Opportunities abound at job fair

Saturday's expo beneficial for job hunters, businesses

— The employment opportunities available at the Sheraton Steamboat Hotel and Conference Center over the weekend ranged from snowmobile guide to archaeologist.

Of course the hotel doesn't hire experts in Native American artifacts. Nor do they have a need for snowmobile guides trained in backcountry emergency medicine. But those were among the skills sought by 19 different employers who took part in a job fair Saturday sponsored by Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and the local office of the Colorado Workforce Center.

At the same time, job hunters were able to explore a full range of resort jobs offered by the Steamboat Grand Hotel and the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation, across the street from the Sheraton.

The U.S. Forest Service was looking for an archaeologist and Steamboat Lake Outfitters needs responsible snowmobile guides willing to work 10-hour days. But most of the jobs offered were resort positions at the base of the ski area.

Ski corp. Human Resources Director Trish Sullivan confirmed that by 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, 225 people had registered at the job fair at the Steamboat Grand.The job fair still had several hours to run. The ski area offers the ultimate fringe benefit for many winter resort workers their employees receive a season ski pass, plus they are offered free skiing and snowboarding on their days off at other Colorado ski areas including Aspen, Copper Mountain, Crested Butte and Winter Park.

The job fair at the Sheraton was beginning to wind down by late afternoon, but Pat Bonny, a labor and employment specialist for the Colorado Workforce Center, said a constant stream of job hunters had turned over throughout the day.

"We hit the ground running at 8:30 a.m.," Bonny said. By 2:30 p.m., 140 people had registered at the job fair.

Bonny said she was encouraged by the turnout and added the Steamboat job fair experienced a better response than a similar event in Summit County. With more ski areas in a large resort area, the Summit County job market is more splintered, Bonny said.

Bonny and her colleagues had organized the job fair to make it easy for participants to get maximum exposure to a variety of prospective employers. They filled out a single information sheet that was then photocopied so it could be presented to multiple employers. The sign-ups are also kept on file by the Workforce Center.

"That allows us to follow up and see where they actually found work," Bonny said.

Here in Steamboat, there are so many job openings, many job seekers were bewildered by the options, Bonny said.

"One young man told me he wasn't sure which job offer to accept," she said.

Dave Keesee, who has lived in Steamboat for two years, was looking for a front desk position at the Sheraton because he wants to work indoors this winter.

Danielle Thiel moved to Steamboat from Wausau, Wis., less than a month ago. She has a job lined up to help a friend from Wausau, Kendra Pankratz, clean houses over the winter, but she is looking for a waitressing job, which she figures will land good money. Pankratz said she's beginning her fourth ski season in Steamboat. Her business, KRP Inc., will have one other employee in addition to Thiel.

Donna Mae Hoots, general manager of The Ranch at Steamboat, and housekeeping director Irene Visintainer were hoping to hire up to 12 housekeepers at the job fair. They already employ four housekeepers year-round and know three additional housekeepers are coming back for the winter, but they need more workers to take care of the 88 condominiums they manage.

By mid-afternoon, Visintainer had taken seven applications but all for van drivers and front desk workers. Of the seven, four gave home addresses in towns surrounding Steamboat. Visintainer said detail-oriented housekeepers who are willing to work hard can make $120 on a good day. But the job isn't for everyone.

"If you are good and you get fast at it, you can have a good money day," Visintainer said. "Some people aren't cut out for it. They find out they really don't like cleaning up after other people."

Although Visintainer and Hoots are particular about how the units in their condominium project are cleaned, they are understanding employers. The hours are generally 8 a.m. until no later than 5 p.m. At The Ranch, employers understand when somebody calls in and says a sick child will keep them from making it to work until 10 a.m.

At the Alpine Taxi booth, Office Manager Barb Hurley had 20 positions to fill and Driver Manager Amy Weeks was hoping to hire a few of the 20 to 30 drivers she said she needs to round out the crew that ferries skiers from Yampa Valley Regional Airport to the condominiums.

Hurley and Weeks were offering a nice plate of cold cuts, cheese and crackers to lure job hunters to their table. Weeks said despite the offer of free salami, she can never attract all the taxi drivers she could use.

"We never get enough drivers," Weeks said. "We really, honestly every year need more than we can hire. It's just such a crazy place, but it's so much fun."

First-year taxi drivers do not need to have a commercial driver's license, but they do need a good driving record, Weeks said. Although the shifts are long 10 hours Weeks is willing to hire drivers who are interested in pulling only one shift a week.

On a typical Saturday shift, taxi drivers will make two to three round-trips between the airport near Hayden and the base of the ski area.

Hurley, who has put in her time as a driver, said the most successful taxi drivers in Steamboat are outgoing individuals who enjoy keeping up an informative banter with their fares. But they must also be sharp enough to take good care of their passengers' luggage and triple check to see it is securely stowed on top of the taxi van.

Jenny Erbes, who moved to Steamboat from Oxford, Ohio, three days before the job fair, had already landed a job as a lift operator for the ski area. She was talking to the Forest Service about a job as a visitor information technician to round out her employment.

At the next table, Nita White, who moved to Steamboat a month ago from Show Low, Ariz., was exploring job opportunities with Steamboat Lake Outfitters, based near Hahn's Peak village north of Steamboat.

Steamboat Lake Outfitters Restaurant Manager Chris Morchak had plenty of employment opportunities for White. He was taking applications for his dining room wait staff, van drivers and snowmobile guides. Morchak said he was happy with the 15 applications he had accumulated.

Morchak said hiring at SLO is a seasonal ritual. During the summers, when the business centers around horseback riding and escorted excursions on all-terrain vehicles, the outfitting company employs college students on summer break. But those employees leave to go back to school when SLO is still doing a good fall business.

"That's when it gets rough," Morchak said. "You lose those kids in September and you're going tooth and nail until it does slow down."

Morchak said the snowmobile guide positions he's trying to fill right now sound glamorous to many. But he said the 10-hour days can be a challenge. And the guides must complete first-aid training to ensure they can take care of their clients if an accident happens away from the lodge. Typically, the guides are encouraged to work only three or four shifts a week on the snowmobile to avoid becoming "dude sour." It's an expression meant to convey a state of burnout that can occur when you spend all day every day riding the same trails and answering the same questions from well-meaning clients. The rest of the week, the guides pull a shift working in the store, restaurant or driving a van, just to get a change of pace.

Morchak said the employees at Steamboat Lake Outfitters are a tightly knit group, and that keeps people coming back for their second and third season.

"It's a big family operation," Morchak said. "That's what makes it special. Everyone is just as important as everyone else."

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