How to survive a ski season
How difficult can working a ski season possibly be?
Life as a seasonaire seems rosy at first. After all, what could be better than spending every day surrounded by beautiful mountains, warm sunshine and being able to hit the slopes every day? After working two consecutive winter seasons, I've discovered there's a lot more to it than first meets the eye.
All play and no work will get you sent home early
Life as a seasonaire is synonymous with partying and hedonism but it’s important to remember that the only reason you’re there is because you have a job. You’ll need a lot of stamina to be able to keep up with the drinking culture that’s famous in ski resorts as you’ll be up early nearly every day and awake until late in the evening. Some companies will bring all their staff to the resort by the busload from the UK and promptly take all their new recruits out drinking. You’ll think you’ve landed the best job in the world, you’ve just arrived, the surroundings are beautiful and now your manager is plying you with tequila and encouraging you to dance on the table. As you get lost in a fog of inebriation, you’ll have failed to have noticed that the same bus that brought you here is still parked outside. It’s that same bus that will be taking you back to blighty the very next day if you fail to get up for work.
A ski season can be long, up to five months, and in that time you’ll have many a boozy night ahead, whether it’s socialising with guests or attending numerous seasonaire theme nights. Those free shots your new manager and, at the time, your new best friend, is feeding you is actually part of a test. If you can’t get yourself up for work on the first morning of your job after just one heavy night out, you’ll be shipped back home with your tail between your legs, having to sheepishly explain to your friends why the job you’ve been bragging about for weeks has come to an untimely end. Which brings me to…
You could get fired without warning
Despite being registered in the UK and run under British employment laws, ski companies generally adhere to rules of their own. If you don’t turn up for work because you were staggering around the local nightclub at 6am or you’ve angered a guest by hitting on his wife then you’ll be out the door. You won’t be given any verbal or written warnings, you’ll just have to pack your bags and off you go. I’m not sure how legal this actually is but it’ll be the last thing on your mind as you’re stood in freezing temperatures at the top of a mountain, in a foreign country with no money and even less of an idea of how you’re going to get yourself home. Ah yes, money.
You won't save any money
If you think that by working a ski season you’ll have money in the bank by the time you leave then think again. Wages are notoriously low and you should expect to earn between £80-120 a week depending on the company. Couple this with lots of nights out with average drinks prices ranging from £5-8 a pint and that measly wage soon disappears. Seasonaires do get their lift pass, equipment, food and accommodation included so even on a low wage you can survive but don’t expect to be taking much back with you. I even heard of one seasonaire ending her season £3000 in debt at the end of a season, after going out every night and simply piling the bills on to her credit card.
The size of your peak matters
It can be tempting to take the first job that’s offered to you but make sure you’ve done your research first. Decide where you want to go and apply for jobs in that particular area. If you’re going to be spending five months in a place where there’s little else to do but ski then make sure there’s enough mountain to keep you occupied. A small ski area might seem quaint and interesting at first but once you’ve skied the same few runs over and over then it will get boring fast. Another thing to check is average snow coverage too. With global temperatures rising, ski resorts have been struggling with snowfall the last few years and you don’t want to be stuck working somewhere that hasn’t seen snow for months and you’ve little else to do with your free time other than sit around wishing you were somewhere else.
By the end of the season, you'll be ready to go home
When you first arrive at your resort, you’ll be amazed by the view, you’ll be meeting new people and have a new job to get used to. By the end of it all, you’ll have dealt with demanding guests, drunken idiots, crying children and you’ll be sick of being nice to people you want to slap in the face. You’re in a resort up a mountain for a long time and the equivalent of cabin fever can set in. You’ll also be downright tired too. You’ll have been getting up early for five months with a single day off sandwiched somewhere in the middle of the week, the snow will have turned to mush and it’ll have all started to get a little tedious. You’ll have spent all your time watching other people enjoying their holiday and, by the end of the season, all you’ll want is one of your own.
You'll have an unforgettable experience
And yet, despite all the unseen difficulties and the hard work, it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget. There’s no feeling better than being at the top of a mountain gazing out at breathtaking views, feeling warm winter sunshine on your face before meandering down the slopes, as you spare a thought for the poor saps back home being rained on in the bleak, grey midwinter. There’s a real sense of achievement when you finish a season and it can be quite moving when you have to say goodbye to your new found friends. There are few jobs where you can build up a feeling of camaraderie in such a short space of time and it’s an experience I’d recommend wholeheartedly. Just try not to spend more money than you actually earn.