It was during the summer of 2010 whilst writing my thesis that the idea of working a ski season popped into my head. I’d been a hermit all summer trying to finish my master’s degree, and the thought of going straight into “real life” was not very exciting. I hadn’t really worked while studying, thus traveling somewhere warm for the winter was not an option, so why not opt for snowy mountains? I’d skied only twice before and really enjoyed it, so a little plan started coming together in my brain. After a quick decision, I started researching.
There are many ways you can spend a season on the slopes depending on your budget and what you’re looking to get out of it. Some experienced skiers and boarders may save up to rent an apartment and not work, while others sort out their own accommodation and find work when they get there. As a first-time seasonal employee, I wanted a bit more security, which meant finding a job.
Location and language were not huge deals for me – I was a novice skier and not picky on country or resort. I only speak English, but most hotels and chalets employ English-speaking staff or staff from the company’s origin. For example, Swedish companies employ Swedish staff for their chalets in Austria and France, and the same for British companies, so it was easy to find a resort that worked for me.
The main jobs available for European “seasonaires” are chalet hosts, hotel staff, drivers and chefs. You can also work as resort reps and ski guides, but those jobs are more for experienced seasonaires and have more responsibility. With seasonal jobs you don’t get paid much, but your travel, lift pass, insurance, equipment, accommodation and food is all included, hence the influx of “ski bums” that arrive at the resort every year.
The only expense I really had was going out and having drinks. Most bars and clubs offer seasonaire discount so you get cheaper drinks and free entry, which helps your money go further. Many companies start employing staff in July and August, so make sure you get in early to give yourself more options. But, if you’re too late in applying, don’t give up on your dream of a winter season – people drop out and companies are constantly looking for staff throughout the season, so it’s never too late, even if the season has started.
After a few Skype interviews with different companies I landed myself two jobs, one in France and one in Austria. Both offered similar packages and pay so I researched the resorts and accepted a job in a hotel in Saalbach – Hinterglem, Austria. The company pretty much took care of everything, so I felt pretty stress-free going into it.
Having only skied twice before, I was pretty worried I would be terrible compared to the others. However, I was surprised by how many people had embarked upon a season having never tried skiing or snowboarding. Don’t be put off doing a season if you’ve never tried it before, it’s the perfect way to learn. There’s nothing more irritating than learning to ski on a week’s holiday, finally getting it, and then having to go home. Of the 13 staff from my hotel, five or six had never tried before, so with the help of the other staff everyone spent a few days teaching each other. You can also book lessons and as it would be early season and you are a seasonaire, you may get some discount too!
In my job we worked six days a week, which is pretty standard in European ski resorts. Working hours can vary depending on your job role but you still get time to hit the mountain. I worked a few hours in the morning (7 – 11 a.m. or 9 – 11 a.m.) serving breakfast and cleaning rooms, then serving dinner in the evening (6:30- 10 p.m.). We had plenty of time to hit the slopes in the day and party after work at night. Late nights and early mornings almost become routine, but hey – you never remember the nights you get lots of sleep right?
Austria is famous for its Après ski scene (post-shredding or skiing bars/restaurants) and my resort did not disappoint. Its energetic nightlife and large ski area made it the perfect place for a ski season and even after five months I was not bored of the place. Working the ski season can be hard as you are living (sharing bedrooms is very common in season accommodation), working and socializing with the same people day-in day-out for five months. You become like a small family – yes, you get on each other’s nerves from time to time, but you’re all there for the same reason – to have fun!
I cannot even begin to describe how much of an amazing experience it was, waking up everyday with a view of the mountains on your doorstep wondering which runs to do that day. Yes, you are there to work, but even the work is fun. You meet different sets of guests each week and you are working alongside people who have become great friends.
My snap decision to do a season ended up being a great experience and something I highly recommend! One of my closest friends came to visit me for a week during my season and ended up taking sabbatical the next year to do a season herself. Whether you’re an experienced skier or boarder looking for more mountain time or a complete novice, working in a hotel or chalet is a great way to spend a winter in the mountains without breaking the bank.
About the author:
Sian has always had a thirst for traveling and loves to take every opportunity to do so. From studying abroad in San Francisco to a winter in the alps, she enjoys the chance to live in new places and meet new people. Having spent nearly two years traveling Australia, she has now relocated to Helsinki, Finland where she works in an international pre-school. She likes to explore what Finland has to offer while using holidays as a way to take trips to other parts of Europe. She is hoping to use the working holiday visa for New Zealand in the future and believes traveling will always be a big part of her life.