Want an office with epic mountain views and lunch breaks with runs down the slopes? Dream of picture-perfect powder days in the alpine with no one else in sight? Sounds like you should do a ski season in Canada! I originally came to Canada to work one season in British Columbia’s alpine and ended up working a total of three! If you want to do the same, read on for all of the essential info.

How to apply for a working holiday in Canada

The International Experience Canada (IEC) program enables young citizens of over 30 countries (usually 18-30 but 18-35 in some cases) to travel and work in Canada. The working holiday program is just one of three ways to work and travel in routes to Canada via IEC. It is the easiest way to work a ski season in Canada.

  • The IEC working holiday program offers an open work permit that allows the holder to work anywhere in Canada.
  • The length of the work permit depends on each country’s reciprocal agreement with Canada. For the UK, Australia and Ireland it is 24 months maximum.
  • Applications for the IEC are online and candidate selection is random.
  • The cycle runs October-September every year. This means that anyone wanting to work a ski season in Canada must think ahead and apply for the program at least a few months before season start.
  • Citizens of countries with programs that have high demand and a low quota of places (such as the UK), need to apply even further in advance. Even then, it may not be able to secure a place. Plan early! Once approved, you have 12 months to actually activate the work permit. 

For more info, check out my How to Apply for a Canadian Working Holiday guide.

Important note – Ski resorts are not able to sponsor potential staff except in highly skilled professional roles such as ski instructors.

View at the top of the highest chairlift at Mt Baldy, Canada.

Choosing a mountain: all about Canadian ski resorts

With Canada being such a huge country, there is a correspondingly huge choice when considering where to work at a ski resort. Most working holiday makers head straight to Banff or Whistler, but there are a number of other great (and totally underrated!) options for a ski season in Canada.

Ski resorts in Eastern Canada

Found at lower elevations than their western cousins, ski resorts in Eastern Canada still pack a punch. Though typically smaller in size, Eastern resorts are still incredibly popular and draw thousands of visitors every winter. Snow is usually good quality, however, it can be thin on the ground some years.

Ski season dates: December – April

Example resorts (largest first): Mount Tremblant, Blue Mountain, Le Massif, Marble Mountain

Rocky Mountain ski resorts

If you don’t like to be limited to just one ski resort, head to the town of Banff in Alberta. There are three resorts in the local vicinity – it would be difficult to get bored here! Snow is less abundant than further west but the powder is wonderfully dry. The downside is extremely cold winter temperatures; be sure to pack your layers. Note that minimum wage is higher in Alberta than BC and taxes also lower.

Ski season dates: November – May

Example resorts (largest first): Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin, Mt Norquay

Interior BC ski resorts

Light, champagne powder is the hallmark of this region. Temperatures are cold, but not usually extreme. Resorts range from huge, super family-friendly resorts like Big White to tiny two lift operations like Mt Baldy. In between these are a dozen characterful, quiet and challenging mid-sized resorts such as Whitewater, Red Mountain and Revelstoke.

Ski season dates: Late November/early December – April

Example resorts (largest first): Sun Peaks, Big White, Silver Star, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama, Apex, Hudson Bay Mountain

Coastal BC ski resorts

The West Coast resorts are home to powder. Lots and lots of it. It’s not the crisp, dry stuff seen further east but when it’s this much, who cares? Whistler Blackcomb is the granddaddy of all Canadian resorts and provides what some would call the ultimate ski season experience. Grouse, Seymour and Cypress offer a part-time ski resort experience for those who don’t want to travel too far from city comforts.

Ski season dates: Late November/early December – April

Example resorts (largest first): Whistler Blackcomb, Mount Washington, Grouse, Seymour, Cypress

Snowboarding at Mt Baldy resort during a ski season in Canada

How to find work at a Canadian ski resort

Generally, ski season jobs are divided into two main categories; at the resort and in the local resort town. Most people heading out to Canada for a ski season will hope to work a resort job, but working a regular job (retail, hospitality etc.) in the local town shouldn’t be snubbed. Some local businesses (especially in places like Whistler or Banff) will offer staff a discounted season pass for the resort and sometimes even accommodation.

Types of worK at canadian ski resorts

There is a huge range of winter ski season jobs available. Most IEC participants at Canadian ski resorts work unskilled (i.e. no professional qualifications needed) jobs. These tend to be minimum wage so don’t expect to be making a fortune while working at a ski resort in Canada!

Some examples of unskilled ski resort jobs include:

  • Ski lift operator (or ‘liftie’)
  • Retail shop cashier
  • Ticketing and guest services clerk
  • Server (note: required by law to pass a liquor-serving qualification)
  • Bartender (note: required by law to pass a liquor-serving qualification)
  • Housekeeper
  • Hotel front desk clerk
  • Restaurant busser

canadian Ski resort job benefits

Though ski resort work may not earn you a fortune, there are some other benefits. Most resorts will offer a free season lift pass plus free (or discounted) rental equipment and group skiing and snowboarding lessons. A discount for purchases at resort restaurants and stores is often included too.

Having a staff season pass usually entitles the holder to reciprocal tickets at other Canadian ski resorts. This may mean completely free access to another resort’s slopes for a day or two, or potentially even unlimited access.

applying online

Most resorts start advertising positions online in August. Keep in mind that not every job opportunity will be posted online; often it is the specialty roles (snow groomer, ski instructor) or those with very large departments (lift operators).

Some resorts will be happy to conduct Skype interviews with those not already in Canada. Others will only pursue applications from people obviously already in Canada. With hundreds of applications, it is understandable that some employers are wary to make job offers in advance to people who do not have a physical work permit yet (since it is issued on arrival) or may cancel their trip last minute. Be prepared to look for work in person, in Canada – going to ski resort job fairs is the easiest way to do this.

Job fairs

Most Canadian ski resorts hold job fairs in October and November. These are usually held at the resort and are an opportunity to meet with hiring managers from multiple departments in the same location. Job offers are often given on the spot or the same day for larger departments such as lift operations. At the resort I used to work at, a large percentage (over 50%) of new staff were hired at the annual job fair.

Applying in person

If you can’t make the job fair, there may still be other opportunities to apply in person at the resort. At the resort I worked at, the Human Resources (HR) manager put aside one day open a week to meet with candidates.

As the season draws closer, applying for ski resort jobs in person is essential. Most resort jobs will be filled a week or so prior to opening day. There are however always staff members that don’t work out (or don’t even turn up for their first day!) so be sure not to give up. The period after Christmas is actually something of an ‘unofficial’ second hiring season as there is a high dropout rate after the holidays are over.

Apex ski season in Canada

How to find accommodation at a Canadian ski resort

It is often said that finding accommodation at a ski resort is often harder than getting a job. In my experience, this does indeed seem to be true.

Ski resort accommodation

The larger resorts have a limited amount of staff housing. This is usually located on-hill and is priced at $400-700 per person. With a small amount of staff accommodation available, it can be pretty competitive to get a spot.

The downside of staff housing can be the issue of isolation at some resorts. At Sunshine Village for example, staff housing is only accessible via a gondola. After the gondola stops in the evening, staff are unable to leave the mountain except in emergencies.

Private accommodation in a ski resort town

If staff housing isn’t appealing or possible, private accommodation is the other option. This can range from accommodation provided by a non-resort employer (this is more common in Whistler and Banff), shared housing or a private apartment/house rented from a private landlord. It is also possible to rent from companies that specifically offer ski season accommodation for working holiday makers.

What is important for accommodation is to search early. Demand is so high in Whistler that it can be hugely beneficial to arrive in September, organise accommodation at that time and then wait it out until the season starts.

Here are some useful resources for finding accommodation:

Pique Classifieds (Whistler)

Castanet (Big White)

Crag and Canyon Classifieds (Banff)

Kijiji (Multiple locations)

PadMapper (Multiple locations)

Craigslist (Multiple locations)

Also check local Facebook groups such as Whistler Housing Rentals for Locals

With all of these resources, be wary of scams. Look out for accommodation at a price that seems just too good to be true (it probably is) or people who want a deposit before you’ve even looked at the place.

Mount Washington ski season in Canada

Canadian ski season insurance

There is no doubt about it if you’re doing a ski season in Canada, you absolutely need to buy travel insurance with winter sports coverage. For one thing, insurance coverage for the length of your intended trip is a requirement of the IEC working holiday program. Simply put, if you don’t buy insurance, you may not receive your work permit.

Secondly, medical care in Canada is very, very expensive. A visit to the emergency room, for example, can start around $750 without any tests or scans included. Even calling an ambulance in British Columbia has a flat $80 fee. A broken leg may cut your ski season short, but breaking it without insurance may well ruin your entire Canadian experience (or worse).

ski season insurance For Australians

Fast Cover – This company has IEC-specific policies that allow for unlimited trips home. An initial 12-month policy can be purchased and then extended for another 12 months on the departure date, totalling the 24 months needed for the full IEC working holiday participation. Purchasers can leave Australia on a one-way ticket (though travel must start in Australia).

ski season insurance For EU citizens (incl. British citizens)

True Traveller  A 24 month IEC-specific policy is available from True Traveller. The policies can be started if you’re already travelling. Unlimited visits home are allowed (cover is suspended) plus there are no minimum residency requirements. I’ve used True Traveller twice myself and would have continued using them if I had not become a Permanent Resident of Canada.

ski season insurance For Kiwis

Down Under Insurance  Not advertised on their website, you’ll need to call Down Under to be able to purchase their ’24 month International Experience Canada’ policy. There are two levels of coverage with winter sports included – Explorer and Comprehensive. The policy must be started while still in New Zealand but unlimited trips home are allowed.

ski season insurance For other nationalities

World Nomads– Insurance from World Nomads is available for travellers from over 140 countries. Easy to buy online, policies can be started if you’ve already started travelling. 24-month policies are not available, but it is possible to buy 2 x 1 year policies instead.

Mountain views at Mount Washington Ski Resort

Essential tips for your ski season in Canada

  • Organise your SIN (Social Insurance Number) before heading to the resort area of your choice. This all-important number (you can’t legally work without it) can only be applied for at Service Canada locations. These can be fair and few between in some areas.
  • Be flexible and try not to have your heart set on a particular type of ski resort job. If you’re not having much luck finding work in your ideal job area, try your hand at something new. It may be possible to switch later.
  • Don’t forget about the smaller resorts. Whistler and Banff are exceptionally popular but you may enjoy life more (and find more accommodation options) in a smaller ski town. Resorts like Silver Star and Fernie still have hundreds of job opportunities every winter season.
  • Before booking your flight to Canada, check sports baggage allowances. Air Transat, for example, allows one free ski bag on flights between Europe and Canada.
  • Join my IEC Facebook discussion group ‘O Canada!’ to meet other people also heading to Canada to work a ski season

Some of the insurance policies mentioned in this post have affiliate links, which means if you buy insurance through this click I receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you. This helps me run this website and continue to write advice guides! 

Still have questions about a working holiday in Canada? Check out my Ultimate Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada eBookHow to Work a Ski Season in Canada Guide by offtracktravel.ca

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Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks Gemma for a great article. Do you have any articles on summer jobs at resorts? Are these available like the winter season? Thanks, Lucy

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Glad you found it helpful Lucy! I haven’t written about summer resort work yet but that’s a good suggestion. Most of the larger and mid-sized resorts open in one form or another for summer, whether that means for mountain biking, hiking or otherwise. Winter staff usually get first pick of summer jobs, but that can vary

  2. Hi Gemma,

    I’ve just been reading your article on how to work a ski season in Canada. I arrive in Vancouver on 2 December and realise I will have probably missed the boat for finding a decent job and accommodation before Christmas. I have read that usually after Christmas there is a second recruitment surge as many people leave/get sacked. I just wondered if you had any tips for finding work and accommodation and where you think would be the best resort to try?

    Thanks so much in advance!
    Jo

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Jo! If I were you, I’d definitely head to one of the larger resort areas i.e. Whistler, Banff. There will be more work and accommodation options (but temporary accommodation will no doubt be more expensive). The most important thing for you I think would be flexibility – be prepared to work a job you may never have thought of doing before! I worked housekeeping for a few weeks at a resort before finally getting the customer service role that was much better suited for me.

  3. Gemma,

    Thanks so much for your informative posts for working holidays in Canada- it is so hard to find any decent answers to my questions online! Your blog really helped me in the visa application process too.
    Heading out there in January, I hope to find a resort job- fingers crossed!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Thanks Emma! I’m glad you have found my guides helpful 🙂 I’ve got my fingers crossed for you for a fantastic ski season in Canada!

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