Ski area manager Kirk Duncan said many United States ski areas use foreign students to supplement their workforce.
Erik Stimpfle photo A snowboarder jumps at Eaglecrest ski area in front of onlookers. This year 10 college students from Peru and Brazil will join the Eaglecrest staff.
Duncan said the foreign workers are all college students who pay around $2,000 dollars to participate in the exchange program through a company called Intej. The fee helps them to get an Exchange Visitor J1 Visa and the privilege of temporarily working and living in the United States for four months.
The workers here in Juneau will be on a temporary student work and travel visas allowing them to work at Eaglecrest for a maximum of four months. Working at the ski area for $9 per hour, they come to Alaska to learn about our culture and practice their English. Duncan says that for many of the students it's their first time living away from home. Workers without cars can use an employee shuttle fort $2 per day.
While the U.S. State Department's Exchange Visitor Visa program is intended to host foreign students that want to learn about the United States, it also helps the ski area. Duncan said that entry-level positions for lift operators and cashiers are hard to fill. Many seasonal employers in Juneau rely on college students that are home for the summer, but those students disappear in school during the winter months.
Duncan started hosting foreign workers partly because he was concerned about finding entry level employees, with new employers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot offering year round jobs and competing for the same workers.
Duncan said that most Eaglecrest employees are from Juneau. He estimated the ski area has 138 employees during the ski season. 42 of these are full time employees, including mechanics, bus drivers, janitors, and ski patrollers. Most of the other part time employees are ski and snowboard instructors.
"People need to understand that the vast majority of our employees come from the community. It's just that we have trouble filling some of the entry level positions," Duncan said.
Improving the mountain
Aside from hosting foreign workers to operate the ski lifts, Eaglecrest is growing. Many new projects were started this summer, including a road to the top of the mountain, two new chair lifts, lower Nordic loop improvements and electrical power to the top of the mountain.
The road to the top of the mountain is complete and is already being used by local mountain bikers, hikers and berry pickers. The mid-mountain chair lift is still under construction and is anticipated to be finished during the summer of 2009.
The improvements are being paid for with a $700,000 grant awarded in December 2007 from the Rasmuson Foundation, and an $800,000 from a 1 percent city sales tax approved by voters to fund the new mid-mountain lift.
More information about Eaglecrest can be found at skijuneau.com. Season passes are currently on sale at reduced prices.