Working the winter
Lisa Scott, 24, from Burlington, Ontario, spent a season as a ski-instructor in the Scottish mountains. She shares her tips with The Midgie.
Scotland was always on my list of places to go. I had visited Edinburgh and it was such a welcoming, vibrant city so I decided I wanted to live there. I looked for jobs anywhere I could, even if it was on a dry slope and managed to get one at the Nevis Range.
The first obstacle to working in Britiain is getting a visa, which is difficult. You guys have BUNAC, which is a company that helps students get visas, and we have SWAP, which is the same thing. I wanted to look keen, as if I could do this myself, so I didn’t go through a company. I got all the information, filled in the forms and mailed it in and they sent me a denial, because they thought it didn’t look as if I wanted to come to Britain on a working holiday. They thought I wanted to move there. So I went back to SWAP, who gave me a book that told me how to fill in the form, sent if off, did a phone interview with the British embassy and then they finally gave me my visa. I would definitely advise people to get some help with all the forms. You have to say exactly the right thing or they turn you down.
Working up in the Nevis Range was one of the best winters I’ve ever had. All of the people are very tough and optimistic up there. I come from Canada, where we have more snow than we know what to do with. But I got to Nevis Range in January and I was teaching on the dry slopes wearing a T-shirt, thinking, ‘Snow will come, snow will come.’ I was getting disappointed, but because everybody else who worked there was so optimistic about getting snow, it kept my spirits up. Sometimes you’d get snow and it would be raining, with 80 miles per hour winds, and my colleagues would say: ‘Don’t worry – let’s go skiing.’ Even the five year olds were like that. I was impressed with the dedication to their work.
The camaraderie was amazing. I ended up living with two of the instructors and we’re still in touch. In fact, one of them is coming to work with me over in Canada. We went out together all the time.
It was hard to find a place up there. We were lucky that three of us found an apartment with cheap rent. I spent my first month in a hostel, so I was glad to get my flat. Some guys I knew from Glasgow spent the whole winter in the hostel. I found it frustrating because I’d be getting up at 6am, using a flashlight to get ready so I didn’t wake everybody else up.
The happiest moment I had was on my very last day, when we decided we were going to hike all the way across the ridge, where there weren’t lifts any more. We found this one gully you could ski, with perfect, flawless snow all the way down. Then we had to hike all the way back, but it was worth it.
Last year was the best snow season for eight years. Even so, it was a real emotional rollercoaster. One day you’d wake up and there was snow in the town, you’d go up to the hill and get to do some amazing skiing. Other days, you’d wake up and it had rained over night and the hill was green again. We didn’t really get any snow until mid-January, but it was great when it came. I left in mid-April and there was tons and tons of snow. You just can’t predict it.
I was working as a ski-instructor and there were ups and downs. Teaching school kids was tough. Some of them were only there because there parents wanted them to do it. I do it because I love it, so I think everybody else should get to experience it.
The pay was really good through. I was getting £10.50 an hour and could also help our ski patrol and get a couple of extra pounds. The only thing I had trouble with when I was working was taxes. I was paying emergency tax for seven months. Eventually, I got a national insurance number, it was changed over and I was put on the right tax code. But I never really figured it out. Maybe you’ll do better.
Outdoor jobs can be found at
www.bluedome.co.uk, www.seasonworkers.com, www.outdoorstaff.co.uk
or simply by checking the websites of Scotland’s five ski ranges.
For more information on working in Scotland and visas, visit
Scotland’s Ski Resorts
The Lecht: www.lecht.co.uk
See the Aberdeen section for more information.
With 21 lifts and 36 runs, this is Britain’s biggest centre for snowboarding and skiing. Travelling there takes about two hours from Glasgow or Edinburgh and details of public transport are on the website.
Nevis Range: www.nevisrange.co.uk
This is Fort William’s ski centre and the place Lisa worked. It is famous for its gondola system, the only one in Britain, which is a cable car mechanism that gives skiers a lift up the mountain.
Cairngorm Mountains: www.cairngormmountain.org.uk
After skiing at the stunning range, you can pop by and see Britain’s only herd of reindeers. The Cairngorms are one of Scotland’s most beautiful mountain ranges and offer great skiing, when it snows.
Glencoe Mountain: www.glencoemountain.com
This resort offers summer activities as well as skiing, so there will always be something to do if the snow doesn’t arrive.