Ski resorts offer many different types of employment opportunities. Qualified ski resort workers are needed to supervise the activities on ski slopes, run operations at the lodge, provide instruction to skiers, and ensure the safety of resort patrons. There are numerous ski resorts located throughout the United States and the world. Jobs are plentiful, though the majority of them are seasonal, lasting from November to April. The National Ski Areas Association reports that there were 492 operating ski resorts in the United States during the 2004–05 season.
Ski Resort Worker Career History
Skiing developed primarily as a means to travel from one place to another. Northern Europeans were the first people to wear skis, which they fashioned from tree branches. Armies have used skis to travel snowy mountain regions since the Middle Ages.
Though people started skiing for pleasure in the 18th century, it was not until the invention of the motorized ski lift in the 1930s that skiing grew in popularity. After World War II, hundreds of resorts opened to accommodate this growing form of recreation. Resorts, offering skiing opportunities combined with comfortable accommodations and entertainment, provided people with a new vacation alternative. In the United States, large ski communities, such as Vail and Aspen in Colorado, developed as a result of the sport. Today, many of these towns’ primary sources of revenue stem from skiing and related activities.
There are three types of skiing—Alpine, or downhill; Nordic, or cross country; and Freestyle, which incorporates acrobatic movements, stunts, and dance elements. Most resorts cater to the Alpine type of skiing. Other popular snow activities are snowboarding and sledding.
The Job of Ski Resort Workers
Ski resort workers run the gamut from entry-level to highly skilled. Each is important for maintaining the order and operations of the resort community. One of the largest departments is ski lift operation. Ski lift operators make sure skiers have safe transport. There are several steps taken daily before a ski lift is opened to the public. First, ice, snow, or tree branches are cleared from the machinery and the loading and unloading platforms. Next, all machinery and parts are cleaned and checked for safety. Finally, an experienced member of the lift staff conducts a trial run.
There are three main sections of the lift: bottom, middle terminal, and the top. Workers at all stations help passengers on or off the lift safely. They collect and punch lift tickets, adjust seats or the speed of the lift, and spot check for loose or dangling items that may catch on the lift’s machinery. They answer any inquiries passengers may have about the run, or address general questions. They give directions and make sure skiers stay on the slopes and trails designated for their level of expertise—beginner, intermediate, and expert. Workers must sometimes reprimand unruly passengers.
Skiers who monitor the runs and surrounding areas are called the ski patrol. Considered the police of the mountains, they are specially trained ski experts responsible for preventing accidents and maintaining the safety standards of the resort. They mark off trails and courses that are not safe for the public. Patrol members also help injured skiers off the slopes and to proper first aid stations, or in extreme cases, to an ambulance. Ski patrol members should be versed in emergency medical techniques, such as CPR and first aid.
A certified ski instructor can teach everything from basic maneuvers to more advanced techniques. Ski instruction at a resort is generally free or offered for a small fee. Whether in group classes or private lessons, ski instructors teach students how to avoid injury by skiing safely and responsibly.
Before skiers head for the moguls, they need proper equipment. Working in the supply houses is an example of an entry-level position. Ski technicians assist skiers in getting the proper-sized boots, skis, and poles. They may answer questions regarding equipment and how to use it.
Most ski resorts have chalets or lodges that offer skiers a place to rest and grab refreshments between runs. More often than not, these lodges serve as gathering places in the evenings for drinks and socialization. Some jobs at lodges include wait staff, housekeeping staff, gift shop or ski shop employees, resort managers, and human resources staff.
Ski Resort Worker Career Requirements
Education requirements vary depending on the facility and type of work involved, though most resorts expect at least a high school diploma for their entry-level positions. High school courses that will be helpful include general business, mathematics, speech, and physical education. Learning a foreign language should also be helpful, since many foreign visitors vacation at American ski resorts.
Many resorts prefer to hire college students as seasonal help. Management positions usually require a college degree. Some institutions, such as the University of Maine at Farmington, offer a combined program of a bachelor’s degree with a certificate concentration in the ski industry. The university’s ski industries certificate program offers training in the following concentrations: ski business management, professional ski coaching and ski teaching, and adaptive ski teaching. Qualified students can link their passion for the sport with a degree in business, economics, rehabilitation services, or general studies.
Certification and Licensing
Entry-level jobs such as clerks, wait staff, and ski lift operators do not require certification. However, you must be certified to qualify as a professional ski instructor. Professional Ski Instructors of America offers certification in three categories: Adaptive, Alpine, and Nordic. Certification consists of skill tests, further education, and onthe- job experience. Satisfactory completion of a national certification exam is also required. Ski instructors must be re-certified every one to two years, depending on the region in which they teach.
All employees, especially those who deal with customers, are a reflection of the resort for which they work. Different jobs call for different qualities in a worker. Responsibility is key when working the ski lift, as is tact when confronting troublesome skiers. Ski instructors need to be physically fit, as well as patient and understanding with their students. Ski patrol members must be able to react quickly in emergencies and have the foresight to spot potential trouble situations.
Workers who speak a second language will have an advantage. Many ski enthusiasts from South America travel to the United States for world class skiing, so workers who are fluent in Spanish or Portuguese will have good job prospects. Most positions can be altered to accommodate employees who are physically challenged. It is best to check with each resort to learn their policies and employee requirements.
Exploring Ski Resort Worker Career
Approximately 39 states have ski resorts. States having the highest number of ski resorts include New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. Colorado is the most popular skiing state, where many communities such as Vail, Aspen, and Telluride have grown around the industry.
Workers who are interested in year-round employment should look for resorts that cater to year-round business. The Aspen Ski Company, for example, has four mountain ski areas in operation during the winter months and three hotels that are open all year. Many employees work the slopes from November to April and the golf courses the rest of the year.
Many resorts actively recruit at college campuses and job fairs. Phone interviews and online applications are becoming more prevalent in this field. There are also Web sites that operate online employment services. Visit them to find job descriptions, salary expectations, and job benefits.
It would be wise to first compile a list of resorts or locations that interest you. Trade magazines, such as Powder, the Skier’s Magazine or SKI, as well as your local library, are helpful resources. Apply for work at least two seasons ahead—that means start looking for winter work in the summer to be considered for choice positions.
Advancement is determined by a worker’s experience, skill, level of education, and also their starting position. Ski lift operators can be promoted to department supervisors of that division, general supervisors, and finally management. Ski instructors may begin their careers by giving beginner’s lessons or children’s lessons and then advance to intermediate- or expert-level classes. Experienced instructors with good reputations may develop a following of students. They may also be promoted to department supervisor or management. Lodge employees may be promoted to positions with increased responsibilities such as shift supervisor or manager.
Salaries for ski resort workers vary depending on the resort, the region where it is located, and the type of position the worker holds. For example, managers of ski lodges fall under the category of hotel and motel managers, who made median annual salaries of $33,970 a year in 2004, with some managers of larger hotels making more than $60,000 a year. Ski instructors, who fall under the general category of fitness and sports instructors, made between $17,000 and $55,000 in 2004, with median annual earnings of $25,460. Large, well-established resorts, especially those located in the mountain states and northeast, tend to pay higher hourly rates. One should bear in mind that most ski resorts operate only seasonally, so many jobs are not available the entire year.
Most ski resort employees are given complimentary full or partial season ski passes. Some companies also provide their employees with housing at or near the resort. Full-time employees receive the standard benefits package including paid vacation and health insurance.
Ski slopes open at around 8:00 a.m. and close at dusk; many resorts light some courses, to allow for night skiing. Ski lift operators, ski patrol, ski instructors, and other employees assigned to outdoor work prepare for the often blustery weather by wearing layers of clothes, waterproof coats, ski pants, boots, hats, and gloves. Some resorts supply their employees with uniform coats and accessories.
There are also indoor positions available for ski resort workers. Employees who enjoy a warm and comfortable workplace and still have great customer contact include lodge workers, gift shop employees, and ski technicians. Most ski resort employees work about 40 hours a week; ski instructors’ schedules will vary depending on their class load. Since ski resorts are open seven days a week, employees with low seniority are expected to work weekends and holidays—the busiest times for most resorts.
Ski Resort Worker Career Outlook
Emphasis on physical health, interest in sport-related vacations, and growing household incomes point to a bright future for ski resorts and their employees. And weather may not always hamper this industry. Many resorts, using snow-making devices to create a snow-covered run, can extend the season well into April.
Note, however, that the majority of jobs in this industry are seasonal. Many students use this opportunity to supplement their income during school vacations, as well as fuel their interest in the sport. Some resorts offer year-round employment by shifting their employees to other off-season jobs. Golf course attendants, tour guides, and spa workers are some examples of summer jobs. Workers who are interested in working in the management side of the business should consider pursuing degrees in business management, rehabilitation services, or physical education.
The travel and tourism industry is affected by the state of our nation’s economy. More people will vacation at ski resorts and other travel destinations when they feel that travel is safe and the economy is strong. In bad economic times and periods of uncertainty, people will take fewer vacations. During this time, fewer employment opportunities may be available to workers in the ski resort industry. The threat of global warming also diminishes snowfall and threatens the future of the ski industry, which has launched the “Keep Winter Cool” program in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council to call attention to this issue.