Dorm-style housing at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry can accommodate seasonal workers. Christopher Wheelock/Sun Journal

NEWRY — Finding a house or apartment, or even a room, to rent in and around Bethel can seem like an exercise in futility. It’s the same old story — very low to no inventory and historically high prices. Add to that about 1,200 seasonal workers at Sunday River Ski Resort.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual complement of seasonal workers was around 1,500, according to Communications Manager Abby Borron, but finding enough workers to fill the jobs has been a major challenge for resort management. Last season, they were able to fill about 1,100 but had to curtail some services as a result. The situation is slightly better this year, but housing those workers remains very difficult.

Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry leases Mountain View Lodge in Bethel to house some seasonal workers. Christopher Wheelock/Sun Journal

Borron said Sunday River leases several properties in the Bethel area, including the Mountain Village Lodge and some apartments where they can house employees. It’s dorm-style living with two people per room and shared kitchen and laundry facilities. It’s not a perfect solution, but at $135 a week, including electricity and Wi-Fi, it’s a bargain for the typical 18- to 25-year-old ski bums and it works for a season.

On the mountain, the resort has converted a dorm formerly used to house visiting ski teams into employee housing. Again, dorm-style with shared kitchen and laundry facilities. Last year, it housed about 200 international students who come to work under the J-1 student visa program. It’s also a likely candidate for other international workers who come under the H-2B visa program because few of them have vehicles or even a driver’s license when they arrive.

Transportation is another critical link in the chain and has also proved to be a challenge for the resort. Prior to the pandemic, there was the Mountain Explorer free bus, supported by Sunday River, local businesses, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration, among others. But a lack of drivers forced the shuttle to be parked.

This year, Borron said Sunday River has applied for transportation grants to fund four buses that will stop at four housing sights in Bethel and Newry, plus make stops at popular locations in both towns and Hanover. That will go a long way toward alleviating some of the pressure, but Borron said they are still waiting on the final approval of the grants.

At peak, Borron said the resort can house about 400 workers and there are plans in the works to rent more apartment-style accommodations in Bethel, but there are no plans in the immediate future to build more housing on the mountain.

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