Schweitzer Mountain Resort wants to spruce up its image this winter, and it’s starting by cleaning up employees through random drug testing.
Workers will not be tested before being hired, but any employee could be selected to give a urine sample and be screened for drugs throughout the ski season.
“What we think will happen is folks who choose to use drugs will not apply for jobs, and those who do not use will find working here more attractive,” said mountain manager Peter Gillis.
“There are a lot of reasons for doing it, from making a safer workplace for employees and guests to generally improving people’s perception and opinion of this business.”
Many people associate the ski industry and resort lifestyle with the drug culture, Gillis said. Drug-testing programs at many other resorts, including Silver Mountain, Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie and Crystal Mountain, have helped change that perception.
“At this point I would say if you aren’t drug testing, you are in a minority,” Gillis said. “Our competitors have drug testing. If we are the odd area out, we might attract those who do not pass at other areas. This will allow us to recruit a higher caliber of employee with a different value system than ones we might otherwise attract.”
The drug testing policy is still being drafted, but some workers are already murmuring their opposition. Some see it as an invasion of privacy; they say it’s unnecessary and humiliating to be called in to urinate in a cup.
“It’s certainly causing a stir. The joke has been who is going to work here?” said one employee who requested her name not be used.
“Everyone here is for a drug and alcohol free workplace. We are dealing with people’s lives on the lifts and roads,” she said. “Safety is always first, but what you do at home is your own business.”
Some employees are looking for work elsewhere. Shawn Taylor, co-owner of Ground Zero, a ski and snowboard shop in Sandpoint, plans to open another store on the mountain. A number of Schweitzer employees have asked Taylor for a job.
“People are pretty nervous about it, but it’s not that big a deal,” Taylor said. “It (drug testing) is pretty standard at every other resort.”
Taylor worked in Vail, Colo., and was tested for drug use before being hired there. Employees would quit smoking marijuana before the ski season so they tested clean, he said. They were not tested again unless they were involved in some kind of accident at the resort.
“The policy gave people time to quit and many found they liked life better clean,” Taylor said. “Others decided to keep using and take the risk they wouldn’t be in an accident.”
The new drug testing program could eventually lower the resort’s insurance rate and reduce worker absenteeism. Many resorts moved to drug testing years ago to appease insurance companies, said Doug Campbell, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Area Association.
“When you are running equipment like chairlifts, snowmobiles and groomers, a lot of employers became concerned about drug use and safety,” he said. “It (drug testing) is a very common practice in the industry now.”
Schweitzer will open Thanksgiving Day if enough snow falls. The resort is hosting a season pass-holders party Nov. 1 and a job fair Nov. 8 and 9. Resort officials aren’t worried about an exodus of employees or lack of applicants because of the new drug policy.
“Having gone through this at another ski area (Crystal Mountain), I’m not concerned we won’t find enough employees,” Gillis said. “When we had the program in place, we received more qualified applicants.”
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