The Aussie winter draws to a close and, true to form, hordes of young men and women plan their summer escape- a working holiday in the snow. Taking a working holiday to the snow’s a great way to kill a few months. For most Uni students, it provides a welcome reprieve from their studies and allows them to travel without a vast reservoir of savings. Before I take a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of northern hemisphere ski seasons, let me dispel a few rumours:
- You won’t save money- Ski resorts know if you don’t take the job they’re offering, for minimum wage, the next chump will. Don’t rely on making money while you’re away. Unless you have a particular skill to offer, don’t bank on making bank! Also...participating in the various nightlife “cultures” on offer generally tends to make a fairly considerable dent on your account. It isn’t unreasonable, however, to “break even”.
- You’re not guaranteed snow- The northern hemisphere, like the rest of the world, is experiencing changing weather conditions. Don’t be naive in thinking that resorts are immune to seasons of poor snowfall!
- Working outdoors is not that much fun!- The liftie was once revered; hang outside, sneak in some runs when the bosses aren’t around and mingle with the snow bunnies. In reality, and spoken from experience, working outdoors exposes you to the elements..no matter how cold/wet the days’ conditions are..you’re out there, sweeping off lift chairs...no matter how hungover you are..you’re there, forcing a smile and dealing with people who can’t get themselves onto and off of a moving seat. It’s thankless, tiring work! Find a job indoors, where it’s warm!
Now that we’ve dealt with that, let’s talk about what you’ll need to do, to organise a working holiday and survive the winter abroad.
The first decision to make is whether you want to organise everything yourself or go through an organisation like OWH (Overseas Working Holiday), for example.
There are pros and cons to each, the chief factors to consider in both is time, money and flexibility.
Working At A Ski Resort Through An Agency
Organising yourself through an agency generally costs between $800-$1000 and it’s a great option if you’re new to travel. There are some things which are difficult when planning to live and work abroad, as you essentially plan to re-establish a life in a new country. For example- set-up of bank accounts, mobile accounts, finding accommodation, finding work, getting the appropriate visas. I still remember my first trip- the respective to-do list felt insurmountable. I made the decision to pay for an agency service, for which I have no regrets. Everything was taken care of, including a pre-departure party in Brisbane so that I could meet some people that’d be working at the same resort as me. It sounds kind of irrelevant, but arriving with some friendships already established makes a world of difference!
Upon getting to Canada, the agency arranged my appointments at the bank to set up an account, got me a tax number and even organised my sim-card...it felt like money well spent! Considering the agencies have standing agreements with the ski resorts, another advantage is that you’re guaranteed a resort job. The advantage to being employed by the resort is huge. You would normally receive a free/salary-sacrifice lift pass, which saves close to $1000, discounts on lessons, activities, food and beverages, to name a few. Further to that, entitlements to staff housing at a reduced rate and relative job security- as you’ll be working based on contract.
So why doesn’t everyone just go through an agency, if it’s that easy?? Good question...As with all things in this world, there are detriments to resort work. The hours can often be cruel and unforgiving with very little emphasis on your own enjoyment of the season (time spent skiing/boarding etc), unskilled positions will often be paid minimum wage and you have few rights for complaint (the dark side to contract-based work). There’s little flexibility in having an agency organise your trip for you, also. There is an expectation that you’ll adhere to their time frames and no guarantee that you’ll get placed at the ski resort you want to go to. As they offer guaranteed employment, if your first choice resort doesn’t have a spot for you or doesn’t think you’re suitable..guess what?? Yep, you’re getting busted back to some b-rate resort with no night-life and one rickety old lift (ok, so this is not always the case, but I know people who’ve ended up like this).
Essentially, if you’re familiar with travel and adapting to new countries and their inherent internal systems (dealing with banks, visa processes etc.), sometimes it pays to arrange the work yourself. It’s probably swings and roundabouts for cost, once you consider buying your lift pass and time/resources spent finding work and a share house, but at least you have a little more control over your destiny. If this is the option that most appeals to you, I’d suggest the idea of finding a ski town to live/work in, rather than staying on a ski resort. Cost of living is going to be cheaper as you don’t pay the premium mountain prices (rent, groceries, alcohol, bars/clubs), work options are more diverse, as are the options for finding a rental property. Most importantly, it’s likely you’ll get paid better and afforded the right to be a little more choosy with your hours.
If you do intend to organise the trip off your own back, could I suggest that you get all the leg work in early. It’s possible to just rock-up, with no plans, at the town/resort you’ve picked to spend your winter at, but it can be a pretty competitive market for finding accommodation and a decent job. Begin looking at properties and sending out resumes months before you even leave Australia...if possible, lock in and confirm your job, and rental place before you arrive. This will save you a great deal of heartache. I’ve seen too many people turn up thinking they’ll get work easily, only to find that there aren’t any jobs left and the only rentals are the places that you’d have to sell a kidney to afford. This is a sure fire way to end your season early or fail to even get started.
In conclusion, a working holiday in the snow is an amazing way to spend the summer. You’ll hone your snow sports skills, make new friends, try dumb/outrageous things (a rite of passage for any young traveller!) and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Consider the options when it comes to organising your trip- agencies take the guesswork out of planning for the season, guarantee work and save you any hassles. What you take away in convenience you lose in options. There’s less flexibility in choosing your resort and field of work but guaranteed job security and a plethora of resort discounts. On the flip, self-planned working holidays afford you the right to be master, in control of all aspects of your travel. It may take longer to find work, or, you may never find it at all- dependant on how proactive you are when looking- but you’ll likely find a more flexible position with better chances of spending time actually skiing/boarding.
Either way, you can’t go wrong! Just get out there and do it! Here's a helpful ski holiday packing list to help you prepare for your trip.
Ski Season Jobs
Here’s a quick list of go-to jobs that I’ve either worked or had friends work in, which don’t require prior experience or training.
You generally start work very early and will frequently open the shop to a snaking line of people wanting early set-ups so they can get out for first chairs. It’s a fast and furious way to start the day but usually comes in short bursts of intensity. You work indoors and get your pick of gear to try out when it’s not being used. Great way to meet people, also.
Early starts and long periods spent outdoors, no matter the weather. It’s a great way to meet people and you do get some extra riding in, but is it worth the low pay and high exposure to the elements?
Usually get heaps of free goodies pre-season, during the product training days. Standard business trading hours- retail is a good way to meet people with the added advantage of working indoors.
You tend to work during the day with no early starts to speak of. Although you seldom mingle with anyone outside of your department, there is the added advantage of keeping all the leftover booze/groceries left behind in the serviced apartments/hotels that you’ll clean. This means you save money on essentials like milk, bread etc.
Great work as it usually happens at night, leaving the day free to ride. You’ll pick up discount meals/drinks and if you’re working in North America, tips! I’ve known certain waitresses to make upward of $130 p/night in tips, which is pretty good!
Similar to most of the above mentioned, this job requires an early start, pre-lift opening. Being customer service-based work, it’s a great chance to meet people, with the advantage of being indoors. You often build a network of contacts within ticketing, across a range of activities offered by your resort, meaning cheap/free activities like tubing, ice skating, sledding etc.
Seemingly the holy grail for resort jobs, if you’re a hardcore rider. You work late nights meaning you get a good shred in, most days, before having a sleep in the afternoon and then heading to work. Due to the peculiar hours, you get a slight pay bump and as you’ll be working nights, seldom have the chance to waste your money at the pub. It’s lonely work, but you are often left to your own devices. It does put you on a rather polarised sleep schedule to most other working-holiday makers, however.
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