Photo: Hiking at Red Mountain, Canada
Canada is best known for its powder and big mountain riding. In particular, the riding through the Rockies in the west of Canada is legendary. Getting a job in Canada can be easier than some other countries given the ease in obtaining a working visa and is therefore a hugely popular place in which to work a winter season.
The Rocky Mountains run through British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada, and the edge of Alberta, the next province to the east. The Rockies are home to the best mountains and the biggest terrain in Canada. You will find, in particular, that the Rocky Mountain resorts live up to epithet by having great, technical, rocky lines and incredible rocky chutes to tackle. If you are after true Canadian big mountain, the Rockies are the place to be.
In BC, you will find Whistler, which is the largest resort in Canada and one of the most famous resorts in the world, known for its huge terrain and massive nightlife. It was home to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Other well-known mountains in BC include Kicking Horse, Fernie, Whitewater, Revelstoke, Red Mountain and Big White.
Near the border of BC, in Alberta, you will find the town of Banff, a famous ski town with three resorts in the vicinity, including the popular resorts of Lake Louise and Sunshine Village.
To the east of the country, the best mountains are found in Quebec; however, the mountains are mostly smaller, lower in altitude and with less powder. On the other hand, the best park riders come from the east due to the bigger emphasis on park riding.
Throughout the centre of Canada, you will find lower altitude resorts located on the Canadian prairies. These tend to be smaller operations with lower snowfall, and tend to attract local riders rather than international tourists.
The snow in Canada is famous and the best powder will be found in British Columbia. Snow in the east is generally much icier.
It can get crazy cold in Canada due to its northern latitude, particularly throughout the Rockies and in Quebec. It gets colder in Canada, in general, than at US mountains. Some days, it can get too cold to ride, which cuts into your season and your days off work where you would like to ride. For example, it will get down to -30c in December and January in some resorts in BC and Alberta.
The mountains are way quieter than European mountains. Especially on harder terrain, you will usually have the powder all to yourself. This is one of the distinct advantages of a Canadian winter season.
Backcountry riding is really popular in Canada, as is hiking and searching for powder stashes. It is more popular in Canada than in the US. The best chutes and steeps are to be found through the Rockies. Big mountain riding in Canada, with the rocks, cliffs and chutes, is among the best in the world.
Unlike European resorts, but similar to US resorts, Canadian resorts will avalanche prime all terrain within the boundary of the resort. This means that you can safely go off-piste as long as you remain within the resort boundary (although avalanches still do rarely occur). An advantage of working a season in Canada is the chance to ride all the amazing terrain that will progressively open up during the season.
Out in the backcountry, it is always advisable to carry avalanche gear given the risk of avalanches each season.
Canadian resort operations are generally centrally run, meaning that you apply through the resort company for all the jobs on the mountain. Often, there will also be jobs available in nearby towns in hospitality and retail. Check out the individual resort pages for further information.
Canadian mountain resort companies will allow foreigners to work for the mountain directly. You can therefore take jobs as a lift operator, park crew, mountain operations etc. Additionally, as long as you have a valid working visa, you will be able to work for the local businesses in town including the bars and restaurants.
Many of the resorts will do their hiring online prior to the season commencing. At the larger resorts, in particular, it is quite difficult to simply turn up at the start of the season and look for a job. However, many people quit their jobs during the season and resorts are always looking to fill positions as the season progresses, particularly after the January holiday peak, after which many people have had enough and quit.
On the other hand, local businesses have no real need to hire online given so many people simply turn up and hand around CVs. At the more popular places (Banff, Whistler in particular), there are many more people looking for work than required. At the larger places you should either arrive early, or expect a few weeks not getting paid while you look for work. Aside from the smaller crowds, this is another of the advantages of going to a smaller resort!
The central body dealing with ski instructors is the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance: www.snowpro.com
The central body dealing with snowboard instructors is the Canadian Association of Snowboard instructors: www.casi-acms.com
International applicants with foreign instructing certificates may wish to contact the association to convert their foreign instructing certificate or see whether it is recognized.
Canada has a good working holiday visa program which makes it way simpler to get jobs in Canada than in the US, or in Europe for that matter. The visa program is open to people aged 18-35 and is generally valid for most work in Canada for a year or two, depending on your country of citizenship. The program is great as it means you do not necessarily need a sponsored job in order to get a working visa. Rather, you can get your visa, fly over, then start looking for work. Mountain resorts in Canada expect to fill their rosters with foreigners every year.
For Australians, you get a two-year visa just by sending off an on-line application form. New Zealanders get a one-year visa just as easily as well. The Canadian working holiday visa website keeps a running count of how many spots are left each year. You follow the links through working holiday to get to the on-line application.
Citizens of Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine and the United Kingdom are able to get working holiday visas to Canada; Canadian working holiday visa information
The following are links to the Canadian embassies in respective countries where applicants are able to apply for working visas:
For United Kingdom applicants - www.canadainternational.gc.ca/united_kingdom-royaume_uni
For French applicants - www.canadainternational.gc.ca/france/
For German applicants - www.canadainternational.gc.ca/germany-allemagne
For Japanese applicants - www.canadainternational.gc.ca/japan-japon
There are a number of companies which partner with ski resorts in Canada which get you a job at the mountain. For Australians and British, Overseas Working Holiday is a program which has partnerships with a few resorts such as Whistler, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Big White, Silver Star, Grouse Mountain, Calabogie Peaks and Nakiska. The fees are currently $995 AUD and £599 UKP.
The job programs are good if you are not sure about going out on your own. However, every year, many more people simply arrive at the resort and start handing out their resumes. The advantage of a program is that you walk straight into your job once you arrive, while others spend a few weeks looking for work and in the meantime spend the same amount as they would have using a program.
The disadvantage of the program is the cost, which effectively just gives you an interview with someone from the resort's HR department that they have flown out. Also, while you can nominate for what job you would like, you may not necessarily get it. The job programs offer security but are certainly not necessary, particularly if you want flexibility in where you work and what job you do.
Photo: View from the chairlift at Lake Louise
Canadian resorts and businesses will require you to have a Social Insurance Number (SIN) before commencing work for the season. You can apply for one of these once you arrive in Canada with your work permit. This can generally only be done in major towns so it is necessary to plan a bit of time to do this once you arrive in Canada.
Many resorts will also require that you have appropriate travel insurance before you start work. This will need to be organised in your home country.
Many of the resorts in Canada are located next to highways, meaning that it can be reasonably easy to move around the resorts in Canada if you wish to do a road trip. The Greyhound bus runs services around Canada and can be used to go to other resorts for a trip on your days off. It is quite a good service compared to bus services in other countries.
However, it is even easier to move around if you can get a car, or have friends with cars. In particular, resort towns are often expensive while cheaper groceries can be found in nearby towns.
Many resorts will offer staff accommodation for those working at the mountain for the season. Check out each resort page for further information on whether staff accommodation is available, what it comprises and rent costs.
If staff accommodation is not available, or if you would like to find your own place, there are a few Canada wide rental sites that may provide good places to start looking:
Rentalguru.ca is a relatively new site devoted to rental properties in Canada. It has a large number of listings for rental properties, rooms and sublets.
kijiji.ca is a Canadian classifieds site with ads for many items, including rental properties.
www.househunting.ca is a site devoted to Canadian rental properties.
www.craigslist.org/about/sites#CA is the Canadian section of Craiglist which allows people to post ads on any number of things, including properties for rent.
Many resort towns also have local papers and local sites where rental properties may be listed. Check out the individual resort pages for further information.