Careers & Education

Snow Jobs

How to be a ski bum


Thursday, January 05, 2012
Photo By Tom Vannah
With children on the hills, many resorts have jobs for daycare workers and nannies.

Thankfully, the snow sports industry offers an astounding number of job opportunities.

There are positions for anyone who just wants to be a ski bum for a season, as well as permanent jobs for those looking to make a career out of winter sports.

Most jobs at resorts come with a free pass, which is a major enticement to the ski bum types. The work is often far from glamorous, but it offers a way to spend a lot of time on the mountain—and not just to ski or ride, particularly if you think you want a career related to snow sports. Working at a resort for a season or two will give you time to learn about the various industries and professions in which you might find permanent employment.

Eventually, the place to find jobs to apply for is the Web. Most resorts have employment sections on their home pages (usually under the drop-down "The Mountain"), but first you might just want to go ski or ride for a day and check out all the labor involved in a ski resort.

The first person you see may be the parking lot attendant. A bus driver may take you from an outside lot to the dropoff area. Ticket sellers and lift operators may be next in line. You'll see people working in bars and restaurants; if you stay on the mountain, you'll see people in hotel operations, in catering.

All around the resort you'll run into customer service employees, including ski hosts cheerfully greeting customers. Out on the slopes you'll see instructors, patrollers and on-mountain guides at work. (The snowmaking crew that works overnight is usually an invisible part of the operation, but you see the result of their labor: fresh groom.)

Quite often, resorts today provide childcare, hiring professionals to work in nurseries or as nannies. Many resorts have spas and offer services such as massage, providing jobs in the fields of health and beauty.

And, of course, there are jobs in the retail industry, in ski and snowboard shops. Most of the manufacturers that supply those shops offer a variety of jobs in, among other things, product development, promotions and sales.

Events are becoming big at resorts. Places with a heavy schedule of events have event managers to handle them. Companies like Mountain Dew have put together their own tours, with plenty of available jobs connected to winter sports.

Longer-term employment with career opportunities could be in resort management, finance and sales. The ski areas promote their mountains at shows in the off season, and ply their wares. Public relations, communications and marketing are essential to a resort's success.

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I have been involved in the ski industry for nearly 40 years but never worked at a resort. I've worked with resorts, however—as a member of the media, a travel planner and a tour guide, and in retail sales.

I started out reporting on snow conditions for Roxy Rothafel, the foremost independent radio ski reporter in the 1960s and 70s. Since I had experience skiing at many different areas, I put my knowledge to use, convincing the editors of this newspaper to run my weekly ski column for a number of years. I also worked at WHYN radio in Springfield and was part of Jack O'Neill's "Sportstalk" show. During that time, I met the head of the Austrian Tourist Office in New York and that led to doing live bits from Austria at 2 a.m. their time. That continued for about five years.

When I was in high school, I'd read Abby Rand's articles about skiing in Europe in Ski magazine. I dreamed about what I thought was an unattainable goal of writing for Ski on a free trip to the Alps. I met that goal on one of those trips with the Austrian Tourist Office. I wrote a one-paragraph story about a ski town in Austria that put in a subway to keep traffic out. Ski used it in "Ski Life" and I got a check for $50. I'd hit the big time.

Later I picked up a job at what was then the new Competitive Edge ski shop in Holyoke. I suggested running a skiing trip to Europe to introduce people to what I had experienced. The first one was in 1986 and we have continued them annually.

Not only has our group skied at most of the top places in the Alps, but we have also visited major cities like Paris, Rome, Venice, Prague and Munich during extensions after these trips. (This year, we're taking a group of about 40 skiers to Zermatt, Switzerland in March; we will spend three days in Amsterdam on the way home.)

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Bonnie MacPherson had a desk job in Boston, but moved to New Hampshire and got a job at a weekly newspaper.

"I wanted to move to where I could play and have fun," she says.

After a while, she decided to make some changes and pursue a career rather than concentrate on a lifestyle.

"I had made a leap in my mind, and when the opportunity presented itself in the ski industry, I thought it might be the thing to get my foot in the door and make that transition," MacPherson explained. "It has. It's worked out very well."

She started as public relations coordinator at Bretton Woods, N.H., then worked her way up the ladder to director of public relations and later marketing director. MacPherson moved on to Booth Creek Resorts, which included Loon Mountain, Waterville Valley and Cranmore Mountain in New Hampshire. She was public relations director for all those resorts.

She crossed the Connecticut River and is currently director of public relations at Okemo, one of Vermont's major resorts.

While MacPherson chose a career in public relations, Ray DeVerry picked a path that kept him out on the slopes. A kid from Southwick, he began instructing at Otis Ridge in Otis in 1976, when he was 16 years old.

"I was doing it so I could afford to ski," DeVerry says. The mountain wanted certified PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) instructors, so he went through that process, becoming a PSIA level III instructor while at Otis. He went on to make the PSIA development team on the first try.

He moved on to Butternut, where, because of his experience, he was hired as director of training, teaching other instructors. He held that position for 29 years. DeVerry is now a PSIA examiner. He spends about 25 days a year in training and events from Maine to North Carolina. He was also a member of the Salomon Technical Testing Team, testing skis before they were introduced to the market.

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MacPherson offered an excellent example of a way to get started in the industry.

"Every year we hire new snow reporters. Their technical title is communications coordinators," she says. "It's a great entry-level position for someone to get his or her foot in the door at a ski resort." The reporters coordinate the information from the resort's operations department about the day's conditions, craft it into a dynamic message and pass it on to the media and retail shops.

"We don't tend to see people come back for a second season, but it's a great way to launch a career in communications or the ski industry overall," MacPherson stresses. "One of our last year's snow reporters is now a full-time events person."

She says she gives the people looking to stay in the business the most consideration in hiring .

"The potential for advancement is really quite rapid if you're willing to suck it up that first season and get your foot in the door and work hard," MacPherson emphasizes. "I made a huge sacrifice my first year. I took a cut in pay, but I knew there was a lot of potential there."

The possibilities are endless and the business is captivating. As MacPherson affirms, "It's kind of an incestuous industry. People tend to stay within the industry once they're here."

She adds, "It's a great environment and a lot of fun. If there's a powder day, you're going to find the marketing office empty for a couple of hours."

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