While ski bum culture will never die, scrounging for a living while eating cold chili and couch surfing is no longer a pre-requisite for ski town citizenship. Mountain towns are becoming more and more developed; and, while some may view that as a negative, it has helped create a cache of well-compensated jobs in places that were previously only livable if you were a multi-millionaire or willing to live in the back of your Saab. These days, with some flexibility and experience, you can have it all. The following careers will allow you to live comfortably in a ski town — and maybe also afford those Rossignols that you’ve been eyeing all summer.
Helping to run a large hotel or lodge, with all its moving parts, is no small feat. Hotel managers have to possess extraordinary attention to detail while simultaneously being able to address big picture issues. Many of these roles require a degree in hospitality/hotel management and/or several years of experience. For that reason, hotel manager salaries can approach $150k per year for a general manager position at a large resort. As a bonus, many of the bigger chains provide excellent benefits, including health insurance, huge discounts on stays, and free lift passes. Trust us, you could do a lot worse than overseeing the Ritz-Carlton Aspen or the Yellowstone Club in Montana.
It’s no secret that some of the activities that go down in mountain towns are, let’s say, not optimized for safety. Not every ski town is going to have a large hospital or medical center, but there is always going to be a need for doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and other medical professionals to provide skiers and riders with care when things don’t go as planned. Depending on the location, pay for pharmacists is around $115k, while dentists make $110k – $220k per year, and physicians can bring in north of $300k per year. Competition will be fierce for these roles, so you’ll want to be very active when browsing for opportunities.
As is the case in most places, finance and accounting professionals are going to be some of the highest earning in a ski town. Almost any business is going to need someone to keep the books, and ski resorts, hotels, and other local companies are going to need financial analysts to help forecast sales and manage growth. A quick search of Indeed shows that financial professionals in towns like Park City, Utah can make close to $150k per year for senior or managerial roles. You’re generally going to need a business degree, experience, and/or certain certifications for these roles, but the exact qualifications will vary.
The biggest employer in any ski town is almost always going to be the main resort. This means there are often opportunities for those with high-level organizational, marketing, or information technology experience to work their way into the executive-level offices. Salaries in exec-level roles at ski resorts routinely top six figures; and, of course, if you’re at the top of one of the bigger resorts, they can exceed $1 million a year. Executives have to start somewhere, so consider trying for a mid-level management role before climbing that corporate ladder. And be sure to get your resume in shape, you’ll need a great one to land the job.
Note: You can get a certificate or degree in ski area management at certain universities if you’re looking for extra credentials and connections.
Small Business Ownership
Small mountain towns create the perfect environment for enterprising locals. There are numerous options when it comes to small businesses — think bookstores, hardware suppliers, cafés, ski shops, etc. The overhead and barriers to entry are often high, but small business ownership can be highly profitable, especially if you’re providing a previously unavailable product or service. Do some research on the local economy, and see where you can potentially satisfy a need the town has. It’ll help to make some connections in town, so try joining the small business association or other local professional groups. Owning a small business is hard work, but worth it to become a valuable part of the community.
Tour Guide Operator
Someone has to take the well-heeled jetsetters on their heli-skiing tours, glamping excursions, and luxury rafting trips. Running a guiding service — sharing your aptitude and local knowledge — can be highly rewarding. And, particularly if you’re providing access to otherwise unattainable or specialized experiences (e.g., ability to fish private gold medal trout waters, a backcountry lodge where your guests can ski or ride hidden powder stashes), it can bring in the big bucks. You’ll likely need to be well-established in your area of expertise and the town you’re operating in, but once you’ve made a name for yourself, you’ll be able to charge a significant amount for your services.
This one may seem like a stretch at first as chefs are, in many places, notoriously underpaid. However, luxe ski towns (e.g., Stowe, Whistler, Vail) are rife with expensive restaurants, some even boasting Michelin stars. At a high-end restaurant or hotel, a sous chef can make close to $60k, while a chef de cuisine can bring in over $90k. This is an excellent option for those with experience working in kitchens in bigger cities, or those fresh out of culinary school looking for a more adventurous lifestyle.
Bonus: Servers and bartenders can also make great money in the busier or more expensive restaurants in town.
Yes, this one is cheating a bit; but with working from home becoming the norm, the number of jobs that can be done remotely is skyrocketing. Marketing, website development, sales, programming, writing, administrative, teaching, and a slew of other jobs can be performed from almost anywhere now, as long as you can find solid wifi. There are myriad ways you can become a digital nomad, and $100k+ salaries are completely attainable for freelancers. Think about which skills you can monetize, and list your services on sites like Fiverr or Upwork.
Real Estate Agent
Home values in ski towns can be extremely high, with multi-million dollar mansions nestled in the mountains and luxury condos lining the streets. Luckily, someone needs to be the go-between when all that real estate changes hands. This is where realtors come in to play. Most realtors work on commissions, so the pay is going to depend on how much the properties are selling for, and how many you’re able to help clients buy or sell. So, when it comes to multi-million dollar listings, even a small percentage fee can produce a large payday. You’re going to need a real estate license, so do some research on the courses and exams necessary for licensure in your particular state, county, and/or city.
A fulfilling and profitable career in a mountain town is an increasingly realistic prospect for those looking to get away from the big city life. You’re most likely going to run into stiff competition for these highly desirable roles, so be persistent and consistently seek out unique opportunities. Get creative and figure out how to add value to the community (you may be able to come up with a career that isn’t on this list) — and you’ll be able to pull down a hefty income in between mogul runs, hot tub soaks, and après drinks.