Travel Stories

Confessions of a Chalet Boy: Parts 1, 2 & 3

If you’re not already doing it – washing dishes, cooking beef bourgignon, shagging the guests – then chances are you’ve at least dreamed of doing it. Namely, packing it all in to work in a chalet for the winter.

Nick J made the leap a full 20 years ago and yet still finds himself drawn back to the Alps, year after year, for another season of hard riding and hard partying. Because, as any resort veteran can tell you, the ‘real job’ alternative often seems shittier than cleaning toilets on a daily basis.

In this new blog, Nick will be reporting on life as a seasonaire in France, worts and all. The confessions of a middle-aged chalet boy…

Part 1 – Here We Go Again

It had to be done. One last foray into the wacky world of seasonal madness.

My name is Nick. I am a middle-aged man who should know better. I cannot blame this on a mid-life crisis because I have been living this way most of my life. Winter, summer, home, abroad. Surfing, biking, snowboarding and even diving. I have not suddenly rejected a comfortable existence in Britain because I’ve never had one. Yes, I have played at it, but failed time and time again. This is not escapism. This is what I know. The only thing I’ve ever been good at. An all too long string of former girlfriends would testify to that.

The legendary Dog Town skater Jay Adams once said he had been on summer vacation for twenty years. I could not go that far, but I always know where my bucket and spade are… just in case.

I am not here to change the rules of engagement, I am here to snowboard. I accept how this works, and continue to play the game. What I hope to do this season is tell you what it’s like from the inside and for you to make your own mind up. No punches pulled, no quarter given. I am not here to win friends or influence people. Sometimes the names will be changed to protect the guilty, but other than that I am going call it how I see it. It’s just one man’s view, and that is all it’s meant to be. Don’t like it or agree with it? Fine. Write your own blog.

I had to return. I could not let twenty odd years of my life end in some tiny village in Italy nearly two years ago. Betrayed by my ex and sent home from a job I loved on my birthday. A hard pill to swallow, but i got over it. I always do. The first and only time I’ve been sacked. So here I am… One more time, my fate firmly back in my own hands. Win, lose or draw, it really does not matter. What matters is that I have made it happen and I am the master of my own fate. I am once again at the helm of HMS Calamity; it’s continuing mission: to complicate and, where possible, fuck my life to pieces.

There is a lot of bullshit written about seasonal life. The fact and fiction inextricably meld together, and separating one from the other is next to impossible. The willing participants themselves become initiates to the conspiracy – eagerly fuelling the myths they have become part of, hoping and praying that the bubble will not burst. The years roll by, but the song remains the same. The familiar sensations of dread, anxiety, and, somewhere buried deep inside, the anticipation of mind-blowing riding that drags me back season after season.

Packing my shit for the umpteenth time. Slightly more organised than other seasons, less stressful. Perhaps that’s because I’m packing for one not two? No need for a car full of shite. Trying to keep it simple, streamlined. Riding kit all still in good working order. Buy quality and it lasts. I will be worn out a lot sooner than my gore-tex jacket and pants will be. Lists made in my head. Buy lots of painkillers, razors, deodorant. All the little stuff that costs a fortune when you’re up a mountain. Small luxuries. Are pot noodles a luxury? Throw some in the trolley and keep moving. I’ll have eaten them in a week.

Everyone forgets something, that’s what Decathlon is for. I can and do spend hours wandering round its hallowed isles buying cheap but brilliant items I do not really need. I am notorious for my addiction to the place. Just make sure it isn’t your fucking passport you forget. Seen it happen at the ferry terminal. Young kid chucked off the bus and sent home. Disposable season fodder, his winter ruined. How precarious this world is, and how ruthless it can be. One of the first rules I learned, how expendable we all are in this winter wonderland. A sobering thought to hold.

So, tomorrow it begins… The journey to meet my good mate Mark, and the drive down through France in his car. Not excited, more determined. If it is to be the ending chapter in this tale, I intend to absorb and live every nanosecond of it. The good, the bad and the sometimes ugly.

I am ready for this now. Let battle commence.

Part 2 – Decompression

Global Warming eh??

Trust it to throw Britain back into the last ice age, and to send our already underachieving transport systems into meltdown. Thankfully we survived it. We just drove from the middle of the UK to Le Praz (Courchevelle) in one nightmarish go. When I say we, I mean my friend Mark did. I just sat there and tried to keep talking whilst he did all the heroics and drove the whole trip. Save for a couple of coffees and a fitful hour’s snooze at a service station we kept on trucking. The man is a fucking machine.

Mixed feelings as ever when I play this game. It is always a bit of a gamble. I have worked for this family company before and the owners are fair and honest. This makes a hell of a difference as the work in chalets is often ridiculously hard, monotonous and potentially soul destroying. For once this aspect of being here is cushioned by the fact that I have my own room (never happened for me before) in a nice chalet at the edge of the village. We even have spectacular views up the valley towards the Vanoise National Park. The flipside is we are above the crèche and we share with the two young girls who I know from a previous season. Great girls, Carly and Dippy, but can be a bit mental. Industrial ear plugs at the ready…

You just never know how the group dynamic thing will work out. It is possibly the most difficult aspect of working a season. You live with these people, often see them more time than you ever saw your own family in a day. They may piss you off with their stinking snowboard boots (guilty as charged) or they make keep you awake at night shagging when all you want to do is close your eyes and drift into an exhausted sleep. You roll the dice and hope for the best.

Today was a good day. Our lovely Resort Manager Mia gave me and Mark our passes early as we don’t start work till tomorrow. We drove up to Couchevelle 1850 and made our way to the Croisette where the bubbles rise relentlessly into the valley above. I was blown away by how many people were already there on the slopes. This is December 4th folks and first day the resort was open, yet it already had a mid-season feel on the limited terrain available to ride. Those of you booked early will be pleased to know there is plenty of snow already here in The Three Valleys. I couldn’t wait to get up there and see how bad I was.

… Ten minutes later I knew how bad. My usual completely inconsistent and unscientific approach to binding placement was a blinding success. You would think after twenty years I would know how far apart i need them and what angles I use? Now where would be the fun in that, I ask you? Read the tea leaves the night before and get to work with my trusty ratchet screw driver. Why change a winning formulae? I’ll tell you when I find one.

The pain was something I’d forgotten all about too. The agonising foot cramp that accompanies a new pair of boots and a long layoff. I never rode a singe day last season, I surfed all winter in not so sunny Wales, but this does not prepare your feet for the beating you serve up in a season’s snowboarding. I was completely fucking useless and it hurt too much to worry about it. It was a relief to realise Mark wasn’t feeling that much better. As fanatical as I am, I was relieved when he said he had had enough for the day too.

This is our training week. The week where we define our roles in the workplace and to some degree our social status too. Groups and cliques start to form within hours in this particle accelerator of social interaction. I can already see the nucleus of what is to come, the twists and turns always make for good gossip as the season progresses. No doubt i will have a lot more to tell you as the season continues and things get rolling.

The guests arrive in less than a week. Let’s hope it really isn’t the nightmare before Christmas. I’ll be sure to let you know next time.

Part 3 – The Après Begins

Why? In the name of God WHY drink absinthe? I was so full of good intentions this season. It is going to be my last in all likelihood, and I was convinced I was going to be a lean, mean snowboarding machine. If staggering back to the chalet with the two girls I live with at five in the morning, arm in arm singing “Lions and Tigers and Bears” from The Wizard of Oz is any indicator for this winter, it could get very messy. It is almost impossible not to party it up on a ski season; it borders on being a breach of contract to stay off the piss out here doing this sort of work.

It is nothing to do with peer pressure now, and all about appreciating that I might not be back for more. If it is the last time, then I want to enjoy the whole experience. Not just the snow and the beautiful mountains, but the camaraderie, and the sense of belonging. Hell, I even enjoy the work sometimes too…
Talking of which…

Our first week of guests. There are three of us working a large chalet for twenty-two people. Patch, the chef – a young guy with rock singer looks and a liking for the girls. A shit hot chef too, fortunately, and very laid back. Then we have our blonde hottie host, Faith. As angelic as she may look, she can talk as much filth as the rest of us and has the personality to match her appearance. The guests love her already. Completing the Dream Team is me. The old bastard. I work the kitchen and the front of house. I take my job very seriously. The only skill I really have is giving people a good holiday, and as sad as it sounds I like doing just that. Here I see my role as helping my two young colleagues have a good laugh at work and give the guests the best time we can. Making sure Chalet Roger is The Jolly Roger.

So far, so good… But Christmas is just around the corner, always a trying time in this line of work. Especially for the young guys and girls who are perhaps away from their families and friends for the first time.

Snow conditions aren’t that clever but it’s still a buzz to be riding again. I have latched onto the usual rag tag bunch of skier/boarder seasonaires you see hammering around the slopes on an afternoon in any resort. A crazy mash-up of styles, ages, skill sets, personalities and equipment. I usually ride a lot either on my own or with just a mate or two. Probably still will on the serious powder days, but I’ve got to say I am loving it. Nothing gets you riding faster than trying to hold onto the back of a bunch of decent skiers. I am usually fucked by the end of the day but it’s worth it.

Got to go. Another dinner to serve.

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