Jobs in the ski area – these people work on and off the piste

05/06/2024 - SnowTrex

Jobs in the snow are not only in demand, they are also absolutely essential. Because without ski instructors, mountain guides, piste groomer drivers or bartenders, nothing works on and off the piste. In Austria alone, over 300,000 people work full-time in the tourism industry in winter. SnowTrex explains why these professions are so important in ski resorts and what makes them so special in a Top 10.

Nobody knows the peaks and the terrain around the ski resorts as well as the local mountain guides

1. Ski instructor

For passionate skiers and snowboarders, it’s actually the dream job: ski instructor. After all, no other job in the ski resort combines the happiness of a wonderful day’s skiing on the piste with the fact that you even get paid for it. A great recipe, but one that does not conceal how demanding the job itself is in detail. After all, it is the ski instructor’s job to teach their pupils, whether children or adults, a technically demanding sport. And in such a way that the new winter sports enthusiasts can ultimately enjoy life on the piste on their own in a relaxed and, above all, safe manner.

Instead of going to the office, ski instructors go to the piste, where they teach their pupils the correct skiing technique

The training is correspondingly intensive and extensive. In Germany, a winter sports enthusiast who wants to become a state-certified ski instructor must apply to the German Ski Instructors’ Association (DSLV). This is because only the DSLV offers the four required courses, which build on each other and last a total of 164 days. And as very few participants are able to complete these courses in one go, the training can sometimes take several years. In addition to practice on the piste, there is also a lot of theory on the programme for ski instructor candidates. In the areas of methodology and sports medicine, among others. Not to mention the fact that they not only have to be excellent skiers and members of a ski club themselves, but should also speak a foreign language and already have some teaching experience of their own.

2. Flight rescuer

In the event of serious accidents or when searching for missing persons, air rescuers are deployed in the mountains. From their helicopters, the specialists not only have a perfect overview of the search area or accident site. They are also on the mountain within a few minutes’ flight and can dispatch emergency doctors or paramedics to any location. The first ever air rescue was carried out in Austria before the middle of the 20th century, when a man was rescued from a glacier in a light propeller aircraft. in 1960, the national air rescue organisation “Rega” was officially launched in Switzerland, before the first permanent rescue helicopters were stationed in Germany and Austria in 1970.

With their helicopters, the air rescuers can be at the scene of an emergency in the ski resort in just a few minutes

Whether in the mountains or in the lowlands, over the past 50 years, air rescuers in Germany (D), Austria (A) and Switzerland (CH) have saved the lives of thousands and thousands of winter sports enthusiasts, motorists and other people. Today, there are 126 rescue helicopter stations in the DACH region alone. For their demanding and responsible job, the three members of a helicopter crew (pilot, paramedic/rescue specialist and emergency doctor) require a great deal of experience on the respective aircraft as well as years of work in the military and in the rescue service. In addition to treating the injured, flight rescuers also have other tasks. For example, they are responsible for transferring intensive care patients by air or transporting donor organs from one clinic to another as quickly as possible.

3. Snow groomer driver

Compared to their humble beginnings, snow groomer drivers today are real heavyweights. Because before skiing became really popular and mass-market in the 1950s, muscle power was still needed to prepare the slopes in the ski resorts. Here, hand-pulled rollers were used. It was not until the mid-1960s that the Canadian Armand Bombardier revolutionised this work. Together with a company from Graz, he presented Europe’s first snow groomer, the BS 01 model. Since then, slope grooming has changed so much that, after almost 70 years, the tracked vehicles, which can weigh up to 14 tonnes and cost up to 350,000 euros, are now an integral part of every ski resort in the world.

Without snow groomers and their drivers, winter sports enthusiasts would have to do without perfectly groomed slopes

How many snow groomers are used in each ski resort also depends on the size of the snow area. In Obergurgl (122 kilometres of pistes), 7 snow groomers are in use every day in winter, while in Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis (198 kilometres of pistes) there are as many as 21. The snow groomer drivers themselves are always employed by the respective mountain railway. They therefore know the slopes and the terrain on the mountain inside out. Their working day usually starts at around 4 pm. After a technical check of their work equipment, the snow groomers head out onto the slopes after the lifts close at 5 pm. The grooming of the pistes is usually finished between 11 pm and 1 am. However, if fresh snow falls at night, the snow groomer drivers sometimes have to get behind the wheel at 4 a.m. so that the pistes are ready for the start of the new ski day.

4. Mountain guide

No other job in the ski area has as much tradition as that of a mountain guide. To this day, St. Niklaus near Zermatt is considered the cradle of alpinism. In the mid-19th century, it was local shepherds and farmers who showed visitors the surrounding mountains. With such a rich, almost 200-year history, it is no wonder that the world’s first mountain guide museum is located in the small village in the Swiss canton of Valais. There, visitors are shown why it is still absolutely common today for mountaineers, hikers and ski tourers to hire a mountain guide.

After all, they are the ones who know the mountains on their doorstep better than anyone else. As talented climbers or skiers, they are also always a great technical help. And it’s not just sportspeople who make use of them, but also surveyors, border guards, rescue services and scientists such as geologists and biologists, all of whom work in the mountains on a regular basis.

The following video shows how tough the everyday life of a mountain guide really is:

A Mountain Guide’s Life

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Training to become a mountain guide is standardised internationally. It lasts several years and is divided into three stages. Firstly, prospective mountain guides must gain mountaineering experience and document it before the entrance examination for the aspirant training programme. This then takes place in both summer and winter and is rewarded with an aspirant diploma at the end. This initially authorises the alpinists to train aspirants themselves or lead tours before they are allowed to take their mountain guide exam three years later at the earliest. In Germany, over 700 people have currently achieved this and are now officially listed as mountain guides in the Association of German Mountain and Ski Guides (VDBS).

5. Mountain rescuers

A tragic avalanche on the Reißtalersteig in Styria in 1896 is the reason why skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts can still rely on mountain rescuers in emergency situations in the mountains today. A few months after the accident, which cost the lives of three men, the world’s first organised mountain rescue service was founded in Vienna. This “Alpine Rescue Committee Vienna” (ARAW) still exists today. It is one of 300 local mountain rescue organisations in Austria, in which around 12,000 volunteer mountain rescuers are involved. In Germany, almost 14,500 members are currently active in 10 regional mountain rescue organisations under the umbrella of the Red Cross. And in Switzerland, the system is also very well organised with over 3,000 mountain rescuers in 7 regional associations and 90 rescue stations.

When it comes to treating injured skiers on the piste, the mountain rescuers are usually the first on the scene

Anyone who is seriously injured on the piste or gets into a hopeless situation while climbing, where only experts can help, contacts the emergency services by mobile phone. In Germany, France and Italy, this can be reached by dialling 112, while in Austria the Alpine emergency number 140 and in Switzerland 1414 must be dialled. Depending on the type of injury and other factors such as weather, time of day and accident location, the incident commander ultimately decides how the mountain rescuers should proceed and whether assistance from air rescuers is required. However, it takes time before a mountain rescuer is allowed to practise this profession in a ski resort. The training period for mountain rescue services in Germany is three years. As with the volunteer fire brigade, the job of a mountain rescuer – except in some cases in Switzerland – is a voluntary one. And there is no salary for this.

6. Piste planner

Whether folded in a jacket pocket or in large format at the lift exit: winter sports enthusiasts looking for orientation in the ski area traditionally fall back on the good old piste map. And these are still largely drawn by hand today. To do this, piste map artists or panorama painters first create a pencil sketch of the respective ski area and its surroundings with the help of satellite images and terrain photos. They then colour in not only famous mountains, but also forests, lakes, roads and buildings in the traditional way with a brush.

Slope maps, whether in cheque card format or on large boards, always provide winter sports enthusiasts with a good overview of the ski area

Once the panoramic map has been digitised, the piste map draughtsmen then go to the computer. There, in consultation with their clients, they position the courses of runs and lifts in the new ski area graphic. Panorama painters are highly qualified experts who have completed extensive training in graphics and design. They are usually employed by agencies. However, some are also self-employed. Their profession has a long tradition, but only a few people still pursue it today. Nevertheless, they are still very much in demand, as ski resorts are constantly merging or new lifts and pistes are being built. And this, of course, requires new piste plans.

7. Bartender

For many winter sports enthusiasts, après-ski is part of a really successful day’s skiing. So it’s no wonder that bartenders are now one of the many important jobs in ski resorts. First and foremost, of course, they are responsible for ensuring that guests have enough to drink while partying. On the other hand, alongside the DJs, it is also his job to create a good atmosphere with good humour and little tricks at the bar. Performing for hours with a smile on your face, being able to sing along to the most popular après-ski hits and sometimes supplying thirsty winter sports fans with the drinks of their choice late into the night can be a real back-breaking job.

In winter sports strongholds like St. Anton, après-ski is very important. DJs and barkeepers also keep the atmosphere in the bars and discos high

If you are looking for a job as a bartender or waiter and want to work in the ski resort, you should keep an eye on the job offers on the official websites of the mountain railways before the start of the season. Employers’ demand for qualified staff is very high in this area, especially in winter, as the catering and hotel industry now accounts for by far the largest share of total turnover in ski resorts.

8. Snowmaking

For those responsible in the ski area, snow is their “white” gold. Because without it, nothing works on the mountain in winter. Accordingly, the quality and quantity of snow must of course be optimised. And this is primarily the responsibility of the snowmakers, whose work provides winter sports enthusiasts with a unique piste experience. In recent decades, the commitment of these experts has become increasingly important. After all, the proportion of snow-covered pistes in Switzerland, for example, is now 50%. And in Austria, it is even higher at 70 %. Snowmakers therefore have to work almost around the clock to make the best artificial snow and thus create perfect piste conditions.

In this video, an expert from the Schilthorn ski resort in Mürren explains exactly what the day-to-day work of a snowmaker looks like:

The work of the snowmakers is always divided into two shifts. During the day, they coordinate the use, assembly and dismantling of the snow cannons. State-of-the-art computer systems, which are based on GPS data and the latest weather reports, tell them where new snow is needed. During the night or from late afternoon, the artificial snow production with the snow cannons then starts from the edge of the piste. Their operation is constantly monitored by the experts and nowadays controlled almost entirely by app. Incidentally, the job of snowmaker is not a traditional apprenticeship. It is usually filled by career changers with the appropriate prior knowledge of weather and technology.

9. Ski lift operator

The operation of a ski resort can be compared to a well-oiled machine in which every cogwheel meshes perfectly. In a figurative sense, the largest “cogwheels” in the winter sports sector are certainly the ski lifts. This is because they enable skiers and snowboarders to “climb” the slopes comfortably and quickly so that they can then enjoy their descents on the pistes. The ski lift operators are of course responsible for the smooth operation of these technically highly complex systems and therefore also for the safety of winter sports enthusiasts.

Ski lifts are the be-all and end-all for smooth operation in the ski area

This also means that they have to carry out regular checks on their chairlifts every operating day. However, extensive technical knowledge is required for this maintenance work or possible repairs. And this is exactly what prospective ski lift operators in Austria are taught during their training as a ropeway technician, while in Germany they need to train as an industrial mechanic (in the field of ropeway technology). Incidentally, the two neighbouring countries work closely together in this area. The practical part of the training takes place at ropeways in Germany. And the theory is then taught at a vocational training centre in Salzburg. The training programme usually lasts 42 months in total.

10. Ski salesperson

The basis for a wonderful day on the piste is the right equipment for all skiers, whether beginners or veterans. And to help winter sports enthusiasts find this, ski retailers are on hand with help and advice. Because even in times of booming online retail, many winter sports enthusiasts still rely on personal advice when buying skis. So it’s no wonder that every ski resort still has at least one good old-fashioned sports shop at the valley station where you can buy or hire ski equipment.

Ski salespeople are the experts when it comes to equipment for the piste and are on hand to advise winter sports enthusiasts

For the most part, ski salespeople are always passionate skiers themselves. That’s why they know exactly what they’re talking about when they advise their customers. In order to ensure complete satisfaction, ski salespeople must also be very familiar with the latest equipment. This also includes finding the best ski boots for each individual winter sports enthusiast and then adjusting the ski bindings correctly. All of this is essential for the safety of skiers and snowboarders on the piste. The job of a ski salesperson is correspondingly responsible. The most important job requirement is therefore an apprenticeship as a retail salesperson, for example in a sports shop. This apprenticeship usually lasts three years.

FAQ on professions in the ski area

How many people work in the ski resorts?

In the mountains, winter sports tourism is a billion-euro business every year and is correspondingly important for the entire economy in Alpine countries such as Austria. For example, 300,000 people work full-time in this industry alone. And this is especially true in the ski resorts in businesses such as hotels, bars, restaurants, cable cars, ski schools and sports shops. In addition, there are many thousands of part-time and seasonal workers in the high season.

What is the oldest profession in a ski resort?

The fact that operations in the ski resorts run smoothly is thanks to many people who practise dozens of professions. The oldest of these is the mountain guide. The job was first mentioned more than 200 years ago. In the middle of the 19th century, local shepherds and farmers in St. Niklaus near Zermatt in the Swiss canton of Valais took non-local mountaineers up the mountain for a fee. A few decades later, in 1896, the next profession in the ski area was that of mountain rescuer, after the world’s first mountain rescue organisation was founded in Vienna. The reason for this decision was an avalanche that had claimed the lives of three men in Styria a few months earlier.

When can winter sports enthusiasts in the ski area call the mountain rescue service?

Winter sports enthusiasts should only call the mountain rescue service if they are in a real emergency situation. This means: either when a skier is so seriously injured that neither they nor their companions can bring them safely down to the valley, or when hikers or climbers on the mountain can no longer continue in a difficult place. If it is not an absolute emergency, your own insurance may not cover the costs of the mountain rescuers. In such a case, a winter sports enthusiast would have to pay several thousand euros for the rescue themselves.

What tasks do snowmakers have in the ski area?

Snowmakers ensure that skiers and snowboarders have the best snow conditions in the ski area. This means that the experts have to coordinate with their colleagues where the natural snow base needs to be reinforced with artificial snow. During the day, the snowmakers in the ski resort therefore coordinate exactly where snow cannons are needed, while at night they are responsible for ensuring that snow production runs smoothly. The importance of this profession today is demonstrated by the fact that 50% of the slopes in Switzerland and as much as 70% in Austria are now covered with artificial snow.

Since when have there been snow groomers in ski resorts?

The world’s first snow groomer was developed and used by Armand Bombardier in North America in the middle of the 20th century. In Europe, the Canadian finally brought the first snow groomer onto the market in the 1960s together with a partner company from Graz with the BS 01 model. Since then, it has been impossible to imagine ski resorts without these vehicles, which can weigh up to 14 tonnes. In snow areas with several hundred kilometres of slopes, sometimes more than 20 snow groomers are used every day in winter.

  • Wednesday, 05. June 2024
  • Author: SnowTrex
  • Category: Top 10
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