What’s it like to work for Vail Resorts (2018)

[Around this time of year, my site gets a lot of search traffic from people who are considering working for Vail Resorts at either Vail or another ski resort in Colorado. November and December are when Colorado’s ski resorts staff up for seasonal work. Thousands of temporary workers flow in for a taste of “the good life”, skiing every day, drinking every night, and working every minute in between. 

The ski town content that people tend to find via Google is a few years old, so I asked a friend to contribute something a bit more up-to-date. Rachel worked at Keystone for the final six weeks of the 2017-2018 season. Here is her advice about working for Vail, living in the mountains, and which Colorado ski resort you should choose.

You can find Rachel on Instagram at @rv_warner.]

The snow arrived early this year and gave some mountains a head start on the 2018/2019 ski season, but don’t worry, you haven’t missed out on your chance to spend a winter in the Colorado Rockies. If you aren’t receiving the same daily emails from Vail about their “talent acquisitions” that I am, listen up, Vail Resorts is hiring. I speculate Vail is always hiring, maybe not in the exact job you had in mind, but if you don’t completely suck I bet you can find a job. If you have already looked into working for them but are on the fence, let me encourage you to take the plunge.

MY EXPERIENCE

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When I returned in February 2018 from five months of world travels previous plans for the future were no longer an option, instead I knew two things, I was not willing to give up the freedom I had while traveling and I needed a job. While traveling I was inspired by the many people funding themselves through seasonal work and this was the perfect opportunity for me to try it out.

My requirements for the job were simple:

  1. Must be short term doing something new and exciting,
  2. Must have housing options,
  3. I can’t need a car.

Days later inspiration landed in my inbox in a midseason hiring email from Vail. Two weeks later I started my season as a lifty at Keystone working until closing day April 8, in total about six weeks. I finished up the season with about $1000 in savings, some wonderful memories and a slight addiction to seasonal work.

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Despite the early mornings I loved going to work everyday. I loved seeing the sunrise on my way to morning meetings and watching the sunset over the mountains on night shifts. I loved being outside enjoying the sun or snow and chatting with people. I loved snowboarding every day. The mountains are my happy place, the company was fun, the atmosphere relaxed, and my heart was happy. All this made the season absolutely worth it and I would recommend it to anyone interested but it wasn’t without a few challenges.

Working just the tail end of the ski season

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Working the last six weeks of the season was perfect for my schedule but it meant I missed out months of riding, inside jokes and stories, and by the time I had a routine the season was over. Lift ops has a strong community vibe. My coworkers were chill and friendly and management went above and beyond to support and reward the team. However I’m awkward as hell and inserting myself into social situation where everyone already knows each other was challenging. Add to that, friends leaving early when their visas ended, the weirdness of working with 90% guys and regularly getting hit on, and not being able to keep up on the mountain or while partying, it took some adjusting.

The monotony of working as a liftie

I was never tired of nature, but dear god, you can only remind people to “keep your poles up” and “move up to the line” so many times in one day. Shifts generally went quickly but it was more of the same every day down to the repetitive conversations about the weather and lamenting about hangovers. It’s enjoyable just not stimulating.

Burn out

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I entered the end of the season in high spirits having not spent the last three months working there but many others were burnt out and over the shitty snow conditions. The attitude of those who showed up was generally good but as weeks passed the average number of no shows on any given day continued to rise. One day 20 people failed to show up leaving the rest of us to enjoy a day with few breaks.

My Vail Resorts Exit Interview

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Despite the challenges of Working for VailResorts as a liftie, when I completed my exit interview on closing day, I was so satisfied with my season. For me, six weeks was the perfect length, l enjoyed it all and was leaving on a high note. I couldn’t picture myself doing another season mostly because the list of things I want to try is ever growing. Yet the longer I am away from the mountains the more antsy I am to get back. Each Instagram of people enjoying opening day is a mental note to look into trying out a season in New Zealand or Australia. I’m just a little wiser now and know I need a job(s) that provide a little more variety or direction.

 

WHERE TO WORK

Snowboarding Arapahoe Basin Colorado

Arapahoe Basin, another ski resort in Colorado. A-basin isn’t owned by Vail, but Vail Resorts employees can ski here for free during the season. It’s a ten-minute drive from Keystone.

It can be overwhelming deciding where to apply. In Colorado alone, there are more than 20 resorts, four of which are owned by Vail. (Those would be Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek). I recommend checking out CoolWorks as well as resort specific pages for job postings. If it’s the middle of the season you’re mainly looking for who will give you job the quickest. At the beginning of the season there’s more flexibility and you can consider what jobs you prefer, housing options, which has the best mountain, etc. I originally wanted to work at Breckenridge as it attracts a younger crowd compared to the “family oriented” Keystone. But once I spent the day riding Breck I was happy to be working at Keystone. So don’t sweat the choice too much.

WORKING FOR VAIL RESORTS

Initially, I applied for bartending/waitressing positions. Unfortunately, I never heard back about these positions after the first interview. Days later I heard directly from an awesome HR lady and we chatted about what I was looking for.

Vail Resorts HR

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International workers can work at Colorado ski resorts using the J-1 visa.

Working for a giant business like Vail may have its downsides, but I found this streamlined experience to be a highlight. I applied, interviewed on the phone, got the job and housing in less than two weeks. There are a plethora of jobs (undoubtedly in part due to the not stellar retention rate) as well as opportunities for international workers with a three month J-1 visa.

If you are a reliable employee interested in staying on for another season, there are opportunities for advancing. Other perks include a high minimum wage (more on this below), and your Epic pass is valid (to at least some extent) at their resorts around the world. I also personally found the standards of safety, training, and quality in the bosses to be high.

Common complaints about working for Vail Resorts

On the other hand, the most common complaint I heard was that Vail doesn’t care enough about their employees, viewing them as replaceable. At Keystone this was often in reference to not enough free food, quality of housing and strict no tolerance policy.

THE JOBS AT VAIL RESORTS

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The HR lady gave me two choices that fit my job requirements 1) lift operations, the people shoveling snow and preventing patrons from injuring themselves or 2) working in the childcare room. I hate being cold and children drive me mad, so not my top choices. But I figured I’d love to work outside and realistically I can do anything for six weeks so I chose the lesser of the two evils.

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Working in lift ops means early mornings, braving the cold and dealing with minor annoyances like guests and chipping ice. But it also means not being stuck inside on beautiful sunny days, having epic views and getting an early lap in on powder days. In making this choice I realized one criterion not on my original list -why I was there. It’s a fine balance, but I was not willing to sacrifice enjoying the experience of living in the mountains for making money. A mindset shared by many.

There is an assortment of jobs possibilities but unless you have a specific skill, like mechanics, jobs are generally customer service centric. If you don’t think you can fake it, let alone enjoy it I would proceed with caution. If you have previous experience, jobs like ski patrol or instructing may be an option and if you already have housing, consider non-resort businesses in the area too.

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MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

How Much Does Vail Resorts Pay?

In March, Vail announced they were increasing their minimum wage in Colorado to $12.25, two dollars more than Colorado’s. That being said you need start up money to cover initial expenses until the first (or second) paycheck comes in. Some costs vary depending on your needs, like relocation, basics for your room, groceries, alcohol and bills, while others are nonnegotiable, including room deposit ($300+) and rent ($140+). The more money you have saved, the easier the transition.

HOW MUCH CAN I SAVE WORKING FOR VAIL RESORTS?

After that, if you want to walk away with savings, budget. In six weeks I saved about $1000 dollars and that includes paying for plane tickets, gear and daily expenses all in that short period of time.

For some, winter is one long party and if that’s your goal, you’ll have a blast! For me, all funds go to travel. My best suggestion for saving money is simple, buy some damn groceries. It may be hard to pay for two weeks of groceries and drinks up front, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a daily four dollar breakfast, $10 lunch and evening bar tab, and more enjoyable than being hungry because you’re broke.

*While this may sound obvious, people regularly complained being broke while eating a $12 lunch. Don’t let Vail employee discounts fool you, it’s still expensive.* Don’t be lazy, just pack yourself some sandwiches. When you do go out, take advantage of deals, like free coffee when you bring a cup, happy hours, and employee cookouts.

If you aren’t mindful, food, booze and weed can easily cost you more than you’re making!!

If your main goal is to make money (consider a less expensive place) seek out a second job or extra shifts.

VAIL RESORTS WEED POLICY

COflag weed

Weed- because I know that’s why many of you are interested in Colorado. Officially Vail Resorts has a zero tolerance for drugs. In my experience it’s a– don’t be dumb about it and if you fuck up it is on you –vibe. Many people smoke and party, but keep in mind if there is any sort of incident or accident, your fault directly or not, there will be a drug test. Also consider, job dependent, you are responsible for the safety of people who have no idea what they’re doing.

(Read more: A Local’s Guide to Weed in Vail)

Weed in Vail Resorts Housing

In housing, there is a room check once a month and paraphernalia needs to be put away and should your uniform smell or be damaged at the end of the season, you will be paying for it.

VAIL RESORTS EMPLOYEE HOUSING

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There are three housing options at Keystone, each a slightly different price reflecting their quality and layout — they vary in their distance from the mountain but all are on the bus route. In the budget option, Sagebrush, units are two shoebox-sized rooms with bunk beds sandwiching a bathroom with common rooms and a typically heinous looking kitchen on the bottom floor. When I arrived the previous tenants had moved out so I had the space to myself and for $140/month it was great. However if I were back for another season with roommates I’d pay for a bigger space unless I was friends with my roommates. The one true perk of Sagebrush is it is a four minute walk to morning meetings and two chair lifts, for someone who is always late, that is key. The other two buildings aren’t far but it’s not the same as being able to ride off the mountain and into your building.

VAIL RESORTS NON-EMPLOYEE HOUSING

Housing priority goes to first time employees and those who don’t earn tips. There is also some sort of allotment of rooms based on jobs. If you are looking for housing off site, good luck. It helps to know someone or look during off seasons because housing is in high demand. Just a quick glance on Summit County Facebook and Craigslist showed many rooms around $1000/month.

SNOWBOARDING & GEAR

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You can work in lift ops with out skiing or snowboarding but the chance to ride during the day is the biggest perk of the job. To ride at work you need to pass a “ride test”, a 20 minute rundown of basic skills showing you have control on the mountain. Before Keystone I snowboarded enough to know I loved it but not enough to be good and I did great. After that you can ride to and from your post, on lunch break, and on well staffed days you rotate through taking ride breaks.

On one of my last days I was floating between stations and got to take one of the very first runs down the mountain in two feet of fresh powder while people cheered from the chair lift above. It is my favorite moment from the season.

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Even though you’re outside all day, it’s a good balance between enjoying the snow but not so much that you’re burnt out on the weekends (something some patrol guys and instructors complained about). Other riding opportunities include weekends (two or three consecutive days off), night ski (a Keystone only perk) and a free monthly lesson. You can also explore other Vail resorts and A Basin. It’s far more likely you lose your beginning of season enthusiasm before you run out of new places to ski.

BUY USED!

If you’re like me, and a coat and snow pants are the extent of your winter sports collection, shop around before buying anything. Used equipment is readily available, budget friendly and ideal if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. I got a used a board, bindings and brand new boots being resold for $120 total, nothing special but exactly what I needed. When looking for gear check out Craigslist, Facebook pages like One Man’s Junk, Helly Hansen pro deals, employee discounts, your coworkers closets, and the used shops in Silverthorne and Dillon. Businesses have great prices pre and post season when they are making room for new inventory.

GETTING AROUND 

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Having a car is convenient but I stick with places I can happily get by in without one. Plenty of employees bring their cars so chances are at least one friend will have one but thanks to the buses you don’t have to be dependent on them. Keystone’s bus system is free, has its own app (Summit Stage SmartBus), and covers the resort area, immediate surroundings and other towns like Dillon and Silverthorne. It isn’t the fastest way around but if you have some errands and a free afternoon its perfect. There are also buses to Breckenridge and a different service that offers buses to Denver for a fee.

If you do bring your car, make sure it is equipped to handle the elements including icy roads and cold temperatures. I also recommend double checking parking availability. There are some odd rules about employee parking and free lots that frustrated some.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I have a lot of thoughts about my time in Keystone, but most importantly, you may not know what to expect and maybe not everything will be great but a positive easygoing attitude and some flexibility are a great start to an awesome season.

Again, you can find Rachel on Instagram at @rv_warner. She’ll be heading to Peru and Colombia for some South American backpacking, next! Be sure to give her a follow.

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