Year-round beach lovers and bikini-wearers, who live in places that do not require at least 3 layers of clothing in order to safely step out the front door, may question “why would anyone want to be a ski bum?” Equally curious are those who have pursued careers with regular paychecks allowing them to afford luxuries like, oh, a place to live, a car that runs and food that goes beyond boxed noodles. Ask a ski bum and you will find out that it’s all about the snow. What on earth could possibly be better than careening down a cold, steep, snow-covered hill with slippery objects strapped to your feet?
The passion for this adrenaline-filled activity is strong enough to cause all reason to go out the window. After all ski bums are not necessarily high school dropouts who just need a job. They are often college-educated, skilled workers who possibly had professional careers. They decided to drop out of the “real world.” They come in all ages and from many walks of life. The allure is so strong that many are willing to trade in all material possessions for the opportunity to spend over 100 days a year on snow and get paid (a little) for it.
Take the Leap and Plan for This
“Affordable housing” does not exist in ski towns so you’ll likely have to share living space with roommates to afford the rent. Some ski resorts actually have employee housing; often dormitory style. When I was ski bumming, I was lucky enough to find nearby RV parks open in the winter so I lived in my camper.
Work Wherever, Whenever
If you want to pay your rent and eat too, you will likely need multiple jobs to keep afloat. The ideal scenario includes employment with a ski resort so you will get an employee season pass. Resort jobs range from snow-making and removal to restaurants and lesson instruction. If you can get a job that includes tips as part of your compensation, you may not need another job. My days as a snowboard instructor in Breckenridge were filled with mostly private lessons or clinics with instructors to improve my skills. Then in the evening I went to work at a retail shop in the town.
Ski Before, During and After Work
Be prepared to work holidays, weekends and possibly every day of the week during the busiest parts of the season. Working seasonal jobs, you have to be there when it’s the busiest time. Don’t worry – you’ll have plenty of down time in between seasons! When will you have time to hit the slopes for fun? Many resort jobs will offer some time for a ski break. If you’re teaching lessons, there will be days where you’re not called up so you go hit the snow. If you work a night job or early morning job, then you’ll have part of the day to ski while the lifts are running.
Save for the “Shoulders”
Save for the shoulder seasons. If you’re working during ski season, then you’ll likely need to find a summer season job as well. There are plenty of people who have careers in seasonal jobs – ski resort job and raft guide/fishing guide or summer landscaper, summer construction, etc. Or do winter all year: ski resort job in North American winter, then ski resort job in southern hemisphere winter (our summer). In between summer and winter, though, there will likely be no work in the “shoulder season” so it’s wise to work hard in the peak seasons and save for the in between times.
All in all, the experience can be very rewarding. Try it for a season or make it a career. If you love sliding on snow more than anything else in life, then the lifestyle is for you! Check out these resources to start searching:
Be sure to look up individual ski resort websites as well. They will be hiring the entire season as there is often turnover even during the season. Wait until spring break time and resorts will be hiring again just for a short window as they need additional staff to complete the season with peak business. Enjoy the snow!
Jen Bickford is the General Manager at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, Colorado near the ski resorts of Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Monarch Mountain. For ski bum housing in the Crested Butte area, check out the winter housing options at Three Rivers Resort, just a short, free bus ride to Crested Butte.