If you’re reading this, chances are at one time or another you’ve probably caught yourself day dreaming about being able to ski for a living. You’ve had those thoughts of how amazing life would be if you could somehow just get paid to ski. If you’re still in your younger years, those dreams are probably centered around becoming a pro. You know, the free gear, traveling paid for, deepest powder, and private filming sessions in perfect parks. Definitely sounds like tha life eh?
But what if I was to tell you there’s another way to live it up in the Ski Industry and get paid to do so? And I’m not talking about flippin’ burgers, checking tickets or chasing after toddlers at the local resort. I’m talking about real world big boy/big girl jobs that bring home the cash. Because even though working in the Ski Industry does have its similarities to the classic movie Ski School, it’s still an industry that makes millions of dollars every year. Therefore, there are all kinds of different paths into a position with the industry that you have a passion for. You just have to realize, it takes all kinds of people in all kinds doing all kinds of different work to make the Ski Industry go round. Which is something that probably wasn’t dancing around your head when you were deep in Lala land getting paid to rip around the hill.
Enter the purpose of this article; to get you to understand that you don’t have to kill it like Sarah Burke or Sammy Carlson to live a life that revolves around snow. Follow along with me as I highlight a few different avenues to pursue after you’ve grown out of that ski bum phase you’re in. Don’t worry; you’ll still get to ski. But the best part is you’ll be getting $$$ to do so.
We’ll start things off with an area I know way too much about, Accounting. Accounting is boring, it is not exciting. For a while the media was trying to spin it as “sexy” , of course this was when all you were reading about in the news was another big firm getting busted by auditors for committing fraud. Accounting is not sexy…unless I’m doing it. But there are two very important reasons why I decided to study it. 1. I want to make money and what better way to learn how to make it than study it? And 2. Job security: Every business has to deal with accounting in some way or another. Now in the real world, accounting kinda blows. It’s a lot of sitting at a desk, and can be long hours. But in the world of Skiing, you know what, it ain’t all that bad. So here’s what I would say to expect in an accounting job in the Ski Industry.
Job: Ski Resort Staff Accountant
My job consists mostly of daily accounting tasks, reconciliations, journal entries, recording payments, and auditing cash that we take in. It really is an accounting job filled with lots of excel, emails, numbers, and sitting at the desk. The worst part I’d say is it’s still a job, and even though I really do enjoy the business aspect of it all the actual work isn’t anything exciting. You’re reading reports, analyzing numbers and making adjustments. Also, the resort is a big company, which in turn is owned by an even bigger company. Which means there is gonna be politics involved. It’s a gimmie, when working in a big company you’ll have several bosses and have to answer to several different people. Luckily for me, I love the people I work with and in return have very little “Office Space” syndrome to deal with. For pay, I’d say expect anything from $30k-50k a year for your first through maybe 5 years. You’re going to need a college education to have any decent chance of going to work for a company that you haven’t been with from the ground up. I wouldn’t say graduate school is a must, but these days who knows. It can be pretty damn tough to highlight yourself from the rest of the candidates so it might not be a bad idea. For the work week, definitely expect to work 40+ hours, especially since you’ll be taking some extra time to ski. But one thing to keep in mind, if you like the people you’re working with, putting in extra time at the office doesn’t matter as much. Now for the part where that makes the desk job not so bad; I skied 95 days last year. Compared to the meager 15 I put in the year before when I was working for a public CPA firm. Then there is also the fact that you’re working in the Ski Industry and will have the chance to meet all kinds of industry contacts. So as long as you have half a normal personality you’ll be able to make friends and get some awesome deals on gear and passes. Not to mention I no longer have to wear a tie or work in a cubicle. I work in the Mountains. It’s amazing.
A good example of who you don’t want to be.
Job: Ski Magazine Editor
Alright let’s switch gears from 123’s to the ABC’s and check out what it’s like to be an editor for a Ski Magazine. Lucky for me I was able to get interviews with 2 separate editors from 2 of the top ski mags out there, and both of their answers ran along the same lines. Basically it sounds like there are two different times of the year when you’re working for a ski magazine. There is the production cycle which happens May-December and is filled with editorial planning, assigning stories to freelancers, editing copy, fact checking, managing the website, social media, and getting freelancers paid. Then once the pages come in, it’s intense editing of every word, from photo captions to cover blurbs to contact details. And then there is the off season (which really isn’t an off season), when you aren’t busting your ass getting the Magazine out the door you might find yourself traveling for stories, researching and following contests, events and industry tradeshows. Of course if you aren’t doing any of that, well then you’ll be in your desk. One thing to remember in a position like this is it’s going to be very deadline heavy. Meaning if you have to pull a string of 12+ hour days to get the job done, then that’s what you do. But just like I mentioned in the accounting portion above, when you really enjoy the people you’re working with, long hours don’t leave such a bad taste in your mouth. When it comes to bringing home the bacon, I would expect to go from $30k to somewhere around $70k as you climb from Associate to Senior Editor. When it comes to school, my two interviewees had similar opinions, both agreeing that you definitely need a degree to even be considered. So go to College. And when the question was asked if internships were a necessity the answers again coincided. One saying that they are a must and to do as many as possible and the other saying “Internships are valuable because you get a peek into what working for your dream job is really like, whether that’s at a magazine, ski company or whatever. But just interning isn’t going to get you where you want to go…. you’ve gotta want it, and you’ve gotta show that you want it if you want to get hired.” So I’d say go get yourself some internships to go along with that degree.
Now for the important stuff: How much can you expect to ski in a position with a Ski Magazine? Well it doesn’t sound like quite as much as I was thinking, or maybe it is and they were just down playing it? But what I got for answers to this question basically said that you won’t ski as much but you’ll have much more opportunity to ski in amazing places that you might not have had the chance to otherwise. So maybe you trade those 100+ day seasons for trips to Utah, Jackson, Japan, South America or some Heli-skiing in AK. I don’t think I’d be complaining too much…Plus you’re still in a more than prime position to get yourself free/discounted gear, tickets and travel.
Job: Heli-Ski guide
How bout instead of taking a heli-ski trip once or twice in a lifetime you just become a Guide/Director of Operations for a heli-ski guide in AK? Might sound a bit farfetched but trust me it’s possible. Remember when I said the ski industry was huge and there were jobs out there that you probably never thought about? Well this is one of those jobs.
The ski/busy season in Alaska is about 3 months, from mid February through the beginning of May. But it’s not just 3 months of flying around in heli’s and skiing big lines. There is a lot that goes into running a guide business and making sure that your high paying customers are having the experience of a lifetime. Expect to stay busy with just about anything. There’s setting up pre-season training, managing the guide team and conducting guide meetings, managing the helicopters and their fuel contracts, overseeing the permitting process for flights, along with opening and closing regions and runs that get skied. Not only all that but you’re also constantly analyzing snow, weather, and terrain in order to determine when the skiing can take place. And don’t forget that you’re also entertaining skiers who are paying big $$$ to ski lines that most only dream about. The hours are long (10-16 hour days) during this time of year, but that’s what it takes to keep everyone safe, happy and in business.
Deciding who gets the corner office with the view
In the off season you’re booking and selling trips. This is where it’s all about your relationships with past customers as well as how well you can create and grow new ones. Growing up I think a lot of people develop a negative view of careers in sales. But if what you’re selling is guided heli-ski trips, which you also guide, I’m guessing it’s not so bad. Because the bottom line is you’re selling something you believe in and are passionate about. It’s easy to get others excited about something when you’re excited about it too. Also, think of the people who are going to book a heli-trip to the Chugach…probably not your average Joey. These people have cash to spare and there’s a good chance they’ll be from all over the world. You’re going to be meeting some unique individuals that you’ll probably develop personal relationships with, so don’t be surprised when they invite you down to party with them in Brazil during the off season. So are there cons to this gig? Maybe. You’re entire operation is at the mercy of Mother Nature. So if she isn’t cooperating then don’t expect business to be cranking. There is also the travel, which might appeal to some, but others might not be too stoked on being away from home for 3-5 months a year. The pay scale for a position like this was a little hard to pin down, but from what I can understand, anywhere from $500-$2,000 a week depending on the trip, the group, and the area where you are working. What you would study to get a job like this, I don’t know. But a degree is still advised. However, maybe even more important than that piece of paper is your ability to get an internship, network with the right people and be persistent. I can guarantee this isn’t a job that they just give out to anyone, and just because you weren’t thinking about getting it until now doesn’t mean that a thousand others weren’t already. But if you are lucky enough to land a spot with a heli-ski outfitter you’ll be looking forward to skiing 120+ days a year in snow that TGR is filming and selling to the masses. Plus, who knows, maybe one of your rich clients will have a smokin’ hot daughter who will need an experienced guide to keep her safe in wild Alaska!
Job: Marketing @ a Ski Resort
Ok, come back to reality. Let’s talk about a popular career path to study amongst college students these days, marketing. Depending on the size of the Marketing department, you could be a very busy person. Let’s say it’s you and a few other folks, in which case expect to have your hands in everything. You’re the go to person for everyone who wants something from the mountain. This means athletes, local shops, companies who want to advertise, parents who think their kids are the next Shawn White, event organizers…the whole shebang. There’s going to be contracts that have to be written, on-hill events that have to organized, ski shows that have to be worked, tweets that need to be twittered, Facebook status updates up the….oh and don’t forget about the PARENTS WHO THINK THEIR KID IS THE NEXT SHAWN WHITE. Grommy Mommies galore. And when you have to explain to them that, “No I’m sorry but you’re child can barely find their belly button”, be ready for the criticism to rain down. One thing you’ll learn quickly is that as a public figure for such a prominent business it will often seem like you’re the target of everybody’s complaints. But there are positives to all of this, two days will rarely be the same, and your schedule will be all over the place. Trust me, this isn’t a bad thing. Which would you rather have: go to work every day from 8am-5pm where you sit and stare at your computer OR who knows what exactly the next day will hold. There is some structure; it’s just more structured around your blackberry rather than your cubicle. The pay could depend on the size of the company you work for and how high up you are in your department, but starting out and through 5 years I’d say expect $28K-$50K. And just like the rest of the jobs I’ve talked about, make sure you get through school. That degree is going to help you get your foot in the door, as will an internship (that’s probably full time and unpaid). But if you really want the position, you gotta sacrifice early in life. Which is consistent I’d say with pretty much everything. IN LIFE. But you won’t be thinking about any of that if you’re working for the resort because odds are you’ll be on your skis 80-100 days a year. The beauty of working at a mountain is…you walk outside and get on the lift. And I’m not sure I need to connect the dots on this one, but if an accounting position can get hook ups, just think of what a person in marketing can get. Odds are you’ll never pay for another piece of gear again.
Marketing is bananas; B-A-N-A-N-A-S
Job: Online Retail Product Manager
Ok time to delve into the world of www’s. It you haven’t come to terms with the fact that the world is moving online then you’re probably not even reading this. But let’s talk about a position whose main interaction with customers is going to be through some sort of online interface, over the phone and not in person. The job of a product manager for an online retailer is probably busier than you might expect. And if it’s a season specific sport (winters) then your days during the season def. aren’t going to be filled with free time. But that’s the beauty of an industry job, “work” can consist of things like taking a visiting pro to the local shred hill, or maybe traveling to a manufacturers private “product testing” (think Smith’s Prospecting Idaho webisode series) area to check out some of the latest products. However, you’re regular work week is going to consist of emails. Lots and lots of emails. And when those are taken care of it’s all about customer service. This means answering phones, taking orders, and making sure shipping procedures are working without a hitch. And depending on how big the company is, you might find yourself helping out in marketing, photography and where ever else you’re needed. When it’s the off-season you can expect to become very familiar with all the products you’ll be selling next year. Building products for the web site is going to include a lot of writing copy/descriptions and coordinating photos of the items and then proofing everything several times looking for errors. Because this isn’t a brick and mortar store, the customer is relying on you to show them everything they need to know about the products they’re buying. As you climb the experience escalator you can probably expect the pay range to be from $30K-$70K. But one thing to keep in mind is that as you move higher up the pay scale, your responsibilities are going to increase proportionally. A.k.a. your work days are going to start spilling over the hours of 8-5. One bad thing about being involved with a company who does all their business online is that the interwebs are everywhere these days. What I’m saying is you’ll be taking your work home with you often. But there are perks to every job, especially in the Snow Industry. Online retailers have giant warehouses, and often times those giant warehouses have fun things in them….like skate ramps, ping pong tables and who knows what else. Not saying it’s a given, but I know of several retail and manufacturing companies that have skate ramps in the warehouse. Also, most online retailers seem to be geographically located at least somewhat close to a ski resort so even though you’re going to be working your ass off, I’d say it’s not unusual to get turns in 3-4 times per week. And I don’t know if it’s necessary that I point it out but since you’re working for an a company that sells gear, you’re going to be getting a lot of it for free. Probably all of it actually. Then to top it all off, if your job has the words “product” and “manager” in it you can expect to be taking all sorts of trips to trade shows, manufacturers and who know what parties.
So what do you need to do to get into a position like this? Same ole’ same, get yer’ degree in business, marketing or something along those lines, probably do an internship if possible and most of all, be dedicated to what you’re trying to do. Passion will take you places you never thought possible.
Job: Interactive Services Coordinator: a.k.a. graphics/design/anything web related
Moving right along, let’s check out another job for the computer nerds. Every company whose online, at some point in time had to build a web site. Whether that was done in house or not could depend on the size of the company. If they’re big enough, chances are they have some sort of position involving site maintenance, website graphics, and design in general. This is the person who’s creating header/hero graphics for the site, figuring out why when you click on one of the thumb nails for a product a close up of Tom Selleck’s stache comes up, and gets the site to be displayed the way whoever is in charge wants it to be. Most likely you’ll be working under deadlines as there are always sales, promotions and time relevant updates that need to be done. And depending on how involved you are, you could have the responsibility of tracking the user interaction of those sales and promos and then helping to figure out what would have made them work better and make more $$$. However, just because you’re helping bring in more dough don’t expect to make bank, as with most industry jobs you can expect to make probably anywhere from 20-30% less than if it were a position in the “real world”. So look for salaries to range from $30K-$45K on average. And just like any other seasonally based job, if you’re industry is winter you can expect the work load to be light in the summer and ramp up during the colder months. One unique thing about a position in this field is that it’s still pretty new and definitely still new when it comes to education. I know plenty of people who have taught themselves and become successful when it comes to web based construction and design. So out of all the jobs covered so far, this could be the one where and education isn’t as necessary as you might think. Although, having the degree on your resume will definitely still help land a position. But, if you can teach yourself and put together a fairly decent portfolio of work you’ve done you might just find yourself with the job. One thing to think about though is if you’re successful at doing it on your own, well then why let somebody else tell you what to do? That’s probably best answered by looking at the perks of the job. If it’s in the industry, you’ll be rocking cheap/free gear and some extra ski days during the week. If it’s a ski resort you’re working for, you can expect a free pass and chances are good there will be a lift 10 seconds from your office, well maybe 60 seconds. But you get the picture. 80-100 days a season won’t be a problem.
Working on the interweb is a good way to avoid people. Wearing a luchador mask is even better though
Job: Ski Industry Entrepreneur
The last position I’m going to talk about is one that almost everybody dreams of whether they love to ski or not. Being your own boss. The life of an entrepreneur is anything but standard, which is what a lot of people who live the lifestyle love. You don’t have a daily routine, sure you can make one for yourself, but I guarantee you’ll have things every day that need to be dealt with which weren’t on your list. It can be frustrating and there is a lot more responsibility that’s going to fall on your shoulders compared to if you were taking the orders rather than handing them out. But that’s why you go down the path in the first place. You want the excitement that comes with being in control of how much, or how little, you make.
So the example I’ll use is a friend of mine who bought into a backcountry yurt guiding business with Montana Backcountry Adventures. MBA has 3 aspects to it, 1. Backcountry skiing and guiding, 2. Snow cat accessed fine dining, 3. Ski-in Lunch dining. So in a sense it’s like a mini-resort style business. There are employees and schedules, guests and reservations, vendors and bills, machinery and repairs/maintenance. There is any number of situations and events that could happen on any given day. And as an owner you are going to be involved in all of it. If a cat breaks down you’ll help figure out how to get it running again. If a cook doesn’t show up for work, you’ll be preparing the dishes in his place. If a customer is unhappy with the service they’re getting, you’re the person they complain to. But hey, you’re also the person who can tell them to get the hell out and never come back if they’re being extremely rude. Mark that one down as a bonus. If the company you’re running is small, you’ll be doing the marketing, accounting, and everything else that comes with making a business profitable. So you need to realize that it will be your life, schedules don’t apply here. Being a business owner you are at the mercy of the company and your life will revolve around it. There is no 40 hour work week. There are only times when you are working or sleeping. And if you are lucky enough to get away for a bit, you’ll still be thinking about it. As I briefly touched on earlier, you’re pay is dependent upon you. My friend had a good way of putting it: “you get paid for what you put into it; sweat equity, smart decisions, careful accounting and controls, limiting liability and marketing/promoting the product to maximize profits and seeing what’s left over at the end of the winter.” It’s no longer about knowing that check will be waiting for you every two weeks. You’ve crossed into the strange land of: If you want to get paid, then you have to get it yourself.
No parking garages here
But in return for being responsible for your paycheck (and destiny) you’re also entitled to many benefits that you wouldn’t experience anywhere else. For my friend it’s the fact that he’s making a living in an industry that he loves. Being outside everyday with spectacular views, fresh snow, interacting with wildlife and helping people have an experience that they’ll remember forever. It’s a very fulfilling thing to know that you brought a smile to somebodies face. And on top of all that feel goodness there’s also the “….free beer, free skiing, not having to answer to ‘the man’, trade perks with other restaurants and businesses, free gear, once at the dinner yurt I got flashed by a drunk/hot lady, driving snowcats, building yurts, starting a new business venture, the smell of BBQ in the morning, and evening, getting double-digit nights sleeping out in a yurt each winter…” Which makes me think that being your own boss is probably worth it.
Alright, time to talk about the downside to working in the ski industry. While it isn’t an industry standard, one thing you need to realize is that there is a compromise when it comes to getting paid and working in the Ski Industry. Every single one of the people interviewed for this article said the same thing in one way, shape, or form: You’re working because you love the industry and everything about it not because you want to take home the biggest paycheck possible. The Ski Industry is a house party compared to other corporate gigs. I personally went from tie and shined up shoes every day, cubicle, and working in an office that was so quiet I could hear the mouse clicks from 100 feet away to ski boots and beanies, an office where a serious conversation is a serious rarity and being able to ski 90+ days a year. I get paid a lot less, but I’m more happy than I ever could have been before. But if money isn’t the center of your universe and being happy is, working in the ski industry could right for you.
So hopefully your eyes have been opened to the possibilities that are out there when it comes to a job in the Ski Industry. No, we all can’t be Jossi Wells, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a living being involved in the Industry we’re passionate about. I’ll leave you with a few simple words of wisdom I picked up somewhere along the way that have stuck with me and continued to make a difference in my life.
Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.