Winter is upon us and the European ski season is once more ready to commence, meaning that thousands of excited first time seasonnaires will be busy preparing for a winter working in a snowy ski resort high up in the mountains.
This time two years ago, this was me. I was excited but very apprehensive… I didn’t know what to expect from my position as a chalet girl working for a small company in the French Alps, and it was nerve wracking. I boarded a bus from London Victoria pretty sad to be leaving my best friends and family after a painfully short return from travelling, and I had mixed emotions.
When I eventually arrived the snow was falling, the mountains looked more beautiful and majestic than I remembered and there was a crisp blue sky above. Perfect. I got off the bus and hung kind of awkwardly around the people who were working for the same company. We were taken to a large chalet for a week of training. Great! No work straight away. Seems obvious, but I just had no clue.
When we arrived, I got the first shock of the season. Announced in front of a room of the entire staff of the company, I was asked told that instead of working as the position I had applied for as a chalet girl, I would in fact be working as a commis chef in a chalet catering for over 40 guests every night. A commis chef. Despite no prior training as a chef and my protestations about handling meat due to being a vegetarian, the company owner’s mind was apparently already made up. I was to work underneath a crazy Irish chef with the temperament of an angry child. Marvellous!
After I got over the initial blow, I decided the change wasn’t going to be so bad. Sure, I was working longer hours than I would have, and I was under a lot of pressure due to my inability to work in a professional kitchen (I mean, come on?!), but it was fun enough. I still got to ski every day and drink every night and all was well. But the owner of the company was a mean old man, and fired several people left, right and centre without prior warning or reason. My time also came to be unceremoniously fired by the tyrant, but I took it in my stride and managed to get another job in a Mark Warner hotel in the same resort. Easy…
So, the reality of working a ski season? It’s great. It really is. But along with my condensed near disaster story of my season, here’s a few things to bear in mind:
It is hard work. Not so much mentally challenging as most of the tasks are pretty menial and mindless, but it’s long, long hours on your feet all day long. Early mornings are often followed by late nights, which don’t bode well for general functionality. Maybe it’s easier to look at it that you’re there to work… with skiing as a bonus. Limit that disappointment.
Your company don’t care about you – at least 9 times out of 10. Unless you work for a big company like Mark Warner or Ski Total who are not legally allowed to fire you without sufficient disciplinary action beforehand, you can be fired at the drop of a hat, with a flight booked for you the next day leaving you bewildered, disappointed and more than a bit annoyed at the injustice of the whole situation.
You won’t ski every day. You think you’re going out there for the pure love of the mountain, but living in a ski resort kind of makes you into a bit of a picky skier or boarder. White out days when you can’t see up from down are inevitably going to be a big fat nope, and you’ll probably just end up trying to catch up on sleep. Or hang out with your new best friends.
Seasonnaires are annoying. Ski season people come in a variety of different stereotypes, and the most annoying – without a doubt (unless you’re one of them… in which case SHAME ON YOU!) – are the ones that just LOVE that they’re a seasonnaire. They say things like, ‘Gonna get some virgin tracks’, and ‘Look at the fresh pow-pow’, and look condescendingly at the ‘punters’ on they’re jolly holidays. It’s pretentious, they think they’re all awesome, and they’re actually just plain annoying. Beware.
You’re going to leave much poorer than you arrived. Not necessarily true if you have an awesome chalet job where you get tipped a lot, but if you work in a big hotel… well. Prepare to lose all your money to unnecessary but inevitable purchasing of snow attire with your not-so-awesome season discount and, of course, lots and lots of beer. Food is paid for, granted, but when your wage is £50 a week, your bank account is never going to be too happy with any amount of spending that you do. Unless you miraculously manage to survive on £25 a week…
So, conclusions? Don’t get me wrong, doing a season is awesome. But it’s also a lot of hard work. I’d forever recommend one, but just be wary that it’s not going to be the idyllic winter wonderland retreat that you probably imagine.