A week-long trip to the snow every season just isn’t cutting it anymore. You want to live and breathe the ski resort life. You want to ski or snowboard every day, you want to live in the snow, and you want to do it for six months straight.
Yeah, you’ll be earning pennies, and you’ll probably have to say goodbye to fresh vegetables for a while, and your family and friends at home will regularly text you to ask what you’re doing with your life/when you’re coming home/why you paid for a law degree you’re not using… but it’ll all be worth it for the ski bum lifestyle in Chamonix, or Hakuba, or Whistler, or wherever you want to move your life to.
I’m onto my fifth winter season, my bank balance is pathetic, my family and friends have well and truly given up on me, and I’ve skied more days than I can even remember over the last four years - so here’s my ultimate guide to committing to a season.
1. Decide where you want to go
If you’ve fallen in love with a particular destination, this is the easy part. If you’re tossing up a few different locations, this is where it gets difficult. Try:
- Thinking about what you want out of a season. Want to hit the après scene hard, ski the steep stuff, see gorgeous vistas on a daily basis but be willing to fork out the cash for the privilege? The alps are for you. Love cheap chicken wings, lots of vertical and a quieter nightlife? Head to Revelstoke, British Columbia. Want to be close to home while also getting a taste of adventure and a really fun time? Wanaka, New Zealand might just be your cup of tea.
- Surveying your friends to see if they have any ideas in mind, or if they’re also tossing up a season. It can be a lot of fun to plan something together (if you’ve picked the right friend). I ended up in Niseko without even having seen a picture of Niseko, just because my housemate was going and I like sushi and skiing (no regrets there).
- Do your research. Forums, articles about resorts, friends of friends who have done seasons before. Facebook groups are a great resource - find one in the area that you’re thinking about heading to and ask the locals a bunch of questions. What do they like? What do they dislike? Where’s their favourite place to get lunch?
Once you’ve made your decision, try not to get wrapped up in booking with a working holiday agency that promises to sort your visa and find you a job - it’s all easy enough to do on your own without forking out the excess cash.
2. Get a visa
Be sure to kick off the process early, because visas can get complicated - and do your research. For example, it’s illegal to have a job lined up before you get to Japan, so you’ll get rejected for a visa if you say that you have a job. You also need to be based in Australia for three months before applying for your visa, and have to pull a thorough itinerary together to show the embassy. On the flip side, for a Canadian visa, you can apply from anywhere in the world, as long as you have certain documents organised - such as a police certificate and a photo that is the correct size.
Once your visa is approved, be sure to check and triple-check what you need when crossing the border so you don’t get turned away, or issued a visa that’s less than what you could’ve had. I know plenty of people who have received shorter Canadian visas due to not having two years worth of travel insurance.
3. Get a job
Don’t want to work during your season? Save enough money, then take a look at your bank account and double the amount you thought you’d need. Otherwise, start job-hunting at the appropriate time of year. Southern hemisphere resorts will start advertising job postings as early as January to fill spots for June. Northern hemisphere job postings will all go up in August/September/October, likely for a November start.
If you’re a physio, a beauty therapist, a barista, a bartender, a childcare worker, or working in marketing/communications, you’re in luck - there’s often job openings at resorts that will suit the skills required in your existing job, and you’ll have an advantage over other applicants.
There are also plenty of jobs that will train you on the spot. Lifts, tickets, guest services, hospitality, park crew. Ski resort pay, as a general rule, is pretty terrible, so be sure to take a look at the wage and any associated perks with the job before you make a decision. Does the job come with a lift pass, or do you have to buy one? Does it offer staff housing, or do you have to organise your own? What about access to a car so you can see other spots besides the resort? Or will you get tipped well in the job?
Don’t stress about not being in the same country as wherever you’re applying for a job - most interviewers are happy to conduct interviews over the phone or Skype.
4. Find accommodation
If your job comes with staff accommodation, awesome. If it doesn’t, it’s time to get back on those Facebook groups and asking the locals about what they might have available to rent, or where they suggest looking. Be very careful when it comes to this element, because scams run wild when it comes to people asking for deposits or up-front rental payments for the season. It sounds pretty basic, but make sure the place you’re paying for actually exists, and ask for a legally sound rental contract. You can also look up tenant rights for wherever you’re renting, to ensure you’re aware of what you can do just in case you end up crammed in a two-person condo with 14 other people.
5. Pack smart
Just take everything nice you’ve ever owned and leave it at home. Especially any high heels or the kind of cute outfits you’d wear out back in Australia. Unless you’re going to Aspen, casual is the word of the day in ski resorts and no one’s expecting you to look anything but practical. Fill your suitcase with hoodies, jeans, thermal layers, warm socks, beanies. Be ready to buy warm winter boots - Sorels are good - and a really warm jacket. Take one nice shirt or top for the odd fancy dinner night out, and don’t forget a pair of bathers for the hot tub. Some good tips: pack an old or cheap ski jacket for wearing to the pub at night. If it gets stolen or you lose it over the course of the night, it won’t be as rough as losing your regular jacket. Also bring a power board from home for all your electronics - it saves buying or packing a bunch of adaptors.
6. Have a good time
It’s easy to get yourself all excited about the season ahead but feel disappointed once you get to your destination. Maybe your accommodation closely resembles a crack den, or your job is woefully under stimulating, or your expectations of skiing everyday simply aren’t met. And that’s okay. It’s all okay. Take a deep breath and remember that things take time to get used to. Get involved in everything you can get involved in; find your tribe and have as many laughs as possible with them; make the most of being young and broke and wasting away your law degree. I promise it’s worth it.
What are your best tips for making the most of a season?