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 too want to do something similar, read on for essential tips and advice to get your own ski season happening!
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 youth mobility schemes within the 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.
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.
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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
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.
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)
- 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.
Most resorts start advertising positions online in July and August. 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 – going to ski resort job fairs is the easiest way to do this.
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
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.
Ski instructor internships
One of the newest ways to secure ski season employment in Canadian resorts is to join a ski or snowboard instructor internship scheme. Ski internships allow competent skiers and snowboarders to embark on a fast-tracked instructor training program which ends with employment within a snowsports school.
The program inclusions vary between different providers and snowsports schools, however, you would usually expect:
- Training from highly qualified instructors
- International Instructor Certifications
- Resort or staff accommodation
- A season-long lift pass
- A paid instructor job offer or interview
To be able to take part in a ski/snowboard instructor internship in Canada, you would need to already be approved for the IEC working holiday program and have at least 3 weeks on-snow experience. Check if you’re eligible for an internship by visiting WE ARE SNO- Instructor Internships
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:
Also check local Facebook groups such as Whistler Housing Rentals for Locals
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 – Comprehensive policies (IEC specific) with Fast Cover 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 (travel must start in Australia) and do not have to have a return ticket home in order to claim. Ski cover available.
See also Down Under Insurance – Down Under have a specific 24 month IEC policy for Australian residents. There are two levels of IEC policy available, one with winter sports coverage and a standard one without.
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 – Down Under have a specific 23 month IEC policy for NZ residents. There are two levels of IEC policy available, one with winter sports coverage and a standard one without. Returning home for a visit on the policy is allowed, with insurance coverage being suspended while in New Zealand and then restarted upon leaving again.
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.
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
Looking for even more info? You need the Complete Guide to Working a Ski Season in Canada eBook! It includes exclusive tips from the hiring teams of 10 Canadian ski resorts, plus a step by step guide to the working holiday application process, advice on securing winter season accommodation and real Canadian season experiences from former ski resort workers.
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