In the summer of 2002, I needed a change. I was working in a big city in a job that I loved but made me cry almost daily. I wanted something different, something completely unlike what I was doing.
So I moved to the mountains. Colorado, in fact. It was with the promise of a job, no discernable skiing experience and no knowledge of the town that I was moving to except what I could glean from the internet (this was pre-Facebook) that my sister and I packed up her Honda Civic and headed west.
We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. To say that we were unprepared would be an understatement. During the first big snow, we both looked at each other and wondered what sort of crazy had possessed us.
But we learned, we adapted and we loved it. However, while a very wise friend said that “Wishing I’d known more would mean I have regrets,” there are a few things that would have been nice to know before we started our Horatio Alger-style quest.
Drawn from my own experience and from the experience of others living in ski towns, here are some of the things that would have been nice to know before moving to a ski town.
1. Find somewhere to live before you get a job.
This was important 14 years ago when I first moved out, but it’s become even more crucial in ski towns. Housing can be scarce—affordable housing even more so. Lodging is at a premium and most properties want potential renters to sign a year lease. Be prepared to put down first/last/security (first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit).
While employee housing is available in some ski towns and Craigslist is always an option (though you never know what you’ll get), don’t rely on the internet or local paper to find housing. Talk to people in coffee shops, hostels, rec. centers, etc. One long-time resident found her first place in Breckenridge through a girl she met in a pizza place in a town 30 minutes away.
2. Living in a ski town is like being in college.
Late nights, early mornings, cheap drinks on weeknights, eating ramen and oatmeal for multiple meals, questionable choices and too many people crammed into a living situation…yep, living in a ski town is a lot like college.
The thing is, you’re living in a place that brings in a lot of visitors on vacation. You meet people and you feel like you’re on vacation, too. This can be great at times, but it also can lead to late nights where they get to sleep in while you have to be at work at 7 a.m. Going to work, like class, early after a long night of imbibing is difficult, like trying to pass a test after a late night out. Try and pace yourself—those $2 pitchers will still be there next Tuesday night.
3. Like college, you may be tempted to blow off work or skiing. Don’t.
Unlike college, where if you miss a class you might get a dirty look from a professor, blowing off work has much higher consequences, such as losing your job (and the ski pass that came with it). Or forcing friends to cover for you, which means that you will lose friends if it happens on regular basis. Don’t be that person. Living in a ski town may seem like a dream, but it’s real life.
4. Be prepared for roommates, good and bad.
When you first move to a ski town, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have roommates, whether you move into employee housing or into a house or apartment that you find. The number of roommates you have can vary, from two or three to six or more (this really does happen). Your rent may not go down, even with additional roommates. Everyone was not raised the same way you were, in matters of hygiene, cleanliness or respect for other people. Deal with it or find somewhere else to live.
But give it a chance. People from around the world and all sorts of backgrounds move to ski towns—chances are that you’ll find some sort of common ground with them, probably in the form of that mountain that you moved for. Be patient, be kind and set some ground rules for communal living.
5. Try before you buy.
Make sure you like the riding at whatever mountain(s) you’re moving near because it’s hard to move once you’ve made friends and connections. I lucked out—I loved the mountain at the ski town where I moved and didn’t have any “grass is greener” feelings. However, if I had started at a nearby mountain (that I didn’t love as much), I doubt I would have stayed as long.
If you can, do some reconnaissance before you move to a ski town—how busy does the mountain get? Is this a place where you’ll race out for a powder day? Do you like the people working in the town? The answers to these questions will help you find a mountain—and town—that you can enjoy for a season or longer.
6. Your job might not start when you think it will.
For many ski resorts, snow can dictate when jobs start or businesses really get bumping. Even if the resort is open, the early season is usually slower and doesn’t require as many employees as the high season. If you move to a ski town at the beginning of October, there’s a good chance that you won’t start work until closer to the Thanksgiving holiday.
7. And you’re going to need more than one job.
There are few jobs in a ski town that pay enough for you to just work one job. Most people have multiple jobs when they first move to a ski town. Working for the resort, at a ski rental shop, babysitting/nannying, working in a restaurant or slinging shirts at a t-shirt shop—a combination of these jobs and others will keep you afloat, as will the unspoken trade of services that inevitably happens (i.e, trading a six-pack for a free ski tune).
8. Seasonal work is great, but try and find something that pays great in summer and winter.
Most ski towns are incredibly seasonal places. Populations swell in the winter and shrink in the summer. Even in places that have managed to mold themselves into a more year-round destination, there are still “shoulder seasons,” weeks or months when businesses shut down. Securing a job that not only pays well in the winter, but also offers up options for the summer is key.
9. …Because you’ll probably end up wanting to stay.
One of the most repeated phrases in ski towns is, “I came for the winters and stayed for the summers.”
It’s true. Many people who start off just wanting to live, work and play for one winter season end up staying for much longer (like, 14 years). Sure, some people manage to spend one idyllic season playing and then return to the outside world, but they’re few and far between (and were probably on a visa that forced them to go home).
“Let your family know that you’ll probably be there more than one season,” suggested one former ski town resident.
When you decide to stay, own it. Enjoy it. Suck every experience out of it as you can, for as long as you can.
10. Though it can be difficult at times, it’s totally worth it.
In ski towns, people come and go, some staying for one season and many for longer. No matter how long you end up staying, it’s worth it.
“I was nervous moving so far away from home,” said one Breckenridge resident who only recently moved away. “I wish I had known that I would meet some people in Breck that were in the exact same situation and that we would become each other’s family. I know that isn’t necessarily unique to ski towns but maybe in a way it is. We all moved to Breck because we shared a passion for outdoor activities. Maybe that helped us all to develop a deeper bond. We worked, lived and played together. My Breck family is still very important to me!”
Another ski town resident agreed. “The life long friends I have made and the bond that was shared during those years, I did not expect this gift at all. Such great friends in a great fun community!”
“You’ll be poor, but it won’t matter,” said another.
There are many other things that I wish I had known before moving to a ski town, like the fact that studded snow tires can make your life 100 times easier; you can survive on free granola bars if necessary; having spare windshield wiper fluid can save your life; grocery stores sell out before a big storm like they do before a hurricane in other places and looking at the mountains will make your heart happy every single day.
But I moved to a ski town knowing none of these things. I not only survived, but I thrived. Your life and experience in a ski town will be what you make of it. If you make that move, make sure it’s a great experience.