Is there more to a doing a ski season than toffee vodka and cleaning loos? Ok, so I cannot mask the hedonism of spending 5 months in a beautiful Never-Never Land location shedding pow and eating cake (please God let me avoid the cake this time), but it isn’t all “running away” and “refusing to grow up” and “would you please just keep a real job in London for more than 5 minutes Emily”… I digress. But Dad, I promise I am doing the winter for many positive reasons. And they don’t all involve Jager bombs.
Spat out of the education system with a Philosophy degree (ah, there’s your problem, I hear you titter) and a season pre and post uni under my belt, I have spent 18 wonderful months in London figuring out which ladder I might want to climb career-wise. I have learnt a lot, and had a lot of fun doing so, but have come to a few conclusions. That for those of us without a definite direction we want to pursue, life is too short to wait for pay cheques in an uninspiring workplace. That there are things on the bucket list that I want to tick off (I love lists) and that now is the time to do them. And that it is not true that it looks bad on a CV, there is so much to learn and so many transferable skills that will push you out of a back office environment and in to client facing roles, be it chalet hosting, bar work, driving or ski servicing.
1. Skiing and snowboarding for free
Put to one side the fact that you are there for 5 months; that you will be guaranteed that powder day, that sunny day, that dump-at-night-bluebird-morning day and think that you are doing this for free. Even ski holidays where I have crashed on a friend’s sofa-come-dining room table I have rinsed my bank account on getting out there, ski passes, ski rental etc. Working the ski season gets you a 5 month ticket to ride. A ski holiday is a luxury pastime that can seem inaccessible, but working the season is a way to enjoy and extend this dolce vita without a Swiss bank account.
2. Love of the sports
Be it skiing, snowboarding, or if you’re still committed to the onesie and the blades, mountain sports are addictive. Being out for a whole season allows you to improve not just in your chosen sport but gives you the time to try something else. Commit to an end of season goal, be it swapping 2 planks for 1, winning the mono-ski championships, landing that 360. Off peak weeks gives ski schools time to run seasonaire week-long workshops, pushing you to your limits, namely down couloirs. Thank you www.skimarmalade.com for the bumps training!
3. Love of the mountain
And in the beginning God said, “Let there be mountains, and let them be fully sick”. You’ve got to love a good view. And a good sunset. And yes, I am not saying that it is possible to see either on any given day, but if you’re doing a season you will definitely experience that day. That magic day when you find yourself the only one on the mountain, no half term chaos to break the silence, when that run is yours alone and the smile on your smug face could not be wiped off due to that chocolat chaud avec rrrrhum in your tum. An intensely humbling experience.
4. So much to learn
From improving ski technique, to wine training, to learning about food there is so much knowledge to acquire, and so many experts to soak it up from. Sit with a ski instructor and they’ll teach you about weather cycles, and why they’re bringing back mono skiing. Talk to chefs about the perfect temperature to boil an egg. Talk to those that have created a life or a business in a seasonal resort, who create a yearly income within a 4 month window, and you’ll learn from their drive. And hey, learn a language! How fluent you’ll become is dependent on the resort… but if you’re content with swear words, prepositions and food types then we can add it to the list… e.g. “Frites avec fromage et sweet chilli sauce. Oui?”
5. Foodie heaven
More often than not ski holidays come hand in hand with food. In my experience, the French Alpine experience involves more than your average daily feeds. Prepare for white foods: cheese, bread, potatoes, pastry, pasta, Victoria sponge, bread and cheese. Prepare also for the cheese dreams – hilarious morning conversation whilst prepping for breakfast. I am working for a chalet company that markets itself on superb food delivered by professional chefs who create 5 course master pieces 6 days of the week. Yes, there is much to learn and be inspired from, but there is much to taste! Those who want to work in bars, swap a gin and tonic for the left over crème brulees and everyone’s happy. Chalet hosts, approach with caution: that arse will grow…
6. To save money
Dare I say it, but it is possible, and for me, much more feasible than doing so in London. London is best experienced by saying yes to everything. To after work drinks, to restaurants, to theme parks, to exhibitions. It is an incredible city and I shall miss it. I shall not miss the last week before my pay cheque when the office biscuit supply is my main source of nutrition having haemorrhaged my monthly supply of funds. Pay might be significantly less than in a UK job, but outgoings amount to a bar tab or two, and how big your fetish for beanies is. NB Cake has the same value as gold: it can be swapped for a beer, a lift down the mountain, a discounted service on your skis. Scratch backs.
7. The Atmosphere
Working in a tourist resort sees thousands of people stream in and out weekly. Every change over day in a chalet spreads fear through the staff. Changing beds teetering on that fine line between hungover and still drunk, every new group will never be as cool as the ones that just left. Once you’ve mopped your way through Ultimate 80’s Collection, congratulating self on knowledge of all lyrics to Word Up, the CD goes back into hiding and the new guests flood in. And every week they revitalise the place. People on holiday are people at their best. And a ski resort caters to this, from live music to happy hours, a perfect concoction for many a dance-off. This aside there is a unity in outlook that promotes living life to its fullest and enjoying good company, good food, adventure and the present.
8. The People
The stereotypes can be painfully accurate. The posh girl with love of fur, the gnarly baggy-trousered Etonian who loves the mountains because he can just be himself, the Australian functioning alcoholic. But there is also so much more to the people who work the winter. Where you’ve come from is irrelevant, in fact surnames are pretty redundant. You’ll be lucky if your name reflects the company you work for: “You won’t believe what Skiworld Tom did last night…” Cursed are those that let a story become their identity; “Have you seen Billy 5-Poos today?” And no, you never ask. Aside from this there is a weekly influx of guests that all have stories to share, and advice to offer. You never know what that lady you are driving from Geneva does for a living unless you ask, it might make everything click into place…
9. Vitamin D
I am not trying to write a thesis on curing depression here, but there is certainly something to be said for the fact that winter in a 9 to 5 deprives you of sunlight 5 days out of 7. Lunch breaks when rays of sun manage to find your face are a luxury and when you arrive and leave in hours of darkness, fatigue and claustrophobia can prevail. Working in a chalet, your time off is in daylight. Bar workers, drivers, maintenance gurus will also be given days and half days to themselves because employers understand the reason seasonaires work so hard: to play harder in their time off. Yes there will be days when the snow hits you vertically like an old hag slapping you with needled gloves, but there will be days then blue skies reign and you could ski in a t-shirt (obviously you don’t because you are not a punter). It makes the soul happy.
Yes, I’m down with the kids, and they love a good acronym. Cringe-worthy as it is, the final reason is You Only Live Once. At some stage I have realised that you have to grab life by the balls. In telling people that I am going to work another season they say, “I would love to do that” followed by some expletive spat in my general direction. My answer, very irritatingly for them, is “Why don’t you?” I had a growing fear that all my Bucket List dreams would sit gathering dust in a corner of my mind marked “Stuff I wish I’d done”. But I have been given a life, and I want to live it fully. My curriculum vitae might suffer superficially, but then I intend to weave myself a fulfilling career and find an employer that will value the adventures. If it’s on your list, then bloody do it. And do it now.