When I decided to quit my job of a mere 5 months, and move from New York City, where I grew up, to Vail, Colorado, I was met with mixed reviews from friends and family. Some were impressed with the bravery of the decision, moving from a big city to a small town where I knew not a single person, while others would ask, with a hint of judgment, "So you're going to be a ski bum?"
I guess so. It seemed like a good option after graduating college in 2008, landing a job that I hated, and watching our economy move into a recession. The job market was going to be rough, and so, instead of making changes in my career path, I decided to delay it all together, and move to the mountains. But when I arrived I soon learned that I was not the only one to make that decision. In fact, most of the Vail job pool were college graduates who were still figuring out what they wanted to do in life, and thought they might as well have a good time during their self-contemplation.
This past winter, the New York Times published an article titled "The Return of the Ski Bum", addressing the new trend of recent grads, MBAs and even investment bankers who lost jobs or couldn't find jobs and decided to move to mountain towns. It was in places like Aspen or Park City where people could easily find employment, even if it meant they were going from operating funds to operating chair lifts. Personally, I was excited that the New York Times was bringing attention to my often misunderstood group, but the article failed to mention the underlying benefits of ski resort jobs. Yes, you get to work with fun, young people and work only 4 days a week to allow ample time on the slopes, but these positions are bigger resume builders than you think.
Since a ski resort has mostly seasonal work in the winters and summers, there is high employee turnover and lots of movement begets lots of opportunities. After working only one winter season at ski school, I landed a management role the following year, knowing well that if I stayed in my real estate job in New York, it would be years before I saw any type of promotion. Being a supervisor taught me invaluable lessons in a business setting, even if the business was putting skis on 3 year olds and preparing decent hot chocolate when they came inside from the bunny hill. It gave me the confidence to make decisions, take initiative and empower employees through delegating responsibilities. I had to learn to hire people and even fire people, skills and experiences I could never get in an entry level position.
Another thing you hear when you live in a ski town is the common saying "You may come for the winter, but you'll stay for the summer" and as the snow is melting and the temperatures are finally reaching above 60 degrees (which is a lot to say here in the beginning of June), I am reminded again that this statement is very true. While jobs are transitioning, there is an onslaught of concerts and other arts events such as the Vail International Dance Festival and the Bravo Classical Music Festival to whet the cultural appetite. And since these are large productions in a small community, there are plenty of opportunities to work at the events, with the benefits of learning about famous choreographers or notable classical musicians in addition to a free beer once in a while at the outdoor venues.
Last summer, I supplemented my time volunteering for the Dance Festival with a hostess position at a restaurant. While, there were definitely some unglamorous moments, one being when I was clearing a table, trying to hold seven plates at once, only to spill a bottle of balsamic vinegar all over a guest's white cashmere sweater. But it was in this high-energy environment where I think I learned the most. The restaurant I worked at valued team work, and understanding each role in the restaurant so that we could help whenever needed and work collaboratively to deliver the best possible product. Even as a hostess I could stand on the line to watch the chefs assemble beautiful dishes and attend weekly wine tastings to try some of the best vintages from France and California. Besides learning about the food and how to distinguish a pinot from a syrah, being in a restaurant taught me how to work alongside a diverse group of people, think on my feet in an unpredictable environment, retain a smile and learn from my mistakes in the face of harsh criticism or complaints from guests.
After two years of living and working in Vail, people often ask if I will stay out here forever. Probably not. For now, I will work on finding a career that I truly love where I can apply the skills that I have learned here. In the meantime, I can continue to impress my friends with my intimate knowledge of wines from Napa.
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