People will tell you a lot of things about winter seasons. Whilst some will frown (future employers mostly) the vast majority of those that have done a ski season will tell you exactly what you want to hear; tales of all-night drinking, ‘epic pow’ (whatever that is), and more bed-hopping than a swingers convention. In actuality the truth lies somewhere in the middle, so have a read through these pointers I’ve prepared for you, and start creating your own legend.
Do your homework
After more than a few winter seasons of my own in Meribel, France, rule #1 is to do your homework. You may think this is obvious, but you’d be surprised the amount of trouble you can you get yourself into.
Know where you’re going
Picking the right resort for you can be done in about an hour. Ask yourself a few questions, and be honest with yourself. You don’t need to have a white-hot love for mountaineering, nor do you need to be the next it-girl (or boy) to have a great time, but play to your strengths.
If you like the outdoors and genuinely love the sport, go somewhere with a range of parks and terrains. If you’re more of a party animal, go somewhere with good nightlife and decent transport (no one wants to make the potentially-fatal, freezing, 40 minute walk home at 5am more than once).
As a rule, bigger resorts are good for your first time because (you guessed it) there are more people there. When you apply for jobs with bigger companies, they often have reviews of their destinations on their websites, so have a flick through. Otherwise, take a look at the winter jobs page here on gapyear.com.
Speak some of the native language
There’s no excuse in this day and age for not being able to speak a basic level of another language. It’ll make you more hireable, and ultimately more useful to the people you work with out there. You can get lessons, use online tools like ‘language immerse’ on Google Chrome, or just flick through an old textbook.
Seasons are a fashion parade, but your outerwear needs to work as good as it looks. Research brands, watch some videos, and buy the things you like, because you’re going to be wearing them for a long time. A £180 jacket might seem expensive now, but that same jacket will be closer to £300 on resort when you get shamed out of wearing a £50-job your dad picked 5 years ago. A lot of jobs will offer rental skis and boards as well, and the same rule applies here. Save up and buy your own equipment if you can. It might seem like a huge initial outlay, but the difference is immeasurable.
Pick a job you can stick with
One thing you will come to realise very quickly is that ski resorts are very small places and news flies fast. If you lose your job you may not be able to walk into another one. Yes, the money you earn on seasons is terrible, and yes, if you don’t work at one of the cool bars you’ll feel inferior, but that’s just the way it is. No one likes a quitter, and you’re not there to work anyway, whatever your try-hard manager might tell you.
Know your limits
Getting serious for a moment, it’s worth remembering that bad things can happen, even in paradise. Sometimes there’s an accident, an avalanche, people fall in with a bad crowd, get drunk and could fall asleep in the snow, or they may try something that’s beyond their ability. If you’re a lightweight, remember you are. Likewise, if you’re easily influenced, try to keep yourself in check, or hang out with people that will. About January-time an STI check takes place in most resorts. Wrap up, because the test results don’t stay secret for long. Build up to learning tricks, and if you’re straying into the back country take an avalanche kit you know how to use. Comprende?
And there we have it. A guide (I daren’t say ‘failsafe’) to get you started on what will be the time of your life. I originally set out to do one season and then go on to university. I did, then finished my course and did four more. Whether you’re planning a year out, a sabbatical, or want to get into the winter industry for the long run, just make sure you’re having fun. And call everyone ‘man’, we love that.