Without support from her parents and investments she made earlier in life, Allison Perry is sure it would be impossible to make ends meet with her income as a ski patroller at Loveland Ski Area.
In her seven seasons as a patroller, Perry has responded to gruesome medical calls and deaths on the mountain. She documents injuries and skier crashes as part of the accident investigations team. Last year, she was part of a group that helped resuscitate someone on the slope, saving their life after their heart stopped.
All for $23 an hour.
“I love it. I just want to be able to make it my life’s career, not just something I inevitably have to phase out of when I realize I can’t live my whole life having $80 only in my savings account,” said Perry, who is 41.
“If this is your only source of income, you will not work 40 hours a week and be able to live in the mountains close to your job. It’s basically impossible.”
Perry is among a group of ski patrollers and paramedics at Loveland Ski Area who want to unionize to advocate for better wages and safer working conditions for a job that has one of the highest rates of injuries among U.S. employees.
Seventy percent of the 49 patrollers and medics at Loveland Ski area signed the petition, which was sent to the National Labor Relations Board this week, according to the United Professional Ski Patrols of America. To form a union, ski patrollers have to vote in an election conducted by the board, which is generally held four to six weeks after the petition is submitted.
If successful, Loveland would become its own union under the UPSPA, joining a growing list of ski areas with unionized patrollers as Colorado’s resort industry continues to consolidate. Last year, Purgatory ski patrollers voted to unionize, joining peers at Vail Resorts’ Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Park City and Stevens Pass ski areas. Steamboat and Telluride patrollers have been members of the UPSPA union for several years and Aspen Skiing Co. patrollers are part of a private union. Big Sky patrollers in Montana voted to join a union in 2021, while patrollers at Keystone rejected unionization efforts. In November 2022, lift mechanics and electricians at Park City Mountain Resort voted to join the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, marking the first time a maintenance team at a U.S. ski resort has unionized.
A spokesperson for family-owned Loveland Ski Area declined to comment on the ski patrollers’ petition.
Perry is hoping increased wages help retain experienced ski patrollers to make the ski area safer for guests and those responding to accidents on the mountain.
“Our jobs are very hard and require a very high level of skill, a lot of training and we want to make our jobs sustainable. Ski patrol should be a career not just a gig or a job you can expect to do one to three years before burning out,” she said.
Dangerous working conditions, low wages and an inadequate gear repair program among other issues have led to constant turnover, impacting the safety of both ski patrollers and guests to the ski area, the United Professional Ski Patrols of America said in a news release.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration data shows that 10.5 ski resort workers out of every 100 had nonfatal injuries in 2021, the third-highest injury rate among U.S. industries (tied with ambulance service and behind veterinarian workers and those working in bottled water manufacturing).
About half of new ski patrollers at Loveland Ski area quit by the end of their second season and about four to five seasoned patrollers leave the ski area each year, union organizer Isabel Aries said.
Cost of living is an issue for Loveland patrollers, forcing many to make a long mountain commute from work. The average commute to work for Loveland ski patrollers is about 60 miles a day, some commuting from Denver or Boulder, and spend about 5% of their paycheck on gas, Perry said.
“As everything gets more expensive, people start to get a little bit less enamored with the fact that we get to ski and start to realize that this is not sustainable and it’s not going to get cheaper to live in Colorado,” she said.