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.