When Solitude Mountain Resort appointed a new chief operating officer in the summer of 2021, ski patroller Kai Myers hoped the change in leadership would help improve working conditions at the Big Cottonwood Canyon ski area.
Though he only worked at the resort for two seasons, Myers had already seen a significant degree of turnover among the ski patrol, which provides emergency medical services on the mountain, conducts evacuations and controls avalanches using explosives.
Myers reached out to his colleagues to discuss contacting the new president and COO, Amber Broadaway, to share their concerns. Along with his co-workers, Myers drafted a letter about how changes to the ski patrol program could improve safety and help retain qualified patrollers.
He drafted a letter that called for a more transparent payscale, overtime pay after 40 hours of work in a week, cost-of-living wage increases and other benefits. He shared it with his managers before sending it to Broadaway. The letter noted it can take three years to be considered a fully trained patroller and argued high turnover presents safety concerns.
A few weeks later, Myers got a call from a supervisor. He was out of a job.
The 26-year-old was told the decision not to rehire him was related to performance issues, despite the fact that he had been complimented for his work the previous season and had been offered a job earlier that summer. Myers was devastated.
“So much of my identity was being a Solitude ski patroller,” he said. “To have Solitude say, ‘Hey, you are so bad that even though we really desperately need people, you can’t come back,’ — it was an incredibly difficult process.”
But Myers felt the resort’s decision may have been more related to the letter than to his performance, and he filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency charged with enforcing United States labor laws.
The NLRB investigated the case and prepared to issue a complaint alleging that Myers had not been rehired because the company believed he was attempting to form a union, a protected activity.
Earlier this month, Myers reached a settlement with Solitude.
In an emailed statement, Broadaway said Solitude does not comment on private personnel matters and the terms of the resolution with Myers are confidential.
“While Solitude rejects the allegations in the Complaint former Ski Patroller Kai Myers filed with the National Labor Relations Board,” Broadaway said, “we felt a voluntary and mutually agreeable resolution was in the best interests of all parties involved.”
“Solitude values its employees,” she continued, “and recognizes their right to engage in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act.”
Although the details of the settlement are confidential, Myers said he was “made financially whole” by the company. Solitude agreed to post signs in certain areas of the resort that inform employees about their legally protected right “to form, join or assist a union” and “to work together with other employees for their benefit and protection.”
In the notice, which was reviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune, Solitude also agrees it will not refuse to hire employees who bring concerns about wages and working conditions to the management’s attention.
“It was really cool to see that the system works,” Myers said of the NLRB process.
Solitude ski patrollers do not currently have union representation, but many ski patrols in the Intermountain West are unionized, including Aspen-Snowmass, which is on the Ikon Pass with Solitude.
Solitude is owned by Alterra Mountain Company, which is in turn owned by the private investment group Henry Crown and Company and the private equity firm KSL Capital Partners.
Nearby Park City Mountain — which is owned by Alterra’s major competitor, Vail Resorts — saw a string of labor actions led by its ski patrol union over the last year, culminating in a strike authorization vote in January. But Vail and the union reached a deal before patrollers walked out.
“I think we are at a pivotal moment in labor across the U.S., including the ski industry,” said Julia McCarrier Edwards, a member of Park City’s ski patrol union. She pointed to union drives at Starbucks, Amazon and other ski patrols as examples of workers coming together to challenge the status quo.
“Workers know their value and that the ski industry wouldn’t be profitable without our labor and expertise,” she said. “Resort management is finally learning that without livable wages, we won’t keep talent. I think the skiing public wants their resorts to take care of their employees, and supports workers organizing to have a say. It’s incredibly exciting and hopeful.”
Although Myers — who is planning to leave the ski industry to attend graduate school — said he is disappointed that he is no longer a patroller, he doesn’t regret taking a stand for his fellow workers.
Solitude increased wages for the ski patrol this year and improved overtime policies, Myers said, adding that if the new policies help reduce turnover, it will help ensure visitor safety and could boost the resort’s bottom line in the long run.
“That’s so good,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to take credit for all of the changes that have happened at Solitude. But I also have to imagine that this whole process has incentivized them to do the right thing, and that it nudged them in the right direction.”
Zak Podmore is a Report for America corps member for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.