Mountain Job Guide

So you’ve decided to make the move. To hell with “real” jobs and social obligations, pack up the essentials and head to the mountains. It’s time for a change, maybe for a little while, maybe longer.

The resort life has sent many people home bitter, disenchanted, broke, or broken. On the flip side, it has changed lives and created happiness beyond comprehension. If you commit to being a snowboard bum, your life will change–count on that.

Reality Check–One, Two, One, Two

Often a newcomer on the resort scene thinks working for the resort is the best way to go. Undeniably there are perks involved; passes, pro-forms, the sociability factor, and the fact that you’ll be on the hill every day are positives. But be wary, FNG (freakin’ new guy), many resorts use first-year employees like Kleenex–when usefulness is fulfilled, you are expendable.

There is a large turnover rate each year as many people learn the hard way that getting paid less than the cost of living creates a financially challenging situation. You will usually have a pass and locker privileges, but sometimes that can be used against you. Imagine walking past a supervisor in your civvies, board tucked under your arm on the way to the lift, when said supervisor is trying to balance hordes of tourists on spring break with a limited staff and huge demand for service. Some resorts require that you check in with a supervisor before riding, even on your day off.

Night Owls

Working at night is key to riding all day. The restaurant angle works well for several reasons. Most eateries offer their employees a shift meal and beverage; that’s money not spent at the resort-priced grocery store or diner. If you are new to the area, someone on the staff is bound to be nice enough to take you out on the mountain for some shralping. Wait staff, bartenders, bussers, and anyone else who is a beneficiary of tipping are stoked to walk out of work with cash in pocket. Hours for the night shift generally fall into the time slot when most people are spending money. Many restaurants offer a pass, or help finance one. The social scene in resort-town restaurants is generally a lot of fun as well. The downside is stress, serving tourists, dealing with food, and having to work after long days on the mountain.

Night-shift jobs that offer little stimulation but maximum riding hours are in the hotel and lodging industry–night houseman, housekeeping, room service, front-desk attendant, reservations desk, and other such titles abound. Some retail jobs offer decent hours and pay, selling T-shirts, jewelry, or any trinkets a tourist might be interested in.

To be on the snowmaking or grooming crew is a boarding bum’s dream come true. You will live the nocturnal mountain life, work through insane temperatures and weather, handle heavy machinery, ride snowmobiles, and have no crowds–just be prepared for the graveyard shift.

Teachin’ Tactic

Instructing jobs are fun–but be prepared, you definitely have to work your way up the ladder, and that means a financial investment to America Association of Snowboard Instructors. As with all jobs, there are pluses and minuses. Once certified and well placed on the list of instructors for private lessons, the money is decent. Until you are there, the money is meager. You’re on the hill doing what you love every day, but you have to wear a uniform, name tag, and teach through a structured format.

Steer Clear

Jobs that suck are a dime a dozen. Be cautious when choosing your first resort-town job. Lift operators have to stand in the elements loading people who are riding all day. Duh! Snow-removal crews only work when it’s snowing. Some jobs offer split shifts, but be aware that means reduced hours, and splits sometimes occur only when the manager isn’t out riding or eating lunch with the big boss.

Tradin’ Tactic

Something else to keep in mind is that bartering is still alive and flourishing in mountain-resort towns. Flow the shop guys some free drinks or an appetizer; that type of thing comes back around when you’re looking for new product or service. If you are down with the people in repair, a sixer of good brew or treats of that sort will get the work done, often with a little more stoke. Not all jobs offer trade leverage, a factor to consider while on the employment quest.

(Re)search

Before making the big move it would certainly behoove you to take a road trip to a few resort towns. Check the local job and housing scene through newspapers, bulletin boards, and chambers of commerce. Look at a map and think about the things in life you can’t live without (fast food, strip clubs, malls, all-night dining, etc). If you know where you’re going because you have friends there, saw a photo that inspired you, read an article, or for whatever reason–brace yourself for the worst. Money goes fast when you have no income or home base. Everything will work out if you have an earnest desire to live in a resort town and are willing to pay the dues.

Gary J. Peterson wrote a book called Ski Bummin’ in the Rockies–even though it says ski in the title, there’s a snowboarder on the cover. This is a good guide book for someone looking into moving to the mountains–it’s humorous, informative, and is based on solid experience and research (www.ski-bummin.com or 1-800-454-0488).

Most resorts offer Web sites that include information about employment. Many resort towns’ chambers of commerce also offer online information about employment, housing, and other pertinent information regarding the destination of choice. If you haven’t got access to a computer, call information. A chamber of commerce representative can also connect you with local publications that have job and housing listings.