It's been said that a fair share of France's 83 million foreign visitors per year come just for the country's legendary skiing, but as tourists they only get a limited, and potentially pricey, crack at the slopes.
That's why spending the season carving down those same hills and getting paid at the same time has an obvious appeal for any die hard ski buff. Unfortunately, nothing–not even a season skiing the Alps–is perfect.
Here are five reasons you should drop what you're doing and get a job at a French ski resort and five downsides you should consider before you quit your job back home.
1. Lots of skiing
When you’re working a season in the Alps you’ll probably spend as much time on the slopes as most people do in a lifetime. Key to be able to do that is finding a job where you’ll be mainly working in the mornings and evenings.
Seasonal British expat Bianca Blackmore, 34, started out as a chalet host with the company “Silver Ski Holidays”, and was offered a resort manager position at the end of her first season. Now in her third season in La Plagne, she oversees the chalets, sets them up, and makes sure everything goes smoothly.
Compared to other types of jobs, the workload isn’t too heavy and leaves her with lots of time to enjoy the slopes. “If you go back year after year, it will be rewarded,” she said.
2. Meet new people
You’ll be making new friends to hit the slopes and party with in no time.
“People are very open,” said Lisa Magnes, a 23-year-old Austrian, who worked as an au-pair near the ski resort Les Saisies in the Savoie region
“They are easy to approach because they’re used to making new friends. It’s good to try to find work in a bigger resort, though. Mine was quite small so there weren’t that many young people around,” Magnes added.
3. A simple life
Seasonal workers usually receive a “package”, which covers rent, equipment hire, a season pass, food and travel expenses. On top of that, employees are paid a small weekly salary of about a €100.
You won’t have much money to spare, but Blackmore said she has what she needs and enjoys living close to nature and far from the consumerism of big cities.
4. Improving your French skills
If you have a job that puts you in touch with the locals or make the effort to make French friends, you’ll be speaking French every day, and may even improve your fluency by the end of your stay.
Good French skills will also make your CV stand out when you apply for a job the next season.
5. Close to nature
While everybody else spends their winter wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV and fighting off the flu, you’ll be out on the slopes enjoying the snow and the sunshine.
“Being close to nature was my favourite part,” said Magnes. “You never run out of things to do. You can go climbing, skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, sledging, or just go for walks.”
And here's some things to think about before you off to the Alps…
1. Dodgy contracts
Simon Palmer, who has worked many ski seasons, told The Local that companies try to give the impression to conform to French employment law. They pay workers the minimum wage into their accounts and then withdraw the amount that covers the “package” the next day.
Many big companies also retain part of the employee’s weekly wage until he or she has successfully completed the contract. This scheme pays off when employees leave early, which often happens when they get hit by what is known as the “mid-season blues”.
“Mid-January a lot of people return home because they’re homesick or have run out of money”, Palmer said.
2. Exhausting lifestyle
It’s an exhausting lifestyle that can really take a toll on you. You get up early every day to do your chores, try to hit the slopes whenever you can, and spend your evenings out drinking with your new friends.
“It’s just a full-on party”, said Palmer. “It’s effectively a fresher’s week. There’s always something going on.”
3. Crappy accommodation
Don’t expect to be put up in a big chalet with a view of the mountains. Staff housing is usually very small and basic, and depending on the company that employs you, you’ll even have to share a room with your co-workers.
Be prepared to say “adieu” to your privacy during the months you work at the resort.
4. Finding a job
There are pros and cons to every job in the business, and finding one that gives you maximal ski time can be difficult. To work as a chalet host, you often need to have experience in the hospitality industry and be able to cook fancy meals. Ski instructor positions are hard to come by and you need to have all the necessary qualifications.
Although you get to ski every day it can be pretty unsatisfying to be stuck on the beginner’s slope with a bunch of five-year-olds when all you want to do is go off into the deep fresh powder.
5. Low pay
While some are happy with fewer means and are able to get by on the low weekly wage, Simon said that it’s basically impossible to make a living out of working a ski season.
He said that many easily spend their pay on a couple of nights of drinking, and then have to use their own savings to cover whatever else they need.