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SD ski resorts looking for workers and snow

A ski run at Terry Peak in Lead
Linda Derosier
A ski run at Terry Peak in Lead

South Dakota's two ski resorts are opening on a limited basis but are still looking for more workers and snow.

Both Terry Peak Ski Area in Lead and Great Bear Ski Valley in Sioux Falls found it more difficult to recruit employees this year as the nation struggles with a worker shortage.

"In the past years we have employees and we don't seem to struggle to find them. A lot of people love to work up at Terry Peak. It is a fun working experience and you get to ski or snowboard," said Marketing Director Linda Derosier. "This year, I think that with the way that the employment is, we're struggling just like everybody else."

Both ski areas are also opening later than usual and with limited runs as they deal with challenging weather conditions.

"It's been a very warm December so we're making snow when we can but when it's been 45 degrees in December that definitely limits the amount of snow we can make," said Alex Jerstad, communications director at Great Bear.

"We've not had a lot of natural snow. What we have received during the fall time pretty much has melted off," Derosier echoed.

Terry Peak opened Dec. 15 and plans to open more of its 29 runs and five lifts by Wednesday. Great Bear will have 40% of its runs ready when it opens on Thursday. Its tubing area does not yet have an opening date.

Workers use a snow making machine at Great Bear Ski Valley in Sioux Falls.
Great Bear Ski Valley
Workers use a snow making machine at Great Bear Ski Valley in Sioux Falls.

Terry Peak — with a summit of 7,064 feet — has seen large differences in snowfall over the past five years, according to the National Weather Service.

Lead has received 40 inches of snow since September. It received 84 inches during the same time period in 2019 but just 30 inches in 2017. The greatest snowfall was 147.7 inches in 1993.

Sioux Falls' 10.5 inches of snow this season is the lowest in five years and comes after 18.7 inches last year. The record was 43.7 inches in 1968.

Melissa Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Rapid City, said natural weather fluctuations and manmade climate change can influence snowfall totals.

The ski resorts rely on high school, college and seasonal workers, some of whom return for multiple years. Other people are enticed by discounted employee passes for themselves or their children.

Both resorts say they raised wages this year but still found it difficult to recruit workers. .

Derosier said Terry Peak is using social media and the job listing websites to hire more people to serve as ski patrollers, lift operators, cashiers, snow makers and rental techs. It's also holding a second job fair in early January.

Jerstad said Great Bear is usually mostly staffed after its November job fair. This year, the resort was hiring well into December and still needs more lift operators. Workers will receive a retention bonus based on the number days they work.

Visitors to Great Bear must purchase online tickets this year.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.