Saved by the snow
Updated: Aug 19
WHEN I SIGNED UP FOR A WORKING SKI HOLIDAY IN AMERICA, I FOOLISHLY EXPECTED A SMOOTH RIDE
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ I happened to be reading Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities when I did a ‘working holiday’ at a ski resort in Lake Tahoe in the United States many years ago. At the time, I felt his famous opening line described my travails much better than it did the French Revolution.
Now, the ‘holiday’ part of ‘working holiday’ was a barefaced lie, sold to us by a student travel company in order to get us to sign up and hand over our parents’ cash. It sounded too good to be true. And it was.
Join a ski resort, learn how to ski or snowboard and then teach clueless foreigners how to ski or snowboard. Meet like-minded young people, ski all day, party all night, save money. What a dream.
We signed up with the student travel company without having to nag our folks too much – my parents probably thought avoiding having me lazing around the house over my ridiculous four-month student holidays was worth every penny. The company organised us working visas, educated us about what to do when we got there, which ski resorts to apply with, what to pack, and so forth. They forgot to mention what to do when it fails to snow.
We arrived in South Tahoe in late November, bright-eyed and ready to hit the slopes. ‘Where’s the snow, bro?’ my friend asked.
‘You probably have to take a ski lift up to get to the snowy bits,’ I said, unsure. We checked into the least dingy-looking motel on the main strip near one of the recommended resorts, then walked into town to find ourselves employment with all the naivety and entitlement of two 19-year-old white males.
‘Come back when there’s snow, hun,’ shrugged the woman at the resort’s HR department. ‘No snow, no people. No people, no work.’
‘When will that be, ma’am?’ we inquired, still relatively fresh out of high school and unerringly polite.
‘Any day now, hun,’ came the assurance.
28 days later, the first snow fell on our now-gaunt but grateful faces. By then, we had moved to the dingiest motel on the strip, and were about to be served an eviction notice. Our room was littered with discarded two-minute noodle cups and 40-ounce malt-liquor empties. We had applied to every establishment in town, twice, and my mate had started to consider prostitution. It was the worst of times.
But, as the first flakes fell, our hope was renewed. We gathered our crumpled CVs, donned our cleanest clothes and marched off to HR in search of employment.
‘Sure, hun, let’s sign you boys right up. Here’s your work uniforms, here’s your ski passes, and here’s your meal vouchers. You’ll get your snowboard equipment around the corner, and you’re welcome to have your first snowboard lesson this afternoon. And you know where the bar is, right?’
It was the best of times.