Whether you are about to embark on your first ski season or dabbling with the idea of living abroad and becoming a ski bum. This guide will help you with all the fundamentals of having the best season that winter has to offer.
I am currently in my second ski season, the first being in New Zealand and the second being in Canada. And with the different temperature ranges, hemispheres, and levels of gear, I have compiled everything I have learned along the way.
For some of you, this will be the first of many, and for others, this will be an enjoyable once in a lifetime experience that you do not fancy repeating. Either way, the goal is to make incredible memories, learn or improve the sport, and create lifelong friendships.
The ultimate guide to help you survive your first ski season
My first ski season was in Queenstown, New Zealand. I started as a complete beginner. I’d seen UK snow before, but not fresh fluffy powder snow like on those perfect bluebird days. I took a couple of lessons and then braved the slopes with friends.
Doing a ski season as a beginner is an amazing experience as you watch yourself constantly improve over the duration of your time there.
Saying that, if you are an intermediate to advanced skier, this will be a playground like no other, where you will watch your love for the sport increase.
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How long is the ski season?
Depending on where you are going to do your ski season will depend on how long the ski season is.
In Canada, ski season is between November and May, meaning if the weather conditions are right, you could be skiing/snowboarding for 6 months!
Whilst in Europe, the ski season is between December and April, depending on the snow forecast.
In Japan, the ski season is between December and March, depending on the weather.
And in New Zealand, the ski season is between June and September. This can be shortened due to the temperatures rising quickly.
Picking the destination
There are a few key aspects that should be taken into consideration when picking your destination.
Do you want to match the seasons of where you came from?
The Northern Hemisphere tends to have its ski season starting December to March, whereas the Southern Hemisphere runs from June to October.
What temperatures are you willing to endure?
Do you want to ski in warmer or colder climates? Both answers will still give you good skiing opportunities, but they will come with different experiences.
Cardrona Mountain in New Zealand has highs of 5 degrees and lows of -4.With an average snowfall of 2.9m per year, they also have snow making machines in certain areas of the resort to increase that amount.
Lake Louise Ski Resort in Canada has highs of 2 degrees and lows of -17. With an average snowfall of 4.9m per year, They also have snow making machines.
Niseko Mountain Resort in Japan has highs of 7 degrees and lows of -7. With an average snowfall of 14m per year.
Méribel in France has highs of 5 degrees and lows of -9. With an average snowfall of 3.8m per year.
Consider your budget.
Are you going to be looking for a ski in, ski out resort village that has limited resources? Or are you going to a resort town that is touristy? If your budget is tight you might want to look at job avenues that offer staff accommodation and a free ski pass.
That way, you can save on the big expenses and have more beer money!
Is the ski resort expat friendly?
The whole point of this adventure is to ski in amazing places and make lifelong friends and connections. Therefore, you want to see if the place you decide to go is expat friendly. Are there good reviews online about people’s experiences there?
For your first season, I do not recommend going to a small, remote resort in the middle of nowhere with skeleton staff and no one your age.
Your Ability Level
Picking a resort or ski destination that compliments your ski/snowboarding ability level is vital. This decision could make or break your season.
If you are a beginner, does the mountain have a good bunny run with lots of greens and blues to master? Does the mountain have a gondola to help you learn the fundamentals, or is it all chairlifts?
Is there a good snow school programme that will teach you the basics and build your confidence?
If you are an intermediate or advanced skier/snowboarder, are there plenty of runs that will help improve your riding ability? Is there enough variety of runs to keep you from getting bored? Do they have a good park where you can master your jumps and turns?
Can you do a ski season as a beginner?
Of course, you can do a snow season as a beginner! Being a beginner and experiencing your first ski season is such an exciting and fun experience. You will be able to go from beginner to intermediate by the end of the season.
You will have plenty of time to master the art of skiing and snowboarding in your down time. I strongly recommend taking lessons to learn the fundamentals, as it can be a challenging process in the beginning.
Make sure you choose a resort that offers plenty of green runs but also has enough runs that allow you to progress to the next level.
Visas can be intimidating. If you are a first-timer, then you might want to look into working holiday visas.
New Zealand offers 18-30 year olds a 23 month visa. It is worth noting that you can only work up to 12 months on this visa, whereas other WHVs let you work the whole duration if you want.
Canada offers 18-35 year olds a 24 month visa.
Japan offers 18-30 year olds a 12 month visa.
For European destinations, you will need to apply with a company, and once you secure the job offer, they will help you with the work permit application process. This also goes for other countries where you are outside the age range.
After researching this, it looks like I need to apply for my Japan visa soon!
I do not recommend booking your working holiday visas through a 3rd party company, as they massively rip you off. For a Canadian visa that costs $341 CAD (£200), they will try to charge you $2000 (£1167)!!!! If you need help, please reach out to me (I have done three now.) or look at forums online.
Do you want a ski in ski out village or a resort town?
A great example of a ski in, ski out village is Whistler, and a resort town is Banff, both in Canada.
Whistler Blackcomb boasts that it is North America’s largest ski resort. Located north of Vancouver, BC, Whistler is a compact, chalet-style pedestrian village at the base of the mountain.
Banff is located in Alberta and is part of the Rocky Mountains. The town is located in the centre of a national park and has three ski fields to choose from: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, and Mount Norquay.
Both areas are amazing choices for the ski season, but they will give you different experiences.
With Banff, you can mix up your riding with different mountains, whereas with Whistler, you are limited to one. Both areas are the most popular for the snow season in Canada, making accommodation harder to find. I recommend planning ahead and putting the feelers out in Facebook groups well in advance!
Types of Ski Season Jobs
There are loads of different job opportunities on the mountain and in the surrounding towns. Some of these jobs require skills and qualifications, whereas others are entry-level with no previous experience needed.
Working in rentals
This job is a social one. You will be helping holiday goers get kitted out in their snowboard/ski gear. Training is usually provided, and you will undergo a certification to show you can tech a ski.
This certificate is normally free/purchased by your employer and will take a couple of hours maximum.
They will give you all the information you need about how boots should feel for customers, how to set the din on skis, how to attach bindings to individual boards, and more.
While previous experience is desirable it isn’t necessary.
The main perk of this job is a free season pass and free rentals!
If you enjoy customer service based roles, then this job is for you. You will be helping guests with season passes, lift tickets, selling rentals, helping book lessons, and sometimes organising shuttle buses, along with general enquiries.
Being in guest services means you will get a free season pass for the mountain.
Lift Operator (Lifty)
Being a lifty is not for the faint-hearted. This job requires you to stand in the cold for hours at a time, operating the lifts and shovelling the snow.
If you want to be a server/bartender and get a free season pass, then picking a restaurant on the mountain may just get you one. However, if you choose a job serving in Canada, your tips will usually cover the season pass if you get a job in the ski town.
Most mountain resorts have a gift shop with ski merchandise.
Like the lift operator job, this role will require you to be outside for long periods of time, scanning holiday goers and passholder tickets.
Depending on what company you work with, resort/ski transportation can be an amazing gig. When I worked at Go Orange in Queenstown, New Zealand, our drivers would do one run up and one run down the mountain, and in the middle of the day, they would do their paperwork and then ski the rest of the time.
Becoming a ski/snowboarding instructor does require a qualification. However, the job is so rewarding, and you can be doing ski seasons all over the world just chasing the snow.
Ski and Chalet Host
This role is very popular in Europe. You will be required to work long days, preparing meals for guests, doing their laundry, answering any questions they have, transporting them around the mountain, and sometimes skiing with them.
Obviously, with this role, you need to like kids! Most resorts have a daycare centre for ski parents to drop them off while they go down the slopes. You can also find families around the area who need a nanny to help take their kids to ski lessons.
Hotels have a number of opportunities, from front desk, concierge, housekeeping, to bar staff.
The perks of working a ski job
One of the best ski job perks you can get is having a season pass. This will allow you access to the mountain in your downtime to ski/snowboard.
Another perk that some companies offer is staff accommodation. If you are living on the mountain, it is hard to get off it. So resorts will offer rooms for free or at a reduced rate, depending on the place and circumstance.
Free rentals. This is an amazing perk, especially when you are a beginner, as it gives you the opportunity to try gear before investing in it. When I worked at Go Orange, I rented them for a whole season. And when I worked at Ski Big 3, I used their boots for the first 6 weeks of the season.
Heavily discounted ski and snowboard lessons. This is a great perk regardless of whether you are a beginner or an advanced rider, as there is always room for improvement.
Discount on merchandise you sell if you work in a ski shop.
Where to look for ski season jobs?
Here is a compiled list of where to find ski jobs all over the world:
Make sure you look directly on the mountain’s websites for the highest chance of getting selected.
When should you start applying for ski season jobs?
I recommend starting to search for ski jobs 3 to 4 months prior to starting. Sometimes there might be nothing, but it is good practice to keep refreshing each week. If you start researching early, you will have the opportunity to pick the better roles on the market.
Jobs that have many perks usually get taken first. However, saying that, there will be roles available at the start/during the season, as people will leave or choose somewhere else. But those opportunities are few and far between.
It never hurts to email the resorts earlier in the year, asking when the application process is starting.
Finding accommodation in a ski resort town
With accommodation, the key is to organise it earlier rather than later. And if you are giving a deposit in advance, get a lease or a legal document to keep your money safe if anything dodgy goes down.
I strongly recommend getting a job that has staff accommodation included. This will take the stress out of finding housing and give you a social environment with other people within the company.
When in your job interview, if you are organising it before arriving, ask the employer if they have or know of any places.
The most effective way to find accommodation in resort towns is by posting on Facebook housing groups.
Create a post with a picture of yourself and a little description of how long you hope to stay. This allows people to contact you. Some landlords will not put a post up because they do not want to get inundated with messages, so they can be more selective. Try to stand out and let your personality come across.
This also allows you to see multiple offers and can be worked more around your budget.
You will also get to see what has been posted in the past and what housing options are available.
You can also look on local rooms to rent sites from Google.
Are there hostels in the resort town you are applying for? Some of them will probably cater to long term accommodation. A hostel is usually a good place to meet new people and provides a good social life.
Getting early bird pricing
If you get a job in a ski resort town that does not offer a free or discounted season pass, then make sure you keep an eye out for early bird pricing. A couple of months before the ski fields open, the mountains tend to have an early bird price.
Being organised can save you up to $900 on a full season pass in Banff, Canada.
Getting the right gear
Going to a destination with sub zero conditions can be hard on the body. It is imperative that you invest in good quality gear. If you work in a ski job, sometimes you are entitled to pro deals like Salomon and North Face.
There is an app called Endvr that, if you work in retail, you will give you access to sales contests and discounts. For example, if I sell a pair of Smith goggles in the shop, then I earn $5. Companies also put on mini courses where you learn about their products and then get insanely good discounts, like 60% off Burton and Mons Royale.
I recommend investing in Merino wool, as it is breathable, has good insulation, and has anti odour properties. This clever biodegradable and renewable natural fibre can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture and still have the capability to keep you dry and insulated.
Merino wool is an absolute must if you are travelling to sub zero countries. In Banff, Canada, I have been out in -38 degree celsius temperatures, and I am not exaggerating when I say that wearing several layers of this material kept me warm.
A brand I adore is Mons Royale. I am kitted head to toe in their stuff as it is all merino wool. They pride themselves on being ethical, sustainable, and natural. They also have certified ZQ Merino.
I also recommend the brand Swany for gloves. Let me tell you, when you put your hand inside one of those mittens, it is like heaven! I prefer mittens, over gloves as they are known to keep your hands warmer.
Another company to consider is Helly Hansen; they supply all the snow suits to Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise, making them a top contender in the warmth industry. I also have a ski jacket from them.
Invest in some good quality socks. I use merino socks on the mountain and llama wool socks from Soul Destiny around town.
Packing list for your snow season
These are the items I recommend bringing on your trip or purchasing once you are at your destination:
- Snowboard/Ski boots
- Ski Goggles
- 2x Thermals/baselayers/ninjasuit
- 2x First layer (looser fitting base layer)
- Mid Layer: either a down shell or a warm hoody
- Big coat with either down or synthetic down
- Ski Jacket
- Ski pants/leggings/salopettes/bib
- Winter boots
- Glove liners
- Hand/toe warmers
- Trainers for when you are indoors
- Slippers (my creature comfort)
Getting ski insurance
Skiing/snowboarding is an expensive hobby. To stay safe on the mountain and give your parents peace of mind, invest in insurance that covers “winter sports”.
If you live in Banff, Alberta, on a working holiday visa and have accommodation in town and a job, you will be entitled to apply for Alberta Health. This means you are covered if you injure yourself on the mountain. This service is free and well worth spending time on, as it can save you a lot of money.
Unfortunately, ski insurance is not cheap, so it would be beneficial to check out Facebook groups and do online research on the country//town you will be living in before investing.
Here are some ski insurance companies I recommend:
Alpha Travel Insurance
I have been renewing my Alpha Travel Insurance with this company since 2015. I think they are a brilliant company. They are affordable, do long term travel plans, cover loads of activities, and allow you to include countries all over the world.
Alpha has winter sports insurance that has different tiers that work with your budget. Unfortunately, the only downside of Alpha is that they only cover up to 3 months of winter sports.
Another great company is World Nomads. This insurance cover is all about allowing you the freedom to hone your snow skills by covering those “what if” potentials that none of us want to experience.
This company is also great for long term trips and other backpacking trips.
Big Cat Travel Insurance
Big Cat Travel Insurance has great insurance policies to choose from. I like that they have “non-consecutive ski day” options of 14, 28, or 56 days. They also have an unlimited option if you are a ski bum who will be in the snow more often.
They also cover ski instructor courses if you decide you want to pursue a career in the industry.
How do I prepare for skiing for the first time?
- I would invest in at least three lessons. This will help you learn the basics and practice in between sessions.
- Invest in good clothing before investing in gear. It is perfectly acceptable to buy a second hand board/skis and save money in that area, but spend the money on good thermals because there is nothing worse than being cold and having to miss out on the action.
- Don’t push yourself. Everyone learns at different paces, and it is ok to be slower than your friends. Take your time, work on your technique, and build on the fundamentals. This will make you better in the long run. Going down a black run for the first time just because your friends are is not a smart move. You wouldn’t want to injure yourself in the first few days and write off your whole season because you pushed yourself too quickly.
- Do not give up after the first few gos! It takes time to get good at an extreme sport. Trust the process; you will get it! It took me forever to get my heel to toe transition on my board.
How do you get fit for the ski season?
Firstly, you do not need to be physically fit to start skiing, but it is helpful. Preparing your fitness before you get on the slopes will allow you to spend longer on the mountain. If you are a boarder, having a basic level of fitness will help you, as you will be using your core muscles every time you get up.
A nice, easy practice to start with is yoga. This is a great pre and post snow session, as you want to stretch your muscles.
Start a bit of cardio, whether that is cycling in the summer, walking on beautiful hikes, or running. This will start building your stamina, as snow sports can be tiring.
Start adding squats, wall sits, planks, and lunges to your exercise routine.
Do you need to learn a new language?
While most of the world speaks English, it might be worthwhile learning the basics if you are on a mountain in a foreign speaking country. Picking up and trying a new language goes a long way with the locals.
Even if you just learn: Hi, bye, please, and thank you, having a basic understanding will be greatly appreciated.
If you like learning in bite-sized chunks, then download Duo Lingo. This app will keep you accountable for learning 5-10 minutes every day. YouTube is also a wonderful tool for learning languages.
Other helpful information
Remember, people are on holiday.
Some guests are going to be the sweetest humans, and other guests are going to be the spawn of Satan, but remember, people are spending a lot of money to be on holiday.
Some families will have saved for years to do this once in a lifetime trip, and maybe if things go wrong, they might take their frustrations out on you. Do not take it personally; usually, after you have helped solve their dilemma, they soften and appreciate you for taking the time to help.
Some people will be rich and not care about you or the $700 bill. Just grin and bare it, and remember, you are here for the experience of skiing, and a 10-minute interaction is not worth ruining your whole day over.
Also, do not assume all guests are in a similar financial position to you. Some customers do not need helpful tips on how to save money during the duration of their trip.
People have spent a lot of money, so be nice to them!
Your spending habits
Ski season is such a fun experience! You will either be riding, working, or partying, so be prepared for a wild 3-6 months. And while you do get paid to be there, it is more about the experience than the money.
Ski jobs are notorious for not paying well. The cost of living is high in most mountain towns, so make sure you budget your paychecks accordingly.
Before taking out the beer money you need to account for rent, food shop, phone bill, and a little emergency fund/savings pot.
Once you have portioned this money, then you can use the little bit extra for beer, new gear, and dining out.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so enjoy it! Make amazing memories, work on your snow skills, party hard (but safely), and soak up all that fresh mountain air.
Becoming a ski bum is such a fun experience. It will push you out of your comfort zone, help you learn something new, and create lasting friendships. I hope this survival guide has helped and excited you for your first ski season.
As always, happy exploring!