The Seasonaire blog of the amazing life and dubious times working in a ski resort by the one and only Seasonairehead.
Will it snow, will the guests behave, will I survive New Year's Eve, resist chalet cake - and can I ever give up the mountains for a city job? Seasonairehead is on a quest to find the answers.
STUCK BETWEEN CITY ROCK AND AN ICY HARD PLACE
So here I am back in the mountains. After months of sitting at an office desk while my friends gallivant off for another season, it was my turn to pack the skis, rescue my scratched goggles and try and find a matching pair of ski socks.
Yes, being ‘stuck’ in London suddenly had its perks of giving me three and a half weeks off to do with what I please. While being paid. So, naturally, the mountains started calling, more persistently than they usually do. It was time to switch the black line of the Northern line for some black lines on the piste map.
Oh, and did I mention that I'm in Serre Chevalier
However, this is like the summer that we never had in the mountainous surroundings. There has been constant sun, blue skies and grass, supposed-to-be-black runs, all the way into the village. Yes, as I’m sure you’re all aware: the snow is pretty absent. Instead, there are runs of sheet ice and cruddy rain-soaked snow off piste. Oh, and did I mention that I’m in Serre Chevalier?
Now, I know loads of people love Serre Chevalier and it’s actually only one of the few resorts to have had fairly decent snow coverage, (I’m looking at you Morzine). But God, a three-times Tignes seasonaire’s idea of reigniting those ‘shred all day, après with pitchers and pass out at 3am’ times, Serre Chevalier is not. Well, this is partly because the resort’s empty, understandably. With people apparently having paid three grand for Christmas week in Club Merde (Med), the building now stands empty and closed up, surrounded by luscious green tennis courts and crystal blue, unfrozen swimming pools. But hey, there is mini golf!
I guess I feel a bit stuck in limbo
At the moment, Serre Chevalier is more like an old people’s home version of a resort. Well, old is unfair. It’s more of a place where the bandana-wearing backcountry people chill out in between shredding La Grave down the road and wanting to get away from the resorts filled with punter tiger-onesie wearing 18 year olds (and who can blame them?).
I guess I feel a bit stuck in limbo, and in more ways than stuck between the grass down in the village and snow up top. In many ways (at 24) I’m too ‘old’ myself to do seasons still, (this was only emphasised yesterday when a 20 year old sighed and said she feels too old to carry on with seasons). But, I feel too young to be somewhere like Serre Cherre. Wear a baggy beanie and après with your ski boots still on and a jug of beer in hand and you almost get looks of utter disgust as people sit there in their jeans, expensive Sorel boots and respectable Patagonia gilets, sipping on their vin chaud. And the French sit there in their scarves. What it is with the French always wearing knitted scarves, even the men?
Everyone's got to 'grow up' sometime
It’s easy to constantly pine for the mountain lifestyle when you’re squished into someone’s armpit on the Northern Line every morning and evening. Elbowing someone to get that elusive empty seat is the only ounce of adrenaline London commuters can get. Yet, everyone’s got to ‘grow up’ at some point. And my London job is pretty awesome to be fair. I’ve been told countless times that the season bubble has to be ‘burst’ in order to try the city life. I’ve just been told this by 35 year olds who tried the city life for two years, thought they were going to have a mental breakdown and sacked it all in for the mountain life.
Still, regardless of whether you’re stuck on the tube or stuck on the grass in Serre Chevalier, there has been a lot of snow dancing happening. At the end of the day, who cares what the resort’s like as long as there’s snow, right? Cruising around the pistes yesterday, there is decent snow to be found, just be prepared to experience ice skating more than skiing.
The ice is out in full force and this is a particularly interesting experience when on twin tips.
As with trying to take on the ice, I’m trying a new, similar technique in life: Just sliiiiiiiiiide. Whether you end up yard-sale-ing in life, or making it down in one piece, the ride’s pretty fun regardless, even if there’s signal failure on the Northern line.
SEASON THREE. EPISODE FOUR
CHALET OR SHAN'T I? GOING BACK TO CHALET HOSTING?
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, with decisions to make job wise - and, yes, The Tour Op has claimed me back as one of their own.
I had to face the reality that, working independently, I was only doing the weekends, checking apartments and welcoming guests - plus some writing during the week. With the costs of food and beer mounting up, I couldn’t really turn down the option to chalet host again for The Tour Op. This season has definitely bought an excess of seasonaires in Tignes looking for work and not enough jobs or accommodation. But, you see, as I had paid for my own shared apartment for the season, and bought my own lift pass, it meant that when The Tour Op suddenly offered me a job as Chalet Host again, I was able to ‘opt out’ of the tour operator’s Provision of Service, thereby being paid more than the average host’s peanut wage. From a bit of financial hell at the beginning of the season, fingers crossed, things seem to be turning out okay.
Out comes the need to name one guy 'egg man'
Falling back into the Chalet Host life was more difficult than expected. Those 6am starts hit you hard. And then there’s transfer day. Back to bleeding hands, permanently polishing cutlery and sprinting up the hill to the bin as fast as possible before the bin bag splits. Chalet hosting still always leaves me chuckling more than anything else though. I had forgotten how funny, but necessary, it is to ‘name’ guests. Working in a 32 man chalet, it’s nigh on impossible to remember everyone’s names every single week. So, out comes the need to name one guy ‘egg man’ as he orders three boiled eggs every morning, or ‘thermal man’ as he parades around the chalet every day in the tightest thermals possible. We nearly bought him a pair of shorts for the sake of our eyes.
He catapulted out of his room's window within five seconds
Our chalet also attracts a certain type of ‘guest’. Let’s just say that there’s been quite a lot of vomit to clear up and fire alarms to set off as a punishment when they’re sleeping off their hangover. One guy arrived off the coach so battered that he catapulted out of his room’s window within five seconds of us showing him to his bedroom. Well, that was after he tried to toboggan down the hill from the coach on his suitcase, epically failing and falling into a small snow bowl. He was steaming too badly to hike out. Two other guys were also so battered, and so excited, that they picked me up and threw me against the chalet wall. I’ve never come back from a transfer day with so many bruises.
I’ve also definitely felt it harder to go out at nights. I want my eight hours of sleep more than I do a jagerbomb. That’s what third seasons do to you. I also turned 24 last week so I feel that it’s better to sleep and be rested for shredding rather than join The Tour Op’s bar crawl. I did have a very awesome birthday night at So Bar drinking dirty martinis though… and passing out on the bathroom floor at 4am.
We hobble around like pensioners
While my liver’s mostly having a better time than past seasons, the 24 year old, third season/ post-ACL operation knees are taking their toll. My friend here also has knee problems so we hobble around like pensioners rather than sprightly young seasonaires. As the genuinely sprightly 18 year old seasonaires do run around resort loving life, it’s hard not to sit on our balcony in the sun, in a rocking chair, finding ourselves saying ‘back in our day’. If only I could get my hands on a pipe and some knitting the picture would be perfect. Yet, the old grandma in me disappeared last week as I couldn’t stop myself from falling into the ‘day off routine’: sleep in till 12, start drinking at 2pm, seeing double by 7pm and passed out stone cold by 9pm. And then up riding the next day after the chalet morning shift.
A snow snake got me spectacularly
It’s been beautiful bluebirds here for the last three days, and we’re due sunshine and blue skies for the rest of the week. I’ve just come back from riding for the last five hours and there’s definite slush, but it’s too beautiful to worry too much. There have been plenty of sneaky snow snakes around too. Snow snakes are what we call things that make you stack it on snow for no apparent reason. A snow snake got me spectacularly the other day, causing me to double eject from my skis and forward roll down the slope. They’ve been popping up everywhere, taking many seasonaires out.
Be warned: the sneaky snow sake leaves other watching seasonaires in fits of laughter. The chuckles deafen the mountain.
SEASON THREE: EPISODE THREE
HOW PERSPECTIVES AND PRIORITIES CHANGE
So things have definitely been up and down over the last few weeks. The January Blues have hit resort. While January is time for seasonaires to completely disregard their ‘sensible’ New Year’s Resolutions, and instead settle into routine and the craziness of seasonaire life, this January for me has been about getting used to no routine and a much mellower ‘seasonaire life’. Yes, what I have come to learn the hard way is that life is potentially a lot more harder out of the Tour-Op ‘bubble’ that has engulfed me for the past two seasons.
Gone is the security of a lift pass, solid hours, the ‘family’ vibe and knowing that you can ride every day. Sure, the tour-ops'way had its definite down sides: working a ridiculous amount of hours for very little pay, scrubbing toilets every day, having to make sure that the chalet cake bum doesn’t creep up on you, generally being treated like crap by guests and that ‘family’ vibe sometimes becoming a little too incestuous.
It's called growing up I guess
But, this way of working ‘independently’ is proving a struggle having to constantly count the coppers and yesterday making the painful step of paying 1,200 euros for a lift pass. The major moral of the story is to check that a contract will definitely, definitely, definitely be provided before you leave for a season.
Yet, flying the ‘nest’ of the tour operator had to happen one day: I couldn’t sit in the nest forever surrounded by 18 year-olds squawking at me. It’s called growing up I guess, which is a hard thing for seasonaires to grasp as we’re constantly locked into that ‘Peter Pan syndrome’. At least this way I get to potentially ride more now than previous years and focus on things like writing, rather than worrying about running out of cleaning products. My craving for chalet cake has also been replaced by an unhealthy obsession for humus that has now evolved into me sprinting into the Sherpa to fight over the last tub. And I wonder why my knee still hurts. Oh, how perspectives and priorities change within a year.
It was also nice to have the ‘rents’ out in resort last week. For the first time in three seasons, I got to properly spend time with them, rather than a quick hour here and there in between working in chalets. I also got to go riding with them. This was incredibly exciting after not being able to ski at all last year. Being able to ski on my Dad’s tail meant that my confidence and speed was able to build up quite quickly; although unfortunately so did the pain.
Cue frozen hair and frozen goggles
Yet, we were able to shred in Courchevel, St Foy, Val D’Isere and Tignes over the course of three days. I also got to get up on the hill with my twin sister who's a nanny in Courchevel for the season and earning some serious Ka Ching through babysitting! Skiing as a family for the first time in five years was ridiculously fun, even though it was a complete white-out on the last day. Cue frozen hair and frozen goggles, (that you can kind of see in the below photo) but a much desired pint with peche at après.
I’ve also discovered that my favourite bar here serves Martini. I think I might have found the solution for keeping the January Blues at bay for now…
So hitting the slopes has been interesting. Thirteen months on from snapping my ACL, and after my reconstruction on 1st May, I was covering a lot of ground yesterday with my first proper day back on the hill, rather than just heading for the nursery slope. With the snow being quite bumpy, the knee definitely felt it.
Initially, I also had the Zoolander problem of not being able to turn left. Wearing the big metal brace definitely took some getting used to. But, over the course of the day, confidence kicked in and I was beyond happy to be riding Palafour as if nothing had happened.
Last week was also New Year's Eve. It's always the most mental night of the year in Tignes, with everyone piling onto the piste at about 11pm to peck their heads pigeon-style to weird French Euro-techno music before being bombarded with a pretty incredible firework display. I only ever remember the firework display. Well, at least I saw more than my flatmate, who, at 11pm, came back to the flat absolutely battered and passed out on the sofa, missing the whole of New Year's Eve. Anyway, whether you made it past 12 or not, every seasonaire always wakes up January 1st with the determined and focused purpose of sticking to their New Year's resolutions.
The Seasonaire's List of Resolutions always reads:
Never Again will I sleep with xxxx,
Never Again will I sleep with xxxx for the hell of it,
Never Again will I drink toffee vodka,
Never Again will I drink Jagerbombs,
Never Again will I drink Genepi,
Never Again will I drink Chartreuse,
Never Again will I devour a good three quarters of the chalet cake,
Never Again will I accidentally sleep in all day and miss a blue bird,
Never Again will I think that I'm Katie Summerhayes/ Jenny Jones/ Billy Morgan/ Shaun White/ James Woods when attempting a jump,
Never Again will I think that it's a good idea to mix toffee vodka/ Jagebombs/ Genepi/ Chartreuse with the necessary copious amount of pain killers after hitting that kicker and thinking I was Katie Summerhayes/ Jenny Jones/ Billy Morgan/ Shaun White/ James Woods.
As you can probably guess, the list lasts approximately 12 hours.
I know someone's New Year's resolution in resort will read 'Never Again will I steal from that bar unless I want to get maced in the eyes'. And it was mace that left a nice red rash around the eyes, making the guy look like a skinned racoon for the next 12 hours. Well, the branding probably lasted way longer than the average seasonaire's resolutions.
Check out the madness of the night
As all the happenings of another New Year's in Tignes went up online, we were left pacing round the apartment panicking at what photographic evidence was being uploaded. See, we had arrived in resort early December and so had to last at least a month without internet. I want to say that we were craving the internet because we desperately wanted to Skype friends and family back home. While that is true, we also needed to know what ridiculously unattractive photos were going up on Facebook. When the green light on the wifi box suddenly turned from red to green we all let out a squeal. First World Seasonaire Problems eh?
The money troubles are raising their head
Doing a season this way, without the scary tour-operator breathing down your neck, the money troubles are raising their head. It turns out that the demi peches do add up. I'm also sure that the inevitable 'season drama' will kick in any day now. But until then, I'm slowing down on the demi peches and trying to let the only stress in life be waking up in the morning and wondering whether to change your goggle lenses because of the light outside.
Bisous for now x
SEASON THREE: EPISODE ONE
BECOMING A PRO SEASONAIRE
The third season has begun. Normally in TV series, the third season is ‘meh’, or the third movie in a sequel franchise is pointless. Well, unless it’s Breaking Bad or Toy Story. And I’m hoping that this season is going to be my Toy Story 3: a good way to end it. Ha, you can shove those words in my face when I’m back again next year.
For those of you who don’t know, last season was a bit of disaster to say the least: Christmas Eve, I decided to hit the park and snapped my ACL. Cue no skiing for the rest of the season and an operation in May, as well as creating a small addiction to pain killers and beer. And martini. And dancing one legged for après. Anyway, Season Three and I’ve ditched the tour operator job for a weekend job as well as looking for more work during the week. It’s a scary change. I feel like I’ve flown the ‘nest’ of management watching your every move, guests complaining about anything and everything and me having to try and keep up drinking with 18 year olds. It’s flipping nice not having to get up at 2am for transfer days, not waiting in for deliveries and no pube hunting in bathrooms. But, the cake shakes have begun; the withdrawal of daily chalet cake is definitely proving difficult.
The coin's balanced perfectly upright
It’s nice being able to meet the ‘real’ seasonaires; the other side of the seasonaire coin. On one side, you have the 18 year old ‘gap yah’ girls with their penchant for fur-lined jackets and talking about horses, and on the other you have the ‘pro’ seasonaires. These are the guys who meant to do one season nd are still here 10 years later. At the moment, the coin’s balanced perfectly upright on the table. But, let’s be honest, we know which way it’s going to fall. Let’s just say, I’ve never been a giant fan of fur-lined jackets
I seem to be in a small minority of early twenty year olds who have headed out to resort in the hope that we can wing a job, wing an apartment and shred till our heart’s content. Yet, jobs this year seem to be nigh on impossible to secure, and accommodation is proving more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack… or a snowflake in the sky up until a few days ago. It’s making the season scarier in that respect, but I’m hoping that things will reshuffle and settle in the New Year when people get homesick or, god forbid, snap their ACLs and so more jobs become available. Well, not that snapping my ACL sent me home.
Santa was a proper gentleman
Snow, before Christmas, was also proving as elusive as jobs and flats currently are. You could see grass. However, Santa was a proper gentleman, this year and brought us a nice lot of snow . There was a lot of ice on the slopes, the wind was howling and the lifts had to be shut, so Santa’s Storm was much appreciated. It was absolutely puking it down.
As well as having the uncertainty of a weekly job, there’s also been the giant uncertainty of whether I could ski. It’s been seven months since the operation to reconstruct my ACL and there’s been a lot of frustration, elation and then tons more frustration. Knowing that I was leaving on 7th December for the mountains acted as an amazing motivation to go to physio appointments and hit the gym religiously as well as having a Dad who snapped his ACL the year before. Mr Motivator got a heck of a lot tougher, and he didn’t wear Lycra or a headband, thank God.
But, Christmas Eve came round again and I was on the nursery slope. That may mean nothing to most people, but for me it marks the yearly anniversary of the worst injury and I’m riding absolutely fine with a big metal brace on. I’m able to do parallel turns, dig my edges in and ride as if nothing’s happened. I even had a go at teaching my friend how to ski for the first time, so yes, that is why I've not got poles in the above photo.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to jump too soon and start hitting the black kickers, but I’ve got the confidence back and I’m so stoked that I got a little Christmas Day ski. I’ve done three seasons and have never skied on Christmas Day. Season Number One involved having to cook Christmas Dinner, so there was no leaving the chalet, and Season Number Two was with a snapped ACL, so the mountain of painkillers engulfed any memory of last Christmas in a hazy fog.
I’m going with third time lucky for this year. Season Number Three may be the best sequel yet. look out for Episode Two coming soon.
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