— They might consider changing the name of Walton Pond Apartments to Sydney Harbor Arms if the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. achieves its hiring goals in Australia this fall.

Ski corp.'s director of human resources, Trish Sullivan, said her company has set a goal of roughly doubling the size of its work force from Down Under this winter. Sullivan would like to see the number of Australian employees grow from about 200 workers to almost 400. If ski corp. succeeds, those Aussies will have a high priority for the 426 "pillows" the ski corp. controls for employee housing at Walton Pond.

Here is a sample from the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s job postings as of Sept. 27: l Dishwasher at Thunderhead Starting pay: $8 (maximum pay in subsequent years $9.03) l Cafeteria cook at Thunderhead Starting pay $8 (maximum pay in subsequent years $9.96) l Chef at Hazie's Starting pay depends on previous experience Min. $12; Med.: $16; Max. $19.20 1 Ski school ticket seller Start $8 (maximum pay in subsequent years $9.96) l Lead reservationist-payroll Ski School ticket office Min. $6.98; Med. $9.30; Max. $11.16

Ski area human resources coordinator Sara Robertson said Australian employees have made a positive impression on Steamboat's winter guests. Robertson visited three Australian cities over an 11-day period in August to recruit college students who can travel here and work for four months on a J1 visa.

"The Aussies are extremely energetic and very excited to come over to the states," Robertson said. "They're very excited to ski in Steamboat because they don't have as good a quality of snow at home. I don't want to put Americans down, but Australians all seem to be great-looking people. And they're well groomed they all dress well."

Besides their handsome physical appearance, the Aussies' their accents and cheerful "G'day, mates" have a positive impact on ski area guests, Robertson said.

What's the first question prospective employees from Australia ask about Steamboat Springs?

"All of the guys ask me, 'What's the girl ratio in Steamboat,'" Robertson said. "I tell them there are more guys than girls, so they better get over here soon and start looking around.'"

But the Australian women never ask Robertson about the ratio of males to females in Ski Town U.S.A.

The reason for the ski corp.'s interest in hiring Australians this season goes beyond their good grooming habits and outgoing personalities. Last season, the ski corp. never did reach its desired hiring levels, and managers were pressed into busing cafeteria tables during the busiest periods of the ski season.

"We never did get fully staffed," Sullivan said. "I bused tables at Rendezvous, and we found out our claims manager, Phil Serrin, is great at flipping burgers. Sara (Robertson) has experience in lift operations, so she was able to help there. Our managing director, Chris Diamond, bused tables, too."

Even if this year's recruitment programs reach their targets, Sullivan predicts it still will be a challenge to be fully staffed for peak periods of the ski season.

Sullivan said the ski corp. is submitting applications for about 300 H2B visas that would allow it to hire Australian workers on a six-month, temporary, non-immigrant visa. Last year, the ski corp. hired about 100 workers on H2B visas plus another 100 on J1 visas that are available to college students from the Southern Hemisphere.

The J1 visas, good for four months, are administered by a nonprofit organization, "Work Experience," which does all of the paperwork and pre-screens job applicants for the ski corp. But the expansion of the H2B program at Steamboat increases the ski corp.'s direct involvement in recruiting workers from overseas.

If the ski corp. succeeds in hiring almost 300 H2Bs this year, it will allow it to expand the range of jobs Sullivan and department managers can fill.

Last year, Australian workers hired under H2B visas were employed as certified ski and snowboard instructors, and worked in lift operations and cafeterias. This year, the ski corp. would like to place some of the 300 H2B workers as rental technicians, ticket sellers, parking lot attendants, child-care workers and cooks.

If there is a disadvantage to the workers coming to Steamboat on the H2Bs, it's that they legally cannot hold any additional jobs beyond the specific job they were hired for at the ski corp. That's because the ski corp. application for the visas has to demonstrate the job couldn't be otherwise filled locally. So, not only can H2B workers not work a second job within the ski corp., they legally cannot hold down another job anywhere in Steamboat, Sullivan said.

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