Work at a Ski Resort

By WARREN MILLER, for the Flathead Beacon

At lunch last winter in the Timberline Café, I was joined by a friend and his son who graduated from college the previous spring. He earned a degree in business management and talked about how hard it had been to find a job and how worried he was about his massive student loans.

It was a glorious winter day with the mountain and trees buried in new powder snow. I listened while he complained about how hard it was to find a job these days. When I asked him what kind he was looking for, he said, “I’m looking for a business to manage.”

This college graduate has a problem.

This is what I suggested.

Google the “want ads” of all the major ski resorts in America. There are a lot of jobs available at every one of them. What’s wrong with working at night and skiing or snowboarding all day for a winter? Once this young man gets a corporate job he will get married, have some kids and it will be at least 30 more years before he can take an entire winter off and ski his brains out.

A place to live at a ski resort is always the problem. When the resorts were being built the money was short so many did not build any employee housing. The pioneers all had sleeping bags, a shaving kit and an air mattress and someone who would let them sleep on their living room floor. Those pioneers are today the business managers at the resorts.

The president of Mammoth Mountain, Rusty Gregory, was hired as a lift loader and today owns about 25 percent of the resort and has an office overlooking the main chairlift. He skis on blue bird days and is still looking over his shoulder, anticipating that someone will come along and take his job away from him.

The Kircher family operates Big Sky in Montana and 22 other resorts. Montana has only 1 million people in the entire state but it also has 16 ski resorts and 106 different ski lifts. Someone has to run all those lifts, cook all the food and serve it all winter long.

A friend of mine used to live in his small pickup truck with a bonnet on the back. He lived in the Vail parking lot or Beaver Creek depending when he got off work. He drove the early shift, picking up people early in the morning, leaving for the Denver airport by 6:30 am. When he got home, usually by noon, he had all afternoon to ski. When he finished skiing he would go to the athletic club and take a shower and then go out and enjoy the evening. Tucked in bed in his pickup truck he would count his tips from the nine passengers he drove in each direction. They averaged $10 a person because he told stories all the way, gave great service, and they loved him. That’s almost $200 a day in tips, which he stashed away for college.

When I listen to people over 50 who have retired they all say the same thing: “I have worked all of my life for this house here at (X) resort. I sure wished that I had spent a year or two here when I first got out of college.”

I am not downplaying going to college in any way, rather I am suggesting that young people rearrange their schedule to include a year or two out of the city. Luck has been on my side most of my life. My camera has been a magnet that has attracted people from all walks of life: guys living in vans in parking lots and governors of states, prime ministers and astronauts. All of us, and you the reader, too, are all looking for the same thing. Freedom. The easiest place to find it is on the side of a snow-covered hill, whether you have just earned a business management degree as my luncheon companion had or are already managing a business as his father does.

What have you got to lose except some time invested in skiing? Perhaps someday you will be the general manager of a major ski resort. You just have to get in line and work your way up the corporate ladder.

What a great way to live.


Like Warren Miller’s writing?  See his archive of blogs on the Flathead Beacon website.