Robert Soto is nothing if not resourceful and resilient. In March, when he was furloughed from his position as food & beverage manager at Beaver Creek Lodge in Beaver Creek, Colo., he decided to use this work interruption to complete his degree in resort management at Florida International University (FIU), thanks to an AHLA Foundation scholarship. Soto described for LODGING how zig-zagging across job descriptions and state lines have shaped him as a person and brought him to this moment with a wealth of experience that reflects a view of life and the ability to adapt more than a commitment to a specific career path.
Soto says he had always been able to adapt to change and even adversity, yet he was reaching the point in his career and life where he was growing tired of reinventing himself. “I’ve probably sacrificed career advancement for traveling, working, experiencing life,” he notes. However, a position at a ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho, helped him focus on a more stable future, and indirectly led him to the Vail Valley. “I discovered I loved ski towns, just not that one,” he recalls.
It was while Soto was enjoying life in the Vail Valley and his position as F&B manager at Beaver Creek Lodge that COVID-19 shut down all such ski resorts virtually overnight at their very busiest time—March. “Vail Valley is the biggest ski area in the country and, starting in March, everything is sold out. We’re crazy busy, mainly with spring breakers, until the very end of skiable snow—usually by Easter.”
He says because Colorado ski resorts are summer and winter seasonal, those who are accustomed to working seasonally—like himself—are used to having four to eight weeks off, then returning for the next season, so he was prepared to pivot for the short term. “It was hard getting through to unemployment but, because I expected a normal season in which I’d be off by April, I had already lined up my PTO and finances.”
It became apparent to Soto that “normalcy” wouldn’t be restored anytime soon when he learned the late June opening of Beaver Creek Lodge would be at limited capacity, and that employees were required to take COVID training before reporting to work.
Soto says the decision to continue his education preceded the pandemic, when he began finding that despite his experience in the industry, a degree was a minimum requirement for advancement in many cases. So, instead of continuing to pursue his management resort degree at FIU part-time, he decided to go full-time through spring and summer and finish it off.
Looking ahead, Soto says he is once again considering his options, and, as much as he loves working at a ski resort, he is facing the future with an open mind. “I love what I do, so I’d like to stay in the industry, but I do have a lot of connections after working in so many places with so many people.” He says Miami-based FIU could open some doors far from the snow, but he won’t be as quick to jump as he was in the past. “For now, I’ll stay where I am and see which opportunities present themselves.”
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