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El Niño brings more snow to Southern California ski resorts — and a need for more workers

Funny how something that fixes one big problem can create another. That's the case with El Niño at the Mountain High Ski Resort. 

The El Niño rainstorms brought a blanket of fresh snow to the resort in Wrightwood - a welcome change after several years of drought, said John McColly, the chief marketing officer at Mountain High.

"Every thing is great up here, hunky dory, but we could definitely use more employees," McColly told KPCC.

McColly figures the resort could use as many as 100 more workers right now. That's twice as many folks who work there in the off season. But when the snow is falling plentifully and business is booming, he says the place can employ as many as 1,000 people.

"As we’re opening more and more terrain, we need more and more people, and we’re having trouble finding them," McColly said. 

He believes that trouble is actually a by-product of all the good news we're getting about a domestic economy that continues to add jobs.  The federal government reported Friday that the U.S. economy created a robust 292,000 jobs in December, and more jobs than originally estimated in the two months before that.

McColly says most jobs at Mountain High are seasonal and minimum wage, and job-seekers now have more and better options than they did a few years ago.

The need for workers is less urgent at the Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski areas in San Bernardino County. They're now owned by Mammoth Resorts, which also owns the Mammoth and June Mountain ski areas in Mono County. Ron Cohen, chief administrative officer of Mammoth Resorts, said while the company is "actively hiring," Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are "pretty adequately staffed."  

In peak season, the two San Bernardino county resorts employ about 1500 people.

"We could always use more people, and we do have jobs posted," Cohen said. "But it's not at a critical level."

Mammoth and June Mountains employ about 2500 people in peak season, and Cohen says they are a little understaffed, but that has more to do with geography and access. 

Unlike Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, which rely on seasonal workers who drive in each day from nearby communities, Mammoth and June Mountain are more more remote. So the seasonal employees live on-site while they work. 

"It's a little harder in Mono County, so we have a significant amount of employee housing here that seasonal workers can move into and out of quickly," Cohen said. He added that while more snow creates a need for more workers, it also makes more ski enthusiasts consider taking a seasonal job at a resort.  

"Many of them are motivated by the desire to get a [free] season pass and get out on the hill," said Cohen.