Off to Cornbury

The armed police were very attentive as we neared the venue for our first experience of working as stewards at a festival. We were headed for Cornbury at Great Tew in Oxfordshire, not far from Blenheim. Some American big-wig (or toupee) was visiting the palace, which may have diverted the attention of our guards. They appeared unable to influence the ubiquitous roadworks which reduced the access route to single track. This might prove to be quite an impediment when the expected 20,000 people per day arrive.

We rocked up on Wednesday, to allow time to settle in before our first shift on Thursday afternoon. The blue 5-man tent was pitched in the half-empty crew-camping field without any fall-outs and we settled down to a well-deserved gin and tonic. This needed to be drunk as it wouldn’t stay cold for long in the 28 degree temperatures as the cold packs couldn’t stay frozen, even in the cool box. The country was experiencing a heatwave, unprecedented since 1976, the year before I took my ‘O’levels. The ground was like concrete. Roger had suggested buying a mallet the previous day which proved invaluable when trying to drive home the pegs of our own tent and those of several others in our vicinity, who struggled to achieve the same aim with various implements and footwear.

A litre bottle of tonic with added gin later, we followed an uneven grassy path around the outside of the punters’ empty campsite. The earth was parched and cracked, fissures burrowed into the crops courageously ripening in an adjacent field. Small clusters of rooftops could be seen hiding in leafy clumps as we made our way down to the pub in the nearest village. England were playing Croatia in the semi-finals of the world cup and there was no TV at the campsite. The pub overflowed onto the front terrace, the back garden inexplicably closed. We assumed these were all the locals gathering, as a community, to watch the national team qualify for the final. We met most of them back at the campsite that evening, so only as ‘local’ as us. The result hadn’t dampened our spirits.

Despite the heat of the day, I awoke during the night with an odd sensation of cold, something I’d not felt in these past few weeks. We’d unzipped the sleeping bags and laid them on top of a double sheet but they kept sliding off. A fleece top was conveniently on the top of my opened backpack so I added this to my PJs. I’d only brought light-weight sleeping bags (and a small blanket to sit on) as I thought we’d be too hot, like at home where a sheet has sufficed. Socks would be included in my nocturnal wardrobe the next night.

We’re back!


(Sorry, computers can’t cope with two ‘home’s – thanks Jill)

We left ADH yesterday morning with more snow than ever for this late in the season. We travelled all the way through France and from the south coast of England to Yorkshire in rain with decrepit windscreen wipers (windscreamers). Woke to beautiful sunshine today and a heat wave forecast. I’m a lucky person 😊😊😊

Home!

We left ADH yesterday morning with more snow than ever for this late in the season. We travelled all the way through France and from the south coast of England to Yorkshire in rain with decrepit windscreen wipers (windscreamers). Woke to beautiful sunshine today and a heat wave forecast. I’m a lucky person 😊😊😊

21. Snow’s back

The balcony had no snow on it for 24hours so far this season

This is the final instalment for winter 2017/8. Our last day off dawns tomorrow and then it is only 3 more days to work before we head north to warmer climes (hopefully). Snow has returned in earnest today but I expect that it will disappear again soon as it is April! We’ve had a reasonable last few weeks despite the end of season exhaustion taking a firm hold: tighter each year as age and injuries take its toll.

The clock change resulted in us stepping out the front door of the apartment block as the sun cast an early glow across the sky prior to showing its face again but this time we were accompanied by the dawn chorus. We had to walk in to the chalet in the mornings a few times as the van was out of action for over a week but it was superb. Fortunately we only had to walk back up the hill in the evening a couple of times. But the van is back after the replacement of a vital piece costing the princely sum of €16!

We had a slightly challenging group 3 weeks from the end. We would probably have taken them in our stride earlier in the season as they weren’t a bad bunch. I did have a minor altercation with Dad/Granddad one evening after he had imbibed a few glasses of wine. He was quite vociferous that we put too little seasoning in the cooking. We are on the light side but only so that people can add to their taste, they can’t remove it. He was reluctant to keep salting his food as he didn’t feel it created the same flavour. My resistance was backed up by his daughter and daughter-in-law who didn’t want their young children to be over salted. Roger also removes our portions after serving their initial helpings prior to putting seconds in a bowl on the table and I didn’t want any more salt in it anyway. I did manage to resist telling him that there was nothing wrong with the seasoning, it is just that he is old and his taste buds have deteriorated.

The aforementioned little darlings weren’t too bad but did turn the one empty bedroom into an adventure playground after exploring the eaves cupboard and pulling out items they shouldn’t have been interfering with. It was no surprise to discover on their departure day that a favoured cuddly toy was missing. We assured them that it would be returned if we found it when we stripped the chalet down for changeover but to no avail. Our only conclusion was that it was somewhere under the snow and probably around the hot tub where they had spent considerable time, including opening the valve to empty it. The ‘top-up’ requested was a bit of an understatement!

Icicles of melted (dirty) snow

We let them know on Sat afternoon that we hadn’t found it only to be informed that the cousin of the bereft boy admitted to hiding said cuddly in a cupboard. This could only be the 2 feet high and diminishing 3 feet wide crawl-in cupboard in the eaves, where they shouldn’t have been! This bedroom was now occupied which complicated matters further except that the young madam now residing in there had got off on the wrong foot when the incoming group arrived at 12.30. This was just to drop their bags as check-in isn’t until 3.30pm. The group were duly putting boots and shoes back on to walk up to town when a girl, who had raced to the front door first, took her boots back off, walked past Roger and I and sat herself down in the lounge.

‘What are you doing?’ We asked in unison.

‘Oh, I’m staying’ she replied.

‘No you’re not.’

She stood up, went back to the boot room where she announced that she’d been ‘chucked out’ (correct). The ‘Mother’ then entreated with me that she be allowed to stay as she was ‘so tired and had started her period’. She was to be upstairs in the yet-unmade attic room. I conceded (what else could I do apart from annoy incoming guests in their first hour of the week) and said that she could wait in the lounge whilst I made up the beds which I did as quickly as possible, glanced around the room which was back in its bedroom state from being an adventure playground, ushered her in and closed the door. What she or (step) mum failed to realise is that we empty the bathroom bins. Well we do if there is something in them by Tuesday, 3 days later, but not if they are still EMPTY!

When Roger kindly decided to go crawling in to rummage in the eaves cupboard to look for soft-toy he spotted a soft husky on the second bed in that room on his exit. Girl said she’d found it in the drawer of the bedside table but didn’t think to mention it (this did identify that I hadn’t checked/cleaned the room properly but then she shouldn’t have been in there 3 hours early) but at least bereft boy got his very soft and rather lovely husky back and we earned the creme eggs they had kindly given us after their Easter egg hunt when it transpired that the kids didn’t like creme eggs!

Although I have complained about the snow for working purposes it has meant that we have had a beautiful surface to ski on when the sun has managed to pierce the persistent clouds. The runs are still amazing and lower areas that are usually brown or even green and sprouting little flowers by this time are still covered in a decent layer of snow. We have been able to enjoy the ambience of Le Spot several times recently and even bumped into Ali and Tom there again. They assumed that as we were still on the slopes at 3pm that it must be our day off as that would be unheard of in our first season. They seemed impressed that not only was it a work day but that we’d have a rest before going back in as well. We enjoyed a proper conversation with them, not only one we could hear but also with them sober and interesting, particularly Ali’s take on the Japanese view of the world. When we returned to the flat we indulged ourselves in this season’s luxury: a mug of hot chocolate with a spoonful of Nutella (left behind by successive previous guests).

I risked life and limb for this photo

Roger has been using an app to track our routes around the mountains when we ski and we are quite chuffed to find that we cover around 50km during our 2-3 hour excursions (including lifts). We actually won the ‘furthest travelled in a day’ prize last week when apparently we covered over 500km in one afternoon, hmmm? I was actually lucky to get back in one piece that day. I wanted to take a photo from a different angle to usual at the top of Marmottes2 (you may have observed a degree of repetition in the views) so left my skis next to a hut after we exited the bubble lift. On return I moved them out slightly as they were crossed where I’d dumped them. As I put my boot into the bindings I heard a strange muted thud and saw a clump of snow landing right where my skis had been moments before as it slid off the roof. I moved forward to tell Roger what a close shave I’d had when a loud expletive came from a child nearby. The rest of the snow from the hut roof had slid off and landed exactly where I’d been putting on my skis seconds before. This latter dump was significantly larger and endorsed the signs around the resort reminding people to beware of roof slides, particularly as most of this snow is compressed and frozen. Still, no harm done and I am much more careful now. See you soon.

20. Penultimate Day Off

Our day off started on Tuesday evening, just as a weekend starts on Friday night for most people. We decided to treat ourselves and go out for a meal. Our favourite local restaurant couldn’t fit us in until 9.30, way too late for us but quite normal for the French. We chose a new venue which had been recommended by guests with dubious taste but thought we’d give it a try so had booked for 8.30. At 8.29 we were still stood in the kitchen of the chalet as this week’s guests were intrigued by our recent history. Much as we would have liked to continue the chat, I closed the dishwasher and set it going before saying goodnight. Roger suggested we drive straight to the restaurant but as this was one of the few occasions to apply the slap I refused and insisted on changing out of my black polyester work trousers and black logoed polo shirt! We were only 10 minutes late for our table.

We had chosen this restaurant based on the reputation for their steaks; Roger fancied a cote de beouf and I wasn’t adverse to the idea. The specials were on a blackboard and we both ordered the cote de beau. Whilst waiting for our mains – no starter to spoil the appetite – a party of around 30 arrived, all French and all ages. We were relieved that we’d got our order in before them or could have ended up eating at 9.30 anyway. Our plates duly arrived and we enjoyed two delicious pork chops!

The plan had been to go to Undies afterwards as we rarely managed to drag ourselves back out of the flat once we have returned but as we were already out we could arrive in time to enjoy their 11pm music gig. However, latterly through the meal I could feel my eyelids drooping so suggested we just go straight home to bed, then checked myself. No, we only had one more week left after this and so could catch up with sleep then and not miss another night of Dave’s excellent musicianship and vocals.

Tom and Ali

I walked into a fairly quiet bar whilst Roger parked the van at the bottom of the hill and walked back up. I chatted to Mark, one of the bar staff we have come to know quite well. Roger arrived, Mark served us our drinks and I stood back to look around. A group of lads gathered a few feet along from us, one was sat on the stool facing the bar and leaning back against the post looking at me. There was something familiar about his face but then his mate moved in front of him so I couldn’t see through his back. He moved slightly to the side and I looked again, he was looking at me. Another of the group turned and shouted “Roger! Gill!” It was Ali and Tom from our first year. The rest of the evening was spent catching up with these two not-insignificant figures from 4 years ago.

Ali had been our saviour. He had tried to hint at how we needed to reduce our workload in order to survive the situation, eventually spelling it out at full volume to our seemingly deaf ears. We have always felt indebted to him for his help and guidance or we may not have completed that first season and our lives may have taken a very different course. Since then he has spent the winters teaching snowboarding in Japan and loves it and a certain Japanese lady.

Tom had been the handyman and a bit of a nightmare. The happy friendly healthy-looking guy stood with an arm around one or other of us, at times both, planting frequent kisses on my cheek, bore no resemblance to the unpredictable surly lad we had known. He had sorted himself out and was delightful. 

Unfortunately two other guys from that season were to have been with them and we would have enjoyed catching up with them as well but there had been a bit of a fall out so they had gone to Meribel before we had the chance. We staggered home at 1.30 after being plied with slammers and jaegerbombs, having missed most of Dave’s set.

Casualty of the conditions

The forecast for Wednesday was poor so I was surprised to open the curtains to glorious sunshine. We would have to go out. We had few opportunities left to ski and hadn’t been out much this year as the weather and subsequent visibility has been so poor. Then I noticed the speed of the clouds careering across the blue sky and was aware of a group of skiers standing above the stationary lift outside our window. All the lifts were closed due to the 80km/hr winds. That was an indisputable excuse to stay in doors. I read the Saturday Telegraph from 24th March, only 11 days late.

We had arranged to meet a friend that afternoon who is manager in one of the hotels. We are exploring options for next year as the market is changing so rapidly and apparently we are a hot commodity. We learnt much from her about one of the other tour operators who, having been taken to court last year, are offering the best staff terms and conditions for next season. She told us about a super little 10 bed chalet in a nearby resort which will have 3 staff manning it, including a rep/host position. We are going to have a trip to have a look at it next Wednesday.

We ran across the road to Undies for après. Thunder, lightening and yet more snow cascaded down the hill. We arrived just as Gareth and Dave were about to start; Tom and Ali were in the same place at the bar already quite well oiled as there had been little else to do when the lifts hadn’t opened. A large group of predominantly women were sat at an extended table along one wall. As the opening riffs of Sweet Home Alabama sailed through the air they leapt up and flowed across the dance floor. They stayed there, belting out number after number as the boys maintained the tempo, stopping only to relinquish the acoustic guitar and microphone to one of the young women. This is not uncommon when would-be performers manage to persuade Gareth that they can entertain his clientele, however the ensuing standard can be variable but there was a very good ‘Jake Bugg’ last week. The females seem to not have the strength of voice to belt out enough sound over the general buzz of the bar but this girl was amazing. I wondered if she was a professional performer but transpired to be a maths teacher, as were five of the others. Another was called Doreen and it is surprisingly easy to slip that name in instead of ‘Jolene’ or ‘Eileen’ as in ‘Come on Eileen.’ I should have recognized their roots when they insisted on 500 miles by the Proclaimers and were undeterred by Gareth’s lack of lyrics. After the guys had finished an impromptu version of ‘Flower of Scotland’ gave away their origins.

We trekked back through the fresh snow at 8pm, enjoyed a chicken curry, put on a DVD and Roger fell asleep on the sofa. Another great day off.

19. Seasonnaires’ pay and conditions for 2018/9


Is this the end of exploitation in the catered chalet market or the demise of the catered chalet market?

As we approach the final weeks of the 2017/8 ski season thoughts and conversations focus on next winter. This is despite the copious amounts of snow still glistening outside apartment windows at lower altitudes than previously seen at this time of year. Terms and conditions for the multi-functional hosts have been evolving apace over the past few years for those working in the catered chalet corner of the winter hospitality industry. The British are the major group of users of this style of holiday and next season could see the most significant changes yet, for both staff and guests.

In past decades UK tour operators have employed school leavers on diminutive salaries as so many wanted to experience the thrill of this hedonistic lifestyle for five months. Supply of cheap labour outweighed demand by 100:1 if propaganda is to be believed. The number of applicants may have lessened but still significantly exceeds demand. As a result of this basic capitalist principle wages, and consequently prices of holidays, were contained; company profits sat on the healthy side of the graph. However, change is here and the full impact on this industry is yet to be felt.

Five years ago Switzerland imposed their minimum wage on the industry to improve the lot of these chalet slaves but resulting in many operators withdrawing smaller establishments from their brochures, unable to make a reasonable profit. France, Italy and Austria were rumoured to follow close behind, but didn’t until last season when a couple of the main players limited their staff to 44 hours of a work with 1.5 days off each week.

Other companies resisted this improvement in working conditions as they continued to enjoy the price/wage levels set by a huge supply of potential candidates. The previous normal working week was up to 80 hours, at the beginning of the season, reducing to 55-65 with improved efficiency, with only one day-off, for 18-20 weeks, paid at £7.45 per day, plus a food allowance of £5 per day – although food was provided – and holiday pay based on the £7.45.

Working a season is not for the faint-hearted. An over-recruitment policy is implemented by some of the larger companies to cover the 25% ‘natural wastage’ resulting from injuries and illness, homesickness, family demands etc. What isn’t mentioned is the proportion of staff who walk out, disgusted by the Dickensian conditions.

Next winter will see more changes applied across the industry in Europe. Chalet staff hours will reduce further, to less than 40, salaries will increase to over €700 per month and protected time off will increase to 2 full days. This may have been influenced by Brexit although employers will claim to be more caring for their staff. The result will be increasingly expensive holidays for Brits who choose catered chalets.

If the brochure price doesn’t vary much customers will probably receive less for their money, compared to this year. Next winter many guests will be served cooked breakfasts, freshly-baked afternoon tea cakes and evening meal on only 5 days instead of 6, to allow for a second staff day-off. Canapés are already as elusive as chamois, these were amongst the first tasks to be cut due to the time required to create the fiddly little mouthfuls, taking almost as long as the main course preparation.

Historically seasonnaires have all had the same single day-off to socialise amongst themselves, causing huge resort-wide demands in restaurants on Wednesdays only. Two consecutive days off would be one option for the new format, but could disrupt the limited breakfast provision on the second morning. Staggered days off seem the obvious solution but it remains to be seen how that will work out. Only one company is reputed to be recruiting more staff in order to continue to deliver the same standard of service to their guests. Prices will have to reflect their increased costs; alternatively profits could decrease, but that seems unlikely.

A second evening meal out for 2018/9 season will increase guests’ costs, even if brochure prices remain similar. A cheap meal in the Alps is as rare as a marmot sighting in January. There is minimal change from €15 for a burger and drink anywhere on the slopes. Evening meals cost upwards of €25 for a main course with a wine or beer, a 3 course meal with a number of drinks will be over €50. Guests may resent the hassle of going out on a second evening when they’ve been out all day – not everyone wants a roaring night-life after a day on the slopes. They could demand the use of chalet kitchen facilities, previously denied, but if allowed, could add to staff workload on return from days-off, particularly if guests are not inclined to clear up after themselves. Two evening meals out each week could produce a significant increase in profits for local restaurateurs but guests may chose to reduce their expenditure by dividing restaurant bills between the 2 nights at cheaper joints.

Staff benefits in kind: accommodation, food, lift pass and kit may reduce to mitigate the increased direct costs resulting from these changes, but there has been little to indicate that this will be the case. Traditionally cited as compensation for, or supplemental to poor wages, these packages sound generous but cost relatively little. Accommodation standards could possibly fall further but have always been as cheap as available, although some better than others, but the ensuing squalor in certain digs may have been created or increased by the occupants. Lift passes are discounted to tour operators anyway as they sell them on for a margin. Equipment is usually old and of poor quality, 4th or 5th year from connected hire shops, and would have been binned or sold for a pittance if not given to seasonnaires for a sizeable deposit (and frequently mislaid).

All this bodes well for new seasonnaires who, with no knowledge of previous conditions, don’t seem to appreciate their already improving circumstances. The job is switching from task-based: working as long as it takes to complete, to time based: stopping when the hours have been completed, regardless of whether the job is finished. The former model produced increased efficiency and corner cutting wherever possible, even literally running around the chalet to be out on the slopes as early as possible. However, an attitude of entitlement, verging on belligerence, has now materialised – ‘I’ve done my hours. I’m out of here.’ Sadly, ‘It’s not my job’ has replaced the team spirit of ‘We’re all in this together.’

Veterans consider these new hours and rates of pay to be amazing. We know how to complete the job efficiently: fast chopping and peeling, not stopping work whilst talking, moving items around the building in one journey, neglecting Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram during working hours. Those of us with several years experience, including the end of the era of exploitation, and a track record of reliability, capability, knowledge and customer satisfaction whilst efficient, could be highly desirable.

Private chalets may struggle in this market of reduced profit margins. Their staff have to adopt all the roles delivered by the resort team of the big operators: cook, cleaner, snow shoveller, tour rep, (although these are being replaced by apps in some of the larger companies) chalet manager, handyman and driver. Their packages have been variable but broadly commensurate with the lower end of the pay scales. These smaller businesses will have to follow the bigger companies or risk losing staff to the more attractive terms and conditions, unless they can come up with some other new incentives.

Larger operators will need to think laterally: moving head offices to within the EU or employing English speaking, hard working and hospitality-familiar people from other EU countries, upsetting a tranche of British school leavers. Meantime, if you are thinking of a catered chalet holiday for 2018/9 don’t procrastinate, but be sure to read the small print, or in one case, the front page, in full.

18. The End is in Sight…

…but we’re not there yet. Last week we said goodbye to Buster, one of the long-term staff at Undies, for the remains of the season. He has to return home early each spring to open his surf hire business in Cornwall for the Easter weekend. Not a bad combination for the year. His departure denotes that the rest of us will be finishing in the not-too-distant future.

We’ve had yet more snow, spring snow this time, as opposed to all the winter snow, between which there is no discernible difference. There will be no opportunity for the early flowers to raise their heads until 2 metres of cover melts from above them. The days are longer and the sun is warmer though. We had a super session on a new layer last week and went off-piste proper, for the first time.

Roger’s tracks

We were converted to gliding through inches of pristine powder, no other tracks ahead of us. It became slightly less negotiable when the trees started to pop up in front. They’d been planted as part of the avalanche control system so were in lines across the hillside which only allowed for small gaps between them to descend so we did a lot of traversing but got down intact. Hopefully we’ll do it again after another dump but we’re enjoying some consecutive days of sunshine at present, for the first time this season in our Ile au Soleil!

These dwarf signs should be 6-8 feet high

We need to finish soon as we’ve completed our watching programme for the season. This year it has been 7 series of The West Wing which has absorbed us night after night, 2 episodes an evening, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It reflected the social and international situation of the 1990s, when it was first shown, but is equally as fascinating to watch it 20+ years later with hindsight and developments from those plot lines. Breaking Bad marked our first season’s viewing followed by Game of Thrones the next year then a huge compilation of films and finally West Wing. I’m not sure what we would have done without these epics.

We’ve benefited from 2 light weeks of guests, 7 last week and 6 this week before we fill again for the final 3 weeks. Last week’s group weren’t a bad bunch and even accepted the van breaking down after their first day, with resignation. Even the vehicles get end-of-season grumps. They can’t walk out of the job but have a very effective way of refusing to work. We’d had a couple of warning messages on the dashboard about injection and emissions but when the red light started flashing ‘STOP’ we thought we’d better pay attention. We have spent more hours trying to find someone to look at it and taking it back and forth to the garage than we would have worked had it been running properly.

The view from the door as I set off on my morning commute

It is expected to be fixed tomorrow but in the meantime we have enjoyed the walk to and from work, particularly in the morning. I have to walk all the way back round from the bread shop because the footpath is completely blocked with the snow which has been pushed off the upper drive and I haven’t been cutting a path through every morning so it is impassable.

Last week’s guests were quite complimentary about us on their feedback forms but a couple did add that they would have liked some help carrying cases of beer down from the supermarket. This had not been mentioned to us directly at all. Did they expect us to carry their beer instead of carrying it themselves? Did they think we should have done that because the van was out of action? Did they think that we would have done trips to the supermarket if it had been running? Did they think it was ok to use up our petrol when they are opting to buy their own beer instead of purchasing the same beer from us at €1 a bottle? Who knows, but perhaps they did know the answers to these questions which is why they didn’t ask for help. Heyho!

17. Looking Up

The end is coming into sight, only 4 weeks to endure after this. I’m nearly, but not quite as desperate as that first season. It has been strange to be writing (editing) about those months, 4 years ago, in parallel with the present. Some aspects have changed: We’ve watched the whole series of West Wing instead of Breaking Bad; I’m a better, more confident skier; I can cope with guests and feel less subservient without, hopefully, being too strict. The pleasanter I find guests the more flexible I am, so it is on my terms, which I can live with, and our feedback reflects very positively. Coincidently I received an email from the original company and have been offered a chalet co-host in Meribel, where we thought we wanted to start, for the rest of the season. Roger says I’m not taking it (I’m not.)

Roof snow clearing

Our 14 guests last week were a nice bunch (bar one who was just a pain) and exactly what we needed after the previous week. This week we have only 7 so this has given us what feels like our first reprieve of the season, which has been compounded by some of the worst weather in the Alps for years, just at the time we’ve had to cope with a vehicle (for no extra pay as it would be a benefit to us! We’ve yet to reap that.) I can honestly count in single figures the number of mornings when we haven’t had to dig, chip or scrape it out, sometimes all three.

With low numbers, (8 or less) we both go in for morning service and prepare everything for the evening. We then alternate the evening shift which is a wonderful break although it still equates to a 40 hour working week. Not quite the ‘easy week’ its been referred to, but then that is relative.

We had 5 people booked in for next week (late bookings damn it) so had arranged the fortnightly shop 2 weeks ago, as requested by the owners, so were less than impressed to be told 3 days before (on our day off) that there would be an additional one arriving on Saturday. Not a major issue but a principle that had been agreed that bookings would not be taken after the shopping order was sent. The bunch comprise a party of 3 middle-aged male boarders, 2 Scotts plus the new one, Dad of a colleague from our first year. (We’ve brought in £12k worth of business this year, some hosts get 5% commission!) Unfortunately we have 3 separate arrival times and they all want to be picked up in town but the van has broken down! (quiet yippee!)

The view from the door as I set off my morning commute, back on foot.

The current guests have accepted the situation with a degree of tolerance, they’re a nice bunch but not too happy about losing their transportation. We’ve started receiving more calls and texts from future guests trying to arrange their pick up and ski pass collection in advance, one particularly persistent guy on our day off. (I’ll excuse him as he wouldn’t necessarily know, even though it is on the website.)

The past couple of days-off have been super. We skied for a few hours each time and last week went to Undies for Apres, something that hasn’t changed. At the end the only people left were ourselves and Adam and Gareth, the owners, so had a good chin-wag which we/they rarely have time to do. This week our day off was probably the most glorious Wednesday of the season. It would have been nice to go to Serre Chevalier, the resort we said we’d return to when the weather was better and is included for three occasions on our lift pass. But no, we couldn’t, the van is kaput. The last of all the things we said might go wrong in relation to the vehicle has done so. We had accepted coming back with the vehicle on the basis that not everything we said might happen would, perhaps just some of them but no, all the incidents we suggested could happen, have, every single one!

So we had to make do with spending a few hours on the slopes of our own super resort before indulging in an hour basking in the deckchairs at Le Spot in advance of another apres session at Undies. Owen and Mark, bar staff from our first year are here on holiday, looking very fit and healthy plus considerably younger. I didn’t even recognise Mark as he looked so well, just shows what 5 months of hard work, hard play and hard drinking does to a person. Owen always looks annoyingly young.

16c. Last episode of that week

The guests were not happy with the chalet, they felt it had been ‘mis-sold’ although we have persuaded the owners to be as accurate as possible in the description. ‘Under promise and over deliver’ seems to provide better reviews than the converse, even if that may give better booking rates but then people can be very disappointed. The guests were happy with the interior, almost glowing in their compliments, but outside it was the ‘worst ski in/ski out’ he’d stayed in. He hadn’t read the details which describe explicitly the location of the pistes. Also the access down drive with pushchair was difficult. Perhaps this was due to the tonnage of snow which has fallen this winter. He wasn’t complaining about the effect from that on the piste. He isn’t the first (actually the second in three years) to complain about the universal distribution of snow. They want it for skiing but not walking, hmmm? The buses weren’t pushchair friendly, neither was the channel in our drive but then don’t pushchairs fold-up, if you take the baby out?

Where’s Roger?

One reprieve materialised early afternoon on Friday. They wouldn’t want the evening meal, they’d eat out, pizza. I think they’d had enough of us but not as much as we’d had of them. However, they still wanted their wine quota for the evening left out so we would have to go back to the chalet to do that. What they didn’t know was that we had to go back anyway. The chicken breasts had been prepared that morning for the evening meal but as they weren’t fully thawed, had been left on the side. We had to put them in the fridge so we could use them for the first meal for guests the following night. We weren’t going to waste all that preparation. Also our shopping and laundry delivery had failed to make it up the hill that morning due to the conditions, but she was going to valiantly try again that afternoon, so we arranged to meet her as she just managed to succeed on this second attempt.

We went out for an excellent fillet steak that night as reward to ourselves for enduring this bunch. There was no tip as they left, I could have given them a few, verbal not financial. As we striped the messiest rooms we’ve had all season I found €20 on the bedside table, left by I suspect a rather embarrassed Granddad

I managed to get rid of the sticky finger-painting on the mirrors and windows but have no idea what had been trodden into the floor in one of the bedrooms, seemed like soft toffee-apple toffee, but had to clean the bottom of my shoes 3 times as it was sooo sticky and then mop it twice. I think we cleared up all the wheatos and dried cranberries before they became trodden into the carpet in the upstairs bedroom and the snug, but had to scrub the dried posset (baby puke) piles in that bedroom. Babies are free! Why is beyond me. They may not cost much in food but they create more work than 6 adults in time clearing up after every meal and at the end.

The snow began falling again, immediately after their early departure and continued for 6 hours dumping 2 more feet on the banks. The next guests were delayed by 4 hours down in the valley where it only rained. We managed to convince them that this would produce wonderful conditions the following morning. They seemed pleasant enough but my guard shot up at breakfast when a rather bumptious guy asked if we had any boots he could borrow. He had worn his own excellent (expensive) boots but their grip was poor (rubbish) so could he borrow a pair of ours to go and buy another (proper) pair? Does asking to borrow someone’s boots in winter in the Alps equate to asking for the shirt off our back? Both our pairs were too small for him but he decided that he’d manage in Roger’s. I enquired if none of the other 5 guys in his group wore a larger size. He hadn’t even asked them!

View from Le Spot

Apart from him the rest of the group were a nice bunch, including his delightful pregnant wife. Perhaps one week wasn’t long enough to recognise his redeeming qualities. Unfortunately one of the friendlier guys was beaten up outside a club on their main night out. We don’t hear about this happening in recent years but then we are not in contact with those who may know, like we were in our first year. Nothing like an excess of alcohol to get the testosterone rampaging.

We had a couple of super sessions on the hill. I find it easier to ski than walk at the moment, no real weight transference. I am still very wary of other people but the resort has quietened down considerably now that the peak holiday period is over and we can get a seat at Le Spot!

16b Worst week (cont.)

The first day was complete. The next evening we surveyed an empty chalet at 6.50pm. Dinner is served at 7pm. We had anticipated a request to move it earlier due to the four young children but this hadn’t been forthcoming. We weren’t complaining, 7pm suits us best. Clattering from the boot room announced their return and, to give them their due, most of them took their seats at the table without showering. They’d gone to a bar for apres and run back down the road to ensure they weren’t late. The footpath I used to take each morning from the bread shop is not an option this year, it is impassable. We use the van in the mornings now so I haven’t cut a path through the 4-5 feet deep snow. I couldn’t have even if I wanted to. All the snow from the road above has been pushed down the footpath. Now it really isn’t possible to negotiate without crampons but would make an excellent ice wall climbing challenge.

The following morning I was discretely accosted by one of the mums. Could the meal be put back as they’d had to cut short their drinking the previous night. If it was at 7.30 then they could catch the bus which arrives at 7.20. We could manage half an hour but I am always wary that those who would be late for 7pm will be late for 7.30 and so our evening seeps away. So much for the concern about young children’s bedtime!

During the evening meal the conversation turned to their meal out on Wednesday night. If the children had a baby sitter then they could stay out afterwards, were we interested, at all? I kept the sarcasm out of my voice and refrained from pointing out that the ONLY reason they were going to a restaurant was because we had our ONE DAY OFF. Why would we want to babysit their kids on our only night off? They aren’t the first to make that enquiry.

We had gone into one of the restaurants to book their meal in person on Sunday. I was less than impressed when at 3pm on the Wednesday we received a text from them asking us to cancel the booking as they’d found somewhere else to go. NO! we wouldn’t. Is it fair to any establishment to cancel a booking for 18 people just 4 hours before? We had booked what they’d requested and they had all the details so could damn well cancel it themselves and it was OUR DAY OFF!

We were heading to Apres at Undies which would take us past this restaurant. What if the guests hadn’t bothered to cancel and just didn’t show up? I thought that we could just pop in to ensure that they had. The restaurant may be able to pick up some impromptu trade, Wednesday is a busy night. What if the guests had decided not to cancel it and go as arranged, but then we’d cancelled the table, unknown to them? What to do for the best? Roger decided that it wasn’t fair on the restaurant and if the guests did decide to go but had lost their table, it was their own fault, so we did. They had found a much better steak house in a remote part of town that we don’t consider convenient for our guests, but they enjoyed it.

Food was a bit of an issue this week. Three needed a wheat-free diet, not gluten-free. They had been told that the bread, pastries and afternoon tea cakes wouldn’t be suitable and an alternative would ‘t be available – great! We did try to accommodate them up to a point. One, the party organiser, was quite strict with herself but the other two were very selective. One even made a point of announcing that she was ‘selective’ as she stuffed a pain au chocolate into her mouth. That was the end of any concession to the latter two apart from the bruschettas and goats cheese and pesto tarts which we served to all three on dry crispbread type crackers. Ha!

Thursday morning we rolled up at the chalet, unsure of what we would find. What we didn’t expect was for the additional visitors car to have moved out of the only remaining space for us to park and left on our neighbour’s drive, completely blocking it. To make matters worse he is the doctor and his wife is very diligent about ensuring that nothing blocks their drive for more than 30 seconds. I was amazed that she hadn’t been round already but told the ‘main man’ that the car had to be moved. “But its not in your way.” No it wasn’t, but blocking the neighbour’s entrance wasn’t really a suitable alternative.

The visitors moved it soon after and, although staying for a free breakfast, turned out to be quite nice and ordinary. We wished we could swap them for our actual guests. The conversation at the table that evening revealed that no-one else in the party even knew them, only the difficult guy, which explains why they were so different in every way imaginable.