Wondering whether to work a ski season? Victoria Pybus gives you the low-down

"In my first season in 1999-2000, I did all sorts of things, like repping and even walking dogs," says Mark Harris, who now lives in Zermatt where he runs the North Wall Bar, which caters for "resort workers and ski-bums".

Work hard, play hard, are the two sides of alpine work. For employers, of course, their clientele are the top priority, and so to thrive you need to demonstrate that you understand that.

If you thrive on exhaustion, then you can ski/snowboard the whole season for free, as a ski-bum in the guise of a resort worker, on a spread of continents: Europe, North America and Australia are the most popular, and in a choice of resorts from Aspen to Zermatt.

There are various approaches to finding a ski job in advance of the season, which can involve applying in person in the resort, or completing an online application form and filing a CV with a UK tour operator. If you are not a planner, you could always consider a last-minute telethon to the smaller ski holiday operators in the UK immediately before, or just after the season has started in December.

Failing that, you could make a mid-season visit to the resort to make the acquaintance of as many ski reps as you can, so they know you are on the spot should any of their team succumb to work/ ski/party burnout.

Across the EU you are entitled to work without a permit which means that in the Alps you can turn up in any resort and advertise yourself by approaching directly employers such as hotels, ski shops and schools, and lift operators in October in order to fix up work before the season begins. Accommodation is also easier to arrange the earlier you are in the resort.

Even though Switzerland is not in the EU there is a similar well-oiled procedure for granting ski workers' permits. The upside of working for a foreign employer is that the richer EU countries and Switzerland have a generous national minimum wage. The downside is that the EU expansion to include many less well-off Eastern European nations has encouraged their nationals to flood the employment market in Western Europe, making competition unbelievably stiff for jobs in Switzerland, Italy, Austria and France.

If you are nonchalant about pay levels, the jolliest and most abundant jobs are to be found with British ski holiday operators usually known in the trade as "the chalet companies". Employers range from the big (think Thomson, Crystal and Airtours) through to the medium and small, and even the single-chalet operation.

The ground rules of working for a British chalet company were established over 25 years ago by pioneer companies with their bevies of chalet cooks, ski guides, nannies, reps et al. Board, accommodation and a free ski pass for the season are provided. Do not underestimate the advantage of having your accommodation provided in the resort. Many an independent worker ends up sleeping on someone's floor or in a freezing camper van because they cannot find, or afford, a place to rent.

Workers for the big companies have richer pickings and earn more commission, while workers for small companies may be more reliant on chalet clients' tips. Despite the pitiful remuneration, chalet companies are choosy about the personnel ingredient considered vital to the holiday ambience, and "the right personality" is a major factor in their selecting. However, there is always a shortage of cooks for chalets and hotel chalets, so if you can notch up a cooking certificate before applying, you can compensate for a possibly defective personality.

On-the-spot job hunting in the USA means a visit to the special job fairs held in October and November in the big ski resorts - Colorado's Aspen, Vail and Steamboat. Skiing locations in the US are owned by corporations; Intrawest and the American Skiing Company are among the giants, so you are effectively working for a huge company, not an independent employer or family business. You will need a temporary work permit for the US: either a J-1 visa, which you get through a Visitor Exchange Programme such as that operated by BUNAC, or an H (Temporary Worker/Industrial Trainee) or L (Intra-Company) visa.

In the southern hemisphere, the snowsports season is during the northern summer so in theory you could work to ski for a whole year. Australia's ski season starts in early June. The resorts' websites will provide you with details of potential employers, for instance hotels, and you can apply to them online. One year Working Holiday Visas can be obtained for Australia if you are aged 18-30.

Most casual staff in ski resorts spend a few seasons working before moving on to other things, but Mark Harris has settled in Zermatt: "I had intended to go to university - but this is my university."

Victoria Pybus is the author of 'Working in Ski Resorts' (Vacation Work Publications, £11.95)


Working Holiday Visa: www.australia.org.uk; 020-7379 4334

Ski job website: www.natives.co.uk

Provider of ski staff to the ski industry: www.voovs.com

A year's work experience in the US for 18-35s with relevant qualifications: AIPT Maryland (www.aipt.org)

Jobs in four resorts in Aspen area: www.aspensnowmass.com

Directory of winter work, ski holiday operators and jobs in ski resorts: www.payaway.co.uk

Where to Ski and Snowboard Worldwide: The Reuters Guide (Mountain Sports Press, £16.99) Details the resorts and their facilities. Useful for finding potential employers.