Skiing: Slippery slope to job satisfaction

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The Independent Online
If you've been hooked this season and want to ski all next winter, writes Victoria Pybus, there's a way: get to work

The English bartender who pulls the pints in Berbier, the Scotswoman who makes the beds in St Anton, the New Zealander who escorts skiers in Courchevel, the Welsh chef in Whistler - all are part of a growing group who live for the winter months on the slopes. For many, skiing has taken over their lives; jobs and travel revolve around a return to the mountains for another season. For others, a winter spent working in a ski resort is a way to earn a little money and have some fun from November to April.

The good news for those bitten by the ski bug is that it looks as though next season there will be more work than ever in ski resorts - from chalet host to snow shoveller, and from resort manager to maintenance person. One particular growth industry on the slopes is that of nanny, as ski companies seek to satisfy the demand for childcare in the resorts. But there is always room for the entrepreneur who spots or creates a demand and then supplies it. Selling hot roast chestnuts in the street, and providing refreshments to drivers stuck in alpine traffic jams, are two examples of the spirit of individual enterprise in action.

With a wealth of job-seeking talent out there, the tour companies have become increasingly choosy. The personnel department of Inghams received 10,000 applications for the current season. According to Annabel Morris, the chalet personnel manager, over half the applications are binned immediately because the forms are not filled in properly, or soon after, through lack of company and product knowledge at the interview stage. So get up to speed on your area of interest, and if possible learn a skill: the only area in which there is a shortage of applicants is for chalet cooks. All the more reason to start planning now.

Au pair

There is a regular demand for au pairs in ski resorts - not least from instructors' families. British-based agencies that customarily have such vacancies include Childcare International (0181-906 3116) and PEC Au Pairs (01630 652985). It is also possible to arrange such a job on the spot, since local people involved in running a resort are extremely busy during the season and need extra help in the house and looking after their children. Hoteliers, especially, routinely employ au pairs in the busy season.

Chalet cook

The once popular image of the chalet cook is that of a fun-loving, husband- hunting female super-Sloane whose only concession to being abroad is to change her main catch-phrase from "Okay yah" to "Ca va yah", is less true today. Chalet companies are only too well aware that being a chalet cook and host calls for skill, stamina, presence of mind and a lot of hard work. According to one estimate, there are well over 5,000 chalet staff, most of them female, working in Europe each winter. Although the tour companies begin recruiting as early as May, late, last-minute and mid- season applications still stand a reasonable chance of succeeding. There are always drop-outs, right up to the start of the season in mid-December. A surprising percentage of staff fail to last the gruelling five-month stint of cooking, cleaning, budgeting, skiing and partying. Natural resilience may give way to a variety of aggravating factors (pining for partner, sacked, broken limbs or hearts, etc.) and cause them to leave their jobs. It is estimated that 25 per cent drop out in the first few weeks, so there is no harm in ringing round the companies during the season to ask whether any emergency vacancies have come up. There have also been many cases where suitably skilled people on a skiing holiday have been employed on the spot by making it known to the reps that they would be available for work.

Disc jockey

Because of the dominance of British and American popular music, it is generally thought chic in various European countries to have an English- speaking disc jockey. Jobs are sometimes advertised in the music papers, but there is scope for approaching night-clubs direct (get the names out of the ski tour brochures). Keep an eye open for jobs in Melody Maker and Loot.

Free enterprise

Ski bums think of some marvellous ways to keep themselves in sufficient funds to be able to carry on skiing throughout the season. Apart from the basic standbys of work in hotels, bars, restaurants, night-clubs, shops and transfer repping, there are plenty of opportunities for freelance snow-clearing, illicit ski-teaching, offering a baby-sitting service and doing a morning fresh-bread-and-croissants round for chalets and apartments.

A more elaborate version of this last is the breakfast run. The idea is that you prepare and deliver breakfast to clients throughout the resort. You can advertise your service by posting photo-copied sheets to the reps to put into the welcome packs given to self-catering clients. As your publicity distribution relies heavily on the goodwill of the reps, it is essential, as one ski bum put it, "to be in their good books".

Another variation is the beer run, which involves selling and delivering crates of beer to punters. Publicity is again managed by handing out price lists and order forms to reps and punters. Beer is then bought in the nearest hypermarket outside the resort and sold to undercut the resort supermarkets.

Other enterprising people have set themselves up as freelance photographers on the slopes, and even make video films with send-up commentaries for enthusiastic punters. The great thing about personal enterprise in the Alps is that you can operate at almost any level: at one end of the scale, selling hot chestnuts in the street; at the other end, setting yourself up as a more serious entrepreneur - perhaps by renting a couple of chalets and going into the chalet business.

Victoria Pybus is author of `Working in Ski Resorts: Europe and North America' (Vacation Work, pounds 10.99).