Category: Travel Diaries & Blog (page 2 of 5)

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 8 – a bit bitty!

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!

The biggest news of the week is that the snow is back! Bucket loads falling from the sky! Not too soon either as the slopes were looking quite patchy. Also very well timed for an off piste group joining us for a week of lessons in the fluffy powder!

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.

The lift staff (‘lifties’) are a high percentage of the striking union workers. At least they have a sense of humor though – this fabulous creation is located at one of the major lift stations and its made entirely out of lost property!

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.

Back to our current reality…things break sometimes! Part of Dan’s job is to fix things when they do. On this occasion it was especially important as it’s a vital tool of our jobs. The washing machine!!! Normally only used for chef blacks and kitchen towels but most recently its been washing some of our chalet linens due to a laundry mix up leaving us short until replacements arrive.

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.

Sadly no amount of PMA or positive thinking could disperse the ridiculous crowds this week! Its not even half term yet and thanks to our continued snow fall and avalanche risk/ securing, lots of the resort was closed. It resulted in a heavy burden on just a few lifts. This was where our intimate resort knowledge came in handy to skirt around the queues and head for a quieter section of the resort. Winning!
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!

Have I mentioned its snowing yet? SOOOO Happy for some fresh powder!

Strikes or not at least the snow is going to keep falling…upside is that the pistes might be unusually quiet if the blockades work!
She really is glorious when there is fresh snow fall and big blue skies!

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!

Top right of the photo you can just see a daring fella in brown trousers about to slide into the bowl off the roof of the garage. Bonkers!

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!

This rather small portion of burger and chips cost me a grand total of €16 (£13.28)!
It tasted lovely mind but with those prices we can’t afford to eat out often!
This is where tip money comes into its own! The wages pay our bills but the tips feed us junk food! 🙂 #starvingseasonaire

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!

You can find out what happened last week here.

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 7 – So Sad

She may be beautiful but she is also hostile when she wants to be.

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.

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 6 – The week of good fortune

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.

There is nothing blue about my Monday! Half a pint of hot chocolate anyone? 🙂

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.

In this theory, higher needs in the hierarchy begin to emerge when people feel they have sufficiently satisfied the previous need.

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! 😛

Some light hearted evening entertainment! The impossible puzzle! This image is one of the strongest reasons why I love France as much as I do. The sunflowers in full bloom are a sight to behold and are rather magical.

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.

This is my release. A cold afternoon walk along one of the winter footpaths was just what I needed. Some quiet time to reflect. Perspective is a prized commodity!

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!

Avert your eyes!!! This grim looking bowl of gunk just happens to be the reason why the team had to bring all their washing up home with them! The sink got blocked! Super Dan to the rescue. Its not all glamorous!

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!

We took a little trip to Val Thoren to find the Mother In Law!

Your can find out what we got up to last week here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 5 – January has arrived.

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.

Its nice to just sit and take it all in sometimes!

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!

Not my finest photo but I made cake! I found baking to be incredibly therapeutic! This delicious masterpiece is a carrot cake! Each day we bake fresh goodies for the guests to enjoy afternoon tea when they get back from the slopes.

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!

Consequently we can add another experience to the Katie travels with food in a van story board… This time it’s piping hot soup…We shared the cooking between chalets and didn’t consider how to transfer the finished product between accommodations. Lesson Number 3 in the mountains…think ahead!

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!!
The place we once considered to be our forever home will now belong to another family who can make their own memories! Onward and upwards! Vive la France!

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.

Back in the mountains the pistes are so much quieter now that the NYE tourists have gone home and we have wall to wall sunshine! Blue skies as far as you can see!

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.

The lack of fresh snow and warmer temperatures during the day are making for some interesting thaws! This blanket of snow is slowing sliding off the corrugated roof of the communal bread oven next to our house.
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!

The frosts have been especially beautiful recently!

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.

You can find out what we did last week here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 4 – NYE

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!)

A little reminder to myself why we are here even if we didn’t get to play in it very much this week…

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!

This tasty delight took me a week to eat. A WEEK!! I shall explain why…

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!

Fortuitously this difficult week was punctuated by a rather glorious NYE firework spectacle in Meribel which I was able to catch.

This turned out to be a double whammy!

I got a few minutes to reflect on why we are here and get some perspective away from the strain of managing customer expectations without a full compliment of staff and I got to celebrate the New Year at the 6.30 kids session which was handy because I didn’t actually see in the New Year as I was knackered and in bed (and sober!) by 11pm!

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!

New years eve is really special in the mountains and the buzz is palpable. Watching the fireworks go off all down the valley is beautiful. The sky line is awash with pretty colours and we try to add a little bit of sparkle to our guests evenings too.

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!

Look at them all!!! People everywhere!!! All having a lovely holiday time

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

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 3 – Christmas

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 rare blue sky this week! Glorious between the blizzards!

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!

A huge pile of snow in front of one of the chalets created by Dan for the snow plough to take away the next day

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 / waist line struggle is real! Leftovers for our dinner come in whatever container is available to transport from the Chalets.

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’!!

This is Bob the Turkey! Christmas dinner was epic and between us we fed 30 guests a 5 course meal that went down a treat!
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.

We did manage to get a couple of hours play time on the pistes to celebrate Dan’s birthday which was very cool and makes it all worth while.
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 you had told me 4 years ago that this would be my work view I would never have believed you.

You can find out what we did in Week 2 here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 2 – Season Start

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!

Muffin on the mountain finding the first snow of the season!
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 new home for the next 5 months. Les Allues and its church in the background.

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!

One of my HARDEST jobs….testing the food pre season start to ensure the standards are high and the customers get the best experience…its a tough life! 🙂
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!!!

I might be full of fine dining but there is ALWAYS room for a mountain hot chocolate!

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.

Its a pretty special job that means you can do this on your lunch breaks!

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

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 1 – Training

As our first week in the Mountains draws to a close we have a day off work to reflect on just how much has happened and changed in the last few weeks.

After 210 days living on our Motorhome we packed everything up. Put the Hymer into winter storage and loaded up a hire car to get us 450 miles across France from the Sunny Dordogne to the Snowy Savoie.

You can find out a little bit of our back story here (linky coming…final draft in progress) should you be interested as to how we ended up here. How & why we ended up saying goodbye to perfectly acceptable careers and all the life trimmings that come with middle management jobs.

The past few years have been leading to this very moment. For now however, I shall focus on today.

This is today:

This view is the answer. Our answer.
A visual explanation occasionally used to explain our life choices to people
Effective November 27th 2019 Dan and I are Winter ‘seasonaires’ in the French Ski resort of Meribel.

So what does that actually mean? In short being a “seasonaire” basically means that you work in seasonal role typically linked to a hospitality business (which could be anything from laundry, cooking, cleaning, bars, shop work…) for a short (fixed term) term contract in a holiday resort. In our case a winter holiday resort in the French Alps. The pay will never make us rich but the employers offer something (arguably) far more enticing than the £€$ in you pay slip each month. A great deal of companies will offer accommodation, lift passes, food, transport, insurance, drinks, discounts…the list is practically endless.

Its a very clever concept really. Dan and I could never realistically afford to live a full season in the mountains (even in our motorhome). The lift pass costs and food bills alone would break our respective banks and use up a big percentage of our savings.

Our jobs for the next 5 months come with a one bed apartment, full insurance for on and off the mountain, lift passes, food while on duty, uniforms plus a pay packet at the end of each month to keep up our national insurance contributions.

This approach was a no brainer for us. Getting the type of jobs we have with the perks we did was not at all straight forwards. This is a highly competitive industry. Its not unusual for companies to receive thousands of applications.

Its hardly surprising however. We are being paid, housed, fed & watered plus insured, clothed and treated to as much mountain time (for free) that we can juggle around our working weeks. Its our literal jackpot.

Our first week has been a busy one! The rest of the team are yet to arrive and the guests are still a few weeks away but we are fortunate enough to be in resort a few weeks early to settle in and familiarise ourselves with the area and what it has to offer.

Our training is thorough. Everything from Health and Safety, snow chain driving, fire safety, sales & bookings, dietary requirement management, team development, cleaning, chalet set up, guests expectations, company image…its a lot to take in. Especially when you are brand new to this!

Have I mentioned that we are total seasonaire newbies? Yep. Never done this before so its a bit like turning our career clocks back 20 years and starting from scratch!

How hard can it be though right? Its not like we are brand new to people management or customer facing roles. We do however have 40 year old bodies that may not take so kindly to the typical mountain lifestyle for seasonaires where sleep seems to be the absolute last thing on their minds!

I guess the next few weeks will tell! Hopefully you will stick with us while we find our feet and see how this all pans out.

The snow remains elusive but there is a buzz in the atmosphere that winter is just around the corner and very soon the hills and valleys will be covered with the white stuff and the masses will descend. Until then we shall satiate ourselves with views of the snow capped taller mountains and the clock ticking down to season start.

We are thrilled to be here and are so happy that our new boss took a chance on us this season. Cant want to see how this next chapter goes!

If you want to see what we got up to in week 2 take a look here

Nouvelle Aquitaine

Wild Shakin and Car Weekender

Love old cars and the culture, clothing and music of yesteryear? Then look no further!

Whilst on a river boating holiday along the Baise in South West France we reached the end of the navigable section when we arrived at Valence-Sur-Baise. In short you can’t travel any further down stream as it becomes to narrow and too fast flowing.

You can read more about that boating adventure here: Boating break in 2015

As fate would have it we arrived here on September 5th which is almost 10 days earlier than we had intended to due to some freak mother nature incident and a change to our cruise plans (see above link to read more on that!)

September 5th just also happened to be the annual Wild Shakin and car weekender in the nearby village of Maignaut-Tauzia. We found this out purely by chance reading the local notice board while out exploring.

Never ones to turn down a good party – We donned our best clothes and set off on our bikes to find said village to see what the gathering was all about. Here in started my love of all things 1940/50/60’s and our fortune of being in the right place at the right time (when it comes to random parties at least!)

We were not disappointed! It was already in full swing when we arrived with assorted period clothes stalls, food stands, a traditional barber, live band and countless classic cars to drool over!

You can find more photos from the event here

The part in Maignaut-Tauzia was run by the association “Arts and Spectacles Maignautois” in collaboration with the “Wild Car CC” (American car club, European and rock’n’roll, until 1980 for the Americans and 1965 for the Europeans). You can find out more about them here:

They seem to run things throughout the year so if you happen to be passing by you wont be disappointed checking out one of their parties!

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