Episode 0: The Stuff That Happened Before

Getting to where we are now has involved more ups and downs that your average week on the slopes. So how exactly did we get here?

During our first season we wrote a weekly blog about our experiences, mainly to keep family and friends up-to-date. Now, for the first time, we’ve decided to share this blog with you.

We hope you enjoy reading about the adventures and the misadventures of our first winter season in the Alps.

Names have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent. 

You’re Doing What, Exactly?

Original Posting Date: December 2011

Question: What is the best way to respond to the continuing economic turmoil, the imminent collapse of the Eurozone, and working for a firm who are bobbing around in the epicentre of the financial crisis?

Answer: Apply for a five month career break and wait for it to all blow over.
Just kidding. Obviously.

In reality, with several great skiing holidays under our belts, a small dose of arrogance, and a bigger dose of ‘stark raving mad’, one of our post-ski conversations got somewhat out of hand and here we are. Not travelling through Asia and the Far East, visiting historical sites, diving coral reefs and lazing on sun drenched beaches. No indeed. Why would you when you can spend five months cleaning toilets, shovelling snow and cooking a three course dinner party every night?

That’s right, for our career break we’re going to find jobs (albeit not lucrative ones) running a ski chalet for five months. For those of you that don’t ski, and for the avoidance of doubt, this will involve cleaning and cooking (breakfast, afternoon cakes and a three course dinner) for up to 16 people for six days a week. Plus a bit of skiing. If we’re lucky.

Now all we have to do is see if we can find a tour operator that is brave/foolish enough to employ us and our woeful lack of experience over the 2012 – 2013 season.

Where Do We Sign?

Original Posting Date: April 2012

Having sent our CVs off to several tour operators, we’ve interviewed and accepted a position with the most recommended. That’s right – we’re fully signed up to job descriptions that include making beds, shovelling snow, cooking three course dinners every night and making sure 14 new people every week have the holiday of a lifetime. All for the princely sum of £90 per week (before tax).

Fortunately the job comes with food, board and free skiing. Otherwise, it’d just be plain stupid.

We’ve leaving the party resorts to the young whippersnappers and have opted to spend the winter a quiet(er) corner of Les Trois Vallées. One slight snag with the job. They require at least one of us to have either catering experience, or have taken a cookery course. So, this is why we now find ourselves booked on a week long, residential cookery course in deepest Surrey in the middle of July. Should be interesting……

 Too Many Cooks

Original Posting Date: July 2012

That’s it! We did it. Cooking course completed and A grades abound for the dream team (that’s us by the way).

In fact, one of us (me) got an A+ in the written exam and was rewarded with the tag ‘swot’, then treated to the revelation that Graham had ‘let’ me get a better grade. Despite his continued protestations, I still refuse to believe it’s possible to ‘throw’ a written exam.

This is baking, not boxing, my friend.

This week we’ve been joined by 11 private school kids who are here as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award requirements, and a 38 year old bloke from Sheffield who quite fancies having another crack at doing a season after falling ill during his last attempt.

The kids are generally good value, and keen to get the most from the course. There are times when our patience tested e.g. having to explain to one boy why trying to slice a mushroom was proving difficult (it had a very long stalk and the mushroom was upside down).

The week was incredibly useful and we learnt loads, both from our course tutors and from our fellow inmates. From our tutors we learnt the cooking, cleaning, presentation and ‘guest management’ skills we’ll need to survive our first few weeks in the mountains. From the inmates we learned the following:

  1. It takes at least two doses of bleach to get rid of the smell of a 17 year old girl’s vomit from a hardwearing carpet.
  2. Two bottles of vodka, six beers and two bottles of wine between eight 17 year olds results in a serious lapse of moral standards (and the unexplained appearance of a pair of men’s shoes on the tennis court).
  3. It is extremely difficult, and on the whole discouraged, to ingest an unused teabag without the aid of any liquid.
  4. Paying £27k a term to send your child to private school will not prevent them from doing any of the above.

Jobs For The Boys

Original Posting Date: November 2012

Well, it’s almost time to go and for all the non-skiing readership (and there is bound to be at least two of you by now) I thought it might be worth giving you a little more information on what the role of chalet host involves. People keep asking but the look of horror on their faces when we attempt to explain tends to cut the conversation short somewhat.

So, officially we’ll be…
“….providing the high quality service that we boast of to our guests from the beginning to the end of their holidays….”

Realistically this will involve (6 days a week for up to 14 guests):

  • Provide and serve breakfast, afternoon tea, canapés and a three course evening meal
  • Clean the chalet
  • Perform and log daily checks on hot tubs
  • Keep all paths round and entry points to the chalet clear of snow
  • Prepare shopping lists and carry out weekly shops
  • Provide guests with information such as bus times, lift times, shop opening times, weather reports, restaurant recommendations and general local information
  • Perform a welcome speech to guests
  • Help guests with luggage
  • Escort guests to and from the transfer bus on change over day
  • Adhere to all health and safety guide lines regarding the storage, preparation and cooking of food at all times
  • Deep clean the chalet on a weekly basis

This is a just a selection of the official job description items. There were also a couple of obvious ones that I deleted on the grounds that I feel it’s faintly embarrassing to have to put them in a job description in the first place e.g. be nice to the guests, look smart at all times (although to be fair they’ll need to keep an eye on Graham in this regard).

Regular readers will be unsurprised to know that so far Graham has put his hand up for the big ticket glamour items – welcome speech and head chef. So far I have cleaning and cakes.

However, I strongly suspect that chief luggage carrier and snow-shoveller are also headed in my direction.

Manual Labour

Original Posting Date: December 2012

I must confess to being a little behind on updating the blog as we’ve had a busy few days. We’ve gotten to know all the other chalet hosts, and said our first goodbye . We’ve been transferred to our new chalet, to find it buried under feet of snow. We’ve conquered the local Carrefour, and cooked a three course meal for 12 people (plus canapes and kir). And every little task is made just a touch more difficult by the fact that the Alps is currently experiencing the heaviest snowfall since the 1950s (or so they say).

So, the training? Well, it is what it is. The cooking demos were extremely useful, if logistically difficult. It’s not easy to gather 25 people around a small kitchen to watch a mushroom and brandy sauce being whipped up, and sometimes. More often than not, you just don’t have the tools you need, but our Chalet Manager did an excellent job with the tools at his disposal. I certainly couldn’t have adequately demonstrated meat-jointing techniques on a small stuffed bear.

For the remainder of the time, well, we read the training manual.


From cover to cover.

Some pages twice.

Verrrrrrrrry slooooooowly.

Thank the stars for the additional explanation provided (reiterating what was in the manual, but using ever so slightly different words) or we simply may not have got it.

In fairness, it’s all important stuff that needs to be covered and they are right to make sure that everyone leaves the room in no doubt whatsoever about what is expected of them.

However, I probably wouldn’t have given out the manual the day before training started, giving everyone the opportunity to read it, cover to cover, before the next morning. All in all it was fine, and most of us managed to stay awake for the duration. The post lunch sessions though, were hands down the hardest work we’ve had since we’ve been here.

No matter what your impressions of their methods, it’s crucial to be respectful and take the process seriously. After all, these guys have 20 years’ experience in the industry, and we have zilch. Our attitude and actions are constantly being evaluated against their standards, and one of our group has already been given their marching orders. An admittedly unusual case, this person was flown back to the UK on day 5 after the resort managers quickly decided that he was not up to the task. A stark reminder to all that this is business, not pleasure.

Suitcase Luge

Original Posting Date: December 2012

Today we arrived at the new chalet. After a week of Jackanory borey, we were looking forward to getting into our chalets and expectations were high.

The first glimpse of our chalet did not disappoint. A traditional chocolate box design, it is nestled in a small cul-de-sac just two minutes’ walk away from the piste.

Naturally we were keen to establish whether the interior lived up to the promise of the exterior and leapt enthusiastically from the minibus………..

……….into at least a metre of snow.

Instead of the path, there was snow. Instead of the driveway, there was snow. A cursory glance around the cul-de-sac confirmed that we were definitely the first people to make it up here for days, if not weeks.

As it turns out, the resort manager was fully aware of the ‘access challenges’ awaiting us, but decided to leave it at “the drive will need a bit of digging out” in order not to dampen our enthusiasm. Sweet of him………

In fairness, he had brought the necessary equipment (shovels) and the necessary manpower (our fellow chalet hosts) and with good humour we prepared to form a chain gang. All apart from Graham that is, who decided he couldn’t wait any longer and promptly disappeared into a snow drift.

He reappeared after a few minutes (during which I had visions of having to perform an emergency amputation of both his legs) declaring that the easiest way to create a path to the front door would be to sledge down on one of our suitcases.

Erm no.

Having swiftly vetoed that idea I had just re-joined the chain gang when I was overtaken by a small snowstorm, the epicentre of which appeared to be Graham and one of our suitcases. The suitcase was not, small mercies, being used as a sledge, but rather as a snow plough.

For the sake of employee relations I decided to let that one go.

To give him his due, he had at least created a somewhat flattened surface for the digging crew who followed and we managed to create a fairly impressive path to the front door inside of 10 minutes.

It just goes to show what can be achieved through a combination of selectively withholding information, teamwork and childlike impatience.

 Supermarket Sweep

Original Posting Date: December 2012

Most of our first week in our new chalet was spent cooking, cleaning and shovelling snow. We had new beds delivered (and assembled them) and also took delivery of gas bottles, linen, towels and the various other bits and pieces.

It wasn’t all hard work though. We also got out and about to the local ‘establishments’ to introduce ourselves and make sure the bar staff know us well enough to give us the seasonaire’s discount without having to ask.

By far the most significant event of the week was Graham’s introduction to the weekly game of supermarket sweep that takes place at the nearest Carrefour (about 45 mins drive). One person from each chalet jumps into one of three minibuses and is driven to Carrefour with a list as long as both your arms for the weekly shop.

The expedition is further complicated by the fact that every other chalet company is also trying to do their shopping at the same time. Increasingly sneaky tactics are employed as chalet hosts to achieve the following:

  1. Grab produce and ingredients before it all disappears into other chalet host’s trolleys (fresh fruit and veg in particular is a nightmare)
  2. Manage three trolley loads each by hiding the full trolleys down one of the aisles (the pet food aisle is apparently a popular choice)
  3. Make it to one of four dedicated tour operator checkouts before the competition.

Given the fact that some of these young guys struggle to buy deodorant, the whole experience was apparently a bit of a nightmare. All in all, the entire process took 5 hours door-to-door. On balance, I am grateful that I get to stay behind and clean seven rooms, make prepare a three course meal for 14 people.

So now we’re ready.

Bring on the guests…….

About Kelly Taylor

The Alpine Generation

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