Adding a Tropical Touch

Jermaine Gooden was one of 35 Jamaicans hired to work at Wintergreen Resort. Some were shocked by the cold, but Gooden became an avid skier.
Jermaine Gooden was one of 35 Jamaicans hired to work at Wintergreen Resort. Some were shocked by the cold, but Gooden became an avid skier. (Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

WINTERGREEN, Va.

Pl agued by a chronic shortage of local workers, Wintergreen Resort has tried every tack but lassos to fill its staff: It has recruited 15-year-old high school kids. College kids. Seventy-five-year-old retirees. Foreign students in work exchange programs.

Still not enough.

This season's idea: Jamaicans.

This Blue Ridge Mountains ski resort three hours southwest of Washington -- playground for the region's comfortable -- used a temporary visa program to fly in 35 islanders who were so unaccustomed to winter that many didn't think to pack coats.

"Honestly, I was so clueless about this place, I brought all my impy-skimpies," said Venesha Hinds, 21, a restaurant hostess, giggling and shaking her head at the memory of the tube tops and spaghetti-strap dresses she had expected to wear on the mountain. Instead, she found herself springing for long johns even before the mercury dipped below 50 degrees.

Then there were the cultural adjustments. Jermaine Gooden, 25, a houseman, was amazed to discover that in the United States, if you stare at a person too long, "that could be sexual harassment."

Hinds has learned to never, ever utter "the f-word." No, not that one. She means the word "fat."

"We don't think of it as a big deal," she said. "In fact, some women take it as a compliment. But here, call someone 'fatty' and, hooh!"

The story of how Hinds and her compatriots ended up in this unlikely corner of rural Virginia offers a window on how seasonal businesses are plugging their multiplying labor holes with temporary foreign workers, even as proposals to expand immigration remain stalled in Congress.

It highlights deep changes in how the region plays, too. Students on break used to fill seasonal jobs, but resort seasons have lengthened beyond winter breaks as baby boomers have matured into empty-nesters and their leisure time has become less tied to school schedules.


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