Each winter thousands of people pack their bags and travel to the ski resorts of Europe to work and ski, for the entire 5 month season. For some it's a once-in-a-lifetime gap year experience, while for those in their second or third seasons it's simply a recurring way of life. Many will have dreamt of living in the mountains since their first holiday, while others will have never strapped on skis or a snowboard before in their life. There are those who live for first lifts and fresh powder lines, and there are those who see Jaeger bombs and Mutzig beer as the essential elements.
Whichever category you fit in to, if you are considering doing a winter season there will be a job that works for you. Each one has it's own distinct advantage and disadvantages, so we've written down a few thoughts on the main ski season jobs available for your consideration.
The vast majority of people end up working for one of the large tour operators as general hotel/chalet staff. The biggest advantage with these companies is that they will pretty much arrange everything for you. They hold interview days in London, and if you are successful you won't have to worry about arranging travel or accommodation, you'll get your lift pass and equipment, and you're instantly involved with a large group of people all in the same situation.
The work in hotels and chalets tends to be early mornings for your guests breakfast, followed by cleaning, and then work again in the evenings for dinner. Most staff claim they can get out on the slopes for 11am once they have worked out all the acceptable short cuts in their job. They usually have to be back in work for 4pm and afternoon tea which generally gives them 3-4 hours each day on the mountain.
The disadvantage with tour operator jobs is definitely the pay. Once deductions have been made for food, accommodation, lift pass, etc. most workers are left with approximately A£50 a week to spend. Of course everything is provided, but the resort bars and shops usually receive what little money they possess and most people end up spending more than they make.
Tour operators will also have jobs for resort reps, kitchen staff, and maintenance staff. There is the potential to make a little bit more money, or have a little bit of an easier life with some of these jobs but they are largely similar in working hours and general atmosphere.
One of the most sought after ski season jobs in resort, which can make it difficult to get employed in this role. Depending on the opening hours you can expect to work any shift from 11am (if they do food) until 3am by the time you have closed and cleaned up. Obviously you're not working all those hours, but you can expect to either work a day or night shift 6 out of 7 days a week. Some bars will only be open after the slopes close which means you can get all the time on the mountain you want, but they will expect you to work late nights.
Some bars will conduct interviews in England before the season starts, but the vast majority will rely on you having already made some sort of contact with them previously. Far more bar staff return year on year than in any other position which can make getting the job difficult in the first place. Also, many staff who work other jobs seek to secure bar work for the following winter during their time in resort. However, this shouldn't put you off as bars and restaurants will be looking for hard-working and reliable staff.
It's best to research the type of establishments in your chosen resort and then apply to them individually as they will likely have different processes. Of course you can start with the most popular bar in town, but this is also most likely to be fully staffed, so remember the smaller, quieter places too.
Bar and restaurant staff can expect to make around €10 an hour but in most cases will be expected to find and pay for their own accommodation and transport to resort. If this is your first season then this can seem daunting, but most places will at least point you in the right direction, or will have some options available to you. A basic knowledge of the native language is beneficial, and previous experience in the UK is looked upon positively. You can expect to work hard, but also to be known well around the town and to be at the centre of all the goings on in resort.
Airport transfer companies seek competent and experienced drivers to transport their clients up to the mountains. Tour operators can also look for drivers but this job is usually around resort only and can be combined with the maintenance job. You will be expected to be confident driving a 9 seat minibus around the mountain roads, have experience, or at least knowledge of, driving in snowy and icy conditions and fitting snow chains. More than anything though, transfer companies are looking for someone reliable who will represent their company to passengers. If you think you can party until 5am and then drive the next morning you won't last long in this position.
Again, individual companies will have different employment procedures; with some requiring a face-to-face interview. In the first instance you should do an internet search on relevant transfer providers and send your cv to them. As with any job, you should send a cover letter explaining why you feel you would be perfect for this role.
Different transfer companies will have different work patterns and it is important to understand what will be expected of you before applying. Some are looking for full-time drivers to work 5 or 6 days a week. Others will be looking for weekend drivers to help them during busy periods only. Each one has it's advantages and disadvantages but it is essential to understand what is expected before you join. You don't want to be working every day on your gap year and have no time for anything else, and you don't want to be working just one day a week and struggling for money.
Drivers will be expected to find their own accommodation and transport, but the transfer company should be able to point you in the right direction. You can expect to be paid approximately €10 an hour but will likely have to pay French tax on that wage. A good knowledge of the native language is important, mainly if you ever have the misfortune of having to deal with the local police.
Can you afford to not work and spend all your time enjoying the various pleasures the mountains hold? Won the lottery, been saving pennies for the last year, or got a trust fund? Well live the dream then and become an official ski bum! Seriously, if you think you have the necessary cash saved up then taking a 5 month holiday could be the choice for you. Just be aware that many people end up spending all their money in the first 2 months and then living off an industrial sized bag of pasta for the rest of the time.
Obviously you'll be looking at getting your own accommodation with a few friends to keep costs down. You'll have to shell out for your lift pass and your journey over there, but once those big costs are out the way it's possible to budget quite tightly for the rest of the time. Make friends with chalet hosts and bar staff for free food and drinks, and generally enjoy yourself. You'll make the biggest improvements in your skiing or snowboarding, never miss a perfect day on the hill, and have little or no stress in your life. It is possible to pick up casual work in resort, but you will have to cultivate friendships and contacts if you want to succeed. You'll also know the cheapest type of alcohol in any given bar or shop, and be an expert on super noodles.