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Repping in an Alpine ski resort


“Vicki? It’s Jess* in Chalet Fifi.  You have to come up quickly. I think our boiler has blown up: there’s smoke and fumes coming from it and the guests are panicking,” blurted the worried voice on the other end of the line.

It was 4.30am and the phone’s ring had disturbed my well-earned and blissful sleep.

“OK, I’ll be as quick as I can. I’ll have to call the plumber, although it’s difficult enough to get hold of him during the day let alone in the middle of the night!” I replied.

A bad dream? Not quite.  Welcome to the world of a ski company Chalets Manager.

The previous winter I’d gone skiing for the first time in Tignes.  At the end of my holiday, while sitting on a ski-lift looking around at the sugar-dusted Alps and flawless blue sky, I decided that I would leave behind my desk job and join the 10,000 or so seasonal workers who head to the French Alps each year.

It would be wonderful: work in the morning, ski all afternoon on powdery pistes, enjoy some après-ski, then some more evening work before partaking of a few nightcaps with friends and colleagues in the local bars.  Five months of fun.
Back in the UK, I started to research the kind of company I’d like to work for (large tour operator or small, family-run chalet company?) and the kind of job I’d like to do.  There was plenty of information available from websites such as www.natives.co.uk and www.alprecruit.co.uk and a book called ‘Working in Ski Resorts’ published by Vacation Work. 

I wasn’t a cook or qualified nanny and I’d never worked in a bar so, since I’d once spent a summer break from university as a resort representative in Switzerland, that seemed the obvious choice.

Off went my CV and I waited.  A couple of days later I got a call from one of the UK’s leading ski holiday companies asking me to come for an interview for a rep role in the Pyrenees.  Great! Exactly the kind of job that I was looking for: a customer service role with time to ski and socialise in a small resort that was ideal for beginners.  Excited, off I went to meet my potential employers.

“There’s been a change of plan,” said the suave male interviewer, whose tan suggested that he was a veteran (although of what, I wasn’t sure).

“Oh,” I said, suddenly feeling disheartened amid visions of cleaning toilets and washing stacks of dishes flashing through my mind.

“We require a Chalets Manager in Courchevel; someone to oversee 20 chalets and about 32 staff in the five villages that make up the resort.  And you seem to fit the bill.”

What he actually meant was that I spoke French, had some travel industry experience and, most importantly, didn’t have a clue what I was letting myself in for.

I gulped.

“Obviously the salary would reflect the position,” he added, his teeth glinting.

“Fine.  Sounds great,” I replied, imagining myself swanning around the glitziest resort in the French Alps, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and Russian billionaires.  OK, so I’d never worked in a ski resort before let alone managed a chalet company but it couldn’t be that difficult.  Could it?

I waved goodbye to family and friends at the end of November and headed off with the other reps and managers to Alpe d’Huez for a training course.  After an overnight journey by coach, we arrived at our accommodation for the week: a hotel that the company would be managing for the season which was due to kick off in about two weeks’ time.

The place was a tip.  The walls were half-painted and you couldn’t see the floor for dustsheets and boxes. 

“Dump your stuff in the room over there and come and give us a hand.  Your rooms aren’t ready yet and we’ll be eating tonight,” said the small, mousey woman who was the hotel manager.  We hadn’t slept for about 24 hours and were desperate for some food, drink and shuteye.

The training course turned out to be a bootcamp. It consisted of long days of presentations, workshops and public speaking while being watched closely by the recruiters, who met each evening to discuss the reps’ progress (in other words: a bitch-fest).

Those deemed unsuitable were sent home.  I wasn’t one of them but I considered going AWOL after developing a cold and realising I wasn’t cut out to be a brainwashed soldier in The Cult of Ski.  However, I don’t like giving up until I’ve given something a good shot and off I went to meet my chalet elves in Méribel, or ‘Merryhell’ as it came to be known, where they were having their own training course.

The first thing I noticed was that many of the chalet hosts were couples over 30 and few fell into the student/recent graduate category; several couples worked both winter and summer seasons on a regular basis.  There were many pairs of same-sex friends and also jobs for individuals.

One couple were retirees and had decided to do a ski season after receiving encouragement from their son who had been there and done it; they had driven to the Three Valleys from the UK in their revamped VW van and were planning on driving around Europe when the winter had ended.  I wasn’t going to be one of an elderly minority (that is, over 25) as I had feared.

Courchevel, when I arrived, was dead.  The shops were shut, it was raining and there was no snow on the ground.  This wasn’t part of my plan!  I cried, berated myself for not having gone home and wished that I didn’t have ‘mug’ written on my forehead.

The Resort Manager, aka ‘Conehead’ due to his hairless pate and otherworldly demeanour, had arranged to meet me at 12pm for lunch and to give me an induction.  At 8pm, starving, I was still waiting.  He eventually turned up at 10pm, talked at me for an hour while I took notes and then left.  All I had to do now was get on with it.

The following week was a blur: getting to know the staff; a familiarisation trip to the supermarket in Moutiers (our nearest town); organising our food for the week and a rota for cooking; opening up chalets, then cleaning and taking inventories; visiting suppliers and discovering that our bed and bath linen supplier offered us three choices: unmatched, stained or hole-ridden; learning about the company accounting system, which included a ten-minute training course from Conehead; making contact with the firewood man and the plumber (with whom I was soon on first-name-terms due to the temperamental nature of Alpine plumbing) and visiting France Telecom to order phones for all the chalets.

During that week, I also gained a valuable lesson in which bars to avoid when I had my drink spiked in one of the main watering holes in Courchevel 1650 and spent the next day in bed with my life flashing before my eyes at high speed.  Some wags even suggested that, being a novice, I had drunk too much Mutzig (very strong beer), which is legendary for its after-effects. 

And then the first guests arrived.  John and Susan were on holiday with his 16-year-old daughter, Anna.  John, mid-50s, used to go out with Susan but had dumped her to go out with Samantha who had dumped him just before the holiday so John asked Susan to go with him at the last minute and she had accepted.  I was told all this by Anna, who was surprisingly one of the most mature, grounded and nicest kids you could meet.

James and Lucy, who both worked in the City, were engaged and on holiday with a gang of their mates from London.  After dropping off their luggage, they all went out to get trolleyed before starting a snowball fight in the middle of the main road, hitting both tourists and locals, causing a near-riot.  They made it back for dinner, during which they had a food fight and were abusive to the other guests, before going out again. On returning home, the happy couple had a big row which saw James trying to kick down the door of his room as Lucy had locked him out.  In the meantime, the rest of their group thought it might be fun to smash all the crockery in the kitchen.

The following morning I visited a neighbouring chalet to find the resort rep on the phone in a panic:  one of the guests hadn’t come home the previous night.  Everyone had been alerted, including the police, except for myself and the couple whose chalet he was staying in (I made a mental note to review internal communication).  At about 1pm, the guest strolled home nonchalantly with cuts to his face and arm:  he’d gone out, had too much to drink and couldn’t remember where the chalet was.  Lost in the dark, he had fallen down a bank and landed in the middle of the main road, narrowly avoiding being hit by a car.  The French woman driver had got out, decided she liked the look of him and invited him back to her place for a night of passion.  Sober, and in daylight, he managed to find his way back to the correct chalet the following day.

Fortunately the staff was generally better behaved than the guests.  All bar one (who got pregnant) stayed until the end of the season.  The younger ones sometimes had trouble getting up to do breakfast but only once did I have to discipline someone: a drunken chalet host had decided it would be fun to run around the local nightclub lifting up the kilts of a group of Scottish guests, who were less than amused and complained to one of the senior managers, who was concerned that this kind of behaviour would bring the company into disrepute.  I’m sure there were worse incidents but they never came to my attention.

It was the beginning of February when I finally hit the slopes.  A seasoned hand had warned me back in November that I probably wouldn’t get out until January, what with having to deal with paperwork, including the chalet hosts’ attempts at keeping accounts (aka losing receipts), and spot-checking chalets.  The hosts, on the other hand, managed to ski most days once they’d sorted out their daily routine. 

And so the season continued, with seemingly more downs than ups and plenty more dramas.  But I only have fond memories of it now:  the image in my head is of being greeted by breathtaking scenery every day and of breathing clean air, of feeling part of a tight-knit community. 

I found myself in and handled situations that I never thought I’d encounter, learning a lot about myself and others in the process; discovered that I liked cross-country skiing better than downhill and that such a thing as telemarking existed; became good friends with people that I might not have met under different circumstances and learnt that if you eat cheese, cream and potatoes most days you will indeed put on a lot of weight.


Would I do it again? Yes.  But next time I would do more research to find a company and role that was more in line with my personal goals and values.

My advice to those going on a ski chalet holiday?  Be nice to the staff – it’s hard work and not a holiday – and leave a tip if you feel the service is good enough.  Didn’t you hear the one about the unpleasant guest whose toothbrush was used to clean the communal toilet?

Things to consider if you’re thinking of working in a ski resort:
• Do your research before applying for a job: make sure that the company, resort and job suit who you are and your needs (a 22-year-old ski bunny may be looking for a different experience than a 40-year-old couple)
• Think carefully about what you want out of a season: to improve your skiing? To improve your cooking skills? To gain some management experience? To do very little and have a good time?
• Make sure that your CV outlines the experience you have that relates to  the job you are applying for; target your CV to the role
• Jobs are advertised from June onwards and bear in mind that you don’t have to work a full season – many companies offer peak-season roles of a couple of weeks over Christmas/New Year and half-term
• Being away for about five months means you’ll need to get your house in order before you go: do you have bills to pay? Direct debits to set up? Furniture to put in storage? A room to rent out?
• Live-in jobs in a ski resort don’t tend to pay that much: do you have enough money to see you through the season and for when you get back to the UK?
• Make sure you enjoy it! Good or bad, working in a ski resort will be one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of your life (although you may not realise it at the time!).  And just think of the stories you’ll have to tell ……

More information about this writer at http://www.victoriatrott.com/

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