UPDATE: Here is an updated 2018 version of this post.
Or: Why I Worked for Vail (and Why You Should Work For Vail Resorts Too)
guest contribution from a ski town friend. They wanted to remain anonymous. But for those of you considering a season as a ski bum, with Vail Resorts in Vail or elsewhere, I hope the perspective’s helpful!
Although there seems to be a lack of snow nationwide, the 2016-2017 Ski season is about to kick off. Some resorts, such as Arapahoe Basin, are unbelievably already in full swing. People, just like you and me, from all over the world are therefore looking for ways to get their very own taste of some champagne powder – without paying $1000 for a season pass. Or maybe you’re like I was and have never skied or boarded before but are ready to give it your best shot. Either way, there’s an alternative to buying a pass.
Uncle Ski Resort wants you and he wants you bad!
Every year, ski resorts around the nation are in constant need of people to run the lifts and sell/serve things to tourists. And there are a ton of great perks to working for these resorts, like a free ski pass! So, if you think you’re ready for the life of a ski bum powder chaser then keep reading to find out how to have the time of your life without selling your soul to the corporate man.
I worked for the ski resort tycoon Vail Resorts for 23 months. Think Walt Disney but for skiing. Growing up mostly in Kansas, I had never experienced real mountains before. I was bored and frustrated with where I was at in life and wanted—no—needed a new and exciting adventure. An adventure like exploring the Rocky Mountains. A few conversations later and my Dad tells me how his boss’ daughter got her start in the mountains with Vail Resorts and suggested I look it up. So I did.
Let me be the first to tell you, without Vail Resorts, I (and I think most people who came to Vail recently would agree) would not be the ski bum ‘success’ story I turned out to be. Vail Resorts allowed me to set myself up in Colorado from the comfort of my couch in Kansas. They’re also the reason why I discovered my sincere love for rocketing down the mountain strapped to a piece of wood.
Seriously though, working for VR is a pain in the ass. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t eventually end up hating it and who doesn’t feel like Vail owned their soul. But also, like I said before, there’s a lot of good to working for this tycoon.
What’s Good About Vail Resorts
- They give you an awesome, excuse me, ‘epic’ ski pass. For free. This pass has virtually no blackout dates or restrictions so you’re free to ski when you please. Yes, this includes Christmas and New Year’s. Full-time employees also receive 2 free ski or snowboard lessons every month, part-time employees get 1 free lesson every month. You’ll also get some discount passes you can use to hook up friends and family.
- You’ll probably get employee housing. Probably. This is based off of your hourly wage and availability but generally, all non-tipped positions that haven’t had housing before get it. This is fucking key! Finding a place to live in the actual town of Vail is an expensive nightmare. Employee housing may feel like a dorm but you’re paying half and getting to the slopes twice as quick. Oh, and the parties are pretty sick too.
- You get discounts on food and gear. Sometimes really good ones too. 20% off at VR affiliated restaurants and retail stores (including Burton, North Face, Salomon and many other of your favorites) plus half off food while you’re doing whatever you do on the mountain. You also gain access to Promotive.com, a website where literally hundreds of name brand companies give you big discounts on cool shit (like skis, boards & tents). There are also some exclusive partnerships you should ask about if you get hired (e.g. when I was employed I got 65% off of literally anything on the Smith Optics website and 30-40% off Go-Pros). Your trip to and from Denver International Airport via Colorado Mountain Express will also be severely discounted. And you even get cheap(er) movie passes to the local CinéBistro.
- You get to live and play in this incredibly dope place called Vail! Home to a world renowned ski mountain with varied terrain friendly for noobs and pros alike, it’s also one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Being one of the biggest ski mountains in North America (4th largest in terms of skiable acres) with some of the best snow around, this mountain attracts both tourists and employees from all over the world. You will constantly be meeting new people, many from places you’ve never even thought to visit. There are also gorgeous hiking trails with 60ft waterfalls only a free bus ride away. Did I mention that Vail has one of the best free public transportation systems in the nation? Well we do, and getting out of Vail and the surrounding valley won’t cost you much at all.
Basically, a job with Vail Resorts is your golden ticket to the town of Vail, as well as the ski resort of Vail. And I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a good time here. You literally get to live where people from around the world come to vacation and have fun themselves. This means there are a lot of really cool things meant for tourists that you also get to take advantage of. Every. Single. Day. Like heated sidewalks, and many, many free concerts – pretty cool right?
On the flipside, working for Vail Resorts also fucking sucks.
Bad Things About Working for Vail Resorts
- They treat you like a worker bee or a robot. Vail Resorts is a very corporate company complete with slogans, mottos and training seminars. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it makes everything very uniform and compatible but it also creates a lot of bullshit red tape and frustration, like an inability to effectively reward/reprimand good or bad behavior.
- During the busy season Vail Resorts literally just needs warm bodies (which is good and bad). It’s good because it’s easy to be hired but it’s very, very bad because you can’t expect to be treated as a valued employee or member of a team. There is no human emotion involved in working for Vail Resorts, only dollar signs. They rarely, if ever, give promotions or retention bonuses. You will be a cog in the corporate machine and there are 100s of people ready and qualified to do exactly what you do. Thus is the corporate structure of Vail. They make money by getting as many people in and out the door as quick as possible. They’re not necessarily concerned with one person doing a great job but with a lot of people mostly doing their jobs. That guy that keeps fucking up probably won’t get fired as long as he continues showing up for work. And that one guy who does a fucking excellent job every day probably won’t get promoted (or at least not quickly) because they can easily get someone else to do his job for equal pay, or less. Vail Resorts therefore has an atrocious turnover rate.
- Skipping work to catch the fresh powder dump is NOT an option. Vail will hold your ski pass over your head like a carrot on a stick. They know this is the main reason you’re working for them and don’t like giving free passes to people who don’t want to work. So if you skip work and they see your pass has been active on the mountain that day, say adieu to your job and your ski pass. Also, if you are a Vail Resorts employee and get caught breaking the rules on the mountain or get caught smoking the reefer (Vail doesn’t care that it’s legal in CO) you could lose your job, your employee housing and your ski pass all in one day, which I have definitely seen happen to people before. So be safe at your safety meetings kids. Also, don’t speed past ski patrol or hit anybody. And most definitely don’t leave your weed where the average housing inspector can see it…
- It’s very hard to bargain with them concerning pay or hours since you are instantly replaceable. But they also don’t want you to have anything else as a priority in your life. My experience, and others,’ with Vail Resorts working around the schedules of other jobs has been haphazard at best; at times even seemingly malicious. They’re also not fond of sick days or really absences for any reason, especially during the busy season. But, this also means a chance to make ridiculous money by capitalizing off of overtime. I remember working sometimes 3 weeks straight and many, many 12 – 18 hour work days and getting awesome paychecks from it. Those 18 hour shifts usually translated to almost a grand in tips and wages…
All-in-all, I would recommend weighing it all in for yourself and decide what’s best for you. If you have some A LOT of cash saved I would say come out here first and check out what’s available before committing to Vail Resorts. But if you’re like me and ready to move NOW, on limited cash, Vail Resorts can be a great way to save some dough and get things set up and guaranteed from home. (Vail will conduct 100% of the hiring process through the internet, phone and video chat, even going so far as to offer you employment without an in person interview or you being physically in Vail.)
Craigslist and the Vail Daily newspaper (website is here, although you’re really better off picking up a free copy in town) will also be your best friends in both finding a non-VR job and finding housing. You can and probably should just do a season with Vail, save some money, and then find something better. Or find a holiday help gig for a ski pass. Also, something to remember, if you quit Vail Resorts on good terms after maintaining employment for a certain amount of time, you get to keep your ski pass anyways. There are also many other ski resorts out there, Vail affiliated or not. So if living in an extremely commercialized tourist trap doesn’t float your boat, look into more traditional mountain towns like Winter Park or Telluride.
So best of luck, blasé blasé – don’t let the corporate man fuck you in the ass!
4 thoughts on “Should You Work For Vail Resorts?”
So how often did you actually get to enjoy yourself up on the mountain?
Yes this is true but if you need the money its importing but have more fun on your winter holiday vacation-job there are more possibilitys with volunteering work.
Very insightful piece that was refreshingly optimistic. I’ll save this article till I’m finished college and utilise it then. Thank you!
I worked as an assistant chef from 1952-59 in Adirondack resorts. I can associate with some of your comments, though long ago. I had a very positive experience, especially with college Age female
age wait staff. Maybe better before all the @corporate suits.
Keep it up