How I Moved to Colorado and Worked for a Ski Resort — Without Going Broke
For many years, I dreamed of living in a mountain town, skiing whenever I wanted and enjoying après-ski drinks with a gaggle of new friends.
I dreamed of being a ski bum.
So the summer after college graduation, I drove cross-country scoping out mountain towns throughout the American West. I ended up settling in Breckenridge, Colorado for the winter (which turned into three winters and two summers). Those years ski bumming were some of the best of my life.
Though the word “bum” might give you the impression I didn’t work, that’s far from the case. Similar to other seasonal workers, most ski bums work hard -- but play harder. (And though I’ll use the word “ski” throughout this article, realize that everything I say also applies to snowboarders.)
If you, too, dream of living the mountain life, read on for everything you need to know about becoming a ski bum.
Where You Can Ski Bum
This isn’t a difficult question to answer: wherever you can ski, you can ski bum. There are mountains in most northern states, from Maine to Minnesota, but the ski bum lifestyle you’re probably picturing is in the west. (Like this idea? Click to tweet!)
The states with the best snow are California, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. There are also great mountains in Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon, and some decent ones in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
If you want to take it international and are between the ages of 18-30, Americans can get a working holiday visa to work at a ski resort in New Zealand. Just keep in mind that their winter is our summer. Though not available to Americans, citizens of several other countries can work at ski resorts in Japan, Canada and the Alps.
How to Get a Job as a Ski Bum
Ski bums work hard in a variety of different jobs. Wages aren’t great (unless you’re working at a restaurant or bar), but the lifestyle makes up for it.
If you truly want to become a ski bum, you can’t be too picky about what job you’ll accept. The people who move to ski towns who “can’t find a job” are the people who will only work at one specific restaurant, or for no less than $15 per hour.
People will often ask if they should find a ski job before moving out to the mountains. Most of the time, my answer is no. Sure, you can search, but many employers are wary of hiring people before meeting them in person. (Too many people say they’re going to move to the mountains, but never do.)
Personally, I found almost all of my jobs the old fashioned way: from the newspaper or walk-ins.
Here are several places to find jobs:
- The resort’s website and job fair: Check out this page for information about ski resort job sites and job fairs.
- Craigslist or the local newspaper
- Word of mouth: For once, you have an excuse to hang out at the bars!
- Plain old fashioned walk-ins: At popular restaurants, this is often the only way to get a job; they don’t have to advertise their openings and often look to walk-ins or recommendations. Just be sure to go during a quiet time, like between 2 and 3 p.m.
Even though the job is in the relaxed atmosphere of a ski town, you should still treat it like a real job. Submit a quality resume and cover letter, and dress professionally for the interview. This will give you a step up above the competition.
Also keep in mind that, unlike the rest of the world, the most coveted jobs are the ones with night and weekend shifts. Day shifts are the worst, since they take up time you should be on the mountain. If you really want a job, offer to work more day shifts -- but try your best to avoid a regular 9-to-5.
Where to Find Housing as a Ski Bum
After finding a job, finding an apartment is going to be your biggest challenge. Housing is competitive, and often expensive, in ski towns. More than likely, you’re going to have to share a house or apartment with roommates.
The challenge is that much of the good housing gets snatched up in August or September, and almost all of it is gone by late October -- but jobs often don’t start giving out hours until November (just before the resort opens).
My advice? Move in early September to find good housing, but have money saved up in case you don’t see a paycheck until November. Spend September and October making connections, submitting applications and working out in preparation for the season.
How to Make the Most of Your Time as a Ski Bum
Working as a ski bum is an incredible experience you’ll never forget. Though you won’t be earning a fortune, you can still have fun and even save money.
Just follow these tips:
- Buy used gear: It’s easy to get swept up with the gearheads and want the best and newest gear out there, but that’s a quick way to go broke. High-quality used gear is plentiful and easy to find; take advantage of it.
- Get a job with a ski pass: Though this isn’t a necessity, it’s definitely a bonus -- especially when you consider that season passes run well over $1,000 at many resorts.
- Rule the happy hour: Skip the late nights, which are expensive and make it hard to get out of bed the next day. Après-ski is where it’s at; and you can often save on food during happy hour, too.
- Use your perks: Whether your job gives you free ski lessons or restaurant discounts, take advantage of the perks! Also, make friends with people in other industries so you can help each other out.
- Find the local discounts: Many restaurants, bars and stores offer local discounts. You might be required to have a local ID, so get one as soon as you move.
- Remember it’s a small town: If you’re from a city, the ski town drama and gossip might surprise you. Be kind, and keep in mind that it’s difficult to avoid people you don’t want to see again.
- Buy health insurance: You probably won’t get it through your job, and since you’ll be shredding the mountain every day, you don’t want to skip it. Besides, with the Affordable Care Act, you have no excuse not to.
- Have fun, and ski as much as you can: This winter is probably going to be one of the best of your life -- so don’t spend it on the couch. Take the time to enjoy your amazing surroundings with your new friends.
Your Turn: Have you ever thought about moving to the mountains and becoming a ski bum?