Seasonaires at Sixty miles an hour

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March 23rd 2009
Published: March 23rd 2009
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Seasonaires are an odd bunch. Bright, young things, following their dreams to the mountians and spending six months of winter working in menial jobs so they can be there, every day, skiiing or snowboarding.
How amazing it must be, back home, to announce to your friends and family 'I'm off to do a season, eh?'

How great it looks to us as we arrive in our chalet and they tell us tales of 'last weeks powderdays, eh?' and how they are 'going out to hit some sweet spots this arvo, eh?'.

(BTW, Nearly every seasonaires voice has the ozzie/kiwi habit of rising at the end of a sentence, known technically as a Terminal Incline and has the effect of making even the most boring statements into the most enthusiastic question... Dinners at eight-thirty, eh!! You want some more coffee, eh?! The toilet's down there on the left, yeah!!!?)

But the dreams of powderdays, beautiful tree runs and avalanche horror stories are told while doling out boxes of cheap breakfast cereal, cleaning rooms and cooking meals on a tight budget - the job of a seasonarie is 6 days a week, to provide breakfast, bake an afternoon cake and whip up a 3-course evening meal on a tight budget while helping the guests with all their little holiday problems, from lift passes to broken legs.
Blind Enthusiasm must be the key quality that employers look for when employing seasonaries, because the punishing job doesn't leave a lot of time, cash or energy for expensive winter snowsports.
Luckily, having the Terminal Incline actually creates the Blind Enthusiasm needed to work through a season - surely the reason why there are more pseudo-Kiwi accents up in the Alps then native French accents!

Seasonnaires are everywhere up here, serving behind bars, working in ski shops, cleaning chalets... everywhere but the pistes; but we had come out to Les Arcs to visit a friend, Ben, who 6 months ago had announced that he was going to do a season. He wasn't your typical seasonaire, he was over thirty and had a great business in website programming. And he wasn't going to slum it on the slopes. Instead he had hoped to become one of the new breed of 'Remote Workers' living in the Alps, yet working for clients in London by the power of the Internet, Skype and the odd cheap flight.
Bens' broad, northern accent didn't allow for a Terminal Incline yet we couldn't keep him off the slopes. A morning work session on the laptop followed by an afternoon up the mountain, checking his email on his iPhone on the lift was his daily grind. Who needs Blind Enthusiasm with a job like that?

This year had been the best season of snowfall in 20 years. For us, the sun shone brilliantly everyday and the slopes were empty as it was between the school holidays. With the slopes almost to ourselves, and soft, groomed snow, our boarding speeds started to ratchet up and up as we raced each other down the mountain.
Technology plays a big part in all our lives, and it is slowly creeping up the mountain. When you lose a friend, you just give them a quick call. Your mobile also takes the snaps of you all at the summit. These are uploaded to facebook as you ride down and you can read the comments from friends back home on the lift up again.
My phone doubles as an Mp3 player, even with a loudspeaker to brighten up a boring lift.

Ben pulls out his Tom-Tom sat-nav at the top of a chairlift.
'Right, i've reset the Tom-Tom so we can clock our maximum speed'
'What?' we all say, but before he can explain, he shoots off down the mountain in a straight line, egging us on to follow him.

Pointing your nose down hill and feeling the bumps and jumps of the pistes just rumble underneath you is a crazy experience. Doing it with four other guys all intent on cutting into a corner tighter, faster and in front of you is nail-biting. 'Terminal incline' started to take on the meaning of 'Deadly Slope', rather than a quirk of antipodean pronunciation.

On the lift back up, ben takes off his gloves and fiddles with the sat-nav
''54.6 miles per hour'' he says '' given an average gradient of 30percent, pythagorus is x squared, multiplied by blah blah blah... therefore we have to add 5percent on to the figure to compensate for the drop... so...
he does some calculations on his phone

Gobsmacked that we were travelling downhill at over 50 miles an hour, I was pretty speechless.
Also, the maths had completely lost me at this point.

''I reckon I can hit 60!'' he shouted as he slid off the lift and disappeared at high speed.

Ben has no need for the Terminal Incline - he has got True Enthusiasm, and maybe is a new breed of Seasonnaire.

More Snowboarding adventures: Dead Leg (1)


24th March 2009

You made this Kiwi snowboarder laugh :-)
24th March 2009

Spot on!
I am Aussie, I did a season in Whistler, and you hit the nail on the head with your article. Superb piece of writing! It brought back a lot of memories! K
24th March 2009


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