Interview done by: Darryl Hunt
Summer Jobs of a Ski Bum.
Part One: Golf Course Superintendent with Sam Oates
So you just graduated from high school and you're thinking about packing your bags, heading to the hills and following your dreams of skiing and living in the mountains for "a few years". This is the first of at least five interviews I am conducting over the course of the summer with friends of mine that "live the dream" during the winter months. I purposely chose friends who aren't in the industry, have no sponsors, and are just regular people who do what they can to be able to ski and snowboard of the course of the winter. For the most part all the jobs don't require post secondary education, lay you off in the fall, and match up perfectly for anyone wanting to move to the mountains and never miss a powder day. All of these jobs are based in British Columbia, Canada and while most of them are doable anywhere, there will be some that are somewhat specific towards Canada. For that I apologise, but they are too good of jobs for a ski bum, I just couldn't pass them up.
The first interview is with Sam Oates, a Golf Course Superintendent. Originally from Australia, he now lives, works, and plays in Rossland, BC. As I said earlier, I tried to pick jobs that don't require post secondary education there isn't much glamour in driving the beer cart or cutting grass, so I decided to go a little higher up the chain for golf course work. And yes, Sam is a snowboarder, but I don't discriminate and neither should you!
1) How did you get into your job? Who do you currently work for and where are you located?
I got into my job as a greenskeeper living in Australia. I completed a 4 year apprenticeship in turf horticulture, 3 of those years are 1 day a week at college and 4 days at work. I then chose to complete another degree in turf horticulture management for another 1.5 years thereafter which then qualifies me to take on the position of golf course Superintendent or other turf manager positions.
I always enjoyed being outdoors and had a love for plants and golfing. So it just seemed right to take on a job with those 3 elements in it.
I currently work for Redstone Resort in Rossland, BC.
2) What kind of experience did you need to get the job? How would one go abouts getting the job?
You need a lot of experience to gain the position of Golf Course Superintendent, I have 10 years. But, to gain employment on a golf course as a greenskeeper or an operator you need little experience.
Typical experience that I would like to see when hiring a candidate for an operator would be someone who has worked outdoors and has a current drivers licence (as you need it legally to operate all of our large industrial lawn mowers).
A position as a greenskeeper however you would need a little more experience. 2-3 years minimum of official schooling from college in turf horticulture, 2-3 seasons work experience and a current BC pesticides applicators licence and drivers licence.
3) How long is your typical work season? Start/Finish dates? What kind of shifts do you work and what can you expect for days off?
Our typical work season is about 6 months. It ranges from the end of April through to the start of October, generally ending on Thanksgiving.
As superintendent I work a lot of hours. Typically five 12 hour days Monday to Friday then also 3-4 hours on a Saturday also.
Greenskeepers and operators work 4.5 days a week for a 40 hour week. I have two rosters for the crew, half of them work Tuesday to Saturday. Working 9 hours Tuesday to Friday and then a 4 hour shift Saturday mornings preparing the course for play on the weekends. The other half of the crew works Sunday to Thursday. Starting their week off on Sunday with a 4 hour morning shift then working Monday to Thursday 9 hours a day.
So each person gets 2.5 days off a week. Either Friday, Saturday and half day Sunday or half day Saturday, Sunday and Monday off.
Earning his turns in the Red Mountain slackcountry.
Photo by: Jana Scott
4) Is there a lot of travelling involved, or can/do you stay locally?
The only travelling needed for the job is to show up to work every morning at the golf course and whatever your commute home is everyday. Typically local people are employed.
5) What kind of money can you expect to make over the season?
Greenskeepers and operators can make good money over the season. A higher paid greenskeeper can make about $25k and an operator will make around $17k.
As superintendent I make around $60k over the whole 12 months, not a 6 month season for me.
6) Do you have a winter occupation? If so, what is it? Where is home in the winter?
My winter occupation is still with the golf course as superintendent.
Home for the winter is right here in Rossland at Red Mountain Resort.
Sam getting his slash on in blower Kootenay pow. Or is he working on his swing for the upcoming golf season?
7) Take me through a typical day at work.
A typical day at work! 6am every crew member meets in the staff room where I will delegate the daily jobs that range from fertilizing, cutting grass, tree pruning, watering, applying pesticides, changing pins and tee markers, fixing divots, aerating fairways and tees and the list goes on. A major daily task is cutting the grass it takes up 80% of the time.
8) What kind of people do you usually see as guests/and or co-workers? Is there a "party culture", or a more serious work ethic?
Lots of my co-workers are fellow ski bums and a lot of the membership base at Redstone are ski bums also, although I have come to think they are full time bums as they are always golfing it seems they never work.
I would say there is a party culture involved with the golf industry, beer drinking goes hand in hand with playing golf and also after a long day in the hot sun working. But when it is time to get serious myself and the work crew put that aside and do what needs to be done. Then have a beer.
9) What is the "worst" and "best" part of your job?
The best part of my job that I really enjoy is seeing the sun rise every morning over the Kootenay Pass. The early starts are a killer by the end of the week but I really appreciate a sunrise everyday.
Worst part of my job! That's a hard one. I would have to say the hours, its pretty demanding from start to finish 60 odd hours a week for 7 months.
Taking time off his busy winter schedule at the golf course for a little air time on a blue bird day.
10) Would you consider your job to have an element of danger? Is it tough manual labour or chill?
There is an element of danger for sure. It's all about minimising that risk though. We apply pesticides at the course so you always have to wear the proper [Personal Protective Equipment] to prevent poisoning yourself. Wearing things such as PVC gloves, suits and gum boots and also a full face respirator.
Operators can be in danger. Redstone Resort is a mountain golf course so it is not flat. We have alot of large sidehills ranging from 20 degrees to more severe 60 degrees. Mowing these areas is a little nerv racking for some operators. In the past we have had staff put mowers worth upwards of $40k over 20ft retaining walls and cliffs resulting in major damage. Luckily none of those staff members were injured. A little shook up. But part of that is just managing the risk. Never cutting those slopes in wet conditions or early morning when dew is present on the grass as it can create a slippery surface also.
There is alot of manual labour involved in the job. But everyone who works their loves it. Its an outdoors job that keeps you physically fit.
11) Do you see your job as a sustainable "career"?
I do see my job as a sustainable career yes.
12) Any advice for someone interested in this kind of work?
Be prepared to learn a lot and make sure you retain it all because the job is very demanding and challenging sometimes.
That's all for this instalment. Stay tuned throughout the summer for more interviews with fellow ski bums and their summer jobs. By the time the snow starts falling this fall, you will be that much more prepared for the upcoming summer and how to make the coin and have the freedom to enjoy your winter of freedom and pow days.