What’s It Really Like To Work at a Ski Resort? (Perks & Cons of North American Resort Life)

by Travis McCullough | Posted On: August 30th, 2022
Sunny day

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Many people have always dreamed about the luxury of skiing every day of the week but aren’t sure how to make this dream come true.  Working at a ski resort is the best way to accomplish this feat, but what’s it really like to work at a ski resort?

Working at a ski area will allow you to maximize your number of days on the mountain while providing you with some handy perks that any skier or snowboarder would love to have despite low wages. 

Before applying to work at a resort, there are several things to consider. The experience varies massively depending on your role, resort and experience.

Things To Consider Before Applying To A Ski Resort

Baker County Oregon 1
Photo by Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County under CC BY-ND 2.0

You must first get your ducks in a row before buying a one-way plane ticket to the mountains for the winter. I have seen, and experienced, this scenario playing out poorly for those who didn’t do their research when applying to a ski resort. 

As a former hiring manager at a ski resort, I can attest that most departments won’t even consider you for a position until your housing and transportation needs are taken care of. It became the first two questions I asked during an interview because so many hires would have to back out at the last second, leaving us shorthanded to start the season.

1. Make Sure To Find Housing

Most ski resorts are located in small mountain towns that are popular to live in because of their majestic views and quiet surroundings.  Some resorts provide employee housing, but many do not.  This makes it imperative that you secure a place to live before relocating to an area that you are unfamiliar with.

I found this out the hard way by assuming that employee housing would be ready for me when I got there. I ended up having to spend twice as much money on rent for a property that was miles away.

Employee housing generally consists of multiple college dorm-style rooms packed into a complex.  They can have shared kitchen areas, bathrooms, and bedrooms in tight living spaces with multiple roommates.

Housing in beautiful areas that provide unfettered access to outdoor recreation, like Colorado, California, and Oregon, is becoming more popular every year, making them scarce and expensive.  Finding homes in small mountain towns can be very tough, especially if you want to have your own room without breaking the bank.

2. Figure Out Transportation

car
Photo by Robert Tadlock under CC BY 2.0

Ski resorts almost always lie a considerable distance away from major metropolitan areas, making transportation during snowstorms difficult.  A 30-minute drive on a sunny day can easily be transformed into a 3-hour nightmare during a blizzard.

Some resorts offer employee buses that will pick up workers from surrounding towns, but this isn’t guaranteed.  It would be wise to own a 4WD vehicle capable of handling snowy and icy conditions so that you can get to and from the mountain safely.  

During my years as a rental shop manager, I constantly had to deal with late employees that chose to drive their personal vehicles instead of taking the bus. Constant unnecessary tardiness puts stress on your colleagues which leads to unhappy customers, not to mention it doesn’t play in your favor when it’s time to give out raises.

3. Consider Location And Surrounding Area

It’s a great idea to consider your other interests before deciding to work at a ski resort.  Since resorts are generally located in secluded and rural areas, they tend to lack certain infrastructure areas that some people consider important.

Small resort towns don’t have much nightlife, outside of a couple of bars and restaurants, compared to big cities.  This may not be a problem for someone who wants to ski 7 days a week, but some people may feel more comfortable in an area with a greater selection of things to do on their days off.

I spent most of my career at a resort that was only a few miles from the small town where I grew up, so I was already familiar with everything that there was to do in the area.

Sapporo Teine Ski Resort
Photo by MIKI Yoshihito under CC BY 2.0

4. What Is The Average Pay At A Ski Resort?

Hourly rates at resorts will fluctuate slightly depending on their need for personnel, location, and ownership.  That being said, most entry-level positions will start around minimum wage.  This will vary depending on what state the mountain is located in, but don’t expect to be able to pay off your student loans while working at a ski resort.

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Here’s a glimpse of what I made working for a Colorado resort from 2016-2021:

SeasonPositionStarting PayEnding Pay
2016-2017Rental Shop Attendant$12.50/hr$13.00/hr
2017-2018Rental Shop Lead$14.00/hr$15.00/hr
2018-2019Rental Shop Lead$15.50/hr$16.00/hr
2019-2020Rental Shop Supervisor$16.50/hr$17.50/hr
2020-2021Rental Shop Supervisor$18.00/hr$18.00/hr

Overview Of Common Job Roles At Ski Resorts

Shymbulak Ski Resort
Photo by Tore Khan licensed under CC BY 2.0

There are a few job roles that will be commonplace at any resort, no matter the size. Still, bigger resorts tend to have more selection of opportunities that will be available to you as an employee.  Some of these will require previous experience, but there are a multitude of entry-level jobs available at most ski resorts.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of ski resort jobs entail being on your feet for extended periods and long hours.  If being active and interacting with large volumes of other skiers sounds good to you, then you should absolutely consider working at a ski resort. 

1. Lifts

Liftees spend most of their time outside, either at the bottom or top of a lift, to ensure the safe loading and unloading of passengers.

riding ski lift

Their duties usually include:

  • Controlling the traffic of skiers at the bottom of a lift
  • Helping beginner skiers safely load and unload
  • Keeping lift chairs free of ice and snow
  • Starting or stopping a lift if there is a problem.

Regardless of whether the sun is shining or blizzard conditions, you will be outdoors.  Someone who wants to work as a lift attendant will have to be comfortable communicating with large volumes of customers and able to withstand being in the cold for extended periods of time.

2. Rentals

The majority of people who rent gear at a resort are beginners, so being personable and understanding of customers’ concerns is a must. Rental shop employees will generally assist customers in:

  • Selecting the right gear
  • Adjusting boots and bindings
  • Helping them put the equipment on correctly.  

Most resorts will train you on everything you need to know about working in a rental shop, so previous experience isn’t usually necessary.  You will learn how to troubleshoot and repair skis and bindings, which will help you in the future if you want to work in a repair shop.

You should be comfortable with being indoors most of the day; people who prefer being outside should probably consider a different position.  The upside to working inside is that you will be shielded from the harsh outdoor elements. 

3. Repairs

waxing-ski
Photo by ActiveSteve under CC BY-ND 2.0

Repair shops are great for those who have an interest in the specifications behind skis equipment and who want to learn more about the art of tuning skis.  This department will usually require that you have some previous experience working on people’s skis or at least in another department on the mountain.

Repair technicians need to be confident in using power tools and heavy machinery and knowledgeable about the basics surrounding proper ski function.  They can be expected to:

4. Food & Beverage

Taste of Nordic
Photo by Baker County Tourism under CC BY-ND 2.0

Food and beverage departments are found at pretty much every single ski resort out there; jobs include cooking, bartending, serving, and more.  Prior experience working in the restaurant industry is a plus but by no means necessary.

Day-to-day duties include:

  • Cooking food
  • Serving food and drinks to customers
  • Keeping eating areas clean
  • Cashiering

5. Ski School

Ski Resort Procession
Photo by Ruth Hartnup under CC BY 2.0

Ski school is another popular department to work in at a resort; they get to spend most of their days out on the mountain while teaching others how to ski.  To become an instructor, you will need to have at least a few seasons of skiing under your belt, and sometimes you will have to obtain extra certifications.

Instructors who primarily teach beginner-level lessons are usually exempt from needing any PSIA certifications. Still, higher-level instruction will require testing and certification that needs to be renewed every season or two to stay valid.

If you prefer to be outdoors most of the day, have significant skiing experience, and enjoy teaching others how to ski, you should strongly consider becoming a ski school instructor.  An added bonus to this position is that instructors are among the few resort personnel that regularly receive tips from teaching lessons on top of their regular salary.

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6. Ski Patrol

Copper Mountain Ski Patrol
Photo by Orion Wiseman licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ski patrol personnel get to spend the majority of their day out on the mountain skiing, which is what makes this such a popular profession.  Unlike most other jobs at a resort, this one takes quite a bit of prerequisite knowledge and experience.

The criteria to work in ski patrol varies from state to state, but it isn’t uncommon to need formal training or schooling related to emergency medical services and procedures.  On top of this, ski patrollers must be very advanced skiers, so don’t expect to work in this department unless you have been skiing for a long time.

The main advantage to Ski patrol is you get plenty of skiing time.

A typical day can include:

  • Assisting injured skiers down the mountain to receive medical treatment
  • Avalanche blasting
  • Ensuring that skiers are abiding by the resort’s rules
  • Ensuring that all skiers 

7. Guest Services

ski resort 1

Because customer service is such an essential aspect of the ski industry, the guest services department is a crucial part of every resort, regardless of size.  Duties in this department are wide-ranging and can include: 

  • Helping customers find certain buildings or departments 
  • Setting up for events
  • Processing orders online and over the phone
  • Showing skiers where to find specific types of terrain

Like most other jobs at a ski resort, this one will involve a lot of face-to-face time with customers that may or may not be familiar with the area.  They generally have a mixture of indoor and outdoor duties that will vary day to day, which is great for anyone who enjoys a new and frequently unpredictable work day.

8. Maintenance

Those in the maintenance department are the unsung heroes of any ski resort; they ensure the proper function of everything from bathrooms, lifts, shuttles, snowmaking equipment, and cats.  Working in this department will most likely take some prior experience in a related field such as construction or automotive repair.

resort ski

9. Sport Shop

Sport shop employees mainly deal with helping customers decide what equipment to buy.  In this department, retail experience is preferred but not necessarily a must.  Those who enjoy learning and talking about each season’s new gear will make a great fit in this department.

Perks Of Working At A Ski Resort

Ski in Italy
Photo by Ritten_Renon licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The perks of working at each resort will vary depending on its size and ownership, but there are a few perks that serve as the basis of any hiring package at a ski area.  Since hourly rates tend to be low in this industry, it is important that you value and use these perks as much as possible to get the most out of your experience.

1. Free Season Pass

Employee season passes are the cornerstone of working at a ski resort, and the biggest hook recruiters use to hire new employees.  Almost every employee is eligible for these, no matter the department in which they work. Still, resorts usually require you to work a minimum number of days or hours per season to receive this benefit.

2. Free Skiing At Partner Resorts

Cross-Country-Skiing
Photo by Roderick Eime licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Perhaps the second-best perk of working at a ski resort is the discounts for skiing at partner resorts.  Corporately owned resort chains will usually let employees ski free at other mountains owned by the same parent company, and independently owned mountains tend to have partnerships with other independent mountains that allow free skiing for employees.

This doesn’t just apply to other mountains in the same state either; large corporations like Vail Resorts own ski areas on multiple continents.  This makes for a truly epic perk that enables skiing enthusiasts to ride mountains they have only dreamed about.

Even smaller independent resorts can provide this perk as well.  Most independent mountains throughout North America have formed partnerships with each other, like the Powder Alliance, that allow their employees to ski for free at their mountains.

3. Ride Breaks

Female skier in open powder field

What makes working at a ski resort truly unique is the ability to go skiing during a typical work day.  There are very few, if any, other industries that offer a perk like this.  Don’t necessarily expect to be able to make turns on a holiday weekend, but during off-peak portions of the season, ride breaks are commonplace at any ski resort.

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4. Discounts

As an employee at most ski resorts, it isn’t uncommon to receive discounts on things like food, beer, clothing, equipment, lessons, and child care.  The discount will vary between resorts, but it is beneficial for almost anyone who might need new gear for themselves or their family.

5. Meeting Industry Insiders 

Skiers-and-Snowboarders-1
Photo by Petra Bensted Professional Photographer licensed under CC BY 2.0

There is no better way to get your foot in the door of the ski industry than working at a ski resort.  You will consistently have the opportunity to network by conversing with representatives of other companies in the industry.

Pros & Cons Of Working At A Ski Resort

Advantages

  • Free season pass
  • Discounts on food, equipment, lessons, and childcare
  • Free or discounted skiing at partner resorts
  • The ability to ski during your workday
  • Ability to gain practical skills that apply to other industries
  • Potential to meet industry insiders
  • Working in an atmosphere with other like-minded outdoor enthusiasts

Disadvantages

  • Low pay
  • Long hours
  • Physically taxing
  • Exposure to inclement weather
  • Located in isolated areas
  • Housing can be small and expensive
  • Transportation can be expensive and time-consuming

Differences Between Corporate And Independently Owned Mountains 

People at ski resort
Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer under CC BY 2.0

Most ski areas nowadays are owned by a larger parent company that likely runs other ski resorts throughout the country. However, independent ski resorts are still alive and well on a smaller scale. Every resort is different in its own unique way, but there are a few common characteristics that are indicative of whether or not a ski resort is corporately owned. 

The most important thing to consider before applying to a ski resort is how much you want your job to feel like an actual job?  Most of us who have worked at a resort enjoyed the laidback atmosphere and ever-changing picture of what a typical workday will look like above everything else; this is the most significant difference between working at an independently owned resort and a corporate one.

1. Differences In Pay & Perks

Whistler Blackcomb

Despite what Google may tell you, the pay is pretty low compared to other industries, but some resorts pay significantly better than others.  Corporate resorts generally offer higher pay and better benefits but lack the flexibility and family-like comradery that smaller independent resorts can offer.

2. Different Atmospheres

A large corporate ski resort will likely have stricter guidelines that employees must adhere to. This isn’t necessarily something that some people are willing to abide by, considering they may have sacrificed a higher-paying job for one that allows them the freedom to ski whenever they want.

Since independent resorts are generally much smaller than their corporate counterparts, they tend to feel like working for a family business.  Working for a company with a more laid-back atmosphere can make any job feel like a valuable and more enjoyable experience.

3. Transportation

Be sure to find out if the resort you want to work for offers transportation or travel reimbursement.  Sitting in ski traffic day after day can become quite stressful and can take the fun out of working at a resort; utilizing an employee shuttle is a great way to combat this feeling.

Corporately owned resorts will likely have better infrastructure for getting employees to and from work every day.  That being said, there are still plenty of independent resorts out there that can provide transportation for their employees.

Pros & Cons Of Corporate Ski Resorts

Courchevel
Photo by Matt Squirrell under CC BY 2.0

Advantages

  • Higher pay
  • More perks
  • More and larger mountains to ski that are owned by the same company

Disadvantages

  • Larger crowds mean fewer chances for ride breaks
  • Day-to-day operations are very structured, making the job feel like an actual job

Pros & Cons Of Independent Ski Resorts

Red Chair
Photo by Ruth Hartnup under CC BY 2.0

Advantages

  • Less crowded, which means more possibilities for ride breaks
  • More laidback and friendly atmosphere
  • Day-to-day operations feel less corporate/structured

Disadvantages

  • Generally smaller mountains, meaning less terrain
  • Lower pay
  • Fewer perks

Final Thoughts

Brokeoff
Photo by LassenNPS under CC BY 2.0

Like any other industry, working at a ski resort certainly has its ups and downs.  You probably won’t get rich working at one, but what a resort lacks in pay is usually more than made up for in the perks they offer.

Working at a resort is not only fun but also an opportunity for like-minded people who enjoy the outdoors to experience a lifestyle that is usually very cost-prohibitive.  At the very least, choosing to work a less traditional job at a ski resort this winter will provide you with friends and memories that you will remember for the rest of your life.

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