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Palisades Tahoe ski patrollers petition to unionize

Palisades Tahoe ski patrollers wearing red and black jackets with white crosses pose for a photo in front of their patrol shack.
Palisades Tahoe Professional Ski Patrol / Facebook
Palisades Tahoe ski patrollers pose for a photo in front of their patrol shack in 2018.

On February 26, 70 percent of eligible Palisades Tahoe ski patrollers submitted a petition to unionize and join the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, CWA 7781.

They are the fourth ski patrol to petition to unionize this season, following in the tracks of Montana’s Whitefish Mountain Resort, Colorado’s Keystone Resort, and Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah. If successful, the Palisades Tahoe Professional Patrol Association would become the first ski patrol union in California.

Alex White, a sixth-year ski patroller at Palisades, said that having union representation will give them a seat at the table with Palisades Tahoe and their parent organization, Alterra Mountain Company.

He cited loss of experienced patrollers combined with the high cost of living and wages as motivations to create a union.

“You have this super specialized skill set that takes years to learn, and even decades to master. And, you know, we can't retain people,” White said. 

Those concerns were echoed by other patrollers such as Dave Monachello, who has worked in ski patrol for seven years and is the training supervisor. He said that they’ve had career patrollers with up to 40 years of knowledge but that things are changing. Now he sees them losing patrollers at the five- and 10-year mark due to the increased cost of living in Tahoe.

“For us, that's a really big thing. It's a place where you need that knowledge, you need those patrollers who can share that information with your up and coming journeyman ski patrollers, so that way, that safety is passed on both to our co-workers and also to our guests,” Monachello said.

In a statement Palisades Tahoe said it respects the right of its employees to support a union or not, adding its goal is to provide competitive wages, good benefits and a safe work environment.

The Palisades Tahoe Professional Patrol Association has asked Palisades Tahoe for voluntary recognition of its union. An election to finalize the union decision is set for the end of March.

Both White and Monachello said that their work needs to be treated as skilled labor, and they hope this is accomplished through the union.

“This has to be treated as a profession in the same way you would treat police officers and firefighters or nurses as a profession,” Monachello said. “They have a livable wage, livable wage benefits, and they're able to be provided with compensation that provides those careers with a really good amount of retention. And that's what we're looking for.”

Kat Fulwider is a student reporter for KUNR and the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Kat Fulwider is an award-winning documentary photographer and journalism student attending the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR. She is a fall 2023 student reporter at KUNR Public Radio and the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science.