Ski communities are getting ‘crunched on all sides’ // Adventure Journal & High Country News

Mammoth Mountain closed on a stormy day in mid-March last season, but this time it was not a weather-hold. Chairlifts stopped spinning and skiers went home. Though she didn’t know it yet, Rachel Rainey had just worked her last shift at the restaurant that has supported her skiing lifestyle for the past 17 years. And that was just the beginning of the economic challenges she would face.

The World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic. The NBA canceled their season and Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Places with ski resorts like Blaine County in Idaho and Gunnison County in Colorado were early hotspots. Most North American ski areas closed their operations indefinitely and in the days that followed, residents sheltered-in-place. Ski towns asked visitors to stay away. Small businesses shuttered.

Rainey was also in the middle of moving at the time. Her rent increased just as she was filing for unemployment. Now more than nine months later, Rainey still does not have a job and unemployment benefits have run out. The small weightlifting gym she owns has been closed for five of the last nine months. The federal payroll protection program gave her just $500 in July. Debt is piling up.

“The situation is getting desperate,” she said, her voice trailing off.

Soon after getting laid-off, Rainey found another restaurant job and was expected to start working at the beginning of the winter season, but that restaurant was shut down too. Over the summer she cleaned vacation rentals part-time, but that work has also dried up since the state banned non-essential travel and closed short-term lodging in response to alarmingly low ICU capacities across the state.

For Adventure Journal, republished by High Country News and supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Fellowship.

Monica Prelle © 2021 All Rights Reserved