So you’re taking a Gap Year and you’ve decided that you want to spend the winter in a ski resort. Leaving school with limited work experience and irrelevant (but good!) qualifications can make finding work in a ski resort a little difficult. There are several ways in which ‘Gappies’ can live and work in ski resorts across the world.
Chalet Staff: Spending 20 weeks working in a Chalet or hotel is still the most popular way for ‘Gappies’ to spend a winter season in the mountains. It is hard work being a chalet boy/girl but affordable, fun (most of the time), and it is relatively easy to find work. As a Chalet worker you’ll either be cooking, cleaning, entertaining guests, transfer driving or guiding……or a combination of all of the above.
One of the main benefits is that you will have at least four to five hours each day to go skiing or snowboarding, which is more free skiing than most other workers in the resort will get. The downside is that wages are generally very low, but Chalet workers are normally provided with a place to live, food and accommodation. Although attending Aprés Ski is always quite difficult because it coincides with afternoon tea and dinner, chalet workers generally hit the bars and nightclubs much later……hence they often look a little disheveled in the morning!
The easiest resorts to find work in are the big famous resorts that have lots of Chalets rather than apartment blocks and are generally frequented by hoards of British visitors. Val D’Isere, Courchevel, Meribel, Morzine, Verbier and St Anton are good resorts to begin your search.
Bartender, waiter or cook: If you can speak another language and have experience cooking in a commercial kitchen or bartending this can be a fun and financially rewarding option. Nevertheless, jobs are much harder to comeby as this type of work generally goes to local residents and seasonaires that return year after year.
Bartending will give you lots of time to ski or snowboard, the money and tips are usually pretty good, and you will undoubtedly improve your understanding of the native tongue.
Being a waiter can be a good way of earning money but quite often the hours are antisocial and if you want to earn enough money to pay your rent you’ll have to work afternoons and evenings. This means missing valuable time on the hill and missing the Aprés Ski fun.
Working as a cook or a chef in a restaurant is very similar to waiting, with regards to hours, but the money is better and this can lead to a fulltime career in catering.
Although these types of job are difficult to comeby and require language skills in Europe it is possible to attain a working holiday VISA for Canada, New Zealand and Australia where resorts are always looking for young people to fill restaurant and bartending positions. Although acquiring a working holiday VISA for Australia and NZ is fairly straightforward the easiest way to do this in Canada is to organise your employment and VISA through a company like BUNAC or TWHC. If you are considering a winter in Canada you will need to organise your VISA and work placement quite a long time in advance, as VISA’s to foreign nationals are limited.
Lifty: In case you don’t already know; a lifty is somebody that works on the lifts at a ski resort. Although you won’t be able to work as a lifty in Europe there are lifty jobs available at resorts in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Although the pay rate isn’t fantastic, as a lifty you will always be up on the mountain and out in the fresh air, and you will undoubtedly be one of the most popular guys/girls on the mountain. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the resorts Aprés Ski scene.
To work as a lifty in New Zealand, Australia and Canada you will need to secure a working holiday VISA. In New Zealand and Australia the best thing to do is to visit a resorts website and look on their jobs page. For Canada it is best to use a company like BUNAC or TWHC.
Ski or Snowboard Instructor: Working as an instructor is a fantastic way to spend a winter season in the mountains. Instructing will not only develop your people skills (communication, team leading, decision making, patience, etc) but will also: give you lots of added confidence, put some cash in your back pocket, greatly improve your skiing or boarding and demonstrate your competence.
Instructors are normally paid comparatively well compared to those doing restaurant or chalet work, and those instructors that are highly qualified make a good living from instructing. When you begin instructing you’ll be teaching a lot of beginners and intermediates, but you will always be up on the hill skiing or boarding. During the quiet periods of the season you will have plenty of time to do your own thing. Ski instructors are notoriously renowned for enjoying a couple of Aprés Ski pints after work because of the lack of work commitments in the evenings.
Although not common knowledge it is possible to qualify as a ski or snowboard instructor before the start of the winter season then work as an instructor for the winter season. There are a number of instructor training companies that run courses in the southern hemisphere which will give you plenty of time to apply for jobs.
If you prefer your summers on the beach, or you want to work as an instructor this winter, then it is still possible to qualify as an instructor in the autumn or just before the start of the winter season. Peak Leaders run a popular BASI level 1 and 2 instructor course for skiers and snowboarder in Saas Fee (Switzerland), this course starts at the end of September and finishes at the end of November. Last year everybody on the course passed the level 2 exam and, with the help of the course leader, managed to secure instructor work for the following season.
Finally, it is possible to take an instructor training course just before the start of the season that leads directly to employment at a ski or snowboard school.
Instructor training course: Every winter hundreds of ‘Gappies’ from across the UK decide to spend the winter part of their Gap Year in a ski resort, training to be a ski or snowboard instructor. Although a comparatively expensive option this is a great way for young people to gain valuable and interesting qualifications while having fun, and improving both their people skills and their skiing /snowboarding. Courses are usually between 4 and 12 weeks long and include: training from instructor trainers, a lift pass, accommodation, First Aid qualifications, mountain safety training, extra curricular activities, exam fees and instructor association membership.
Most instructor courses will involve a 5day week full of training, at least four hours a day, with lesson shadowing and structured practice scheduled for the remainder of the day. Generally the weekends are left for free skiing/boarding, extra curricular activities and a few sneaky beers.
All of the big wellknown resorts in Europe and Canada have instructor training courses being run on their slopes. You’ll find ski and snowboard instructor courses at a number of resorts in Switzerland, France, Austria, Canada, New Zealand and Argentina.
If you’ve saved up some money and you’re looking to enjoy yourself, learn some new skills, become a better skier or boarder, and gain some internationally recognised qualifications; this is the best option for you.
Once you are qualified you will be able to instruct all over the world.
Ski Bum: A Ski Bum is somebody that manages to stay in a ski resort without working or completing a course. Quite often Ski Bums stay in vans or on their friend’s floors. Although it sounds like an affordable way to spend a season, it definitely isn’t. Eating in restaurants all the time and spending every evening in a bar, because you don’t have a room or bed to relax in or your van is too cold, can become very expensive. Nevertheless, doing a season this way will guarantee you more free time to go skiing or boarding than any of the other options on this list!
To be a Ski Bum you will need to ensure the following:
- You either own a camper van or know a number of good friends living in the resort that you intend to spend your season
- You choose a resort that is affordable (we wouldn’t recommend Verbier or Courchevel)
- You spend your season at a resort where people won’t judge you on your poor personal hygiene, and where being a Ski Bum is socially acceptable.
- You write a weekly budget and stick to it.
Work as a Nanny: This option is generally more popular with girls looking to earn some good money over the winter. In all of the larger resorts there will be a number of nanny agencies that you can register with for work. More than often these agencies require you to have experience looking after young children and some relevant qualifications.
The great thing about working as a nanny is that the work is generally freelance and although you will be very busy over the holiday periods (Christmas, New Year, Half term, Easter), working all day every day, for the rest of the season you will have plenty of time to ski or snowboard.