They've roamed the mountains for years but, lately, their increased presence in ski resorts is creating concern. Hungry for part time work to feed an idyllic seasonaire lifestyle, older skiers and snowboarders, WOLVES, are on the prowl in ski resorts throughout Europe and North America.
There are new reports of WOLVES in ski reports. Yep, predatory Willing Older Ladies/Lads Vying for Employment on Snow, WOLVES, are on the increase. But although they may be preying on younger Seasonaires' jobs they also bring experience and entrepreneurial skills so, as with the Yellowstone wolves there is the cascade effect of this significant 'keystone species' revitalising and restoring the ski resort ecosystem. Louise Hudson hunts them down...
Watch out for WOLVES this winter. Migrating away from their city-career habitat, WOLVES. the latest acronym for Willing Older Ladies / Lads Vying for Employment on Snow, are extending their foraging field to ski areas, lured by the irresistible scent of pure mountain air, healthy outdoor exercise and wintersport action. Watch out for WOLVES this winter Seasonaires! They could be on the hunt for your jobs.
'They can’t compete with us, we are young and keen and will do anything and live anywhere to work on a ski hill,' a young Seasonaire might argue. But these vulpine rivals are fighting fit, highly motivated, with the added advantage of capital which means that typically they can afford their own accommodation. Due to financial security, they are happy with part-time work, lower wages and seasonal salaries - so long as they come with a coveted season’s pass. What’s more, with the clock ticking, they have a bucket list, vocation/vacation mentality and rather than retire in relaxation they crave a constructive Encore Career.
As we all know WOLVES can sometimes masquerade in sheep’s clothing so here’s a guide to their various disguises:
The Ski Rep
PR exec Frankie Gibson says Inghams has a number of mature employees who have chosen to swap at-home careers for a life in the mountains – for example, Mike and Liz Cakebread (yep real surname).
'Mike works for Inghams in Whistler, Canada during the winter months and in Zermatt, Switzerland during summer,' she says. 'A Chartered Engineer by profession, Mike spent much of his working life in engineering management. For personal reasons, he was forced to take a break from this for a few years, and decided to follow his passion on return to work.'
Joining the Ski Club of Great Britain as a guide in Switzerland, he met his wife, Liz, who is a rep for Inghams. 'It’s not the earning potential that drives us, rather the attractive lifestyle in the mountains and we thoroughly enjoy the two countries we work in,' says Liz.
Mature Seasonaires are great for business
Recruitment executive, Louise Turner, has noticed a rise in the number of more mature applicants for Inghams’ seasonal jobs. 'This increased most dramatically during the financial crash nine years ago,' she explains. 'We often find that they have always wanted to do a ski season and now is the time they can finally do one, due to fewer commitments taking priority, like a career, young kids or a mortgage. Mature Seasonaires are great for business as they don’t only bring loads of work experience, but they also bring life experience, which our guests can relate to very well.'
Being a Seasonaire means long hours and can be physically demanding
While it typically works well to employ more mature Seasonaires, due to their wealth of experience, their empathy towards customers and their reliability in an emergency, Gibson says there are still some challenges:
'It can sometimes be that they’re surprised by the demands of a ski season. Life in the mountains is fresh and beautiful, but being a Seasonaire means long hours and can be physically demanding. Inghams, therefore, has a selection procedure in place to match the right people with the right roles.'
The Private Lesson Specialist
Helen Roberds (above left) is a second-time around ski instructor at Solitude. Having qualified at Snow Valley in her 40s, she went on to combine a secretarial career with motherhood in California. On retirement, Roberds returned to the mountains where she was headhunted as a ski instructor again for Snow Valley and Big Bear Mountain.
In 2003, at age 65, she moved to Utah where she was hired as a ski instructor at Solitude Resort. 'I am very busy, teaching mostly private lessons. I actually have little time to free ski but immensely enjoy what I do,' she comments. 'My husband gets a pass because of my employment which is part of the benefit.'
I am in the mountains either instructing or taking instruction more than not
Other attractions include meeting and lunching with interesting people as well as the healthy atmosphere. 'I also see the activity level as a huge benefit,' the 79-year-old tells us. She is still firmly focused on becoming a better skier, currently working towards her Level 3 PSIA qualification combining teaching with attending instructional clinics. 'I am in the mountains either instructing or taking instruction more than not,' she says. 'I am really happy to be at Solitude out of all the resorts available; it’s a very family-friendly culture, friendly, relaxed.' The area, she remarks, is 'loaded with oldies'.
I’m sitting in the chair dying inside because they are younger than me
Skiing longevity is all about staying in shape, mixing with younger skiers, and living in the healthy mountain environment for Roberds. 'Last season I had a private with a couple who immediately started telling me that they are old and maybe too old to keep trying. I’m sitting in the chair dying inside because they are younger than me. So, when they finished explaining how old they were (65 and 70) I laid on them how old I was - I thought the guy was going to fly out of the chair he whirled around so fast.
'Needless to say, they changed their perspective. The three of us really hit it off. So, my age actually encourages people and makes them feel more comfortable.'
The Race Coach
Then there’s Jeff Handwerk, who retired in 2013 from the oil refining industry to immerse himself in ski instruction and race coaching. Having learnt to ski at age five, he worked part time at Solitude throughout his oil career, and went on to expand his role there on retirement. 'Last season I skied 171 days - not all at Solitude - including the 50-plus days spent coaching at Solitude. Basically, I ski every day in the winter/spring.'
Now that I'm 66, I'm thinking that people in their 70s and 80s are old
For Handwerk it is a question of purpose and defying society’s aging norms: 'The coaching job keeps me engaged and that in turn prevents me feeling like I'm getting older (most of the time). When I was in my 50s and still working full time - basically every day during the winter - I thought as soon as I turned 62 I would quit both full time work and coaching. I also thought anyone over 60 was old. Now that I'm 66, I'm thinking that people in their 70s and 80s are old. It's all relative.'
Some Wyoming WOLVES are actually bringing more employment and entrepreneurship to ski areas. At age 42, TV presenter and production coordinator, Lori Roux ended up by career chance in Jackson Hole – then ‘a Wild West town' she describes, with no TV station. Without a clear broadcasting path there, she started a company in 2006 called Whole Story Productions LLC, employing freelance production staff to help her film family stories and histories from the area.
I walk out the doors and head directly to the Tram Dock
'I have the greatest office ever!' she says. 'It sits in the top of the A-Frame of the world famous Mangy Moose Saloon, wait for it… at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. That means, when/if I go out for a lunch break, I walk out the doors and head directly to the Tram Dock!'
Now 53, Roux says she is not at all old in Jackson Hole terms. 'I’m probably not really that old a ski bum. A very good friend is 67 and he skis every day, and you’d never know he’s 67.' With a friendship group spanning 20s-90s, Jackson Hole skiers are not age-ist, she explains: 'People don’t care about age here – it’s all about what activity do you want to do today – and who’s around to do it with.'
Jackson Hole is morphing from cowboy to culture
With an influx of wealthy WOLVES attracted by the mountain lifestyle, Jackson Hole is morphing from cowboy to culture. Tax benefits are another lure. Times columnist Kerry Hannon - author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy...And Pays the Bills - says that working until age 70 ½, in the US has great financial payback, keeping retirement accounts and social security checks for later and allowing pensions to accrue.
'Even people who have saved adequately for retirement are often working as a safety net. There’s a palpable fear in the eyes of many people in the audiences I speak to that they’re going to outlive their money.'
She also rates the mental and physical benefits of staying in the game in some way whether it is part-time, seasonal, or full-time: 'You feel relevant. You have a social network. It helps avoid isolation, depression and loneliness. And use it or lose it, studies have shown that working at something you enjoy doing keeps you mentally sharper, too.'
The Guest Services People Person
Sprinkling the staff at many North American ski areas, ‘retired’ ski bums with their broad life experience and diverse expertise have much to offer to resorts, according to Sherri Harkin from Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah. One of Solitude’s guest services staff is a retired astro-geologist, who conducts après ski lectures on geology and astronomy in the lodges and stargazing events and geological hikes during summer.
After 40 years as a geologist in global energy explorations, Rodger Fry came to Solitude 12 winters ago, working first as a volunteer and, for the past two seasons, as a paid part-timer. 'I am a native of the Salt Lake Valley and was drawn to the joys of snow skiing at an early age,' says Fry, who accepted early retirement at the age of 54. 'I enjoy the outdoors and spending time in the mountains.'
Solitude head-hunted him for guest services because of his natural people skills
While working for Solitude, he is also director of a nearby astronomical observatory. And it was while hosting a ‘Star Party’ on the mountain that Solitude head-hunted him for guest services because of his natural people skills. 'I jumped at the opportunity and have found this to be very satisfying,' says Fry, who likes to go the extra mile with customer service, even giving away snow secrets. 'It allows me to share some of my passions with the public. Also, it allows me to interact with people from around the world and help them have an exciting and memorable experience at the ski resort.'
We work hard, play hard and I love to challenge those half my age to out-ski me
During valuable free skiing time, Fry offers to guide newcomers who he bumps into on chairlifts to his favourite stashes – something younger ski bums may not be quite so eager to do. 'It is hard to put into words, the feeling that you experience at the bottom of the run when the guest gives you a big smile and saying that was fantastic - what other runs do you know of?'
Seventy year old, Fry is currently in pre-season training, exercising for a minimum of an hour per day. 'People ask me what I am training for and I say I am training to be a Centurion as I want to live to be 100 years old. Working at Solitude Mountain Resort helps me stay young at heart. We work hard, play hard and I love to challenge those half my age to out-ski me.'
The Ski Instructor/Volunteer
From air traffic control to downhill control, ski instructor Paul Schneider works at Deer Valley
, another of Utah’s top resorts. Mandatory retirement from Salt Lake City Airport at age 56 meant that Schneider was comparatively young, still full of vigour and vim. 'My brother said, "Paul, when you finish you have to finish strong but you have to be able to reinvent yourself, too".'
'I don’t really have to work because of my pension but I enjoy it because of the camaraderie of skiing
In response, Schneider turned to his love of skiing in which he had qualified as an instructor while in the Air Force in the Alps and later in Park City in the 80s. 'I don’t really have to work because of my pension but I enjoy it because of the camaraderie of skiing and Deer Valley is a great place with a great business model,' Schneider explains.
One of the growth segments in the area, which includes neighbouring Park City Resort, is the retirement population. Due to affluence, travel, and education, there’s a more eclectic community than other rural parts of Utah.
Older generation, property-owning employees have a distinct advantage over younger Seasonaires
However, the success of these ritzy resorts has led to an affordable housing shortage, meaning that older generation, property-owning employees have a distinct advantage over younger Seasonaires. 'Housing for workers is difficult and they are having to live further and further away right now,' Schneider remarks. 'I’m 20 mins drive from Park City but even our area in the Heber Valley is getting pricy.'
Working for the ski resorts involves great perks, he says, as well as a sense of purpose: 'People want to feel needed and have some kind of self-actualization rather than sitting around and thinking what am I going to do right now.'
I don’t call us old
Ski instruction is attracting an increasingly mature market of employees, he notices. 'I believe there are more and more "seasoned" ski instructors – I don’t call us old!'
With plans to stay at Deer Valley, now under new ownership, for the next decade or more, Schneider also volunteers at the local cross-country venue, meals on wheels, and the Air Force Museum. During summers he teaches airplane gliding at Heber Airport.
The Mountain Host
There are many other WOLVES circling Deer Valley - for example, Chance Cook, who chucked a career as TV sports producer for a job as assistant manager for guest services. Tim Snyder ran a successful pastry shop in Brazil but missed skiing so much he returned to work in Food and Beverage at Deer Valley, nowadays manifesting his passion for chocolate in individually designed truffles.
We knew we wanted to end up in the mountains somewhere
And a managing director of Morgan Stanley has downsized to Deer Valley mountain host during winter and mountain biking lifty in summer. Former Wall Street financier, Jack Mueller, now Chair of the Park City Community Foundation, was also one of the original investors in Park City’s High West Distillery, the world’s first ski in/out distillery. He retired three times from his jet-setting finance career, before settling in Utah in 2011 at a house he had built in 2007 initially as a vacation home.
'Skiing was our main family activity in the winter as we spent many seasons at Okemo Mountain in Vermont, so we knew we wanted to end up in the mountains somewhere. We skied and looked all over - got close in both Jackson Hole and Aspen Highlands.'
Interviewing for the position was the hardest interview I have ever had
Ski hosting is a coveted role, he says, and the hiring process is rigorous: 'Interviewing for the position was the hardest interview I have ever had (all this for a job that paid $7.50 an hour!).'
Both his winter and summer jobs keep him engaged, young, active and mingling with likeminded people of all ages. 'I do get both ski and bike privileges but the best part of the experience is the camaraderie and the joie de vivre that exists in the resort among both peers and guests.'
While admitting that he is a bit of a Benjamin Button trying to turn the clock back, Mueller knows his limitations: 'Perhaps the only time I really dislike the younger crew around here is when I am on a road or mountain bike ride and while I am about to pass out on a climb, I get passed by two youngsters who aren't even sweating!'
The Downhill Diva
Tenessa Singleton exchanged a glitzy dance, film, fashion and choreography career in Georgia for the wows of Wyoming. 'Although I loved what I did, I sure missed the mountains,' says the Utah native. ''Moving to Jackson Hole was like coming home.' Relocation eight years ago was enabled by the advent of telecommuting for her husband, Geoff Gotlieb, a global financier who flies from Jackson Hole in between powder days to offices in London and Zurich.
My only regret is that I didn't make the move sooner
Was it hard for Singleton to leave behind a 27-year glamorous career on stage and catwalk? 'No, not only did I miss skiing, I missed the mountain air and wanted to simplify my life,' the 52-year-old explains. 'I couldn't have made a better choice. My only regret is that I didn't make the move sooner.'
Age was not an issue for Singleton who found herself in a multi age-group, likeminded community, with an octogenarian as her skiing guru. 'One of my first winters in Jackson Hole I met a lovely lady who was 83 and doing Tram laps. She was my idol.'
The ski hill is a college town for old people
According to Singleton’s 28-year-old daughter, Brooke Griscom, the ski hill is a 'college town for old people' with the advantage of lots of partying but no need to study.
'It’s all about a healthy lifestyle and strong community', says Singleton: 'I love the music scene here where people come together after church on Sunday evenings at the Stagecoach Bar to Western Swing! We even have a Tango club.' Finding a niche for her talent and expertise, Singleton now teaches dance at the resort as well as doing choreography for Dancing with the Stars fundraisers.
The Future for the Species...
You are bound to notice more and more WOLVES wherever you are skiing this season in North America or Europe as this trend is here to stay.
Former literary agent and film producer, John Tarnoff is a key career influencer. His book, Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50, is full of tips on defying aging and redefining retirement as a Second Act or Encore Career.
Tarnoff says that 65% of working baby boomers (born 1946-1964) plan to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire at all, some for financial reasons, others to give meaning and purpose to their latter years and many due to an ingrained work ethic. Increased, and fitter, longevity is also fueling this trend.
The scale is not likely to tip for future generations
'This is not just a boomer generation issue. Estimates show that by the time millennials retire, they will rely on employment for 26% of their income as opposed to 17% for boomers,' says Tarnoff. 'The scale is not likely to tip for future generations. Boomers need to take the first step towards what is likely to be the norm for retirement.'