Combining a winter season job with travel at a ski resort in the United States is a great way to enjoy the slopes while making a bit of cash, learning new skills, and meeting new people. Some resorts offer discounts on ski passes and other perks on top of your wages.
But it's not as simple as jumping on a plane and turning up at your ski resort of choice. Here's how to get started before finding work on the slopes in the United States.
Because many locals aren’t interested in seasonal work, there are often plenty of ski jobs available to foreign workers, and little experience is required. There are two working visas available for travelers who want to work in America's ski resorts: the J-1 visa or the H2-B visa.
Note: you must apply for a visa before leaving your country of residence, and make sure your passport is not due to expire in the next six months. You also have to prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay. Also bear in mind that, due to high unemployment in the USA resulting from COVID-19, President Trump has suspended the entry of seasonal workers on new J-1 abd H2-B visas until December 31, 2020.
Students should apply for the J-1 Summer Work Travel visa, which gives you the flexibility to work wherever you like during your stay, but you have to prove you're enrolled in a course back home. (Because this visa is for students who are on their school summer holidays, it’s mostly for travelers from South America, New Zealand, and Australia.)
If you apply for a J-1 Summer Work Travel visa, in most cases you must have a job offer lined up prior to entry. This visa is only for 18-29-year-olds, and applicants must have no previous criminal convictions. Travelers on this visa can stay for a maximum of four months, and you must keep a minimum of $1,500 in your bank account.
The H2-B visa program is for those working nonagricultural jobs, which is best for anyone who is unsure which season they want to work. Most of the work on offer is unskilled hospitality, such as driving a bus. Most H2-B employers will offer accommodation, and pick you up when you get there. When you are there, be on your best behavior – if your employment is terminated or you quit, you will be deported instantly, and your chances of getting another visa will be very difficult. Also be aware that fewer resorts are hiring H2-B employees, since they must first show that there are not enough US workers to do the work.
It's important to check you are applying for the correct visa to work your chosen ski resort, as some resorts may only take one visa type at a time. Some countries also offer assistance to apply for seasonal snow work in the United States via agencies which have established partnerships with various ski resorts.
Check out Snow Season Central for more information.
Most hospitality jobs don't pay very well, so it's safe to assume you'll be surviving on tips. On a J-1 visa you are permitted to work more than one job, so you could try babysitting, dog walking or house sitting.
If you're working in a restaurant and have great people skills, it’s not unrealistic to make up to US $1,000 a week in tips.
One of the most important things to do is get a social security number. This will allow you to legally work in the United States. Many illegal immigrants want to work here, so protect your card at all costs, as identity theft is high in ski resorts. It’s pretty easy to get a social security number – you can apply online, but you will need to supply a number of documents including your passport and your J-1 visa.
If you are on the H2-B visa program, your employer should be able to help you out, but it will be for the length of your stay and only for the state you live in. Passing a driving test is relatively easy, and in many states you can go from learners (Instructional) to full license in a day. You will have to take a practical driving test, but these are really quite easy.
If you already have a full license from your home country, you will need an International Driving Permit, as well as your license – especially if you choose to hire a rental car.
Be super careful when driving in the early morning and evening in winter, as it's not uncommon to see wildlife like elk and deer on the road, hanging out in herds.
Get to know the public transport options before you arrive in New York, Portland, LA, Seattle or Austin with these tips from nomads.
In America and staying close to home during COVID-19? Revisit this episode on hanging out with orcas in Alaska, following the barbecue trail through the Deep South, or strapping on your skis in Colorado.