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Published: July 28th 2008
the chalet we lived in for five months
It all started when Alice was younger and went on family ski holidays, from then the dream was born and she knew she had to be a chalet hostess. So it came down to when, it would take five months to do a season from December to April, so we had to wait till we were at least out of university. Then we decided, well if you’re going to take five months we may as well make it a rounded year and travel to see a bit of the world that you can’t ordinarily do in an average job. So Australia was decided, It meant having three Winters back to back, but we’d have five months in the snow of the French Alps and then seven months in Australia.
We came to a conclusion that the time had come, our lives were in a state where the year out fitted, our house could be rented and our careers put on hold. So we were going to go.
The adventure started back in April 2007, long before we could really tell anyone, although there wasn’t much to tell, just some day dreaming and researching ideas, We took a trip to
our home view
i've seen worse views in the morning!
Brighton for an interview. The company seemed great and just as we expected, this was it we had started to turn the cogs. Next was a cookery course, we had to do it for the job, but it meant a little creativeness when people asked us what we were doing with our leave, as it was a week intensive residential course. We came to the conclusion we should stick relatively closely to the truth, so not to come undone, so to all intense of purpose we had a nice relaxing week at a hotel retreat in Guildford, seeing friends and family. In truth we had quite a cold week in a girls boarding school cooking all day and enjoying lots of lovely food and meeting loads of nice people.
So the job was set and we could start planning stage two, visas, flights, accommodation. This was really happening which was very exciting but quite scary too.
We didn’t fly to France until December but we needed to leave home in November due to the rental agreement, this gave us an unexpected month at the start and cut a month of the end. Not a wasted month though as
the main driveway to the village road. our daily commute.
plenty to plan and people to see, we found a few things that needed doing that hadn’t crossed our minds before, and of course selling the car. We had plenty of exercise by walking Sian’s dog every day and generally got used to living with each other 24/7 again after many years of not seeing much of one another due to work and University.
When December came and we’d said our goodbyes and had our early Christmas’s it was time to fly so off to Stansted we went, at four am on a cold and went Monday morning. There were eight of us on the flight all going the same way to start our adventures, scattered through amongst all the business suits of the high flying European workers. When we touched down in Geneva, it should have been more obvious as many people had no luggage, we spotted a couple with lots of bags and then a few more all huddled in arrivals and made our way over.
That first morning was really quite serial, feeling very apprehensive and out of control, very vulnerable but extremely excited about what lay ahead. After a long drive possibly three hours
this was when we arrived, all closed up and buried in snow
of weaving through the French countryside whilst chatting and getting to know our new friends we started to climb through the mountains. The best snow fall and stat to a season in twelve years people kept telling us, the snow was down to Les Alles, just 1000m above sea level. When we reached our chalet it was like a picture postcard, three foot of snow lay all around.
We were left at our chalet whilst the others were drooped off at there chalets. We had a reasonable size room on the ground floor of a four story chalet, pink fluffy wallpaper and a wooden ceiling, we shared our room with the washing machine and dryer and soon picked up the names ‘Pauline and Dot’!
After we had had a nose around our chalet and been upstairs to look at the guests accommodation we thought we should have a wonder to see if we could find the chalet we were going to work in and explore the village. We clambered up the steep drive to the road, which had had a single carriageway dug out, and headed left towards the village centre. A quick glance round and we could
Sat on the top of the mountain drinking champagne.
see it had all we needed, a bakery, convenience store, ski shop and a pub/ restaurant, another glance round and we realised that nothing was open or looked like it would be for some time.
Luckily some supplies soon came and we were taken to the others for a meet and greet and big dinner, plenty of wine and beer and an obligatory snow ball fight.
The Tuesday came and the work began, well kind of, a quite whistle stop tour of Meribel town and the boss came to talk to us all and ran our induction to the company and job roles. Then it was off down the mountain for a good feed and plenty of flowing wine, before our mountain cookery course over the next few days. Our first day off and up the mountain was Saturday, we had all collected our equipment on Friday and were set to go, lift pass in hand, well pocket. The trouble was it had been three years since I’d been on snow and this was jumping in the deep end, no softly, softly small task but strap your board on and jump off the chair lift. There was only one
lift out of the village and it was a connected chair, which means that the chairs don’t disconnect and slow down at the stations. So they thrust up behind you and then seem to take an age before you again have to hastily jump from them and hopefully ski or board smoothly away. Well the smoothly away bit wasn’t there for a good few days, more like face down in the snow!
Alice of course took back to the snow like a fish to water, a few runs to knock off the cobwebs and she was off. So were most of our other new friends but it was early days and I had only snowboarded for a week many years ago and the odd hour at the Snowdome. I had eighteen weeks to perfect or just learn so I wasn’t to disappointed on my skill level.
Our second week was all about preparation, the countdown had started and the first paying guests would arrive on Saturday and more worryingly the third meal we cook would be Christmas dinner! The week started with literally digging our chalet out, making a path from the road to the door. Then we
lots of lovely deep powder, perfect for learning
set about cleaning the wholes chalet top to bottom and making up the beds, luckily our chalet was used during the summer unlike some which had not been in use since the end of last April, well not by humans anyway. In the evenings we took it in turn to cook for the group as practice, the stories were already starting as we shared what interesting things or sites beheld us as we cleaned or cooked or been up the mountain. It was a fun group all buzzing with the thrill of the task ahead.
Saturday came and we were as ready as we could be, we’d spent hours in the supermarket and cleaned the place till our arms ached and everything shined, it was time for the guests!
We had our set menu and good support form our boss and drivers, the first few weeks seemed to last a lifetime, getting used to so many new things and people. The work was long but people had warned us, we had the goal set, the first two weeks are the hardest, get through them. It really worked by the time we were in week four and five we had
Dod Sledge Wonderland
Through the snow showered forests.
started getting out earlier and getting used to the menu and routine we could come in later. The weeks came and went and by the time we had passed half way it felt like we’d be saying goodbye to some guests before we’d hardly seen them.
We had our special guests as well though, along with Christmas being our first week, Alice’s parents came out and stayed in a chalet in the main town. A day late due to a technical hitch and bad weather causing flight confusion at the airport, but they soon joined us up the mountain. It was quite serial to see familiar faces in our new little world, but very comforting at the same time. We had a full day out and went for miles over the mountains, showing them what we had learnt over our couple of weeks, and lots of chatting and eating of course. I don’t think any of us will forget champagne on the top of the mountain on Christmas day. But their week soon ended and another tearful goodbye.
February came and so did some new chalet hosts in the chalet we lived in, it also was when I
started to ski, an agreement that Alice had talked me into, but best of all it meant the arrival of Sian. Hindsight is a wonderful skill and perhaps what we should take from Sian’s visit is not to listen to travel agents, it wasn’t too bad but Sian stayed on the other side of the mountain, a good hours ski and two and a half on a bus. With Sian came a little bit of home, stories of friends antics and our laptop. Of course there was one excellent part of Sian staying over the mountain and that was a 6km toboggan run, France’s longest, they say it should take 45 minutes but we got much better value for money!
Easter came and went and we enjoyed some really hot days and worried about the lack of fresh snow. The piste was hard and full of people, so we spent many days in as it just wasn’t fun to go out. But all was not lost as March came and so did the snow and Sian again, taking in what we’d learnt from before. We had nearly too much snow, Alice and Sian turned their hands to snowboarding and
I said goodbye to mine. We all went dog slaying through a Winter wonderland, and had one of the best times of the whole season.
Once Sian had gone and April came, we knew our days of fun and hard work were numbered, we were pretty tired working up to 70 hours a week and only having one day off a week had taken it’s toll. Especially as on that one day you knew it was all yours and had to ski till the lifts shut and then hit the après bars, it was the rule. Ski till you couldn’t anymore then go to drink expensive beer and listen to cover bands playing the classics and dance and sing/ scream. But the time was closing in, the snow line was climbing the mountain and slush lay where good runs once were. Chalets were shutting up and shops closing down, sales were on and plans for closing parties spreading. It was good in a way that everything leaves together, you don’t feel bad about going when there’s nothing to stay for.
One if not the best day came at the end, our last Wednesday to go straight to the record books. Fresh snow had fallen and the cold air had come in, we strapped on our boots and headed out for first lift, this was going to be our day, the slopes were beautifully pisted and the sun just hung in the clear blue sky. So we climbed out of the valley and headed to the sunshine valley of St. Martin, where we took our favourite run ‘Jerusalem’, twice, before heading deeper along the valley to enjoy the day. It was just so perfect, both at the top of our game, after 16 weeks of being on the snow, we skied till our legs nearly fell off.
That day will stay with me forever. We went out again but the conditions were atrocious hard as ice on the caps and skiing in a slush puppy from half way, the lifts began to close down and it was over.
The last few days we spent cleaning and resetting, closing it all down again to hibernate till the snow comes back again. On the last morning we all packed up in the van again to head back to Geneva, a very different atmosphere, new stories shared and plans of what people where off to do next. A strange group of individuals who had come together with one idea and dream to work a ski season and were now setting off back to reality or their next adventures, in as many different directions as they had come.
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