To Ski or Not to Ski

By Warren Miller

Warren MillerI recently came across an ad in a ski resort newspaper that offered all kinds of winter jobs: “Take one look around at this gorgeous work environment dedicated to ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Desirable positions offered: Concierge, Security officers, bartenders, night auditor, engineers, Spa Esthetician (whatever that is), nail technicians, retail agents. We also provide, medical, dental, vision, life insurance, 401k, tuition reimbursement, employee housing, ski pass, and much more.”

This ad was for a major hotel chain that obviously needs a lot more winter employees. It is inconceivable in today’s ski resort environment that a skier would spend time at a ski resort that was unable to fill the position of Spa Esthetician.

The whole proposition sounded pretty good to me. The way I see it, at a ski resort, people can do whatever they are doing in the city, only they could work from 4:00 until midnight, get a good night’s sleep and get first tracks every morning. It sounds a lot better than sipping a cup of cold coffee while sitting in rush hour traffic. However, every year it gets harder for ski resorts to find employees.

One winter I was riding on a chairlift with a fireman who had accumulated time off for 18 days in a row. I asked him, “Why don’t you apply for a job at the local fire department while you are here?” His reply was really a surprise to me.

“I would do that except that I’m getting closer to retirement.”

My next question, of course, was “How long before you retire?” With a straight face and in a solemn tone of voice, he said, “I only have 16 years left.”

Where is the adventure in people’s souls? Why can’t they move out of the day-to-day routine and soar to new heights? For years I have been preaching, “Whatever job you have in the city, you can probably have a similar job at a ski resort. So quit your job in the city, pack up your stuff move to a ski resort and ski or snowboard all winter.”

One statistic that puts the winter resort workplace into focus is that there are as many people living in the Vail Valley today, from East Vail to Edwards, as there are in Bozeman, Montana. Both places offer all of the same kinds of jobs, from McDonald’s fry cook at minimum wages to executives who actually get to plan the economic future of all of the people who work and live in a company town. Will the resort continue to make money and be a desirable place for customers to come and ski? Will it be bought up by a conglomerate and merged into a major mass marketing strategy that either expands job opportunities or completely eliminates them?

No one I know can really answer that or define job security for either place.

Whether I’m in Vail, Bozeman, Denver or Seattle, when I flip through the newspaper there is a list of weekly or monthly meetings: Gamblers Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, Grief and Loss Wednesdays, Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Miracles study group, Families Anonymous. That should be enough to convince you that day-to-day life in a ski resort can be about the same as day-to-day life in the city when you are not skiing or snowboarding.

Faced with the choice of job and the potential problems that are commonplace in any environment, is it better to get up in the morning and drive to work in a large office building or a factory or get up in the morning and go skiing whenever the snow is deep and the sky is blue?

I can only speak for myself. In 1946, as a senior in college, I decided to give up a college degree and pursue my lifelong search for the free lift ticket. If I had it to do all over again, would I change anything? Maybe a couple of things: I might have tried to buy a bigger trailer to live in the parking lots for those first two years. I might have tried to borrow a little more money when I was getting the film company started. I wouldn’t trade a single day of making turns on the side of a mountain for a life of working in the city to get enough money so I could go and do that.

Not everyone in the world is as lucky as we are to have these kinds of choices?