This is a guest post by Leah Lipka, a highly traveled and adventurous Alaskan who has worked all over the world, as well as the founder of Trust Your Guts Travel. Leah has offered to share her expertise in working a variety of jobs in order to live out the ski resort life!
WHAT’S IT LIKE… to live and work at a ski resort?
I couldn’t afford to go on a ski vacation so I turned my life into one.
Through various positions over 4 ski seasons I managed to make a ski vacation my everyday reality. I waitressed, bartended, worked at the front desk of a hotel and baby sat my way into the ski world.
Living and working at Big Sky Ski Resort in Big Sky, Montana was one of the best experiences of my life. I would wake up to 6 inches of fresh snow, a 5 minute walk from my door to the chair lift an entire mountain to explore and no lift lines. Mornings were filled with skiing, afternoons were filled with après ski beers and evenings were spent in hot tubs or local watering holes exchanging war stories from the mountain. Some days I couldn’t believe this was my life and if I paused to think about it I would get downright giddy.
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Unlimited access to a world class skiing and a laid back lifestyle! There is nothing better than a bluebird powder day and face shots shared with good friends. You can lose your breath at the top of the tram and not be sure if it is due to the incredible views or the terrifying route you have to navigate to get back down. There something really special about being able to catch a couple turns on your lunch break and walking out your front door to take a few quick runs. You are living and breathing ski life, and that itself is pretty great.
Holding a season pass made skiing a completely different experience. If the weather is bad there is no pressure to ski, or if you are not having fun there is no pressure to stay out until the lifts stop turning. A season pass gives you the freedom to pick and choose your ski days without feeling guilty. Your skiing will improve greatly even in one season and its fun to get a little scared and push your limits.
I showed up in Montana not knowing a soul, never having been to that state before and not very confident in my skiing abilities. At the end of the season I had met people from all over the world who were interested in a less “by the book” lifestyle, I was in love with the Montana lifestyle, and I was comfortably skiing trails I never imagined I would be able to conquer. On days you need a change of pace from resort skiing there is cross country, back country, snow shoeing, hiking, tubing, zip lining and Yellowstone National Park was right next door.
It really did feel like living a vacation.
Mountain life is a little too laid back and it is easy to get sucked in. The drinking culture borders on rampant and you are not going to get rich here. The work can be tedious and is almost all service in nature. By the end of the season you are exhausted from answering the same questions over and over. I pulled doubles countless days and missed out on some great snow, or was just too tired to ski on some off days. For most seasons I held more than 1 job at a time. Your schedule is variable, money ebbs and flows with the season. You have to hoard your money to make it through the off season and a bad snow year can mean a bad pay check.
But I saw all of this a trade-off for getting to live a vacation as my everyday life and to me it was more than worth it!
HOUSING, TRANSPORTATION, AND MONEY:
There is a saying that in a ski town you either have 3 jobs or 3 roommates and it is pretty much true.
Housing is far and away the biggest challenge of ski life. Most accommodations are aimed at vacationers or second home owners and are just out of the price range of seasonal workers. Affordable housing disappears fast and people were being shuttled to work on a bus for an hour each way.
The resort offers employee housing in dorm style accommodations but it is dirty, loud and fairly expensive for what you get (and no kitchen). My biggest suggestion if you are thinking of a ski life is to secure your housing early.
Transportation- there was a city bus that linked the different villages it was free and ran on the hour. Transportation varies and you can get by without a car but having one is super helpful.
Money- You are not going to get rich here. I did break even each season and a couple seasons I managed to save enough for extra travel during the off seasons but it was a hustle. You work a lot when work is available because in fall and spring work dries up. Different gigs pay differently but night serving and bartending jobs are your best bet.
HOW CAN YOU LIVE AND WORK AT A SKI RESORT IN MONTANA?
I started googling Ski Resorts and perusing their employment pages. I sent a lot of applications out and cast a wide net. I applied to all sorts of jobs including “Skiing Mascot” but eventually landed a job at the front desk of a hotel checking people in, making reservations and answering phone calls. This helped me get my foot in the door and I eventually worked my way up the Ski town ladder into a night time serving job where I made enough money to live comfortably and may days were free for skiing!
All major Ski Resorts have an employment section on their website. Vail has a system of resorts and if you create a profile you can apply for multiple jobs in multiple locations through one application (http://www.vailresortscareers.com/). Websites like coolworks.com and backdoorjobs.com also list ski related positions. Be open minded, I had my heart set on Colorado but never got a phone call, Montana called me right away and I couldn’t have asked for a better setting to live in.
Some people just show up in November and hope for the best, this is of course a risky move but people have a habit of not showing up for jobs so there are always last minute openings, just maybe not for the job you want. The ski community is also pretty transient so better jobs have a tendency of opening up mid-season, if you stick around you can move up pretty quickly..
If you love skiing and have the patience for a service job and the nerves to handle the penny pinching, ski bum lifestyle might be your next big adventure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Leah has been trying to turn her life into a vacation since she graduated college in 2009. She is on a quest for adventure and besides the ski life Leah has lived in Denali National Park, Backpacked Solo through South East Asia, and is currently living and teaching in Daegu, South Korea. Leah lives for adventure and is on an endless quest for what is next! You can learn more about Leah and her daily life in Korea on her blog trustyourgutstravel.
A big thank you to Leah for taking the time to share her adventure with us!
Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are Leah’s and do not express the opinions of others or her employer. Also, this is an article about her experience working for one employer and will probably vary for others during different times, with different people and with different companies. Use your head.