Life is too short – don’t let Brexit stop you from having a gap year adventure!

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Matthew Barnes July 30, 2021

If you are thinking of taking a gap year, looking to meet new people, have an adventure in the mountains that will give you lifelong memories… Then what are your options for a ski season this year? Can you still work abroad? Is Europe an option after Brexit for a gap year winter season with a British passport?

Life is too short

I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. All my best friends were excited to start university later in the year. I had no idea what to study, but I felt the pressure to go straight to uni after my A-levels. So I randomly picked something from the available courses that seemed vaguely interesting to me. Before I knew it I was enrolled in a 4-year degree education to study Zoology. Then it really hit me. Life is too short. I didn’t want to spend 4 years studying something I was only slightly interested in.

I realised that the real problem was NOT that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But it was actually that I didn’t know what job I wanted to do later in my life.

I actually knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my life right now. I wanted to explore the world. Wanted to meet new people. I wanted adventure. To create memories that would last a lifetime. I wanted to have cool stories to tell my grandkids one day. And… I wanted to do it now, not when I retire, not when my “life was sorted”. Not once I’d got my degree that I wasn’t really that interested in. I didn’t want to just explore the world during my holidays from a job that I didn’t even want to be in. I didn’t want to postpone my “real living” for another day.  Life is too short for that.


My journey

So what did I do? I took a gap year, packed my bags and went to Canada, became a ski instructor, and had the time of my life. And I fell so madly in love with the ski instructor life that I continued my “gap year” for several winter seasons. I trained and taught skiing in 4 different continents and in-between seasons traveled as far away from Europe as I could.

From volunteering in Africa, trekking/yoga in the Indian Himalayas, surfing and volcano boarding in Central America, backpacking on a motorbike through Southeast Asia, challenging a sumo wrestler to a drinking competition in Japan, and bungee jumping in New Zealand.

And you know what? It was awesome. And even more, when I put my skis down after my gap year and finally went to university, I was 100% ready to study a subject that I was genuinely interested in. I arrived at university with a CV full of ski qualifications, competencies related to leadership, personal development/growth, and a heart full of life experiences.

But being British with my EU passport, my belief the whole time was that I had done it right…I’d explored countries far away at the right time because I could always easily work and explore Europe after I had been to university. But now Brexit has hit and Covid-19 is among us, where does that leave things?

If you are thinking of taking a gap year now, looking for an epic adventure in the mountains, looking to meet new people and explore the world to give you lifelong memories…then what are your options this year? Can you still work abroad? Is Europe an option for a gap year winter season with a British passport?




The rules for traveling or working in European countries for British citizens changed on 1 January 2021:

  • you can travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel as a tourist or for short-term studies or training
  • if you are traveling to Schengen countries without a visa, you need to make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day limit. Visits to Schengen countries within the previous 180 days before you travel also count towards your 90 days
  • to stay longer, to work or study, for business or for other reasons, you will need to meet the specific country government’s entry requirements.

This basically means that if you are looking to get certified as a ski instructor and have your first winter season in Europe, there is a lot of ‘red tape’ to stay for a full winter season and pick up some work as an instructor. The specific details vary from country to country but to apply for a working visa as a non-EU citizen you typically need to be a high-skilled professional with experience in a profession that is in high demand.




Working Holiday Visas – Gap year

A Working Holiday Visa is a type of visa which normally allows younger persons (usually between 18-30) to stay and work in a country for between 12-24 months. So they are great for gap years! Working holiday programs are based on arrangements between two countries, usually with the intention to make it possible for younger people to have the opportunity to experience a different culture and general way of life. They are often open work permits allowing the person to support their trip by picking up some short-term employment. The exact details of the visa requirements and details vary between countries.

A number of countries have a working holiday arrangement with the UK:  Japan, Canada, and New Zealand are some of the first that comes to mind when thinking of countries to do a ski season in.

Personally, I am hoping that working holiday arrangements will be set up between the UK and countries such as Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain and Italy so that young persons can also have the opportunity to take a longer gap year in the mountains in Europe. But if you read the above, you already know my thoughts on waiting and “postponing” your adventure for a later time. Life is just too short.

So… what options are there to have an adventure THIS WINTER?



You can look at it from 2 perspectives,

1. notice what you can’t do. You can’t work in the EU and can’t stay longer than 90 days visa-free on a British passport. You can be bummed out about it.


2. you can pay attention to what you can do. You can realise that you have the option to spend a whole 90 days THIS YEAR in the mountains in Europe having an EPIC adventure for 3 months. Trust me when I say there is a LOT you can do in 90 days/3 months/12 weeks if you put your mind to it!!!!


If there is one thing I have learned from my adventures in the mountains:  when you are willing to open yourself up to new adventures and be open to new opportunities, you just never know who you will meet or what path life will take you on. Just enjoy the ride when you can!



I hope that the options below help those that are looking for a winter season experience to see the opportunities that are available and that if you are reading this then you will be inspired to make the most of your gap year. All the courses linked below are run by Snowminds which is an international community of instructors founded in Denmark. With Danish, Faroese, German, British, Japanese, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian members in our team, our courses are often filled with even more diverse participants than that! (Australian, New Zealand, USA, Chilean, Estonian, Indian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, South African….the list of Snowminds instructor nationalities stretches far!)

So, if you are hoping to meet a lot of people from different countries outside the UK, want to make friends (that have sofas to crash on 🙌🏻 ) in countries all over Europe… I dare to say that a Snowminds course is one of the best options out there for young British citizens to open up a world of opportunities during a gap year by doing a ski season. Who knows… like me you might even fall in love with more than just the instructor life, find yourself a European girlfriend on the slopes, marry her, and have the opportunity to get that EU passport in the future 😉





Here are a few great options for an adventure in Switzerland that stick to a 90-day visa-free stay:

  • 10-week ski or snowboard instructor program in Nendaz. With a lift pass allowing you to explore the entire 4-valleys, accommodation, 8 weeks of intensive ski or snowboard instructor training, level 1 and 2 exams, you’ve got your winter sorted with this EPIC winter adventure which runs from February-April. Find out more about our 10-week level 1 + 2 ski instructor course.  Are you a snowboarder? Don’t worry – you can read about our 10-week level 1 + 2 snowboard instructor course in Nendaz here.


    • 10-week ski instructor course in Saas-Fee. Rather have your winter season after Christmas? This course runs from Jan-March. With a ton of training, ski school shadowing possibilities, level 1 and 2 exams, accommodation running through till April, and getting the full instructor experience while keeping your stay just under 90 days



    Ever heard anyone say they regretted learning another language? Nope? Me neither!

    If you want to really get something special out of your gap year….wouldn’t it be cool to say that you became a ski instructor in Austria and learned to speak German? And I’m not just talking about being able to order a Weiss beer here…

    In Austria, they speak GERRRMAANNNN. If becoming a ski instructor in Austria and learning some German along the way sounds like your thing, here are some great options for you that stick to a 90-day visa-free limit:

    Snowminds Courses in Austria

    • 5-week ski instructor course in Austria. Not only do you get a full 5-week experience of ski instructor training and exams with accommodation, breakfast and dinner included, but with a Salzburg Super Ski Season Lift pass in your hands, you have the possibility to visit a huge area of ski resorts after the course. This is a great option for someone who wants to get certified in November, make a load of new friends and then have the option to travel around to explore different resorts for the remaining visa-free limit. To really make this full experience, you can re-join the Snowminds group with a 1-3 week off-piste or performance training camp in January and get the most out of your time! Read more here about the 5-week course or get to know all about our improvement camps


      • Whilst a longer course will give you more training and more practice with the German language, there are also courses for 2-3 weeks starting in November, January and March. You are sure to find an option that fits in with the rest of your gap year plans. For a full overview of courses in Austria, check out this page here.


      snowboard instructor course in spain


      If the German language is not your thing…but tapas, sunny bluebird days while skiing in the Spanish mountains is? Then why not spend your 90-day visa-free period in Spain getting certified and speaking Spanish with the locals on an instructor course in Sierra Nevada!

      Snowminds Courses in Spain

      The Spanish ski instructor certification includes a comprehensive internship period where you get to shadow lessons and gain valuable experience from experienced instructors in a ski school. The course, training and internship period in Spain runs from November- mid-January, therefore you can have a lot to do in the Spanish season with a 90-day stay. Discover what Spain has to offer






      Canada is close to my heart. It’s where I did my first season and I love it there.

      Due to Covid-19, the Canadian Government updated its Working Holiday Visa process before opening visa applications this year. This update means that you need a job offer from a local company (e.g ski school) to get drawn from the pool of applicants and invited to apply for the visa. This is a significant change to the process, which has really reduced the number of people that are eligible to apply for the visa. However, there are limited jobs available in ski schools and therefore it can be challenging to arrange.  

      Snowminds Courses in Canada

      By taking a Snowminds course with a job placement included, such as the 3-week ski instructor course in Canada, you will be set up with employment with a ski school before departure. Therefore, once you have a job offer from your ski school you can apply for a Working Holiday Visa. The visa process typically takes around 2-3 months. If you’re keen to get to Canada this winter, you need to be quick, as places are limited and most courses are already filled. This course typically starts in November.

      You find can read more here about all the courses in Canada.

      More recently, the Canadian Government announced that they are planning to relax border countries for fully vaccinated travels from September! (Read more here) This is really exciting news as it opens up more possibilities for a winter season in Canada without necessarily needing to having a working holiday visa to enter the country. It will also give you the opportunity to head to Canada this year for a 90-day stay on a tourist visa, have a great adventure focusing on your training to get your level 1 and 2 qualifications and SAVE your working holiday visa for a future winter. That’s right…this gives you the option to have an adventure this winter but also to do more seasons in Canada in the future by saving your working holiday visa for a future season! 💪

      The Snowminds 12 week instructor course in Canada is a great opportunity to head to Canada in January, with return flights, nearly 3 months of accommodation, lift pass, training, level 1+2 CSIA certifications all included. Want even more? You can add a Heli-skiing trip and an end-of-season Hawaii trip to your adventure.

      Season sorted….. gap year sorted!

      You can read more here about the 12-week ski instructor course in Canada.


      For me….my season in Japan was a crazy adventure. Deep snow, a completely new culture, and new experiences around every corner I turned.

      Unfortunately, travel and Working Holiday visas to Japan have been heavily restricted since the outbreak of Covid-19 in February 2020. Even though there are still some months till the winter season kicks off. I am personally hopeful to travel to Japan this winter. There is a significant chance that the dream season in Japan won’t be possible this year. 

      Working Holiday Visa in Japan

      In comparison to the Canadian Working Holiday Visa which currently requires you to have a job offer prior to departure. The Japanese working holiday visa has a much heavier focus on the holiday and cultural reasons for travel than any work activities during your stay. To be eligible to apply for a working holiday visa, your primary intention must be to experience the rich culture and immerse yourself in the Japanese way of life, work should only be an incidental activity of the trip and done for the purpose of supplementing the travel experience. Therefore, it is quite likely that Japan will not open working holiday visa applications until they also open the border for general tourism too. 

      Snowminds Courses in Japan

      If you’re 100% locked on Japan, then I would recommend booking a place on a course such as the 3-week instructor course for the winter, (read more here) but be prepared that you might need to have a plan B if the borders do not open up. With the Snowminds Money Back Guarantee, you can book with total confidence that if the course is canceled you will have full flexibility of options. If you are keen to secure a winter season this year…I would suggest looking at one of the options above in other countries and plan for a Japanese adventure in the future years!



      To wrap this blog post up, I’d like to share a quote with you. A quote that a friend I met along my travels once shared with me:

      “Live each day as if it is your last… but wear protection and pay your taxes: just in case it isn’t” ✌️😉

      Want to hear more about my adventures, talk about options for you and plan a season this winter or next? Feel free to contact me, or other Snowminds instructors by dropping us a message on Social Media, write an email or give us a call! 🙂


      Contact Snowminds or Reserve your Adventure


      * The information in this blog is based on my personal experiences. Information gathered from government websites at the time of writing. Information changes regularly so please check the UK government website for exact details and up to date information: 

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