Seasonal employees talk challenges, rewards of winter work

  • Sarah O’Connell of Greenfield has worked at Crotched Mountain during the winter for the past eight years. Now that she is living independently, O’Connell will have to find a summer job.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington employees 250 employees in the winter, compared to 12 in the summer.  Photo credit: Earl Studios and Crotched Mtn Ski and Ride

  • Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington employees 250 employees in the winter, compared to 12 in the summer.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington employees 250 employees in the winter, compared to 12 in the summer.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Emma Kendall, 20, of Antrim works in food and beverage management at Crotched Mountain in the winter. Kendall also works at Tenney Farm in Antrim. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington employees 250 employees in the winter, compared to 12 in the summer.  Photo credit: Earl Studios and Crotched Mtn Ski and Ride

  • Sarah O’Connell has spent the past eight seasons working at Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in the winter, spending time as a ski instructor, and most recently a ski lift mechanic. Earl Studios and Crotched MOUNTAIN Ski and Ride

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, January 02, 2018 12:21PM

For John Tyler, nothing beats the rush of being on a mountain in the winter – especially when he is able to coach skiing.

“I love working with the kids and watching them grow. … I would ski all year if I could,” said the Bennington resident, who has spent his past three winters as a U16 ski coach at Carrabassett Valley Academy in Kingfield, Maine. “I always liked coaching, but I didn’t know if I could ever make it work as a job.”

Tyler has taken great joy in being able to work on ski mountains throughout New England for almost three decades, but his career choice does present one major problem: as is the case with most seasonal jobs, Tyler isn’t employed all year round.

“There are a lot of coaches that do what I do,” said Tyler, who started his business Pleasant Pond Landscaping more than 14 years ago as a way to make money in the offseason. “There are a lot of landscapers and commercial fishermen. It’s pretty common.”

Tyler said he started his business as a way to bridge the gap between ski seasons. Tyler has been landscaping since he was a kid, working with his grandfather who did landscaping and other groundskeeping in the Troy cemeteries.

“I’ve always enjoyed being outside all day,” said Tyler. “I like the idea of working the two jobs and having something different to look forward to. It prevents me from getting burned out.”

Nationwide, no industry sees a larger boom in winter employment than the skiing industry, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During the peak of the 2014 winter season, 98,700 people were employed in the industry, compared to only 15,300 the May prior.

Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington, for example, employs 250 people in the winter, but only 12 in the summer.

While other industries – such as hobby, toy, and game stores, department stores, and temporary help services – may employ more people across the country and see similar seasonal increases, the ski industry consistently sees the largest percentage shift from summer to winter.

Anita Josten, a research analyst with the New Hampshire Employment Security, said that in the state, the second quarter actually sees larger employment increases as a whole, with the fourth quarter coming in second.

“There is a big summer boost. New Hampshire lives for its summers,” said Josten. “Job sectors like construction increase a lot in the summer. It’s hard for paving companies to do roadwork in the winter.”

While there are more summer hires in New Hampshire, Josten said there are still a number of sectors that see job increases in the winter months. While retail, transportation and warehouses see the biggest boost – which can be attributed to the holiday shopping season – arts, entertainment and recreation also see a lot of winter jobs, especially rehires.

“There are some new hires, but it is nowhere near as significant as the rehires,” said Josten.

Entering her eighth season at Crotched Mountain, Sarah O’Connell of Greenfield has worked every winter on the mountain since she was 15.

O’Connell currently works as a ski lift mechanic, although she has spent time working in the rental department, at the resorts bar, and as a ski instructor.

“Every day is something new,” said O’Connell. “I want to keep working in the ski industry, I’ve enjoyed it from the first minute.”

Being a ski lift mechanic keeps O’Connell quite busy over the winter, with an average work week consisting of 40-plus and even 50-plus hours.

“It’s the people that I get to see every day… I work with a lot of funny people,” said O’Connell, on what makes her job so enjoyable. “Even when you’re getting worn out, someone comes up with a funny one-liner.”

Having graduated from college in December and recently becoming independent, O’Connell said she is still figuring out what she wants to do in the spring for work. O’Connell said she has worked a number of other jobs in her life in addition to her jobs at Crotched, but nothing has stuck so far.

“I will be stashing money away. I’m a little concerned, but I don’t stress about it,” said O’Connell. “I have an English literature degree. I would like to have [my degree and my job in the ski industry] overlap… I just don’t know where that would take me.”

Job security and financial instability are two of the largest challenges when it comes to working seasonal jobs.

Emma Kendall, 20, of Antrim, said that she enjoys her two jobs – scooping ice cream and working at the farmstand at Tenney Farm in Antrim and working in food and beverage management at Crotched Mountain – but the wages received don’t allow her to live on her own at the moment.

“It’s great that I get to do different jobs, but the income isn’t always great,” said Kendall, who lives with her parents. “If I’m living on my own, I won’t be doing seasonal work.”

Kendall started working seasonally six years ago, when she started working at Tenney Farm during the summer. Kendall said she enjoyed working under Tenney Farm owner Crista Tenney Salamy so much that she followed her to Crotched Mountain – where Tenney Salamy works as food and beverage manager.

“I loved working for her during the summer, and I needed a winter job,” said Kendall who has scooped ice cream, among other things, at Tenney Farm in Antrim for six years. “I ski some, but Crista is the reason I came here.

Kendall likes the change of pace offered by working two seasonal jobs, but said she is unsure how long she will continue to do so.

“For right now, I enjoy it, but I don’t think it’s going to be a forever thing,” said Kendall. “It’s great to get to do two different jobs, but sometimes there is a gap between the two, or they overlap a bit.”

Part of Tyler’s reasoning behind starting his own landscaping business was to alleviate some of the stress caused by trying to coordinate the start and end time for each job.

“It’s a challenge, both jobs interfere with each other… there’s always some overlap,” said Tyler. “In the fall, I’m pushing to get my landscape work done as ski season starts going full tilt.”

While there are challenges to balancing both jobs, Tyler said the rewards to be gained are numerous.

Owning a landscaping company allows Tyler the flexibility required to coach youth soccer in the summer and set his own hours. Being a ski instructor allows him to be paid to travel and be on ski mountains in the winter.

“Overall, I’d be lying if I didn’t say [my favorite job] was skiing… it feels weird if I spend a full day inside,” said Tyler. “I just love skiing. It’s what I do.”

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.