- August 26, 2021
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Editor’s note: This is Part 4 in a weekly series that takes a hard look at the challenges locals face when it comes to making it in the mountains.
VAIL — Retail, hospitality, and food and beverage jobs dominate this resort town.
According to economic data culled from the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce, and the U.S. Census Bureau, these are the most common jobs held by residents of Eagle County, but these jobs averaged some of the lowest wages.
“Everyone should spend at least a year in customer service, and the world would be a better place,” said Miraj Gibson, a bartender at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort in Lionshead.
Looking around at all of the hotels, restaurants and high-end retail in the upper valley, it’s no secret that the Eagle County economy revolves around tourism. According to the Vail Valley Partnership, more than 6o% of jobs are tied to the tourism sector.
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Still, unemployment seems to be a lingering issue that has affected so many businesses, especially in the dominant sector of hospitality.
Part 1: Local bartender is the epitome of the working-class struggle in Eagle County
Part 2: A look at some of the struggles Latino workers face to survive in the valley
Part 3: Costs, access to child care only compound workforce issues
Eli Grossenbacher works as the manager at the front desk of Gravity Haus, located in Vail Village.
“The hardest part of my job is just ensuring a great guest experience,” Grossenbacher said. That experience entails a smooth check-in, an immaculate room, and punctual service.
“It’s difficult to touch all of those points, especially seeing staffing issues around the area,” Grossenbacher said.
Though finding employees has been difficult, guests have been coming back at record rates. According to Grossenbacher, Gravity Haus hit a new record for occupancy in July.
“It’s very difficult to find new hires, but we retained a lot of employees. I think people see the vision in Gravity Haus, and that’s why they stay,” Grossenbacher said. “Management treats the staff well, and they offer an opportunity to advance. I feel appreciated.”
In the hyperactive hospitality sector of the upper valley, there are plenty of employees like Gibson, who “wake up, eat, work, come home, go to sleep, and start all over again.”
Gibson said the long hours and being short-staffed takes its toll on employees.
“I am doing the job of five people,” he said. “Still, I understand the worker shortage. I don’t blame management, I just wish guests would be more understanding.”
According to the recent Mountain Migration Survey released by The Colorado Association of Ski Towns and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, both newcomers, who enjoy hotels and high-end restaurants, and longtime residents, see “sense of community” as the second most important attribute in Eagle County.
Still, despite these shared values, the definition of community and who’s a part of it seems to be lost.
“Sometimes I think people forget that I am a person, that I am more than just my job,” Gibson said. He describes how guests yelling about inconsequential inconveniences is just “part of the job.”
The contrast between the people who work in Vail and the people who have second homes or are visiting on vacation is striking.
“We maintain an upscale property, serving levels in line with the Four Seasons,” Grossenbacher said. “You have to be fairly wealthy to live and visit Vail. Right now, a room averages $549 a night in July plus property and tax.”
Gibson was more blunt with his description of Vail’s visiting demographic: “Usually white and rich,” he said.
Both Gibson and Grossenbacher said front-facing hospitality employees at high-end resort village hotels tend to be in their mid-20s. In a sector of the economy that faces high employee turnover for jobs that are demanding, putting up with guests who have little understanding of what it takes to work and live here can be frustrating — and lead workers to quit to look for something else, possibly somewhere else.
The 2021 Mountain Migration Survey stated that almost 60% of Eagle County residents rated quality of life worse.
“Long-time residents perceived changes to be worse than newcomers, which is not surprising given their greater knowledge about pre-2020 conditions. Long-time residents were much more likely to feel their quality of life had worsened,” the report stated.
When asked about these statistics, Gibson was not surprised.
“Between COVID-19 and difficulty staffing, there is no surprise life is harder for everyone that lives here. Even with these obvious hardships, visitors still expect perfection,” he said.
Despite these difficulties, both Gibson and Grossenbacher are patient. Patient with guests and patient for the winter. When they are not working in hotels, Gibson can be found riding his new Lib Tech snowboard, and Grossenbacher, his 184 Blizzards.
“I could work at a Marriott anywhere. But I stay here to shred really hard every season,” Gibson said.
Vail Daily intern Noelle Harff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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