‘Half term’ – The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as '(in British schools) a short holiday in the middle of each term’. It’s typically a time when lots of families take breaks and do things together. February ‘Half Term’ has traditionally been a busy time in the mountains with families doing exactly that, taking holidays in the snow.
Dan and I don’t have kids and it’s been a very long time since we were of school age! Half term as an event therefore has not had much of an impact on either of us. The only obvious thing we have noted in the past is the roads are a little quieter during the morning commute and it was easier to find a space in the car park at work in our old life.
WOW! Things change! Half term in the tourist industry is huge! It’s quite obvious when you think about it but given this is our first real foray into the tourist industry and a seasonal one at that its quite astounding to see the impact on a ski resort when UK schools take a holiday. The links and reliance on each other is almost symbiotic.
Obviously we therefore choose half term week to try and complete on our house sale. Thinking, how bad can it be?!? All the while not really appreciating back in January when we set the completion date that half term week might be a little more demanding than normal. Silly us!
The build up to the masses arriving was quite spectacular. The buzz around the resort was palpable and ‘horror’ stories were being banded around between chalet companies and seasonaires alike about the invasion of the ‘children’ (like they are something out of a low budget horror movie) and super demanding parents.
How the pistes would be so full that venturing out during time off this week would be pointless. Lift queues in the 1000’s. Suspicions that the roads would be blocked for miles due to the volume of traffic and there would be cars and people everywhere. That literally everything would be harder during half term.
To top it all off the French unions chose this Saturday change over day to strike and close off the main route into and out of the mountain. Consequently all our current guests transfer companies have been in touch to pull forward any outgoing departures to avoid the expected traffic jams. I talked a little about the strike action a couple of weeks ago – see here
Arguably the busiest changeover day of the season. The unions chose well in terms of absolute potential impact!
In reality the worst bit about this week was actually the fuss and hype leading up to it!
The guests and the children were ace and it made a lovely change to have some little people floating around the chalets. The joy of a kids face bobbing around in the hot tub with their armbands on is just amazing!
What I failed to appreciate is that while there are a lot of small people out on the slopes the majority of them this week seem to be in organised lessons. The consequence of this is that they are everywhere but all in well ordered (normally) little lines following their instructors like baby chicks paddling behind the momma duck! So cute!!
The other awesome thing about there being so many children around is that the baby ski school that is specially designed ski creche was full to capacity. It takes kids from around 2 years old and honestly I could watch them for hours! With their little legs that don’t bend due to the ski boots reaching above their knees and zero coordination or control -they amaze me!
They also quite often make me chuckle with their absolutely fearless approach. Watch long enough and you will see at least one domino effect as a tiny tot at the front of the line falls down and takes each of the others in the line down with them.
The parents all stand around watching and taking photos and videos of their babies and the ESF staff work so hard to keep picking each of the children up every time they fall down and trying to work out why at least one kid is screaming for no obvious reason.
You will also find a handful of kids that just look totally oblivious to whats going on around them…they get on a magic carpet (a moving walk way that takes them to the top of the slope)…they fall off at the top and get picked up then they point downhill, crash into a barrier at the bottom and get picked up then do it all over again.
I would love to share some photos so you can truly appreciate the cuteness overload but as it’s kids and they are not mine I cant. I will however share this photo and say when ever I see some seriously tiny tots skiing it makes me smile all the way to my ears. Such joy! I love it!
The parents on the other hand…and a totally different story!
Whilst the kids are safely in lessons the parents certainly make the most of the freedom and I can safely say that this week has been the most worrying on the mountain as so many holiday makers who’s ability level is far less than they believe take long boozy lunches and then try to ski home in one piece. I had to spend far more time on the piste this week looking over my shoulder for threats coming towards me in the form of out of control adults!
Some days it’s just not practical to get out on the mountain to board. On average we can normally get some piste time on about 4 days a week but on the days where we can’t then quite often Dan and I go for a walk.
This week we ventured up to a little nearby village that literally sits at the end of the road. Hauteville has some truly spectacular scenery and no through traffic which makes it super quiet. A little collection of non uniform properties almost all of which are lived in all year round so its got a lovely sense of community about it.
As half term week drew to a close we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for! Exchange and completion!
We are no longer home owners in the UK and we now have the capital to purchase in France!
I have to confess I teared up a bit when it actually happened! So surreal to know that we wont ever return to that house again! Its been almost 4 years in the making. Renovating the house and getting it ready to sell then going through viewing after viewing until we found our buyers.
We actually got the phone call while we were in the middle of the weekly Chalet shop at a big supermarket down the mountain so you can imagine the odd looks I was getting pushing a trolly around filled with enough toilet roll, bin bags, hand soap and beer for 32 people whilst crying!
I kid you not regarding the contents of the trolly!
Each chalet does their own food related shop each week and I pick up all the booze, soft drinks, toilet roll and cleaning products. The end result is typically a really eclectic collection of just a few items but significant quantities of each!
This week was 10 cases of beer, 6 bottle of coke, 72 rolls of toilet paper, 60 bin bags, 9 packs of kitchen sponges, 18 litres of washing detergent and a tub of bees wax. The looks I get are priceless and then they see my chalet uniform and just shrug like shopping in this way is totally normal in the mountains!
Our great news deserved a little celebration so that evening we broke out our little raclette grill that I had given Dan for valentines and had a wonderful grilled cheese filled evening just the two of us 🙂
There is no earthly way that I can seamlessly segway from raclette celebrations and the house sale to this wonderful sight but I felt I just needed to share with you all.
What else should you expect to see this week when getting off a chair lift at 2400m?
So we survived half term and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as we were expecting. We sold our house and managed to put the money into a locked savings account before I could get over excited and spend it on random crap. I saw a kilted man ski and we found an assorted collection of post boxes. We ate raclette and we managed to not have any accidents with the alcohol infused parents on the pistes. Pretty good week all round!
To sign off this week I shall leave you with this image. Taken by my wonderful Dan. A glorious evening sky over Les Allues. This week has been good to us and we are forever grateful to those around us whos ongoing support continue to make this adventure possible.
You can find out what we got up to last week by clicking here
Its the end of February! How is this even possible! The season is literally speeding along and we are now in our 3rd month in the mountains and I feel like I blinked and missed it! The more time that goes by the more I feel thankful for writing the blog to remember all that’s been happening!
Its quite interesting to see how life and its priorities change in the mountain seasonaire bubble. How a simple guest arrival time on changeover day can make or break the team.
On Sunday each week I have a meeting with the owner to run through the next guest arrivals. We talk about everything from dietary requirements, ski passes and equipment hire, special requests, bed set ups (singles/ doubles), transfer information and expected arrival time!
I also get to hear a little about the guests themselves. Have they stayed with us before, where they are from and if the groups are mixed friends or small families. Its a great way to get a bit of a head start in terms of what to expect.
Sundays are an admin heavy day as its also the time to balance all the accounts ready for filing – for those that know me well you will remember how much I love a good spreadsheet! 🙂 We track weekly and season spend for each chalet – I find all the data analysis stuff super interesting and consequently create lots of visuals to monitor trends.
Once I have the information for the next check ins I can then break it down and provide each chalet team with the data they need to plan their menus and the working week to best support the guests.
Its also the point at which I get asked the ‘make or break’ question…what time are the new guests arriving?!?
Now. I had no idea previously but my answer to that question and how I present the information can have such an impact on the team moral!
You see, changeover days are notoriously long and physically taxing. The team gets very little down time on Saturdays. If guests are scheduled to arrive early (pre 1pm) or late (post 5pm) the news is typically met with enthusiasm. If however the guests arrive between 1 and 5 then the response is not so enthusiastic…
It basically means that the teams need to hang around in the chalet once the change over is complete and wait for the guests to arrive which reduces their down time and break in between shifts.
This week though I came up with a cunning plan!
It involved me locking myself in a chalet with a good book and a brew.
One chalet this week had a 3pm arrival so to give the teams a little downtime between guests one chalet I swapped with them and took my book and brew and chilled in 5* luxury for a few hours while I waiting for the guests to show up. Its a hard life on occasion! 😛 I am always happy to ‘take one for the team’ and relax on a comfy sofa with a trashy novel…and English TV!
My favourite dietary request so far this season has to be the vegan that would like some turkey on Christmas day! A super chilled guest who turned vegan out of a moral obligation to help save the planet but who’s Christmas Day would not be complete without a slice of Turkey…
Two new things happened this week!
Our new Chalet Host arrived and so I have been re-promoted once again and I got some new snowboard boots after my old ones started to cut off my circulation!
I am fairly confident that no money ever leaves the mountains.
As soon as pay day arrives most of the seasonaires that I know go out and buy new shiny things almost immediately. Thus far I have resisted the urge but alas I could hold out no longer…I am telling myself its an investment!
In all seriousness, I am managing to save quite a lot of what I am earning over here. Aside from hot chocolate, beer and shiny equipment there is not a whole lot to spend your money on. Its still quiet an odd feeling however to be earning about the same amount of money each month as I did in my fist ever job out of university as an inexperienced filing clerk some 15 years ago…
Back to the new person!
A great addition to the team! It amazed me how many applications we got for the role. What surprised me even more was the significantly higher number of guys applying than girls and how few applicants actually read the job description…
What potential recruits don’t fully appreciate is the time it takes to actually recruit. Reading every CV, interviewing, references…admin generally. Its exhausting and time consuming. Therefore, if you are reading this blog with a view to perhaps doing a season…please for the love of all that is important in the world….read the job description!
You mind find the following tips helpful in your job search:
Personalise your application
Tailor your cover letter/ CV to the job you are applying for
Get to know about the company you have applied to work for
Understand the job you are applying for and make sure you have the right qualifications/ experience
Follow up on all applications
Ask for feedback
READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Its not rocket science but I am learning that job applications are a big thing. An entire industry exists solely to help you get the job you already found and want to apply for.
Something slightly unexpected also happened this week and a Cadbury Creme Egg from the foreign food counter came to the rescue!
Not once since we started this big adventure have I felt ‘home’ sick. We brought our ‘home’ with us when we hit the road in our motorhome in May 2019 and its all been very exciting and hectic since we left. Almost not enough time to even think about what we might be missing.
This week I had a bit of a personal low. Nothing in particular bringing me down really but I was just momentarily overcome with a lack of familiarity. France is our home and where my heart belongs but on a seriously dull day in the mountains where the drizzle blocked the view I got a feeling that I needed something ‘familiar’.
One of my regular tasks is shopping for last minute things that the team needs, normally due to dietary changes (see above Pollo-pesc!). This specific demand resulted in a trip down the mountain to the local supermarket…wandering aimlessly, feeling a bit sorry for myself with no real justification and collecting the bits I needed I found myself in the ‘foreign food’ aisle.
There, like a beacon of light was a wealth of familiar UK food stuffs. Not least of which some Cadbury’s Creme Eggs! Two creme eggs later and a quiet moment in the car park surrounded by no one but radio playing the song Fast Cars (a personal favourite tune of mine) and the cloud lifted and so did my spirits! Folk-law suggests that an apple/ glass of wine (fill in your own here) a day keeps the doctor away…for me it was a creme egg! Its the small things!
That time is now! My Photography was always going to come with us to France but perhaps not in the same vein as was previously. A booking for a wedding in the summer kick started a revamp of my website and bringing back online all the things I loved about my company.
Its so lovely to be visually creative again so watch this space as the website is progressing nicely. Photography is not only my true passion but also a big part of our long term plans over here.
House update…waiting for exchange…its a lot like waiting for paint to dry… we have now been waiting for over a week. Each day the very well paid solicitors and estate agents tell us – “today’s the day”
We continue to wait…but we are very quickly running out of time to make it all work. The delays are unbelievably stressful and having almost no control over the situation is a really uncomfortable feeling. Our families are all lined up in the UK to move us out of our house and into storage, everything is in place and ready to go but we are in limbo.
The past few days have been filled with ‘what if’ conversations. What if we move out before exchange and it all falls through..what if we wait until exchange happens before we move out but then we wont have the resource in place to actually do it and we will have to fly back to the UK. So many what-ifs! It felt a bit like the ultimate gamble with no obvious winning bet.
Whatever option we choose to go with there are financial implications. In the end it came down to a leap of faith that the sale would happen and we set the move out plan in motion incurring all sorts of costs but keeping everything crossed that our leap would not result in failure.
Sometimes you can’t control everything and you just have to go with the flow…many sleepless nights of going with the flow!
Its actually quite odd selling a house and not purchasing another immediately! The chain is broken! The excitement of the next chapter will continue for a good while yet which is ace!
The house hunting in France has ramped up now. We have a spreadsheet of all the properties we have found that we are interested in and they have been ranked against various criteria. I love a spot of analysis! It feels like the number of people searching for property in France has significantly increased recently. All the forums are buzzing with folks that want to move before the end of the year. I am hoping he additional competition does not make our lives harder!
Part of the analysis is all about business potential. We can’t afford to retire yet so whatever we buy will need to sustain us financially.
A huge perk of the winter jobs we are doing is the level of exposure that we are getting to the business side of things. Its a massive learning curve but invaluable. For example the cost of laundry is astronomical! But on the flip side we now know the average catering costs for guests and the sort of food they would expect should we provide catered accommodation in the future.
When we were initially job hunting for the winter season we got talking to a lady with a property in Morzine. She offered us exclusive use of the 10 bed chalet in exchange for a fixed price for 6 months. We would be responsible for selling the beds and providing any services to the guests but we would keep any profit left after she had been paid.
At the time we felt it was a bit beyond us given our level of experience and didn’t want to wipe out a large percentage of our savings on something totally unknown so we opted out. Turns out that this is quite standard practice in the mountains. Not many chalet companies actually own their accommodation – they lease it from the owners for a fixed term/ price contract.
Also turns out that this way of doing business is on decline due to an over saturation of properties in the mountains and a reduction in independent chalet companies. The new offering is a profit share scheme where the financial liability is shared between the property owner and the business owner. All quite fascinating and yet another insight that would not be possible without working in the industry.
We still have so much to learn but each step brings us closer to our forever dream and we hope you stick with us on the journey!
This week has been super ‘bitty’. The sort of week where lots is going on but you don’t feel like you have achieved all that much!
This is also the week that the UK left the EU! Filled with apprehension and confusion about what impact it might have on Dan and I it ended up being really rather anti climatic. Just another day…
Time will tell as to how this will ultimately effect us but for now we have adopted a strategy to keep plugging on and strike a fine balance between ignoring the hysteria and keeping our ears open for ‘real’ news about what will happen next.
There were reports in the UK of people having leaving parties. I can’t think of anything more vulgar right now and feel a sense of loss about what could have been for my generation and the future generations.
Talk has also started about what will happen to the seasonaire life moving forwards. Effective December 2020 I don’t think it will be quite so straightforward for the hundreds of companies in the mountains that rely on a transient & international (UK heavily represented) work force each season. No doubt the added complexity will impact , at least short term, on costs. Perhaps ski holidays will become even more expensive?
I am sure its purely coincidental but there has also been rumblings within the French season workers and strikes are planned for the next few weeks. All French CGT unionised staff (which are a high proportion of the lift staff) are striking over unemployment changes which will apparently leave them short changed.
I didn’t realise until now but these workers are employed all year round and only work for 6 months of the year. For the remaining 6 months they are on a retainer which pays them a significant proportion of their contracted rate (much higher than the proposed unemployment benefit)
Consequence for us specifically is that the strikes are planned for the UK Half term and currently they include a blockade at the bottom of the mountain to stop people getting into the resorts.
On a totally unrelated note I realised something this week. There are no mosquito’s!! We spent the entire summer and autumn being plagued by the little swines and being munched on by at least one Tiger mosquito which (if you believe Google) means I am now going to get a hideous disease – Note to self:- don’t read Google for medical advice…
We are mosquito free! We are also mostly spider free incidentally so perhaps winter living all year round might have some upside!
I also realised that if this lifestyle continues to work for us e.g summer on the West coast and winter in the mountains I am unlikely to see spring or Autumn in all their glory again.
We left the Dordogne before Autumn fully arrived and came straight into winter in the Alps. Come spring we will likely not see the glorious abundance of colour as its delayed in the mountains due to the snow cover and once our contracts end we will head straight into the summer arms of the Lot & Garrone. Still processing this…not sure how I feel about it to be honest. I love the smell of spring and the magnificent flora & fauna it brings.
We think Dan’s ability to fix pretty much anything with a motor will form part of our long term survival strategy over here and its part of the reason we are looking for property with land and a barn so he can have a workshop. A useful place to also store all of his tools!
Dan has always had a ‘can do’ attitude. There is nothing he wont try. He might not know the required information to fix something but he goes off and he finds it. Consequently he never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge and desire to keep growing intellectually. He also has a pretty amazing ability to teach people the most complex things in a super simple way. Its one of the things I love about him as he always takes me on his learning journey.
I have never once felt that I can’t do something.
Sure there are things in life that I seriously do not want to ever do. Holding a tarantula or sky diving are quite high up there! There are also things that I am limited in my ability to do e.g running a world record 100m sprint – physiologically I am not really built for running! Having said all that where there is a will there is a way. I was always taught to dream big! Go big or go home!
I think the above is why I struggled with a guest conversation recently. Some of you may have seen it on our Facebook group.
Guests are normally quite interested in what Dan and I are up to. So many conversations start with a little perplexity about why we have given up perfectly good careers and a nice house etc in favour of the unknown with significantly less financial security. The chats soon turn to legitimate interest about how/ why and the finer details. I can’t lie, it still gives me a little warm glow when I can share our journey with people. Its also strangely satisfying to challenge peoples preconceptions about seasonaires. We are not all ‘ski bums avoiding life’ (yes that’s an actual quote from a guest!).
A few weeks back I was sharing our journey and plans with some guests. For the most part I got the standard reactions ranging from brave to crazy! I did get one reaction that surprised me though.
‘Some people just can’t’ – The guest was utterly convinced that whilst our life plan was amazing and they would love to do something similar that they would never be able to so.
This was not about money, timing, commitments, family constraints, societal expectations etc… This belief was purely down to self confidence.
This person had limited their own potential before even starting. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous in anyway here – Each to their own! This conversation did however make me a little sad that this person really wanted to do something but felt that they couldn’t.
It also made me eternally grateful for my Husband, family and friends who have supported every (even dubious) decision I have ever made with little more than a guiding touch. I appreciate how fortunate that makes me.
Personal circumstances to one side for a moment. I want to introduce you to a guy called Robert Merton. Sadly he is no longer with us but his legacy as a highly influential American sociologist lives on.
He coined the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” (SFP) in 1948 to describe “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true”
In short – if you believe you can’t you probably wont.
Mini rant over…I hope that if you get anything at all from reading about our experiences its that self believe is key. My mum also used to tell me when I was younger and competing (athletics and swimming) that I need a positive mental attitude. PMA can result in some truly exceptional results.
In other news this week. I was demoted again!! A shoulder stripe removed and my apron pulled out of storage!
This time I got the chance to be a Chalet Host at our premium chalet working alongside an amazing chef. It was a baptism of fire as I had to jump in mid week and pick up service for a group of guests that were already in the chalet.
After a very busy 48 hours learning the ropes and getting everything sorted we, the chef and I, had a simply fantastic week culminating in a nice tip at the end which always goes down well!
Sadly the hosty that I replaced decided that seasonaire life was not for them and went home. I have given the rest of the team strict instructions that no one else can go now! I jest obviously! Joking-Not Joking!
On a serious note though our little team really pulled together this week and it was a pleasure to be a hosty! The job itself is bloody hard-work and my hair/ clothes stank of kitchen every-night while my feet throbbed in a way I last experienced when I was 16 working in a restaurant!
Recruitment has started in earnest to fill the gap but in all honesty I am in no major rush as I am really enjoying it!
A side effect of all the new snow this week. Other than countless hours spent by Dan clearing snow! Is an annual event at a local pub in Meribel.
I swear I am not making this up… ‘Rump & Pump’ hosted by Brewers Den (a bar) consists of them moulding the snow in their car park into a giant bowl and then people (frankly nutters!) do tricks in the snow bowl on their skis/ snowboards. Jumps, kickers, splats…the latter is not an actual trick…its just the sound they make when they get it wrong!
The ‘Rump’ refers to the steaks they serve and the ‘Pump’ is all about the tricks around the bowl!
Loads of people turned up and it was a really good afternoon. Super fun to watch but definitely not up my street for taking part! The bar puts on discount drinks and some great grub. Throw in a bit of music and the place was literally bouncing!
To round off our week this week we had our first French hair cuts! Exciting right?!? In all honesty its something I have been dreading with the language barrier. I had a worry that my request would get lost in translation and I would end up looking like a scarecrow that’s been dragged through a hedge backwards!
Turns out that I need not have worried and we got a seasonaire discount! Comes in handy! 🙂
My worry was immediately suppressed when a lovely French lady rocked up at our door (home service) and announced that we should not fear as she is married to a welsh man! I worry that our little seasonaire bubble is perhaps not representative!
I plan to take this as a win however! Its not a fully immersed french haircut experience but its a half way house I am happy to embrace while I work up the courage to book into a salon!
Its these little things that you don’t think about when planning a move to a foreign country! Sadly the hair dying experience (by my own hand) did not work out so well but fortunately there is no photographic evidence of that!
Last but not least this week…France is expensive (unless it’s the sort of property we are looking for or wine you want to buy). Ski resorts are another level expensive. To prove the point – behold my lunch below!
After our very bitty week this week we are sincerely hoping that next week will bring with it some kind of routine with no hidden surprises and perhaps even an exchange on our UK property!
I am opening this weeks post up with an advisory. This week has been extremely difficult and writing this is no easy task.
I want to be upfront with you all so you can choose if you continue to read on. A very sad thing happened this week and I want to try and share with you in the most sympathetic way possible.
A young man lost his life. Rest In Peace Corey.
I have been putting off writing about this for a couple of weeks now as I really wasn’t sure what to say or how to even explain.
The seasonaire life is full of people that you live in really close proximity to for a huge portion of the year and yet many of those people will become just a face you recognise but who’s name you will never learn.
Its a truly odd environment to live and work in. A mix of a continual freshers week and a never ending holiday with a bit of work thrown in.
On January 22nd I met a fellow seasonaire on my way up to the mountain for a day of skiing. We got talking. Shared our stories. Later that night I saw him and his friend (Corey) in my local pub.
A face but no name. A shared experience but our own little worlds.
The very next morning I woke to a desperate plea on social media to help find Corey.
Corey was 24 years old when he died in a tragic accident after a night out with friends when when he became lost from his group and fell into a crevice.
I didn’t know Corey but the shock reverberated around the entire resort. Seasonaires and locals alike joined search parties to try and find him before it was too late.
The impact of his death was quite profound.
Grief affects us all differently. The magnitude of my sadness, for someone I didn’t know blindsided me.
A young life gone. Taken from this beautiful place and leaving behind a brand new sense of apprehension that whilst she may be beautiful she is also hostile.
My heart goes out to his family and friends but if they can take anything from this horrible accident its that we seasonaires have a better appreciation for how fragile life is.
Our transient population has become so much more aware. This can be a dangerous environment to live in and there is a feeling now that even if we don’t take a moment to learn each others names we will still look out for each other.
We are a slightly odd and dysfunctional family but we are a family all the same. We shared, we cried and we drank to Corey and celebrated the legacy he left behind for us.
Its a week that shall remain in my memory and I send love and hugs to his family.
Its the second full week in January and the press are referring to something called ‘blue Monday’. Apparently its the most depressing day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. By all accounts there is an algorithm to identify the specific date using information about weather, sleep, stress and proximity of the next holiday.
This week has been fantastic and not at all blue in any way, unless of course you are referring to the sky? In which case its very blue as the snow continues to elude us!
Our week is extra special for 2 reasons. And again..its all relative!
I remember learning about a very clever fella called Maslow while studying for a professional qualification. He has a theory about peoples needs. Its a hierarchy, working on the principle that people are motivated by five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.
This week we secured a little tick in the boxes of Physiological and safety (see above – Physiological is things like air/ water/ food/ sleep. Safety is things like security/ resource and employment).
Dan and I both received an unexpected pay rise! I have mentioned previously that the seasonaire life wont make you rich in monetary terms. It has its own unique non financial perks. Having said that a pay rise is a very good thing! We are currently resisting the urge to immediately spend it on shiny things for playing in the snow…A few more pennies in our pocket at the end of the month gives us a little extra security and allows the savings to last a bit longer.
Next up, and potentially as significant as the payrise is that we both got an extra day off work this week! Not only that but it meant that we got two whole days back to back.
This occasionally happens over the course of the season when we have quieter weeks and its an added perk! We made the most of the extra day off by taking to the mountain. As standard, we get Mondays and Thursdays off work which works well but we loved the additional day and managed to fit in a few extra hours of sleep to recharge the batteries!
A payrise and an extra day off! A very welcome week of good fortune!
That Maslow chap is onto something and the ‘extras’ we got this week have done wonders for our overall morale! I even found time to play with a Christmas gift from my mum! A jigsaw puzzle! Not any old jigsaw though! A sunflower puzzle which is my all time favourite flower. We have such a rock and roll life! 😛
The extra day off was in part helped by us not having as many guests as normal this week. After the Christmas and new years rush the remainder of January is typically a little quieter. A welcome break before the February school holidays arrive.
A quieter week also proved to be super useful in allowing us to get our newest team member up to speed. We now have a full compliment of staff once more and I have been promoted back to Chalet Manager again!
Having a full compliment of staff again has made such a difference to the overall work load. It was also really interesting to see how they integrated into a very well established and close team. Not an easy task for anyone in reality but it all seems to be settling down nicely.
This environment can be taxing, the team live, work and socialise together. Add into the mix that Dan is the only guy it has the potential to be a hormone centred vortex of emotions and stress. A bit of a proverbial pressure cooker!
Its one of the reasons why its so important out here to make time for your mental health and wellbeing. Sure its a stunning place to live and work but I am learning very quickly that the emotional roller coaster is not a fleeting experience. Its here to stay and therefore its necessary to find a release.
The extra time this week also gave me enough head space to reflect on my own personal journey. I came to an interesting conclusion; I am learning more about myself then I thought possible. Some of the same business traits I have come to rely on over the years are apparent regardless of the environment or industry.
I am also learning that my age and experience has softened me (in a good way I think). In years gone by I would have struggled with some of the more pressurised guest interactions but now I can go with the flow with a little more ease.
This season in the mountains is also huge eye opener regarding guests and the spectrum of personalities. Diverse and not always expected! The knowledge we are getting working in the French tourist industry is invaluable and I am confident the payback for our own business venture will be 10 fold.
Sure, there are some bits that we would love to avoid in the future if at all possible but its almost reassuring that we get to experience the lows, mistakes and faults while someone else is steering the ‘ship’.
Once such lesson this week was regarding the French plumbing standard…look away now if you are easily grossed out or eating!
A hard lesson to learn when trying to wash up after 8 guests have finished a 5 course dinner. No functioning sink due to food waste blocking the pipes. French pipes seem to be much smaller than the UK equivalent but I am not convinced a UK sink could have done a much better job with this much detritus!
On a much brighter note our week ended with a little trip over the valley in search of the Mother In Law…not the actual mother…just a piste with her name on it! She was quite chuffed to get the photo!
Your can find out what we got up to last week here
After last weeks trials and tribulations this week arrived all shiny, new and full of possibility. The ‘clock’ reset as soon as the new guests arrived.
Funny how even when you think its the worst week possible, as soon as Saturday arrives you get to change your luck and start afresh. Its an interesting thought that the definition of your ‘worst week’ is totally personal to you. Your opinion of ‘worst’ can differ so much from the person next to you even if they are living and breathing the same experience. The gravity of ‘worst’ changes over the years as you identify new benchmarks. New ‘worst’ days.
My NYE ‘worst’ week is relative but I am sure glad to be coming out of the other side.
This weeks ‘fresh start’ just happened to begin at 06:30 when 20 brand new and excited faces rocked up to begin their snow holiday! A 6am arrival is not normal but special arrangements had been made.
The first week in January also welcomed us with the prospect of a new team member joining us to replace the person we lost in New Year week (just to confirm…when I say ‘lost’ I don’t mean that they are wondering aimlessly around resort trying to find their home. I mean they quit!) We also had a little shuffle around of the roles short term to ensure we could maintain our high level of service until the new person arrived.
This may sound slightly odd but I am super proud to announce that this week I shall be demoted! 🙂 For one week only I shall become a chalet host/ chef with my own little chalet and my own group of guests!
I could not be happier!
They say that a change is as good as a rest (apparently) and this is a big change. All my manager responsibilities will be covered by the owner for the next week and I shall cover the chalet requirements until the new team member arrives.
For the first time in a while I get to be a little selfish with my time. I can predict how my days will go. I can anticipate how much time will be spent doing things without needing to juggle a multitude of demands and the wider team support. I get to spend some real quality time with the guests. Plus I get to be creative and cook stuff!
I genuinely love the complexities of my manager role and how varied the position can be from one day to the next but it was so nice this week to be able to try something new. To reset myself after a challenging few weeks.
Cooking and hosting is not new to me as a concept or indeed skill. I was raised by a chef and have spent most of my life hosting one thing or another. It is however new to me in this environment.
So this week I am a host/ cook for the first time in the mountains! But its never straightforward! The new arrivals have taken over two of our chalets and requested to eat together all week. One chalet sleeps 16 and the other sleeps 8. Note the two chalets are not next to each other! They are a 5 minute walk apart and neither kitchen can manage with cooking for the full number in isolation.
So. Myself and the host/chef from the other chalet came up with a catering plan between us to rustle up some delicious treats and cooked them over two properties with some dashing/ driving in-between.
A logistical challenge for sure but it actually turned out to be really good fun with a lovely group of guests!
Its important to mention that whilst our lives in the mountains keep plugging along we do still have the remnants of our old life in the background. The UK bricks and mortar is going strong with holiday rentals which I manage remotely. The rental just about covers the property costs which works well to not eat into our savings to much.
Our long term plans are ticking along while we search out rentals in France for the end of the winter season and we continue to research how best to make our transition permanent.
The most significant update however in our ‘non seasonaire’ lives this week is…WE HAVE SOLD OUR UK HOME!!
Back in December we accepted an offer to buy our home but we have been nervously waiting to see if the sale would actually happen! This week things have started to move and exchange/ completion dates are now being discussed! Not to mention that the buyer has started to contact all our utilities companies so is clearly quite eager!
Its all very exciting! Also hugely scary as we wont be physically able to be in the UK when the house sale goes through! Luckily for us we have an amazing family! Which is super fortunate as we are having to depend heavily on them to pack up the rest of our lives over there and put it into storage on our behalf!
We have been preparing for this eventuality for some time and so have already cleared out the loft and packed up most of our personal possessions. The real win is that we have managed to sell most of our furniture to our buyers so there wont be too much to actually go into storage!
The next major step in our French lives is now not to far away. Very soon we should have a bank balance that should in theory give us the new French life we are searching for.
The blue skies are glorious and make for stunning views from the summit and chair lifts but we are willing the snow to return…just a little bit of snow would go really far right now. The pistes are starting to look a little bare and as the temperatures drop the day melt is turning to sheet ice. Its been two weeks since we last saw the white fluffy stuff drop from the sky.
I feel like we have been in the mountains now for long enough to make some judgements on its suitability for us as a permanent place to live long term.
From the very start of our France Forever discussions we always felt that the mountains were off limits as a location for our new life. There were two main reasons for this.
1. The mountains represent our play ground. The place we go to let off steam (or we used to in our past life when we had limited annual leave and a lot of steam!). We wanted to protect this as much as possible. Sure we may need to work our winters to survive financially but it’s our hope to play more than to work when we do work it will be for someone else who can carry the burden of ultimate responsibility.
2. Money. The mountains can be expensive especially if you want land or a large property and you want to tap into the tourist industry. Both of which we want to do so that we can have the options to make some money to sustain our French life and have enough space for our business plans. We felt our money would go further in supporting our goals in other areas of France.
Our experiences over the last few months living in the mountains is that it’s beautiful and can be almost surreal in its magic appearance especially after a heavy snow fall. Having said that, it’s also hard work up here. Altitude and weather can make the simple things in life much more complicated.
Thus far my original perspective on the mountains for our long term life remains. I like sliding around on the white stuff when the worst I can do is bruise my ego or my bottom but driving around on the white stuff is frankly still quite frightening!
This week ended on the positive note in which it started. I got a tip! A departing guest tipped me a bottle of cider and some cash to say thank you for a lovely time! It made me smile from ear to ear!
I can’t impress upon you all enough. If you are fortunate enough to have a mountain holiday, tips are a massive factor for the teams that work out here. We don’t choose this lifestyle for the money but a small tip (or even better a large one!) can make a huge difference to the workers. Makes us feel all warm inside too! Who doesn’t love that feeling?!?
Until next time…I am off to train our newest team member and to hand over the baton of chef/ host after a truly lovely week running my own chalet.
Its new years eve week and I am exhausted, I don’t much mind admitting that the rose tinted glasses have been well and truly removed. Our reality is clear and you know what? Its still exactly where we want to be. In-spite of what has been a very difficult week we are still good (we checked with each other just to make sure!)
This job is bloody hard work. This industry is bloody demanding and it’s so unbelievably easy to lose sight of whats actually important in the ever elusive pursuit of pleasing everyone (except yourself at times!). Its been hard graft this week. There have been some tears of frustration and there have been a couple of time outs too!
As many people do, I decided to try and start the New Year with a better diet so I cooked Dan and I a tasty, vegetable packed chilli for dinner on the Sunday before New Years. A week later I actually sat down to eat it.
Best laid plans don’t always work out how you intend…Lesson number Two for the mountains and a pretty good life lesson generally.
Most evenings I do a little tour around our Chalets to see the guests and the team. A chance to manage any questions or concerns and a great opportunity to have a nice chat with the people that stay with us. It can be, and normally is, a really lovely part of my job.
Once my visits are complete I can typically sit down for the evening and have some dinner with Dan and perhaps a bit of a chill out. Dinner time for us right now is normally somewhere around 10pm so the hours are long in this world but we usually get some time off during the day for some snow fun. Again…a thousand times better for my general well being than sitting behind a computer for 10 hours a day!
So. We are about to sit down for the tasty chilli (see photo above) to finally consume some vegetables in our standard cheese heavy diet and we get a knock on our door.
Dan and I actually live in an apartment underneath one of our chalets and the door knock was a member of the team reaching out for some help. Great! We are always happy to help where we can and its a big part of my job to support the team.
Fast forward 48 hours of at elbow support and sadly the team member decides that despite our collective best efforts to guide and help, this world / lifestyle/ job/ role/ experience really isn’t for them and ultimately decides to resign. Bugger! (the expletives were far richer at the time I can assure you!)
There are two main reasons for the ‘bugger’ moment. 1. The person who resigns is lovely, a great member of the team , has had all the training and makes amazing food which we devour when offered and 2. We are now 1 person down in a very small team with not much capacity to pick up the slack.
So I am one team member down. I have a chalet full of guests on one of the busiest weeks of the year and need to come up with a plan sharpish!
So apparently staffing is a fairly standard problem in the mountains around January time. It’s almost expected and actually the job related posts on the local notice boards have gone through the roof of late.
The season is in its 6th (ish) week and its about now that people decide to move on, change positions, think the grass is greener, don’t enjoy the roles or don’t feel its right for them or just get tired/ bored…sometimes its a combination of the above. Its also the point that those who didn’t make it out for the start of the season due to wanting to spend Christmas at home now start to look for positions.
All in all its a fairly turbulent time in resort but one that seems to happen year in year out. The small mercy is that the first few weeks in January are normally a bit quieter in terms of guest numbers so companies and staff can usually cope with a little unplanned turbulence.
‘Coping’ however is very different to thriving and this week we coped!
As the end of the year approaches it feels like social media is jammed packed with people celebrating the start of a new decade and doing 10 year flash backs to see whats changed for them.
Our lives have changed beyond recognition in 10 years. In 2010 Dan and I were a couple of years into a renovation house and starting to think about what project we could tackle next. We were heavily into over landing and planning our Moroccan adventure and I was starting my Jaguar Land Rover career with my focus very much on climbing the ladder to the lofty heights of management.
We were on the treadmill of life. Turns out I don’t much like treadmills!
At some point over the past decade we both decided corporate careers didn’t really suit us and continuously ran out of time to enjoy the benefits of our hard work. Work Smarter Not Harder!
Another interesting ( and probably should have been expected) side effect of New Years is the crowds!
This time last week there where no queues and there where parking spaces everywhere,the shops had not run out of orange juice and toilet roll. I could get a beer in the local bar without having to elbow people out of the way to protect my personal space. I could get on and off a bus without having to plan my exit strategy 3 stops in advance. This time last week it was Christmas and sure it was busy but nothing like how busy it is for New Years week!
This has been our hardest week in the mountains so far. In hindsight I would have changed quite a few things about how I managed this week but its all good experience and honestly I am very much looking forward to the crowds thinning out next week and having some quieter mountain time!
As a team we came together and it was really lovely to see. The guests all left happy and I learned a little bit more about myself which is refreshing!
Over the years I have spent quite a lot of time both personally and professionally studying human nature. The ‘seasonaire’ is a unique kind of person but not as unique as the ‘customer’. There might even be enough material to warrant a blog about that in its own right! Anonymous though obviously!
The beautiful and occasionally overlooked thing about this industry is that ultimately everyone is here to have a good time (guests and staff alike). So whilst hiccups occur its often how you deal with them that makes the difference.
Next week we can start all over again and see what challenges come our way. For now though I am happy to report that we made it through. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
To find out what we got up to last week click here
Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh its Christmas week, the guests arrived early and I am not ready!
I honestly wish I could say that didn’t happen…but it did! Best laid plans, weeks to prepare, lists ticked off…all going so smoothly…and then you throw a human into the mix. Not just a human but a guest human.
The definition of human should at some point include the words predictably unpredictable. Lesson 1 of the season well and truly learned (whilst I had my arm elbow deep in the toilet giving it a good scrub! So glamorous I know!)
Keep in mind here that I am gainfully employed (and wish to remain so) and guests are paying my wages so I am super conscious about what I can/ can’t write and what I should and shouldn’t talk about!
Christmas week is a pretty big deal in the Alps. Its the first busy week of the season and for many places their first real week of paying guests. Its also hugely pressurised. Christmas expectations are high, especially so with the catered chalets where all the trimmings are offered at Christmas time from mulled wine to fresh made mince pies. Not forgetting the turkey!
A week ago there was a mere dusting of snow on the ground and the snow cannons were working double time to keep the pistes open. This week however has been mainly spent clearing the white fluffy stuff so we could get into the accommodations and on the driveway safely. The snow has officially arrived and just in time for our weekly trip down the mountain to restock the chalets. The snow chains got their first outing! Its going to be a white Christmas!
In years gone by we wished for fresh powder to go and play in. After only 1 week of clearing that wish is waning! Apparently our Chalets have a reputation in resort as being the best snow clearers in previous years so we have big boots to fill!
Another thing that happened this week which I should have predicated is the arrival of the tour coaches! Aside from the snail pace that they travel up and down the mountain roads they really are spectacular to watch! Those drivers must have nerves of steel to take a vehicle that big up to the top of the mountain in snow chains! Kudos to those brave (slow) souls!
The food problem continues this week…I say problem. Its not a bad thing! Its great in fact. Dan and I get fed by the Chalets each day. The teams are producing some delicious food and we basically get the leftovers! We are expanding each day from all the wonderful food!
There is a game in the mountains that some Chalet chefs play on their hosts. Its called feed the host. A silly game where the objective is to look after your host almost too well throughout the season. The result is normally expanding waist lines. I am fairly confident our team is playing ‘feed the manager’!!
Neither Dan or I have ever worked a Christmas day before and it was a bit of an eye opener!
A whole different level of stress to deliver against seriously high expectations. Add into that mix Dan and I are both ill with a cold and Dan is celebrating a rather special birthday!
It made for a quite surreal day culminating in me taking a Turkey (Bob) for a ride on my knee between chalets whilst sitting in the boot of a van.
Once the last plates were cleared and put away the whole team headed for the local pub for a well deserved pint which turned into 3…and some sore heads on Boxing day but we delivered. It was quite a humbling moment, the whole team getting the job done.
This week also happens to mark the 4 year anniversary of our life change strategy.
4 years ago I changed jobs. I moved roles into a different team within the same company in an attempt to recover some of my work life balance. The previous 3 years had taken their toll on my health and whilst I loved what I did it was time for a change.
4 years ago this week Dan and I started to talk about change, about our long term future, about making every second count, about what we could do differently. 4 years ago this week our lives began to change for the better.
If I had to sum up the past 7 days with just two words it would be food and laughter.
If I could give the past ‘me’ two words of advice for this week it would be that Branca Menta (French Mint Liquor) shots are a bad idea on a ‘school’ night and to stop eating!
Its December 11th and training is now in full swing. The rest of the team arrived in resort a few days ago all full of energy and enthusiasm.
There is a surprising amount to learn about working in the mountains in winter and even more to learn about working in Chalets!
I mentioned earlier that Dan and I are total newbies to seasonaire work. Give me a multi million £ contract to negotiate or hand Dan a broken machine and we are like pigs in muck (so to speak). Drop us into the largest ski resort in Europe with a small owner led team, 3 chalets to look after and an expected 600+ guests over the course of the season and we have a really exciting challenge on our hands.
Our jobs really did take some looking for. There are so many opportunities out there but there are also so many people trying to stand out. Some of the bigger companies literally host recruitment sessions in multiple places in the UK and interview 100’s of people for a handful of jobs. I am going to come back to that at a later point because the whole seasonaire world/ approach/ concept was frankly baffling to start with BUT for now I want to tell you a little bit about what our jobs actually are!
Our team is really small but perfectly formed. There are 8 of us in total including the owner. Dan, my wonderful husband, is the main Driver for two of the guest chalets and the go to maintenance man. Thus far his skills from our years of tinkering on cars and houses have come in super handy. Anything from blocked sinks, sticking doors, blown bulbs and dripping taps to maintaining the work vans to get the guests to and from the pistes and keeping on top of the hot tub and sauna maintenance schedule. There isn’t much he cant fix to be honest and his driving skills in the snow are impressive!
This season I am taking on the brand new role of Chalet Manager covering all the Chalets to support their teams and the company owner to deliver the vision and to excel against customer expectations ensuring that they have the best holiday possible.
My role is really varied. One minute I can be helping a chalet cook to rearrange their menus to manage a last minute dietary requirement and sourcing the ingredients (not so straight forwards when the closest super market is an hours round trip away!) and the next minute I can be face to face with guests who may or may not be happy/ sad/ hurt/ excited/ arriving/ missing skis/ lost their lift pass/ wanting to book lessons/ leaving/ need a doctor/ want a good restaurant…the list is long! Its basically like being a load of different people all at the same time and its ace!
If I could have written down on a piece of paper the sort of job I wanted to do this season then it would be this. Beyond thrilled!
Its a brand new position so I get to mould it how I want it and everything I have learned over the past 20 years of my career is not wasted! Its totally different, that’s for sure! But there are so many parallels that can be drawn.
Whats even better is that Dan and I are doing it side by side so we can keep each other balanced and ‘on point’.
One of the best (and worst) bits of the job this week has been all the Chalet test meals.
Each team have an opportunity to cook a full meal for the rest of the group as if we are paying guests and then they get some feedback on how to make it even better.
Its been great! The standard has been super high and the guests are in for a real treat! The slight downside is that my ski pants no longer fit…turns out a week of 4 course meals is all it takes! Ooops!!!
Another great perk for seasonaires at the start of the season is that a lot of other companies are also testing their service/ offering out before the first real guests arrive. Loads of restaurants and bars run opening nights and discounted service to take consideration of the fact that they all have sparkly new teams that are still setting in.
In the past 7 days we have bagged 2 free snowboarding lessons with different companies wanting to test their concepts. It may also have something to do with the idea that the more seasonaires they train at the start of the season then the less accidents there will be as the season progresses?
The whole business approach in the mountains is just so foreign to me.
It does make total sense once you are here but takes a while to get your head around. The teams are created, formed, function and then disband in less time than it can take to make a really boozy Christmas cake!
Absolute profitability and asset write off is measured against half a year. It sure goes someway to explaining just why everything is so bloomin expensive up here! That and the fact it takes so long to drive everything up the mountain to sell plus its a captive holiday market. Thankfully another perk of the seasonaire life is slight discounts on standard prices when presenting the appropriate identification.
We are now less than 1 week away from the first guests arriving so its all hands to the pump. Scrubbing, washing, tidying, cleaning, sorting, cooking, prepping, shopping. You name it was have been doing it.
Roll on Saturday 14th and our Chalets will be full of holiday makers all expecting the best service and some fantastic skiing.
Winter season 2019-2020 you are here!
If you want to see what we did in week 1 take a look here