Foreign workers find new adventures in Killington
By Brooke Geery
Some may think that lift operators are people who didn’t graduate from high school and are excited to have an interesting— albeit cold— job on the mountain. Others may think they’re ski bums who don’t want to wait tables. But in 2021, that is no longer the truth — largely thanks to the foreign worker programs.
In Vermont, and especially in 2021, there simply aren’t enough local people to do these jobs. The cost of living has excluded many from the ski town life and so, the H-2B work and J1 student visa programs fill the void. And even in a pandemic, the show must go on.
In 2021, Killington Resort employed 50 lift operators, 10 public area attendants and six snowmakers who entered the country with H2B visas.
“We had no people on the J-1 visa this year due to the Presidential Proclamation 10052, which temporarily suspended the entry of certain H-1B, H-2B, J (for certain categories within the Exchange Visitor Program), and L nonimmigrants,” Killington’s Director of Communications, Events and Special Projects Amy Laramie explained.
Ricardo de Alba, Adriel Santos and Leopoldo Jurado are three H-2B Killington employees who hail from Mexico. They met last season as H-2B visa workers, running the lifts. They are about as far from any lift-op or Mexican stereotypes you may have heard.
After arriving in Vermont in November and December, they each quarantined for two weeks before being allowed to work. (Santos actually spent Christmas in quarantine, with only his roommate for company.) But it’s a small price to pay for a season of working for The Beast, he said.
Crossing the United States/Mexican border with a valid visa was easy, even during the pandemic, he said, again contrasting what many believe.
Ricardo de Alba, 36, hails from Aguascalientes, in the high desert of Central Mexico. There, he owns a horse and cattle ranch and is well known for his parties and personality. He chose to travel to the United States 18 years ago, working on a ranch in Kansas and spending time in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
“It’s hard for me to make money in Mexico because I party too much,” de Alba said. “So I traveled to the United States for more opportunities and to experience different things.”
Over the years, de Alba has made a big splash in the U.S. winning rodeos. But last season he took home the prestigious Golden Shovel award as Killington Resort’s “employee of the season.”
You may have seen him on the Bear Quad or Northridge and if you needed help, he happily assisted.
“I save many lives on this lift, take care of children, put on many skis, help people load on chair,” he said. “This is my treasure for the guests.”
Santos, 28, grew up and went to college in Campeche, a city on the Gulf of Mexico, known for its military architecture and walled historic district. There, he graduated with a marketing degree — after he decided against being a doctor. Post college, his first job was running the reception at a hotel in Mexico, something totally different than what he’d ever done before.
“I decided to take it and expand my experience. From there, my customer service adventure started,” he said.
Santos believes life is a journey, and he continues to add to his resume will every new adventure. In addition to being a hospitality expert, he’s also a fitness guru. He has won both CrossFit and weightlifting competitions in Mexico.
“I never thought I’d be a snow man,” Santos joked, since prior to working at Killington, he’d only seen snow on a high school trip to Nova Scotia. “But now I worked in the snow all winter. I love it.”
Jurardo, 33, is from Puerto Vallarta and Colima, popular tourist destinations on Mexico’s west coast. In addition to being the smile under the mask at Needle’s Eye chair.
“It’s the opposite of my city,” Jurardo said, when asked how he chose Killington. “There we have beaches, sand and sun, and here you have mountains and snow. I wanted to try something different and I think I made a good decision. Actually, I want to come back ’cause I love snowboarding.”
All three men are packing up for their next adventures on April 12. They are headed together for a resort in Kennebunkport, Maine. Santos will work at the front desk and de Alba and Jurardo plan to work as groundskeepers at a beach resort.
Despite the added stresses and limitations of Covid-19, they all hold fond memories of this season at Killington.
“It was better last season before Covid,” Santos said. “The thing that saved this season was the snowboarding.”