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International Ski Area Workers in Limbo as Countries Close Borders, Airlines Cancel Flights

Vail

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.

“It’s not that we want to stay. We just can’t leave,” says a ski instructor from Argentina who is among hundreds of J-1 and H-2B visa workers trapped in resort towns unable to get home.

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. 

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