Jobs Abroad: a Guide to Working a Ski Season
I feel like working a ski season on your gap year should be an obligatory rite of passage for everyone. Especially for those who’ve never been up a mountain before, as it’ll show them exactly what they’ve been missing out on.
I really do believe that everyone should go and live in the mountains for 4 months. At what other stage of your life are you ever going to be able to do that? It’s simply another way of life up there. Many seasonnaires adore it so much that they go back year after year and, like Peter Pan, never really grow up and join the “real world”. The only reason I resisted the “pull” of a life of endless ski seasons is because I had a place at university waiting for me back in England.
Living in the mountains is like living in a bubble where the rest of the world simply ceases to exist, your world consists of going “up the hill” (going skiing/snowboarding), après-ski (one of my favourite pastimes) and working. All of which leaves very little time for sleeping, so it’s essential to do it while you’re young and still have lots of energy. Few lucky people can afford to simply go and live out there, so everyone has some form of job to keep them going.
Depending on which resort you’re in and the altitude, the length of a season will vary, with the average being around 4 months. In the Alps you may be out there from December-April and it’ll be more or less similar in North America too, and the season in South America runs from June to early October. Don’t expect to make your millions on a ski season – seasonnaires work for the lifestyle, not the wage. It’s such a brilliant experience that you’ll love it equally as much whether you’re a Kitchen Porter or a Ski Instructor.
Here’s a brief guide to the sort of jobs available:
Chalet Girl/Boy in a hotel:
Good for Gap Year-ers and people without much work experience. Duties include cleaning rooms and serving food. Perks: Employers normally provide accommodation, food, lift pass, ski hire, flights to and from the resort. Working with lots of other people so very easy to meet people. Downsides: abysmal pay (I received £50/week for 6-days-a-week work), sometime in the daytime when you could be out on the slopes.
This job is similar to Chalet Girl/Boy but it’s a smaller chalet, accommodating around 8-16 people, and you’ll probably have to buy food and cook as well. Perks: employers normally provide everything (as above) and you may well receive hefty tips at the end of the week. Downsides: much harder work and more stressful than Chalet Girl/Boy. You are your own boss and therefore have a lot of responsibility. Mostly working alone or perhaps with one other person, you’ll have less chance of meeting other seasonnaires.
Experience and qualifications needed. Duties are pretty obvious from the job title. Perks: paid considerably better than general Chalet Girls, but you really need to have a career as a chef first. Downsides: will sometimes have to cook in the daytime instead of being out skiing and you’ll often miss out on the après-ski.
For people with languages. This is another hotel-based job. Perks: you’ll tend to have the daytime free as all the guests are out skiing, and you don’t have any manual labour to do. Very sociable as it’s your job to talk to people. Downsides: not that well paid.
Working a ski season should be an obligatory rite of passage for everyone.
For people with the qualifications to teach. Perks: an awesome uniform, you spend all day out on the slopes and have the evenings off. Downsides: You still have to work when there’s a blizzard and equally, on glorious powder days, you have to stay on the baby slopes with the learners while other seasonnaires eat up all the off-piste.
Some hotels offer a hosting service. For this you don’t need to be qualified but you do need to be a good skier (unfortunately, demand for snowboard hosts is lower). Perks: you get to be out on the slopes all day, hefty tips at the end of the week and free lunches up the mountain with your guests and evenings off. Downsides: you have to stay strictly on the slops, so no off-piste after heavy snowfall.
Ski Shop Assistant:
You help out people who are hiring equipment for the week. Perks: shops shut in the late morning and are largely empty midweek so there’s plenty of time for skiing. Downsides: you’ll be very busy at weekends on transfer day (well, the whole resort is really) and you’ll have to work in the mornings throughout the week. Usually need to speak the local language.
Bar/restaurant work in resort:
Perks: Some say this is the very best job to have as you’re completely free during the daytime to ski as much as you like. Downsides: it can be harder to find jobs in bars/restaurants in advance, so you may just have to go out to the resort and ask around. Accommodation is not normally provided for you, so you’ll have to find it and pay for it yourself.
Don’t expect to make your millions on a ski season – seasonnaires work for the lifestyle, not the wage.
Various holiday companies have reps that live out in resort and meet and greet the holiday makers that stay in various hotels. Duties may also include skiing with them, organising restaurant meals and pub crawls, etc. They’re also generally on call at all times if there’s a disaster, such as someone injuring themselves or getting lost. Perks: pays a lot better than a lot of jobs and can involve more freedom, as well as looking good on a CV. Downsides: they have more responsibility, and for a large number of people. They also have to deal with any complaints or problems.
There are obviously many, many other jobs out there of all descriptions, from ski lift attendants to nannies to technicians, and I don’t know of all of the available jobs. A few key things apply for all jobs though:
- You have to be available for the whole season as jobs for only part of it are very rare.
- You can’t take a week off here or there to go home for Christmas for example, so once you’re there, you’re staying there.
- If you have free accommodation then it will not be glamorous and you’ll be sharing with other people.
- Most seasonnaires in junior jobs are aged between 18-25 so there’ll always be a great party atmosphere.
- It really doesn’t matter if you’ve never skied/snowboarded before as you’ll learn so quickly! If you can’t find anyone to show you how to ski then invest in 1 or 2 lessons, or simply watch how other people do it.
- Oh and take a lot of warm clothes!
Whatever job you have in resort, it’s really only a means to an end = skiing, so don’t worry if it’s not the best job in the world. As everyone’s either on holiday or practising a sport they love, there’s a fantastic buzzing atmosphere and you’re guaranteed to enjoy it.