ski resort Outdoor Blog > Ski & Snow

The non skier's guide to working at a ski resort

ski season

Every year, when the temperature in the mountains drops, the air in contact with the rock is cooled and any moisture is deposited as snow. Well, that's a simplistic version of why the Alps get a dressed in a new coat of powder each year. What really matters is that until global warming gets completely out of control, our winter playgrounds attract billions of people each year to play in the snow. OK millions.

Maybe you are already a snow junkie, a regular ski or snowboarder, and know everything there is to know about how to live life to the max in resort. Or maybe you are one of the many newbies, about to embark on your first season working in a ski resort environment. This article is aimed squarely at the latter, and is designed to give you a few tips on what to expect and what to look out for, how to fit in and make the resort somewhere you belong.

Ski resorts are often relatively sleepy towns and villages during the summer, catering for people looking for peaceful and slow paced walking holidays, or groups of mountain bikers taking advantage of the ski lifts, but hardly what you would describe as bustling. However, when the temperature drops and the first flakes of snow start dusting the pistes, the resorts being to take on a life of their own. First to arrive are the tour operators, and chalet owners, making sure their properties, facilities and staff, are ready for the approaching season.

If you are heading out to work in some kind of maintenance capacity, you will be the first to get started. You'll be busy during the season, fixing all the problems caused by extreme temperatures, but there will be lots of little jobs to take care of before the first guests even arrive. Maybe you are a chef, or part of the chalet staff. You guys will probably arrive in resort a couple of weeks before the first guests, giving you plenty of time to get familiar with the place and what will be expected of you on a daily basis.

Tip 1: Expectations

Asking you to manage your expectations sounds like business jargon, but it is actually a great way to begin your winter adventure. Don't expect a non stop party. There will be plenty of time for fun, but there is some challenging work to do, especially if you want a decent reference to increase your chances of being able to repeat the experience next year. If you go into the job knowing that you need to achieve a balance between work and play, you will feel less like a child in a classroom gazing into the playground, wishing the maths equations would go away.
Importance level: Medium

Tip 2: Accidents

You've chosen to go and work in a ski resort, of course you are going to hit the slopes in your down time; who wouldn't! Especially when most employers recognise that a free, season long ski pass is a tempting addition to any job package. If you are a competent skier or snowboarder then you will know the risks, but if you are new to the activity, you need to be really careful that you don't become a ‘chefualty'. It's a new term we have coined, because every season, chalet managers have to plunge back into the job market to find replacement chefs, their first choice having to fly home because of injury. Don't cut your season short through your own stupidity on a pair of skis.
Importance level: High

Tip 3: Clothing

Your Mum will probably tell you to wrap up warm before you go, so we don't need to do that. If you cannot get the kit before you leave for resort, make sure you pick up some decent clothing once you get there. And by decent, we mean the type of coat, boots, hats, etc that will protect you at temperatures well below zero. You may even benefit from some good discounts in resort, though do bear in mind that you are part of a captive audience so the prices are likely to be as inflated as the pasties at a petrol station.
Importance level: Low to Medium

Tip 4: Budgeting

Unless you are exceedingly lucky and money is not an issue, budgeting is a necessary evil, especially if you are living and working in an environment designed to extract as much money as possible from wealthy tourists. A bit of forethought and research could drastically reduce your outgoings. If food and drink are not part of your job package, make sure you find out from the other season workers, the best places to find food. The slope side cafes and restaurants may be very tempting with their stunning views, but there are likely to be places offering equally good food, at a much more realistic price. If you don't have to worry about how much money you haven't got, all the time, you will have a far more enjoyable season.
Importance level: Medium

Tip 5: Alcohol

We really are starting to sound like your mother now. The thing is, drinking is a big part of the social side of working in a ski resort. Just as in a university setting, people tend to spend their nights drinking alcohol and their days talking about how much alcohol they drank the night before. It's not big and it's not clever, but everybody does it anyway. If you are going to blow all your earnings on booze (see our budgeting tip above!), make sure you don't overdo it. Don't get a bad reputation with your employer or they will be having words.
Importance level: Medium