I never thought I’d be so obsessed with skiing that I would base my entire life around having the freedom to ski absolutely everyday, but that’s what happened. I never would have thought I’d be a waiter, caterer, part-time landscaper, and half-assed freelance writer all at the same time, but that’s what I do. My college degree isn’t doing me much good, but I haven’t missed a powder day for 11 years and counting. Shit jobs have given me the freedom to ski as much as I can, live in an incredible place, and still make a living, sort of.
This series will attempt to profile some of the best and worst shit jobs in a ski town. Don’t get me wrong, in no way do I intend to bash professions like these, they are a means to an end, the axis upon which our mountain lives spin. Without jobs like these, how would you ski over 100 days a season and still be employed?
Points North Heli and Ice Axe Expeditions guide Andrew Eisenstark moonlights as a waiter. Believe it or not, he wears his work shirt when he skis, seriously.
Shit Jobs Part 4: Waiter
Ten years ago, I took my first restaurant job. My winter employment as a ski tech came to an end with the season and I needed a job so I could pay the rent and not have to call my parents and beg them for money. I never thought I’d work in a restaurant, but I took the job out of convenience and necessity. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that marked the beginning of a long and promising career in the restaurant industry. For the better part of the last decade, I’ve worked in a restaurant in some capacity, bussing, bartending, or serving, both seasonally and year round. Why, you ask? Because I love skiing, and I’m just too damn lazy to figure out a better way to make ends meet while still having the ability to ski all day, every day.
Many people in ski towns, and pretty much everywhere else, have made careers out of waiting tables. It makes sense, the hours are ideal for skiing, as long as you work in the evening, and you can make really good money. I know waiters who work full-time, and are damn good at it, that make well over $50,000 a year. Obviously, the amount of money you stand to make waiting tables varies from place to place and fluctuates wildly with the seasons, but there are few jobs in ski towns that allow as much potential for time on the hill and earning money as being a server.
Restaurants offer a plethora of shit jobs, and not so shitty jobs, for people in ski towns (see Shit Jobs: Part 1). Typically, the full spectrum of jobs are available, dishwasher, line cook, busser, bartender, manager, and server. Ideally, you can find an evening shift working in the front of the house, unless you don’t like dealing with people, then I suggest something in the kitchen. The front of the house, bussing, bartending, and serving, is generally where the money is. As glamorous as it might sound to “manage” a restaurant, it typically involves longer hours, more responsibility, and no tips, generally resulting in less money for more work. Getting a job as a server or bartender often requires experience, or working your way up through the ranks into the higher paying positions.
Working the dinner shift offers some of the best hours available in a ski town. The earliest I ever have to be at work is 4 p.m., and sometimes shifts can start as late as 6 p.m. Depending on the day and how busy your restaurant is, you can be done with work anywhere from 9 until around 11 p.m. That means your shifts range from 4 to around 7 hours max. Not having to be at work until the late afternoon means that you can generally ski to the bell, if that’s what you’re into, and still make it to work on time. It’s unlikely that anyone will notice that you had a couple après beers before work, in fact, that might even help to grease the wheels and put you into a better mood to deal with tourists.
As a waiter you work for and primarily get paid in cash. Most servers and front house restaurant workers get paid minimum wage, here in California that is $8 and hour. The vast majority of your take home pay comes in the form of tips, and where I work, your taxable tips are calculated as a percentage of your sales. The taxes come out of your hourly pay, and sometimes you don’t get a paycheck at all, any money in my paycheck is a bonus. A “good” night where I work will bring in $150-$300 in cash in my pocket, I consider anything under $100 to be a “bad” night, and that’s really not that bad at all.
Most restaurants provide a meal for their employees. Not only does this save you money, but it really takes the edge off when you show up straight from the hill, ravenous from a bell to bell powder day where all you ate was a Snickers. Depending where you work and the mood of your manager, free drinks after, and sometimes during, your shift are a standard part of the program. This saves you even more money, because it’s not like you weren’t going to have a drink, right?
Over the years, I have both loved and loathed my restaurant jobs. The money is great, the schedule is even better, what’s not to love about working as a waiter?
Waiting tables in a ski town puts you into extremely frequent and close contact with the dreaded Gapers, Beaters, Cods, and Joeys that support your local economy and lifestyle. Being able to make small talk with them while attending to their every need is a blessing, and a skill that I often struggle to have. Would you find it hard to smile as you explain every single menu item that is Gluten Free to the person you just watched eat a piece of bread? You’re Gluten Free, really?
Around the 1,000th time one of your customers says, “You look like you went skiing today,” or, “sure looks like you got some sun today,” it might start to drive you crazy. Of course you went skiing today, you’re a waiter in a ski town, for crying out loud. It doesn’t matter how much sunscreen you use, skiing 6 to 7 days a week, all season long, for years on end results in one thing, semi-permanent raccoon-face. Couple that with a nice dose of wind-burn and you’ve got a winning combination sure to make everyone know that you ski, a lot. It’s unavoidable. And think better of telling anyone that you went backcountry skiing, otherwise you’ll probably find yourself explaining how climbing skins work, again.
After a long day on the hill, all you want to do is go home, start a fire, crack a beer, and put your feet up, but that’s not going to happen. You change in the car, rush straight into work, freshen up in the bathroom, crush some employee meal, hope you don’t still look baked, and find some source of caffeine. The rest of the day will be spent on your feet, walking rapidly, kissing ass, and speaking as properly as you can. There are better ways to recover your muscles, but that’ll have to wait. Some busy nights you’ll be stuck at the restaurant ‘til 11 p.m. or later. Nights like these make it hard to get up for dawn patrol or get to the liftline at 5:30 a.m. so you can get 15th chair, if you’re lucky.
When you’re done with work you’ve got a pocket full of cash, and a 2 beer buzz. It can be hard not to stop into the bar across the street for a shifter, or two, or three. Interestingly, the same work schedule that is so great for skiing is pretty darn ideal for partying too. Falling into the party scene head-first, like Dexter Rutecki in Aspen Extreme, should be a legitimate concern. Next thing you know you’ve put on 15 pounds of “drinking weight,” and Carlos, the local coke dealer, is on your speed dial. All of a sudden you only make it out skiing after 11, and then only on sunny days. This is only hypothetical, of course, but I’ve seen it happen.
It doesn’t take long to get used to the lifestyle that being a waiter provides. The perfect recreation schedule and easy money could be something that you fall in love with and sucks you in for life. What other job in a ski town gives you the freedom to play all day long, both summer and winter, and still make a decent living in an incredible place? Here I am, 10 years after taking my first restaurant job, still working in a restaurant. Not because I love it, but because of how much I love everything else that I do, it’s almost like I’m trapped by the sports that I’m passionate about, unwilling to give up the freedom to play to try something different and break out of the cycle.
I’m not entirely sure that I chose to be waiter, it almost seems like it chose me. Fortunately, waiting tables has by far the best schedule to pay ratio of any of the shit jobs I’ve held. Guess I better get used it, I might be doing this for the rest of my life…
Shit Jobs Part 3: Unemployment Collecting Seasonal Worker
Shit Jobs Part 2: Ski Tech
Waiting tables, teaching beginner skiers, collecting seasonal unemployment—these jobs provide a means to an end. Swallow your dignity and embrace reality. After all, you can’t pay the rent with powder days and sunsets.