What is the ski industry and what ski resort jobs are available?
As with many other aspects of our lives, it was the fun loving Victorians who were among the first to decided that it would be fun to go skiing as a way of getting away from the cotton mills and coal mines and having some good clean fun in the snow. And it was they who helped pave the way, or rather 'rail the way' for the modern Alpine ski resorts by taking the trains up to small villages in previously inhospitable mountains.
The early days were dominated by fledging ski clubs, and the pastime was still very much something for the wealthy, even up until relatively recently. By the second half of the twentieth century the world was returning to normality and technological developments allowed mass tourism to take hold. Time had come for the ski resorts of the Alps, they were about to change in a big way.
How popular is the ski industry?
Second only to the Mediterranean coast, the European Alps attract many millions of visitors every year, with the majority arriving in time for the first snows of late October or early November. While it is difficult to put exact figures on such a huge and diverse region, covering several different countries, estimates for the number of people who can be accommodated at any given time is more than ten million! This figure alone tells you about the allure of the mountains, and perhaps not surprisingly, just how big the ski industry has become. And this is just Europe. When you add in the number of people who go skiing in North America, Japan and New Zealand...
Anything offered on such a massive scale quickly stops being exclusive and niche. Rest assured you can still hire some very exclusive chalets, with access to less well trampled snow, for staggering amounts of money. But you can also enjoy a ski holiday on a budget and many many people do, every season. To cater for the increasing masses, small Alpine villages have expanded far beyond their original boundaries, and groomed pistes have been expanded and joined together to form massive joined up ski resorts.
Who are the ski resort workers?
People visit the Alps for all manner of reasons: even with snow on the ground, some people simply come to relax and take in the stunning mountain scenery. Others visit to slide down the same scenery with carbon planks strapped to their feet. All of these people require food and shelter to keep them happy. And as most people do indeed come to enjoy snowsports, they need the associated infrastructure that keeps the place ticking. This is a service industry on a huge scale; servicing these tourists is where you, as a ski resort worker, come in!
The job roles available
There are many many ways to earn enough money to spend your whole winter in resort but the majority of seasonal ski resort work can be divided between just a few broad types of occupation: Chalet workers, which is the generic term for people associated with any type of hotel or guest house accommodation. Catering staff who work either within the hotels and chalets, or in restaurants and eateries that dot the slopes catering for the hungry hordes. Instructors who help people who may never have enjoyed skiing or snowboarding before, or who wish to improve their technique. And finally what we will refer to as Support Staff, who do all manner of jobs from reps and resort managers to childcare staff and clothing and equipment technicians.
How easy is it to get involved?
Actually, relatively easy. For some job types you will definitely need professional qualifications. Most child care staff and all ski and snowboard instructors. Chefs too are more often than not required to have the proper training, skills and certificates. Chalet staff and some support staff, however, do not tend to have qualifications as such, and even previous resort experience is not always required. If you can demonstrate that you have the attributes that make a good resort worker - fun, friendly, helpful, resourceful, and all the other adjectives that come in handy when dealing with the public, then you have a good chance of finding ski resort work, especially if you start applying early enough.
When will you be required?
Getting employment in a ski resort is usually seasonal – that is, something you do for part of the year. It even has a name: "Seasonaire". We talk more about ways to become a Seasonaire in an earlier article. In the case of the European Alps, the vast majority will be looking at arriving around mid November to coincide with the first fresh snow fall and in preparation for an influx of tourists from late November onwards. The end of the season is usually around April when the last reliable snow falls.
Obviously this will depend on unpredictable global weather patterns, as well as factors like the altitude of the resort you are working in – the higher up the mountain you are, the more snow you are likely to see. Plus the industry is so lucrative that many resorts cannot afford to risk a lack of snow, so they are more than capable of creating their own to keep many of the runs open to the public. There are of course jobs available which do not match this seasonal pattern, such as restaurants that staying open all year, and tour operators switching to summer sports like mountain biking and hiking to keep the revenue going. Some very exclusive places even take advantage of year round glaciers for 365 skiing! But for the majority or you, blank out your calendar from November to April.
Key points to remember:
If you want ski resort work, don’t leave it until the tinsel appears in the high street – October is usually too late as most ski companies look to get their staff in place during the summer months.
For skilled individuals, look for jobs like chefs, child care staff, and snowsport instructors. For unskilled folk, take a chalet role, or bar and restaurant work.
The Alps offer up the most vacancies, especially France and Austria. But if you can get a visa, the US and Canada are also available.
Mess up your body clock completely by working two winter seasons back to back – one in the northern hemisphere followed by one in the southern.