By Sam Masters
What’s it really like working in a ski resort? We put the life of a seasonaire under the microscope – and we still haven’t recovered from the shock of magnification. Prepare yourself for soap opera with skis on, as we go inside the ski resort bubble...
If you really love skiing or snowboarding then you have probably thought about chucking away your career, love life and sanity for the life of the seasonaire. Perhaps you've been driven to madness like Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and a three-foot-high clay model of Mt Olympus adorns your dining table. Maybe your powder addiction is so chronic that Summer is a four letter word and the first daffodils of Spring send you into a horticultural rage. It’s time to pack the parka and head to the hills. Just make sure you’re living the dream – not chasing an endless winter nightmare.
The bitter irony of life in the bubble is that you will probably get less time on the snow than the much-maligned wage slave who punches out a couple of weeks holiday every year. The combination of low income, long hours, expensive transport and hangovers that register on the Richter scale makes the mountains seem a long, long way away.
Chose your job carefully – it is the difference between a glorious season and a winter of discontent.
Only enter seasonal employment out of dire necessity. The one thing worse than being stuck in a bleak city during winter is being stuck in a ski-resort kitchen, scraping congealed lard from the grill while the mountain gets tracked out. If you have to work, get a job with some healthy perks: a season pass, on-mountain accommodation, or as much free food as you can wolf down on your shift. Resort pay packets are generally inversely proportional to snow time (the exceptions are those who work evenings).
Your boss will be half insane from relying on stuff that falls out of the sky for his or her income, and only having four months of the year to turn a profit. Not all employers in a ski town are underhand, untrustworthy shysters willing to roast their own grandmothers if there was a quick buck to be made in granny kebabs. There are a couple out there, however, so don’t negotiate your employment contract with your eyes wide shut.
So is working in a resort worth it? Totally.
You will have the time of your life (without knowing it) and form life-long friendships that last until at least September.
You will develop an embarrassing sense of ownership over your local mountain given it was there for thousands of years before you were born. And you will have an endless supply of off-colour anecdotes with which to bore dinner party companions.
You will also get the best snow. Powder in New Zealand is so fickle that you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot to get the goods. The best thing about the life of a seasonaire is that, when it comes to powder, you are always Johnny-on-the-spot.
The rest of us know the sinking feeling of arriving at a resort on a big powder day to discover the local workers have already decimated the mountain before slinking back to their pizza-making and toilet cleaning professions. These committed powder freaks understand that a fulfilling career is only a dishwasher away. The expression, “you should have been here yesterday” was coined by a resort worker and, like most of their humour; is directed at the hapless punters who pay their wages.
Many non-skiers think that instructors have the best job on the hill. Is that really the case? Oh, yeah. Ski exams, teaching on rainy days with a hangover, snotty-nosed kids that wet themselves, not getting work until those above you in the ski school hierarchy have a class, first timers that put their ski boots on the wrong foot, and staying on the baby slopes on a powder day. Sounds like a blast, where do I sign up?
Life in the snow resort bubble is delicately balanced, like any ecosystem.
The narrow circumference of the bubble adds an edge to any social interaction. Good, bad, sexy or horrendous – you will see that person again and again and again for the next four months: on the bus, in the bars and sometimes on the same chairlift. Unlike real life, when you live in the bubble, there is no escape.
The long-time seasonaire might be cynical, bitter, have a suitcase-sized liver and knee cartilage like frayed dental floss but they will still ride more powder than you do – ultimately this is the main attraction.
Best Jobs Breakdown:
The ultimate travelling profession, just make sure you work the dinner shift not lunch.
Generally work in the evening, be careful of rushing binding mounts and try not to breathe too many P-tex fumes.
Sounds good when you’re at a party, and this is the one snow-sports job that has cred with non-skiers for some reason.
Tough gig to crack, long on hours and responsibility. You are saving the world – just one patient at a time though.
Terrain park guru
You won’t drive the snow cat or shovel snow but just design and hit the features.
Pro skier or snowboarder
The best of all worlds, unfortunately a career change is always just an ACL pop away.
AKA dishwasher, no respect or responsibility. Plenty of free food and snow time.