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"We Just Can't Leave. We Are Stuck."

April 15, 2020 (1 min read)

Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun, Apr. 14, 2020

"When Gov. Jared Polis ordered the state’s ski areas to close on March 14, he also launched Ana Panessi into a frantic race to get home. It was a race she did not win. 

“So many people, they were able to run away very quickly. We did not have the same opportunity. So we are waiting,” said Panessi, who has traveled from her home in Argentina’s Patagonia to Aspen on a J-1 exchange visa for six winters to teach skiing for Aspen Skiing Co.

Today Panessi is among hundreds of international ski resort workers on J-1 and H2B visas who are stuck in limbo across the West. As ski resorts suddenly shuttered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the thousands of temporary international workers who keep ski resorts humming in midwinter were able to get on flights before airlines canceled service and their home countries closed borders.

... Fernando Vinals has spent 10 winters teaching skiing and training ski instructors at Alterra’s  Squaw Valley ski area in California. He works on a H-2B visa. Like Panessa, he was unable to quickly arrange a flight to his home in Bariloche, Argentina, when the resort closed on March 14. 

He said many of his friends paid exorbitant prices for flights home in the few days after the ski areas closed. Vinals said they were buying new tickets without getting refunded for existing tickets. 

“We were feeling abused by the prices they wanted to charge us,” said Vinals, who is with about a dozen other workers from Argentina. “If we are not allowed to get back home before May, our visas will expire and we will be here illegally. We are trying to apply for a different visa, but the fee is high. It’s not that we want to stay, we just can’t leave. We are stuck.” "