What They Didn’t Tell You About Working a Ski Season in New Zealand

Who are they and what are they telling me? I don’t know, it’s just a title to entice. Nevertheless, this article is about doing a ski season in New Zealand, as this time last year I was applying for ski field jobs to some success. Finally, a dream come true! Who wouldn’t want to work on a ski field? People who hate snow? Pft, they aren’t people. Now it’s the time (February/March) to apply for Southern Hemisphere ski field jobs, I thought I would share my experience of winter 2015.

Mt Ngaurahoe from Mt Ruapehu

Mt Doom lingering in the distance.

Money? What money?

I worked as a cafe bitch on Mt Ruapehu, which is an awesome mountain by the way. If you were ever an employee of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) who worked minimum wage on a mountain that had more closed days than a supermarket on the East Cape, you probably wouldn’t agree with me. The North Island volcano is where nature reigns supreme while us mere humans have to take a step back and watch helplessly until the mountain will allow us to work and play. Not a lot of people like this.

The golden rule for doing a ski season is making sure you do it for the right reasons. Working a ski season is not to make money, I repeat, NOT to make money. You will not get rich or save anything significant after a ski season in New Zealand. Working for a ski field is working for a lifestyle. That’s ski/snowboard, socialise, eat, party, sleep and work. Then you can be happy with the couple of thousand dollars you made at the end of the season.

But I bet you got to snowboard all the time, right?

It was rare during the mid-winter to find a good day to snowboard that happened to coincide with your day off. (Unless you were me, because I was the luckiest lass on the mountain it would seem). However, when one of those calm and clear days came along, you were able to ride some awesome untouched snow. This is particularly noteworthy after the only semi-decent winter I had experienced in Queenstown the year before.

Mt Ruapehu from Ohakune

Mt Ruapehu from Ohakune… before winter.

And you got to use all those facilities?

I know that RAL are upgrading their lifts on the Whakapapa ski field for the 2016 winter season. Nonetheless, it holds the limited lift access characteristic of New Zealand ski fields. That winter on Mt Ruapehu, I grew to love how the lifts only gave access to a small portion of the mountain. Hiking to isolated areas of the largest volcano in New Zealand makes the smooth ride down all the more rewarding.

Trips up to the slightly more popular hiking destinations, like The Crater Lake with a group of co-workers, were really trips to remember. This was the place on the mountain where, if the active volcano was to erupt, you would be especially screwed. But that didn’t beat the feeling of just chilling at the top of a isolated mountain alone on what could easily be the most beautiful snowy place in the world… at that moment in your life at least.

Crater Lake Mt Ruapheu

Crater Lake, Mt Ruapehu

But the people! In the end, it’s always the people you can rely on…

I don’t know if it’s New Zealand, ski field companies, or just this one company in particular, but, my God, RAL is the most unorganised company I have ever witnessed. It was a bad omen from the start when my job interviewers said: “We’ll get back to you in two weeks.” And I had to get in touch with them about three weeks later to remind them. Then I had to wait a further week for my first two weeks’ pay because someone cocked their job up. I feel if I go on with this list, it may seem like I am complaining. Which I totally am. Sort it out, RAL!

On the bright side, I had some extremely awesome co-workers. There was such an international range, whilst at the same time I was able to work with some real life New Zealanders! That’s been surprisingly hard to achieve when backpacking through New Zealand. If you were ever looking for a social job, then working on a ski field is the way forward. I had a blast with everyone I worked with.

Just try to complain about the location though.

I can’t go without mentioning the beautiful location you get to work on by working on a ski field. Watching the burning red sunset literally shining across to Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings (our neighbouring mountain, Mt Ngauruhoe) from the highest cafe in New Zealand on a stunning snowy mountain for the first time was the moment I realised how lucky I was to be there! Then hopping onto the back of a groomer to get back down the mountain when it was dark or snowboarding back down in spring when the days got longer. They were my favourite parts of the day.

Sunset! Credit to Basty for this one.

Find out more about the ski season in New Zealand.

As this is just a mere blog post, I can’t tell you everything there is to know about working on a New Zealand ski field on just one page. So let me direct you to a couple of pages that are especially helpful on BackpackerGuide.NZ:


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