All together now

It’s official: Purgatory Ski Patrol has voted to form a union.

Back in The Durango Telegraph’s March 31 issue, we reported that ski patrollers at Purgatory Resort had decided to vote whether to unionize in order to more effectively fight for better wages and benefits.

Well the results are in, and it wasn’t even close, with a 35-3 vote in favor of unionizing.

“It was really encouraging,” Bob Rydiger, who has worked for Purgatory Ski Patrol for 40 years, said Wednesday. “We were told by one of the representatives (that helped count votes) it was one of the largest margins they’ve seen for a ski patrol voting to unionize.”

Momentum among ski patrollers at Purgatory to form a union started to build over the last few years, especially as low wages and high costs of living in the area created significant turnover among the team’s ranks.

The starting wage for a ski patroller is $13 an hour – this, for a job that requires multiple medical certifications and emergency training requirements (the state’s minimum wage is $12.56 an hour).

Also, many ski patrollers have voiced concerns the team was chronically underfunded on equipment and gear – the radio system, for instance, was hit or miss this past year, complicating emergency responses.

Add on the fact it’s become more expensive to survive in Durango, and it’s easy to see why so many patrollers left for other jobs at Mercy Hospital and Durango Fire Protection District. (Other medical jobs start out at $18 an hour, according to federal data).

As a result, in the past two years, Purgatory Ski Patrol, which has about 50 members, experienced a nearly 50% turnover.

Now that the vote to unionize passed, Rydiger said the team is in the process of setting up a negotiation committee to meet with Mountain Capital Partners, the company that owns Purgatory. Ski patrollers hope, Rydiger said, they can work out a contract with the resort before the start of next season.

“We’re hoping for the best,” he said.

Purgatory Resort officials said Wednesday they had no additional comments at this time. Dave Rathbun, general manager of Purgatory, said in a previous interview the resort was surprised by the effort to unionize. “We are understandably disappointed by this turn of events, but again, we recognize our employees’ right to bargain collectively and will respect the results of the election,” he said.

Purgatory Ski Patrol is not alone in its effort to form a union, as other teams across the West have started to band together to fight for better wages. Increasingly, the old stereotype of patrollers as ski bums happy to work for low wages just to be able to ski all day doesn’t cut it anymore, especially as living in mountain towns becomes incredibly expensive.

“We’re more than just coworkers, we’re all just really good friends,” Rydiger said. “Young or old, we all have each other’s back.”

Rydiger said those in support of Purgatory Ski Patrol can pick up stickers at ski shops around town.

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