Smart Moves: Get stuck into snow business

AS ANYONE who has ever managed the staff in a ski resort will know, the fantasy of working in a glamorous-sounding place for five months - shimmying down the slopes in a daily whoosh of powder and putting in the odd half-hour to keep the chalet looking tidy - is far from the reality.

While working a season in the Alps is still a popular choice for teenagers and graduates, there are others for whom it has been a life-changing experience. Some even say that, far from marking them out as unconcerned or lazy about their career paths, working at a holiday resort provided lessons which have been foundational, and even unobtainable in a more ordinary management position.

A chalet girl or boy earns up to pounds 330 per month with a company such as Skiworld - ski pass and accommodation are thrown in for free. Reps, who lead ski groups on the slopes, earn up to pounds 350. A resort manager, managing up to 30 staff and a budget of thousands, can earn pounds 575 per month, plus a hefty end-of-season bonus.

Most don't have the intention of going on to a career in the travel and tourism industry, says Diane Palumbo, sales and managing director of Skiworld and a former rep. After two winters on the slopes, she began working for Club Europe and then for the Youth Hostel Association, moving to her present job last year. "The first problem you encounter is that your staff are spaced out all over the resort, up to 40 minutes' walk away. Being based in the office now, I am conscious of how I used to feel," she says. "It's hard if you don't have a sense of being close to the decision- making process, or feel supported. You're managing staff, motivating and monitoring them. I was away from head office, and you are never sure of your limits of responsibility. It was a huge learning curve."

The resort worker's day is a long one, with chalet staff starting at 7am to prepare breakfast for up to 12, followed by a long round of cleaning, administration and shopping. Ms Palumbo found she became good at prioritising and time management. "You get focused at getting through the workload," she says.

Her former colleague Emma Heath agrees. "Things never run smoothly; people get lost or injured. We were all responsible for sorting out problems. And even though you're cooking the same meals, you have to be able to prepare it all on time." Sometimes she wishes she could go back out for another season.

The slopes can also be a demanding arena for practising "people" skills. "Customer service is absolutely crucial. Every week your external clients change; you have 100 new agendas, faces, expectations, methods of communication and priorities.

Perhaps the greatest test comes when circumstances threaten to capsize a customer's holiday. "When you are having to tell someone that the police have been called [because of an accident], and you've got a good idea of what's going on, you know you have to be ready with practical suggestions."

But was there any time left in such a hectic management schedule to enjoy the blue skies, crisp powder and breathtaking runs? Ms Palumbo concludes that the scenery outside is just an added incentive to polish off your quota of chores. "If you're good at your job, you can do it."

For more information on working in a resort, contact Skiworld (tel: 0171 602 4826).