Doing a heli skiing Canada is seriously expensive compare to other adventure. Taking the plunge and going out to work my first ski season was one of the best decisions I ever made. Twelve years on two of the people I worked with are among my closest friends and it did wonders for my confidence, social skills and work ethic.
I actually had no idea about snowboarding or the mountains to a large extent. Persuaded by my brother to accompany him, for the first few weeks I certainly didn’t feel like thanking him for it. Before long though, my snowboarding improved and allowed me to appreciate the incredible privilege of having the mountains as your garden. Of course, your motivation for going may be more of a social one.
The first thing you should be under no illusions about is that working a ski season will mean working extremely hard. Generally you’ll be part of a team of colleagues who are working together to get things done and get out skiing or to the bars and clubs. There won’t be any hiding place, lazy people will be found out quickly and will either need to pull their socks up or go home.
Generally ‘seasonnaires’ are expected to work 50+ hours with one day off a week. In among the shifts you’ll get plenty of time on the slopes – if you choose the right job. Childcare is one to avoid if you’re an avid skier or snowboarder. You’ll be taking care of the children while the parents ski.
I worked as a barman/waitor, kitchen porter and assistant manager of a hotel, and I probably got most time on the slopes as barman/waitor. Generally in this sort of job you would work shifts, which means a nice mix of day-times off, some nights, and some where you are working a ‘split’ meaning you do the lunch and dinner services but get out and ski in between. There are jobs with more slope time though. As a barman in a club, for example, you could get out all day and work in the evening.
The wages in most jobs are very low. You are likely to earn between £50 and £100 per week with some tips if you’re in the right kind of role. The rest of your minimum wage is made up of free accommodation, lift passes and generally food too. Some savings will help but I always felt this was a great leveller. With everyone being short of money most of the time, people help each other out, you learn how to make the most of the cash you have and find regular haunts where you might get a few favours along the way too. Somehow we managed to go out most nights, often without a penny in our pockets. Lots of the nightclubs give seasonnaires free entry and there are other perks like cheaper drinks in some pubs for local workers.
For people fresh from A-levels this is a great learning curve. It teaches you how to manage your cash and is good practice for university too!
The accommodation varies quite a bit but as a rule you can expect it to be very basic. My ‘digs’ over the five seasons I worked ranged from a small room with four bunk beds shared with four other snoring, smelly blokes to a room to myself overlooking the stunning lake in Tignes during a summer season on the glacier there.
You are highly likely to share with at least one other and don’t make the mistake of taking too much stuff with you as you’re unlikely to be blessed with lots of storage space. You’ll tend to be fed on site if you’re working in a hotel/bar/pub and chalet hosts will usually be based on site too.
What to take
I was distinctly under-prepared for my first season. I had no board, boots, jacket, gloves or anything else of use for the boarding itself. Most companies will have a deal with a local ski rental shop who will help you out with free hire or a payment plan which allows you to pay off your board and other kit weekly over the course of the season.
Obviously your own skis/board and jackets etc will help a huge amount – not just to save the money in resort but also for your skiing/boarding development. Your own ‘rig’ makes such a huge difference to how much you’ll enjoy your time on the slopes it’s definitely worth the investment if you can afford it.
Do not take your entire wardrobe! We had one girl arrive in resort with seven designer cases full of expensive clothes for all occasions – she probably spent 90% of her time in one hoody and a pair of jeans. You’re in the mountains so things like heels and skimpy dresses are really not advisable. A few good, warm jumpers/hoody’s, a good jacket, your ski gear, a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of beanies and two pairs of trainers with good grip (two pairs is a good idea so you can dry one and wear one) are really all you’ll need.
Other useful information
Safety – The Mountains are an unforgiving place and you should always have respect for them. Every year people are killed in avalanches, by the cold and of course on the slopes themselves. Read up on avalanches and basic survival techniques, make sure you go in groups if you are planning to go off-piste, check the weather for high winds or white-out conditions and ALWAYS wear a helmet.
You can do a lot to make yourself as safe as possible. Please take out some good insurance! Some companies will provide this but do check. I have numerous friends who had none, got injured and were left in extreme pain without any care until they got home.
Fitness – Living at altitude and boarding or skiing every day will make you fitter than you’ve ever been before. It is well worth doing some basic training before you arrive so the first few weeks while you acclimatise are not too hard.
When to apply? – You can apply for jobs at any time. Tour operators will generally want you to start in late November depending on where you are going. You will usually apply for a job then get offered certain places rather than applying for a specific role. This also gives you a better chance of getting a place. They are inundated with applications so make sure you push them and make yourself visible. I phoned up to check they had received the application, then called back to see how I was getting on. Originally, I hadn’t been shortlisted but they liked my enthusiasm so offered me an interview.
Where to go? – Well, in my opinion, within reason, it doesn’t matter. It’s about who you’re with. That said, obviously some resorts are far better than others. I spent two seasons in the three valleys in Meribel Mottaret and Courchevel 1850. The ski area is nearly 600KM and on a powder day there is nowhere better for sheer variety and volume. I was also placed in Niederau in Austria for a few months which is a tiny resort with just one real run and generally poor snow conditions. Although the skiing was extremely limited, I probably had a better time there than in Courchevel, purely because of the people I was working with and the pleasant town. If you are at a fairly advanced level, I would definitely try and find somewhere with a good ski area though.
I cannot advise you strongly enough to go and work a ski season. It’s good for the soul!
Jim S Walker is the publisher of Snow Magazine and http://www.snowmagazine.com and a veteran of five ski seasons and two summers.
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