Drawn in by the mountains
Being “paid to travel” maybe a little deceiving. I was paid but it more pocket money, the added extra of being able to live rent and food expenditure free whilst living in the dreamy, snow-capped corner of the French Alps – the 3 Valleys.
I decided to do a ski season after University, the 2011/12 season. As cliche as it may sound, I didn’t want to head straight into a mundane office job or fight for the next Grad scheme – telling them how I was perfect for a job I didn’t even know if I wanted. With 3 years of freedom at university under my belt already, I craved more and wanted to be paid to ski all day, every day. In hindsight, it has been one of my better decisions. I applied to a few different ‘higher end’ companies and landed a job with Powder White. They allocated me Courcheval as a resort and an 8-10 person chalet to run – by myself. Easy? Sure.
The £100 (ish) a week, free ski pass, free accommodation and ski hire doesn’t quite get close to the package that real chefs require, so ski companies tend to hire the people that appreciate life in the mountains and can throw together a 3-course meal with a couple weeks training. Luckily for me, I already had a bit of cooking savvy and a lot of general hospitality experience before I went. The 2-week training was more about meeting fellow seasonnaires and working out who would be there for you most when it was a fresh powder day but your cake had sunk into the abyss.
The first couple of weeks of the season are crucial, making the most of your ski time with minimal stress in the chalet is the key to an enjoyable season. The concept of ‘time management’ in a ski resort is a whole new ball game. Stirring your cake mixture whilst booking your guests ski lessons on the phone (in broken French), cleaning the chalet whilst finding ice packs for a guests sprained ankle, or balancing extra babysitting requirements with the ‘apres session’ of that month.
A typical day in the life of a chalet host would usually run as follows:
- Get up: Begins with a harsh groan from the alarm, and either aches and pains from the latest night-skiing activity or a severe Mutzig* hangover or god forbid still feeling the effects of a red wine and Camembert induced coma.
Mutzig* = Your best friend and enemy all in one pint glass. An extremely strong French beer found in all French ski resorts.
- Get to the chalet: Start cleaning up from the night before. At this point, you will be thankful if you have chosen a family orientated ski company because beer pong and ring of fire wont feature a lot in the guests activities. After you have laid the table for breakfast, the ritual begins – breads, pastries, juices, yoghurts, coffee, tea, fruit, pulses, nuts, oats and that’s only the warm up. The creme de la creme is when you are juggling three different types of eggs, perfecting the bacon and getting little Jimmy’s porridge to the right consistency. Whilst doing all this, you will need to be on top of your game and get the cake ready for afternoon tea. Once you get really good, you can start prepping dinner at breakfast (baffling but life changing concept). Battling the altitude with constant variety is the fun of it all…
- Clean: The ‘happy go lucky, I will do anything for my guests’ chalet girl attitude can cool off for a bit now, once the guests leave with skis in tow for the day, you will be able to get down to cleaning. Making sure the kitchen is spick and span, dusting all communal areas, setting up afternoon tea as well as making the beds, cleaning the rooms and bathrooms can be surprisingly all done under the hour ready for your day to begin.
- SKI: First, the ‘stars in your eyes’ work to ski gear change. This process (by week two) will become second nature. It gets even faster when there has been a fresh dump and the sun is shining. Maximum mountain time is why you are here. Sure, you also build on your future housewife skills – but who needs those when there is a mountain to be skied. With fellow seasonnaires at your side and a good playlist you will get a good 6 hours skiing in and maybe even a cheeky vin chaud before the evening work begins – not completely allowed but inhibitions soon become faded up at 1600+m.
- Afternoon break (optional): This is for the days when burning the candle at both ends has truly got you. There is always time for a couple of hours nap or a SATC session with flatmates. This lull in between the next work session also gives you time to pop to the local resort shop if you have forgotten any key ingredients – this is when you will start to learn ‘lists’ are not just for forgetful old people.
- Back at the chalet: And round two begins. Full steam ahead; cleaning up afternoon tea, prepping starters, cooking meat and or fish, inventing canapes, whipping cream for desert, laying the table (again). In between that you will also frequent some small polite chat with guests ranging from how their day was, the quality of snow, which runs were best, who fell over to where you see yourself in 5 years. After dinner has been served and you lap up the compliments, cleaned up once again and attempted a final polite social engagement you are free to leave.
- Evening: After a full on day, you will be ready to enjoy a cup of tea, a hot shower and an early night. Or you do the other – not so sensible thing – and make the most of living in the mountains. Shower to get the smell of that evenings menu out of your hair, and off to the local resort bars/”clubs” you go. Nothing can be planned/said for what will happen within these hours…
Now repeat all previous steps for 6 months and you have yourself a perfect season – with every Wednesday off. A hump day like you will never experience anywhere else!
A ski season is a great experience and you can really get a lot out of it – both being a good host and enjoying the daily work to improving your skiing techniques with runs on your doorstep. Yes you will put on weight, yes you will regret certain nights out and yes you will be ill at one point. But you will also make some great friends, learn to rustle something out of forgotten ingredients, make cakes with your eyes shut and learn to tolerate children (kind of).
So whether its straight after college, after University, a quarter life crisis or a career break, I recommend a season to all.