As John Stone emerged from Heavenly Mountain Resort's main lodge Saturday, there was a hint of victory in his eyes, as though he'd won a Winter X Games snowboard competition.
The 34-year-old snowboard instructor was among the hundreds of job applicants who waited in line to be interviewed for seasonal employment at the resort. He was offered a job on the spot.
"I was a little concerned, with the economy being the way it is," Stone said, discussing his winter job prospects with some relief. "I'm ready. Let's just hope it snows."
With leaner times, tighter pocketbooks and fewer jobs to pick from or be chosen for, Tahoe-area employment fairs have taken on a particular importance this year among job seekers. Long gone, it seems, are the days when college students by the busload would file into the resorts of their choice looking for a free ski pass and minimum-wage jobs to pay for rent.
"It used to be a lot of us came here to work seasonal jobs just so we could ski and support our ski habit. Now, if you're not getting the work, it's time to look for another place to live," said Rob Greer, a 43-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident with 15 years of "surviving" here.
Waiting in line at the Kirkwood Mountain Resort job fair held at Lake Tahoe Golf Course, Greer spoke of the "living to ski" lifestyle, and how times are changing. Jobs are becoming more competitive.
"There might be a day that people won't have the money to go skiing anymore. If you throw in global warming and no snow, the ski industry might evaporate," he said.
"And then there's the gaming industry. Who knows where the jobs will go?"
Whatever jobs are there, the ski resorts aren't really saying. In terms of how many hires are planned this season, Heavenly and Kirkwood resorts remain mum.
But there are more skilled jobs available because of a national tightening of visas for international workers. Sierra-at-Tahoe, Kirkwood and Heavenly have acknowledged that a number of regular seasonal employees won't return this year because of visa restrictions and, for the most part, the jobs will need to be filled.
Kirkwood and Heavenly human resource officials said their job fairs Saturday showed a robust turnout and that many were to be hired on the spot.
With doors closing at a number of Lake Tahoe small businesses this year and the city's unemployment rate for August at 9.3 percent, according to California state unemployment figures, there's growing concern the local economy soon may not be able to support the demands for jobs.
Ski resorts and the casinos make up the largest employers in the basin and, while none of three South Shore resorts have said they're planning on scaling back their work force, only time and Mother Nature will tell.
Lifelong locals such as Tressy O'Keefe, who was at the Heavenly job fair to reapply as a barista and who worked as one last year for the resort, said there's reason for concern.
"Everything is so tight these days. Last year, I took the job so my three kids could have ski passes. This year, I'm hoping to get a job for their ski passes and to have some extra money."
While Tahoe's economy has ebbed and flowed over the years, O'Keefe said that this year the difficulties are especially apparent in her children's classrooms, the elimination of overtime at her husband's job and on the street with a plethora of "going out of business" signs.
"I'm hoping this will level out soon," she said while waiting in line for her job interview. "I was thinking the other day, 'We have to pull together. We have to take care of one another.' "