Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Alberto Martinez is forced to lay off much of his staff at La Casita restaurant in Park City every year when the ski lifts close.

PARK CITY — The empty slopes and streets signal more to Alberto Martinez than just the changing of the season — they also portend lean months ahead for Park City's Hispanic community.

Each year, Martinez watches as the spring "off season" settles on the resort town, leaving many Hispanic residents in service-industry jobs without a paycheck.

"We just survive," said Martinez, who is forced to cut back his staff at La Casita restaurant each year when the ski lifts close. "I feel sad because some of them are very good and honest and loyal to the restaurant. It's not easy."

That scenario is repeated throughout Park City as tourism-based businesses close for the off season, sending much of the area's Hispanic residents to the unemployment lines, said Shelley Weiss, executive director of the area's Community Outreach Program.

The unemployment rate in Summit County nearly doubles each year in May, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. The rate jumped last year from 5.2 percent in January to a peak of 9.3 percent in May, where it hovered until the ski season began again in the fall.

The area's growing Hispanic population accounts for the largest chunk of those unemployed workers, Weiss said. Hispanic and Latino residents constitute about 20 percent of the city's roughly 7,300 people, and that's only the legal citizens counted by the 2000 U.S. Census.

"We always get a big rush in April when the ski resorts close," said Tom Anderson, a consultant at the Park City Department of Workforce Services.

New immigrants are hardest hit by the sudden shortage in work, Weiss said, because they are caught off guard by losing one or sometimes several of their jobs when the area's three ski resorts close in early April.

"They'd get there before the ski season and things would be moving. Then they'd hit April and hit the wall," she said. "The truth is there are never as many jobs in the summer as there are in the winter. Those folks have to figure out a way to get through the summer."

Weiss is working to counter some of that last-minute panic among minority residents who suddenly find themselves out of a job. Educating workers about the seasonal nature of the resort economy will at least prepare them for the seasonal slow-down, she said.

With rental and home prices on the rise in the mountain town, Weiss added that working even just a few hours less can make living in Park City impossible for many residents.

"It doesn't take much to throw a wrench in the works," Weiss said. "They need to know there's a possibility that they're going great guns at one point, but the season actually does end."

While many restaurants along the city's historic Main Street shut down for several weeks during the off-season, Martinez said he makes a point of staying open so his employees do not lose their paychecks entirely.

Martinez does have to to cut hours and wages for his employees during the slow season, sometimes only offering a couple hours of work each week to his regular full-time staffers.

"We're not making the same money that we make in the winter, but we survive," said Martinez, who moved from Mexico to Park City four years ago. "Some employees don't want to come in just for two hours, so they prefer to be at home until we get busy again."

Many of his workers find supplemental incomes in the construction or landscaping industries during the spring and summer months, Martinez said.

That booming construction market is often what saves out-of-work minorities, Anderson said. Many hotel and restaurant employees have to work several jobs to make up for lost hours and wages.

But even then the pay cut can be substantial. The hourly entry wage for landscaping and grounds workers in Summit County is about $8 per hour, the Department of Workforce Services reports. That figure, however, is higher than the state entry-level average of $7.30.

Many of the area's Latinos leave for the summer, Anderson said, after their work visas expire or simply to look for work elsewhere. That exodus helps the remaining workers because the market is less saturated with eligible employees, he said.

"I think most of them have a very realistic view of it. It's been getting better, so it's less of a shock to people," Anderson said.

The area's Department of Workforce Services is also trying to assist the city's minority and seasonal workers by pairing with tourism industries in Moab. Once the ski season is over, employees from Park City are "traded over" to Moab during southern Utah's tourism heyday, Anderson said.