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March 7, 2022

Maine ski resorts grapple with more people on the slopes, fewer people on the payroll

skiers on a chairlift Courtesy / Saddleback Mountain Saddleback Mountain, shown here, has fewer employees than it needs during the current busy season.

With more guests than ever, Maine’s ski areas large and small struggled this winter to hire employees, leading to curtailed hours, later check-ins at resorts and workers adept at multitasking.

“We’re down. It’s pretty skeletal, to be honest,” said Beth Ward, general manager of the Camden Snow Bowl.

Normally, the town-owned ski area hires 100 workers. This year, the Snow Bowl has only 70, Ward said.

As a result, everyone is doing extra tasks.

“The mountain manager has had to do a little bit of everything. When groomers are out, she’s out grooming the trails. She now has everything on her resume on how to run a mountain,” Ward said. 

The Snow Bowl often gets summer sailing crew members based in Camden who need a winter job, but that’s not enough people to run the mountain. 

“There’s perks to being where we are. There’s a seasonal workforce that flips and needs winter work. But we’re still struggling to fill all the jobs we need done,” Ward said. 

The Snow Bowl had a record year last year as people wanted to get outside during the pandemic. This year started off strong, with January winds blasting the bigger mountains and prompting skiers to scope out smaller venues and that heavy visitation has continued, Ward said.


“January is always a cold month in western Maine, but this one has been unusually cold and windy. The bulk of the skier visits occur February through April and that is already showing itself to be true,” said Andy Shepard, general manager of Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley.

Saddleback also said it has fewer workers than needed. The resort has 203 employees and needs about 20 more. It has about 50 more workers than last year but really needed an additional 70 people to run smoothly, Shepard said. 

Saddleback was purchased by Arctaris Impact Fund in 2020.

Saddleback not only found housing and supplemented a “good proportion” of the costs in order for the employees to afford to move into employee housing, Shepard said. The ski resort also provides rides to work and runs a shuttle service to nearby towns to attract talent.

Saddleback is planning a 100-unit affordable housing complex for seasonal workers in the Rangeley area.

“Our efforts to date are not about creating new amenities, but modernizing the infrastructure to make the skiing and riding experience unmatched in the East,” Shepard said.

The resort is developing newer, faster lifts, a new snowmaking system, environmentally friendly eco-diesel groomers, a new ventilation system for the lodge and it has begun construction on our mid-mountain lodge, Shepard said.

Sunday River

Sunday River in Newry also said it has dorm-style housing for a small percentage of its workers. It has 115 beds available each season, and offers some year-round options as well. 

Sunday River said its workforce is smaller than the average year, when it numbers about 1,500 team members in its winter season. 

“We have not hit that number this year, and are still actively recruiting for positions as our year-round business grows with the Sunday River Golf Club, weddings, and conferences,” said Karolyn Castaldo, director of communications for Sunday River Resort.   

“We were also fortunate to have team members here on J-1 visas from Central and South America, and will also be hiring through H-2B visas for more international team members,” Castaldo said.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security made more H-2B temporary work visas available.

To bolster hiring efforts, Sunday River said it extended several bonuses over the last year to reward staffers and has been proactive in instituting competitive wages for new and returning team members this winter. 

“We've had strong business levels across the resort so far this year, and we've continued to see steady demand for outdoor recreation. We purposefully limited lift tickets last season due to the pandemic and the limited availability of vaccinations, so our skier visits were down for 2020-21,” Castaldo said.

Sunday River closed its tubing offering this year as it explores a better venue for that activity. It added Après Aglow, a half-mile trail in the woods lit with 100,000 lights on the trees and a swing set. Coming next season, Sunday River will install an eight-person chair lift. 


Sugarloaf, in Carrabassett Valley, said it has had more visitation this year as more people want to get outside during the pandemic. As far as its workforce, spokesman Ethan Austin said the resort had fewer staffers than in previous years but believes it fared better than some peers in attracting workers. 

Sunday River and Sugarloaf are owned by Boyne Resorts, which purchased the resorts in 2018. Boyne, the third-largest resort company in North America, also acquired Shawnee Peak in October 2021.

This winter, Sugarloaf had to reduce some hours for food and beverage services and restaurants, as well as curtail housekeeping to eliminate room cleanings every day during a guest’s visit. Rooms now get cleaned after guests leave.

Sugarloaf does not currently have a dorm but it is looking at that concept for the future, Austin said. The resort currently books blocks of rooms at some motels in the region and staff rent those rooms as needed.

“Employee housing is one of the big things we’re working on,” Austin said. 

Sugarloaf also is working on its west mountain development that is currently in the permitting stage. It will involve a new lift, new trails and 196 new housing units to attract more guests, Austin said.

“We’re adding more amenities and keeping up with guests the best we can. We’ve only had to curtail hours in a few areas,” Austin said.

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