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Lift operators at Kicking Horse take stand for better pay, working conditions

Lift operators are hopeful that they can get a retroactive wage increase
Many high profile areas of the resort have had to close at points this year, due to a shortage of lift operators. (Claire Palmer photo)

Lifter operators at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort are speaking out on what they consider unfair compensation for their working conditions.

The lift operations department submitted a letter on March 30, to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) management, the company that owns Kicking Horse, which was signed by 26 employees. The letter details how staff shortages have caused high-profile areas of the resort to be closed, such as mid-week closures to the Stairway to Heaven lift, Pioneer Chair and the Jellybean, as well as the stress and anxiety on the job and low morale rampant amongst the department.

According to the letter, many lift operators have reduced the number of lift operator shifts or left their position altogether to search for more viable employment.

“For us, it made no sense to keep working this hard for a minimum wage salary,” read the letter.

Jamie Masters, a lift operator who has been with the resort for the past year and is on his second winter season and a signee on the letter, echoed that statement.

“The fun of the job for the hardships of the payment and the work, these problems are definitely well known enough that I think they are the main cause of the worker shortage,” said Masters.

“A lot of people are working other jobs, have alternative housing, or are quite simply going into debt.”

Some of the key concerns of lift operators are the increasing cost of living in Golden, with the living wage calculated to be $22.07 by the Golden Community Co-op in November 2021. Lift operators make minimum wage, which in B.C. is $15.20 an hour.

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Masters compared the wages at RCR to those at Whistler, where Vail Resorts have pledged a $20 minimum wage to workers for the 2022/23 ski season. He pointed out that that accounted for 89 per cent of the living wage in Whistler ($22.52), while the current wages at Kicking Horse only account for 69 per cent of the living wage in Golden. A three-dollar increase in wages, which the lift operators are asking for retroactively this season, would account for 83 per cent of the living wage.

Masters said that the resort has acknowledged their concerns, and some progress has been made. Kicking Horse provided lift operators with gardening gloves after it was brought to their attention that many lift operators were experiencing wear and tear on their personal gloves, at their own expense. Negotiations on a wage increase are still ongoing.

“It’s been a great season, and it’s a great job, I love working with the crew, I love working with the guests, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be made better in some ways,” said Masters.

“This season, it did feel like morale was lower and that everyone knows it’s not a position you can support yourself in town doing.”

A statement from RCR said that an in-person meeting has already occurred and management would continue to connect directly with the department in person.

“We are listening and know how important the input in this letter is to our team,” read the statement.

“Our team is vital to us and our operations, we are fortunate to have a great team here at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. We know there is more work to be done and we are continuing to look into the points raised in this conversation (letter).”

“It’s been generally pretty positive feelings and I think there’s a lot of satisfaction with the fact that we’re being heard, the fact that we’re affecting some change, at least in getting your voice out there,” said Masters.

Masters explained that they hope that this can positively affect not just the lift operators at Kicking Horse, but that it will bring positive change across departments and all the RCR resorts.

Claire Palmer
Editor for the Golden Star
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