Tag Archives: Ski industry

Working at a Ski Area

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Call it serendipity. In the past few days, several people have asked me about ski area work. Perhaps the uncertainty of our economy has people scared. Maybe our culture is shifting away from acquiring “things” and instead looking for a better way to live. Or it could be that coming off the heels of a fabulous winter has some people thinking. Why not move to a ski area?

If you plan to make the move, there are several factors to consider. I’ve talked about some of these before, and plan to hit on more of these as we head toward winter. Today’s post is on ski area work.

First, consider your skills. Ski area workers are notoriously underemployed. Those with Master’s Degrees work as waitresses. Doctors become ski patrollers; business majors are baristas. That doesn’t mean you have to take any job you can get. Most of us would have a hard time as a lift operator. The unmotivated ones whittle away hours in the lift shack, the faraway look in their eyes getting more and more jaded. The motivated ones, with mad shovel skills and a friendly smile, are quickly promoted to another position. If don’t mind a brainless job and are completely without other skills, being a lifty might be a place to start. Just don’t stay there. Having said that, here a few of the jobs available at your local ski area.

  • Lift Operator. As I said above, this is an entry-level position. Pay starts in the $7-$8 range and the day includes shoveling the loading ramp and being nice to the customers. While it’s a low-skill job, it’s an important one. You’re in charge of a multi-million dollar piece of equipment with the potential to kill someone if you aren’t paying attention. Still, lifties usually last a single season–either moving up to another job or moving on entirely.
  • Ski Instructor. These guys have a coveted job. They get to be on their skis, cut lift lines with their class and get tips at the end of the day. But there is a down side. It is getting harder to find a position as a ski instructor. With more applicants filling positions, today’s would-be instructors must at least complete PSIA Level 1 training, and often need a Level 2. Pay can be as high as $14 an hour plus tips.
  • Cat Crew. Cat drivers have it pretty good. They spend their nights chopping moguls and laying down corduroy and have their days open for skiing. This is the closest thing to the perfect ski bum job I’ve ever seen. Only problem is the hours. Most cat drivers start at midnight and drive until the lifts open. Pay rates are slightly higher than ski instructors and previous experience in heavy machinery is a must.
  • Ski Patroller. This is the best job on the mountain. Of course, I’m a little biased, but it’s true. Patrollers must have first aid certification (most have Outdoor Emergency Care and/or EMT) and be strong skiers in good physical condition. A typical day might include waking at 4 a.m. to throw explosives for avalanche hazard followed by a powder run back to the patrol shack. Next up could be a toboggan ride, a shovel project, putting ski racks out or any other number of catch-all jobs completed by patrollers. Be prepared to work hard, but the effort is worth it. You might even save a life. Pay starts at $10 an hour.
  • Marketing. Today’s marketing budgets are shrinking and not just in the ski industry. But, with social media outlets, marketing dollars don’t have to go to big ad campaigns. Ski areas need someone to send out tweets and Facebook updates about weather conditions and upcoming events. While this can feel a bit like an office job at times, it’s more mentally stimulating than shoveling your ramp and a great position for anyone wanting to meet new people.
  • Management Positions. Ski areas are looking for serious, high-caliber men and women with management skills. While many of these positions are filled from the ranks, you might be surprised how often these jobs get filled from outside. If you have experience as a manager and aren’t afraid to spend time in the office, look for openings in upper management. My husband is the General Manager at Crystal, and he spends a good portion of his day skiing. While he works harder than me, (and I’m pretty tired at the end of the day) he still fits in time to check the conditions and operations on the mountain. Of any job at a ski area, being the owner and General Manager is certainly the best. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Running a ski area isn’t nearly as fun as just skiing there, but it’s pretty darn close to living the dream. Salaries vary widely.
  • Other. Ski resorts have a myriad of non-resort-specific jobs. Waiting tables is a great job at any resort, especially if you work nights. Usually, there is little turnover in these carefully guarded positions. Resorts have retail outlets, and these guys are often hiring. Try to get midweek days off to beat the crowds when you actually can get on your skis. Ski areas also hire baristas, ticket sellers, mountain hosts, and other unskilled jobs. These are a good way to get your foot in the door.

Twenty-two years ago I quit my teaching job in favor of a year ski bumming at Crystal. I figured I’d get a good season in while I regrouped and planned my next move. Fortunately for me, I never did regroup. Instead I found exhilaration, crisp beauty, great friends and true love. If you decide to move to a ski area, just remember that you might love it so much you never leave.

How about you? Anyone thinking about taking the plunge? Let me know. I’m happy to answer questions or offer words of wisdom.

Weekly High-Five Report

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There’s been some serious high-fiving going on around our house this past week. Here’s a recap:

  • The ski industry broke a new record this season. After tallying up late-season skier visits (Crystal stayed open for skiing up until just a few weeks ago), the new record has been set: 60.54 million. A “skier visit” refers to one person skiing or riding on one particular day. With the late snow storms across the West, the mountains stayed in snow through Fourth of July weekend, when an estimated 50,000 people hit the slopes. That’s pretty awesome, so “high-five” skiers and riders.
  • Some long-range forecasts are calling for a severe winter in 2011-12. The forecasters over at Exactaweather.com have this to say about the weather in the PNW: “We expect North America and the Pacific Northwest region to experience a very severe winter, the Cascades snowpack is likely to see increased levels due to the negative (cold) phase of PDO.” PDO, or Pacific Decadal Oscillation,  is a climate pattern that occurs in the northern Pacific, in which the sea surface temperatures (ssts) fluctuate and affect the jet stream. In a nutshell, negative PDO means ssts are colder and that means more snow for us. Which, if you’re new here or haven’t been following along, is a good thing. In our house, we don’t talk about weather as a substitute for real conversation. Weather talk is real conversation. With mentions of “extremely cold temperatures”, “record breaker”, and “exceptional levels of snow” we’re grinning ear to ear over here. In addition to next season, entering a negative PDO phase, which usually last a few decades, means more La Niñas could be in our future. And hey, if I could throw a high-five up to the weather gods, or to La Niña herself, then I would.
  • On a personal note, John and I are headed to France for a few weeks. We plan to spend a few days in Paris, a few more in Chamonix and finish it up in Eze, a walled city perched on a cliff above the French Riviera.

I believe in gratitude karma. As long as we are grateful for our good fortune, it will continue. When we start taking it for granted, however, happiness slips through our fingers. Take a moment to say what you’re grateful for. Give yourself a high-five for small successes and surprising blessings. How about it? What are you grateful for this week?

Moving to a Ski Town: What you should know

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Ski towns are awesome places. To live in a place where others go for vacation has a lovely and romantic swagger to it. In fact, it’s something I think most people (at least skiers and snowboarders) should do once in their lives. Before the complexities of life push you along the merry-go-round of conventionality, try stepping off for a little while, create your own definition of success and give ski-bumming a try.

You might hear that ski bumming isn’t what it used to be. Have a look at Jeremy Evans’ book In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum or Dick Barrymore’s “Last of the Ski Bums”, which in 1969, portrays the supposed heyday of ski

View from the Summit House at Crystal

bumming just as it was simultaneously vanishing. I’ll wager, however, that most of that retrospective nostalgia is simply 20-20 hindsight. You can still be a ski bum. Perhaps not in Aspen or Beaver Creek, or even Park City, simply for the lack of affordable housing. But look beyond the big resorts and you just might find a little piece of heaven. Crystal Mountain, for example, is not even a resort and the small town of Greenwater could hardly be considered a ski town. However, many of the perks of ski town life apply there. And contrary to what Jeremy Evans or even Dick Barrymore might put forth, ski bumming hasn’t died.

Some of the rules of conventional society are simply ignored in ski towns. Upon first glance, ski town life might almost seem utopian. What’s not to like about daily access to skiing, a tight-knit community of like-minded individuals and the shifting of social norms?

North side of the King, Crystal Mountain

It’s incorrect to assume that ski towns do not have social norms. In fact, the norms are just as real in these towns as anywhere else. They often have their own monetary system. A good ski tune can be purchased with a six pack of beer. (Click here to read Adventure Journal’s article on beer-based gratitude in ski towns). Ski towns have their own dating rules (guys, watch your girlfriends!) and their own social hierarchy (the better you ski, the more respect/dates/free gear you get). But like anything, there are pros and cons. Here are a few to consider:

Pros:

  • Great skiing. You can be there when the snow descends, not the crowds. While

    Photo by Andrew Longstreth

    not every day is bluebird, living there means you’ll be on the slopes when it is.

  • Nightlife. From après to afterhours, many bars and restaurants offer “locals” prices.
  • Commute. If you’re lucky enough to live close to the ski area or on the bus route, you just might not ever need to shovel out your Subaru.
  • Sense of community. Walking into a ski town bar is just about as close to Cheers as one can get. Ski towns are small towns, and participation in local events, politics and happenings brings the community together.

Cons:

  • More dudes than chicks. This can be good for the gals, if they’re picky enough (I will do a follow-up post for the ladies about this very subject soon). This is usually bad for the guys, except those that would rather just ski and not worry about messy things like relationships.
  • Expensive. Unless you’re a trustafarian (and many many supposed ski bums having ditched it all in favor of the zen-like truth of a trailer in the parking lot, actually get a regular check from a fund somewhere), you’re going to have to suck it up. Many ski area employees are underemployed. Best thing to do before ski bumming is to not strap yourself with too much school debt. That fancy education isn’t going to help you get a job at a ski area.
  • Some ski area employees get a job that doesn’t let them ski/snowboard. This is

    Photo by Chris Morin

    purely insane. If you move to a ski area, do yourself a favor. Ski (or snowboard, if that’s your thing). Having said that, many of the “good” jobs are hard to get, so apply early. It’s better to have the right job that lets you ski and no place to live than the other way around.

Other Advice:

Buy a sleeping bag. You never know when you’ll have to crash at a friend’s house. Better yet, trade your car in now for one that you can sleep in. I always had my Toyota Tacoma with a topper on the back. It was like the taj mahal back there.

Don’t invest in expensive ski gear. Good deals can always be found. Look for lightly used gear from friends that are upgrading. Shop the sales. Find a connection. Don’t, however, be a gear whore. Just find the best deals on the best gear and leave it at that. Contrary to what ski manufacturers want you to believe, you do NOT need to have the latest ski or snowboard in order to make the perfect turn. It will be just as good this season as it was last season on the same board(s).

When it’s good, appreciate it. That’s why you are here. Don’t wait to be happy until you’re situation is set, until you have the right skis, until you find someone to share your happy life with, until your housing comes through. Instead, when the sun shines, lift your chin towards it. When the snow falls, tuck your chin into your collar and ride through it. When you find yourself at the top of a peak and the view opens up momentarily, just for you, stop and look at it. Nothing lasts forever.

Manitoba Mountain: A new ski area wants to change the world

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Mountain Riders Alliance (or MRA) is moving forward on its plan to reopen Manitoba Mountain, a ski area on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula that closed down in 1960. MRA, according to its website, wants to make a “positive change in the ski industry.”

Their plan? To develop rider-owned-and-operated ski areas with minimal carbon footprints. Their website outlines how the business model will work: they will offer memberships to riders, utilize local and regional grants, and create energy and sell it back to the grid, all while keeping the infrastructure costs down. MRA has some pretty interesting goals, including everything from ensuring there’s a clock at every lift station along with free parking and a state-of-the-art website to making the world a better place.

Manitoba with Silvertip in the Background

Their first project? Manitoba. With three surface rope tows and 10,000 acres of terrain, this ski area could have the lowest infrastructure to acreage ratio of any ski area around. They will also create energy with small hydro projects as well as potentially develop wind and solar.

The terrain accessed from the rope tows will cater to beginners and intermediates. Beyond that, thousands of backcountry acres will be available via an access gate. Riders will be required to carry avalanche equipment and take responsibility for themselves. The details about access haven’t been spelled out specifically, so this remains a little to be seen. However, since MRA will soon be offering memberships (once they receive final approval for the project), this gives local owners a chance to set the ground rules for the ski community of Manitoba.

The model MRA is setting for Manitoba as well as other ski areas might not work for everyone. The base facilities will be minimal, and the really worthy terrain will first require up to a two-hour hike. But for a growing percentage of the ski population, this is exactly what they are looking for.

Skiers arriving from Anchorage will drive first by Girdwood, and its patrons, Alyeska Resort and Chugach Powder Guides, before continuing another hour to Manitoba, where few overnight accommodations exist. However, that’s just what might make Manitoba so special. It’s about the skiing. Not real estate, not a big lodge and a roaring fireplace. Maybe not even bored lifties and ski instructors working for tips and a few free runs in between classes. It’s simply about what happens when the lifts are actually turning, the backcountry access gates are open and the customers (or maybe members in this case) are carving, floating and hiking through deep snow.

Facts

  • Base elevation: 1,106 feet
  • Top of highest surface lift and backcountry access gate: 3,702 feet
  • Lift served vertical drop 2,596 feet
  • 3 Surface Lifts
  • Inbounds terrain: Approximately 1,000 acres
  • Backcountry and hike to terrain: Approximately 10,000 acres within a 2 hour hike
  • Estimated average annual snowfall: 350 – 550 inches

For more information, check out their website at www.skimanitobamountain.com.

Good News for the Ski Industry

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Big Skiing at Crystal Mountain

According to U.S. Forest Service and University of Georgia researchers, the ski industry could be in for a big boom. Bob Berwyn reports here that projected growth in skiing could be similar to that of the 60s and 70s, without a doubt the Golden Age of skiing.  They are calling for a 20 to 50 percent growth in skiing at developed ski areas. Much of this change is due to a projected shift in demographics, including an expected increase of population in the Pacific Northwest. My philosophy has always held that if you live in Seattle and you ski, the rain doesn’t bother you, since it means snow in the mountains.

So if you haven’t gotten on the skiing crazy train, now just might be the time to start. And if you contributed to the 60.1 million skier visits this past season, this is good news, too. Check out Bob’s article to find out why.