14. A Grand Day Off

Despite getting out every day, well, twice a day to work, I was still a bit stir crazy. Glorious mountains dazzled and towered all around me, glistening in the sunshine, stark against the deep blue sky but our little window faced north onto a low hillside. It was a pretty outlook but I had been gazing onto it for three seasons. I couldn’t ski, I couldn’t walk very far but we had the van. We had to make use of it, make it work for us, instead of always against us. Use of it in our free time was the payment in lieu of all the extra hours of work it produced.

An unexplored road disappeared around the hillside from Huez, below the kitchen window in the chalet. Sign-posted Villard Reculas, we knew where it went. We had visited the top of this village often enough on runs from the top of Signal, the destination of our own secret chair lift at the back of the apartment block. But we had never approached it by road, from the south, so a trip out was my suggestion for our day off, to which Roger was amenable.

Down 3 hairpin bends then a right turn into the village of Huez brought us up behind the post van. He did manage to locate an entrance where he could let us past. Weaving our way between less than perpendicular buildings, leaning in to try to kiss each other over head, we emerged at the bottom of the bubble lift and, turning left under the cables, entered unfamiliar territory. The single track road (minus passing places) clung to the steep hillside as we skirted around the rock face overlooking the valley a few hundred meters below. Whilst we knew this area well from the chalet, the slightly different perspective from this unknown angle gave us new view of the surrounding gorges and escarpments.

The road was also signposted as the footpath to Villard so we had to negotiate a series of pedestrians and dog walkers who were also enjoying the scenery. We were in no hurry, this was our ‘Sunday Afternoon Drive’ and the road was not conducive to speed, probably not even by those familiar with its blind corners and breath-taking precipices.

We approached a collection of wooden chalets tumbling down the white blanketed hillside, having never realised how many there were from our only previous view from the ski runs. The road took us between buildings snuggled even closer together than those at Huez. The sign at the bend before the village had demanded that cars not be parked on the road and now we could see why. Then the road opened out to a small parking area on a right-hand bend, just past the square-towered church. There was one space left so we pulled in.

The view was stunning. Hedgerows demarcated the symmetrical fields along the valley floor, outriders to the contained river. Hamlets were scattered on vaguely flatter patches of land in the gorges opposite. A band of clouds formed a necklace around the peaks beyond Vaujanay whilst Villard Reculas (no longer ‘Ridiculous’, the nickname we gave it in our first season) basked in the sun from its south facing slope. This was the picture of postcards.

We absorbed what we could, took the mandatory photos after seeing without a lens and continued on the road to discover what other gems we could find. Nothing lived up to that vista in the immediate vicinity so we took an new route down to the valley bottom and into Bourg, where we would fill up with petrol at non-mountain prices. The supermarket has one pump which is not card only, necessitating a poor soul to sit in the kiosk, waiting for the occasional customer who wants to use cash. However, this transpired to not be a full-time job and we only had cash. This was a bit of a disappointment but not really a problem when we were able to enjoy what must be one of the best views from any supermarket.

We started back up the 21 bends and took an alternative approach to ADH. Again a road we watch from the kitchen window when chopping numerous onions or peeling 5kg of apples for the crumble, but have never taken. This would bring us out in the Bergers quarter of town which also contains the only petrol station. We pulled in, two pumps, both ‘card only’. Roger doesn’t have a credit card and I have one for emergencies only and don’t carry it with me (because you always know when you’re going to have an emergency – might need to re-think that). It expires at the end of the month anyway, fortunately, emergencies don’t happen in March and April.

We’d had a lovely drive out in the local area, seen a different view of our familiar environment, relished the vistas and used up some petrol. Oops!

13. Crocked!

There isn’t an awful lot you can do in a ski resort when you’re crocked, particularly if the lower part of your body is affected. Walking or hobbling on uneven snow with ice lurking beneath the surface is not conducive to getting around. The desire or goal has to be quite significant to warrant taking the risk of another fall and few events are that enticing.

I’m two weeks in to a period of incarceration, of my own making I will admit, but trying to minimise the distance to be walked in ski-boots was a reasonable aim in my humble opinion. Hopefully, I am beginning to heal and it’s not just the medication making me slightly more mobile and agile.

I finally succumbed after 8 days of pretty excruciating pain and paid a call to the doctor at the medical centre, who also happens to live adjacent to the chalet. I don’t think our logoed uniform did me any harm in terms of ingratiation and attention. I didn’t mention it but Dr Robert did suggest that he’d better rule out all possibilities as we are neeighbours. No cracks or fractures were revealed on X-ray so just stronger pain killers and anti-inflammatories were prescribed, along with a couple of homeopathic remedies for bruising which I must confess, I haven’t consumed since the first dose. The bruising, whilst spectacular, had stopped causing any real problems by that time as the pain had transferred around to my lower back and I wanted to focus on being able to do the work shifts with less pain. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen hadn’t really touched it but Voltarol (with stomach protection) and codine (with paracetamol) certainly started to have an impact, maybe assisted by the crutches, even if I only use 1 for distances.

The third storey is perhaps not the best location to reside when partially immobilised but probably enforced my rehabilitation regime as the six sets of stairs had to be negotiated twice a day, in both directions, followed by another set of outside steps to go back up after the three floor descent, or vice-versa, which was rather frustrating.

I quickly learnt to step around the 180 degree turn on the way down the stairs and not pivot on the affected side, resulting in the destruction of that cocky feeling most mornings, that I was maybe a little better.

Roger would go ahead, as I was so slow, and take the van up to the bread shop, after digging/scraping/chipping it out. He’d then pick me up on the way back down the road, at the end of the driveway, to where I would have waddled, like a pregnant duck, in the interim. I finally mastered getting up into the front seat at this time. Something with which I’d struggled even prior to getting crocked, but was leading with the wrong leg!

Luckily he was able to get the van up the drive at the chalet to park as close as possible due to the 3-4 feet bank of snow blocking the doorway. He had created a path down through this depth which helped, but was still daunting. He went in front and I clung onto the back of his jacket, trying to step in his footprints. This seemed to work until some guests had the audacity to have a snowball fight right outside the door and trashed the steps he had carefully carved in the steep bottom section.

For the first time I was relieved to have a small kitchen, totally inadequate when catering for 14 people, but now I could reach a work surface at all times. My only real hitch was that the only toilets available to us (i.e. not en-suite) are on the floor above or below, which is also where the store cupboards are located. I must confess to sneaking in to one of the ground floor bedrooms to avail myself of their facilities a couple of times. They seemed like nice clean people and I did leave heir bathroom how I found it.

It has been a massive relief to get back to the flat, both morning and evening each day, to collapse on the bed until the throbbing and discomfort subsides but has meant that this is how I have spent the past 2 weeks, working or lying down. So much for all the healthy exercise! Apres at Undies on Wednesdays (day off) has been crucial for retention of sanity. I also went in or the evening shift via Indiana last Sunday as the 6 Nations has started so I gave Roger a late pass to watch the end of the England/Italy match and went back to the chalet early to begin the meal. This Sunday (yesterday) our lovely guests overheard our argument as to who would get to stay out later and watch the end of the Scotland/France match (the former team being the only one I’m really interested in) and insisted that we move the meal time back so we could both watch it. This also meant that I could get door-to-door transport, as the previous week I’d had to catch the bus down whilst he was still watching the game, despite my infirmity!

Anyway, fingers crossed, my back/hip is starting to feel better. I’ll try without all the drugs on day-off to see how it responds and may be able to consider putting my skis on again next week, although I don’t think I’ll try skiing back to the building again, I’ll just have to walk the last section. I’m not going to risk falling off a steep bank into the road again, hopefully, ever.

12. Challenging Behaviour (with some unrelated photos)

The older boys left at 5.30am last Saturday. I tried to stop referring to them by that term as one was several years younger than us. Our challenging guest (CG) had booked his skis out for that Saturday morning, so obviously wouldn’t be leaving until later in the day and probably expecting to avail himself of the chalet facilities, well after check-out time. We arrived back after our day off to a bit of a mess on that morning, but it has certainly been worse. We hadn’t finished clearing all the gubbins off the dining table, in advance of wiping and resetting it for breakfast, before our CG sat at it and proceeded to tell us that he had ‘an arrangement with the owner’ to come back and shower in the chalet after skiing on check-out day. He read us an email he had received which, whilst saying that we didn’t offer that facility, said that Roger and I were so obliging that we would probably be able to squeeze him in somewhere! He then stated that he’d like a boiled egg. Roger informed him that the eggs would be scrambled that day, which was the plan, he wasn’t being contrary, nor did he suggest where he could shove it.

I felt compelled to send the owner an email which Roger had to modify, if we didn’t want to be sacked. I wasn’t so sure at that point whether I would have been bothered if we had been. I merely stated that we would appreciate it if he didn’t suggest or infer to prospective guests that we can allow more than to just let them leave their bags in the chalet after 9.30am on changeover days. Whilst he knows that we try to accommodate them as much as possible this is not always feasible and to please not give anyone the impression that they may be able to have a shower. I outlined the rather awkward situation at 7.30 that morning, whilst we were trying to clear up the chalet after our day off and get breakfast prepared. I pointed out that we did not have capacity, even for a single one, to use the facilities after check-out time any more than we would 3 or 4 people, unless we have particularly low arrival occupancy, 12 people were due.

Whilst we appreciated his comments about us being flexible, we now looked completely the opposite as we have had to tell CG (as we tell all other guests) that he can only leave his bags in the boot room and use the sauna as the changing room, provided it is before 3.30pm i.e. before the incoming guests are entitled to check in and use the sauna, if they so wish. 

I also reminded him that we do try to be accommodating but were taken advantage of last year by a guest on a similar arrangement as CG, but who didn’t like the weather on the departure Saturday so spent the afternoon sprawled on the sofa in the chalet, which meant we couldn’t take our own well-earned break in peace. If we give people an inch they try to take a mile, even last weekend we gave his own mates an additional half hour to be clear of the chalet and they invited a friend in to the chalet for coffee when they could have left at the designated time and met her at Indiana (I may have mentioned that.) These situations reduce our inclination to be flexible at all. I added that his wife’s previous email to us stated explicitly that CG knew he could only leave his bag in the chalet and that we all need to be saying the same thing to everyone.

All in all I think he got away lightly but when CG raised it again on Friday night I just phoned the owner and told him to deal with it directly. CG got a bit arsey with us and stated that it wasn’t much to expect a shower when he’d been sharing a bathroom all week. Fortunately we’d already received his feedback form as I countered with asking if it was absolutely essential that he have second shower before travelling. End of conversation.

This guy wasn’t as bad as I may be making him sound but he didn’t really ingratiate himself to us, particularly after the fiasco with leaving his water backpack on the bus. We ask guests to fill water containers from their bathroom taps as the water is from the same supply and they always seem to want to fill up in the kitchen every morning just as we are trying to do the washing up from breakfast. However, he said he couldn’t get his water bottle under the tap in the bathroom so asked to use the kitchen whereby he proceeded to empty the existing water via the drinking tube, holding the bag above his head like an emergency IV infusion. I’m sure that the plug hole was accessible in his bathroom.

Sunday morning he accused us of not locking the main door behind us when we left on Saturday evening (after a mere 15 hour shift so I claim complete brain shut-down, anything might have happened) because he could open it, the following morning, from the inside. It has a key code lock on the outside but the guests are not actually locked in!

I wont subject you to my bare bruised thigh!

The morning after my pretty horrendous fall, when I’d not made it in for evening service the previous night, he asked after my hip as I clung to the kitchen work surface, supporting myself on one leg, followed immediately with a request for a bowl of porridge first (Roger was downstairs collecting items from the store cupboard). He must have considered that I could make a miraculous recovery and was lucky he didn’t get it flung across the table one handed. My tolerance levels may have been affected at this time.

He was frequently first into the bootroom in the morning but still not ready by the time everyone else who wanted a lift up in the van had got their boots on and gathered their kit. Roger even took his skis up to the van, telling him he needed to bring his poles, which he promptly left behind. We do not give lifts up to the ski area on changeover day, they’re meant to be leaving and we have to do transfers for Ben’s Bus. On his ‘departure day’ he wanted to cadge a lift but nearly made the departing guest miss his bus as again, he wasn’t ready in time. He booked a ski lesson for 9am on the Friday. The local bus leaves at 8.40 and our first run up is 9am but he asked Roger if he was ‘willing’ to take him up in time for his ski lesson (during breakfast), to which Roger had to reply ‘no’. A very adept use of words, rather than ‘are you able?’ or ‘would it be possible?’. Instead it appeared that Roger was unwilling, which is not true, he is much more accommodating than I am.

Even the other guests, who he had joined to ski with, were getting a little fraught with him. One stated explicitly that he’d be glad to see the back of him. He didn’t endear himself to them when he tested their knowledge of who wrote and performed the Minute Waltz at the breakfast table during a conversation about the radio show ‘Just a Minute’, strangely no-one knew (or cared.) This was on the morning of the same day earmarked for the old boys’ annual quiz, to which everyone had been invited (including us) and he proceeded to win. As a Chartered Surveyor he did have an advantage on the round on Iconic Buildings. Anyone who can actually utter the words ‘I thought I’d died and gone to concrete heaven’ is actually on another planet, which we could excuse, but what was unforgivable was stating, on the second evening, that we were a good example for the case to ‘bring back servants’!

11. Trials and Tribulations

So, things are not going quite as swimmingly as our job title would imply; chalet host in the French Alps sounds idyllic, but no. Our previous guests arrived Saturday before last in heavy snow and merely 3 hours late. ‘Our’ van had been borrowed for the airport transfer, earning the driver a princely sum equivalent to one week of our wages. They had problems with the snow chains which transpired to the wrong size after being exchanged a few weeks ago. A stop off at the supermarket provided snow socks, like the ones we lost just south of Calais on our trip over here. The van made it up the drive that evening and stayed there until we managed to extract it the following evening. Monday morning’s early downhill journey was a little hair-raising as we found ourselves slipping and sliding on the slush in the snow socks, which seemed to be welded on (which is presumably why they’d been left in situ when the van was returned to us, also with incorrect snow chains.)

After our Monday morning’s work, when everyone, including those who had benefited from using the van, had b******d off up the hill we set to trying to remove the slippery eels concealing the faithful and effective winter tyres. After much pulling, levering and removal of knuckle skin Roger gave up and resorted to cutting them off. This sounds much easier than the reality; exposed fingers succumbing to freezing ice and snow as gloves reduced dexterity too much. Add to this a Stanley knife which didn’t have any kind of clip to maintain protrusion of the blade whilst cutting through the metal reinforced layer of snow sock and you have a task and a half. Eventually the bl***y things were off and we could drive away safely to recover in the flat. The weather didn’t tempt us out but that didn’t mean that our time off is available for other jobs.

The forecast for Wednesday, our day-off, was good and we considered returning to Serre Chevalier but Roger was hesitant to negotiate the Col, at over 2000m, without effective snow chains. We had little option but to stay at home, convincing ourselves that as we hadn’t had much chance to ski our own resort in good weather conditions so far this season, it would be a fitting opportunity. We were just about to head out when the work phone rang. Jaap, our friendly odd-job man had been told, by a certain person who was up the hill enjoying his 5th holiday week of the season, that he’d brought the wrong size chains and would he exchange them, again. Jaap was up in town from his base in the bottom of the valley, fitting a new radiator in one of the chalet bathrooms and could come and collect the chains in 10-15 mins. We waited and then Roger went out to meet him by the van which we’d had to park along a lower road when we finally found a space.

I had waited another 10 minutes or so, watching the people from the apartments above tumbling onto the piste down to the lift at the back of our flat, in the dazzling sunshine, then I went down expecting to meet Roger at the front door about that time. Another 15 minutes or so later he came into sight at the top of the steps. Yes, Jaap had been at the van after a few minutes. No, he hadn’t taken the chains. He had tried them on, after finally untangling them from the contorted heap where they’d been unceremoniously dumped in the back of the van, and they fitted perfectly well. It was the person up the hill who couldn’t fit them properly and who had said that they wouldn’t be needed anyway when first discussing the van last year. And it was our DAY-OFF!

AND we still have no heating in our bathroom. What little warmth seeping in from the main room quickly dissipates through the missing ceiling panel and exposed waste-pipe which is set in the cavity wall of the building.

I’d like to say ‘moan over’ but it isn’t. Changeover days are horrendous. They can be extended at either end by departure/arrival times or condensed if those times are relatively civilised but then we have fewer hours to complete all the jobs, added to which we now have to pick up guests from Ben’s Bus. Our departing guests last Saturday weren’t a bad bunch so we gave them the extra half an hour leeway we often do. Check-out time is 9.30am which we do consider to be rather early so ask that they be out their bedrooms by that time and leave the chalet by 10am. This is so that they don’t feel too rushed. It isn’t to enable them to invite other friends in the resort to the chalet for a coffee!! This was actually carried out by someone who had been a chalet host for 3 years, I bet he didn’t let any of his guests take those liberties when there are perfectly decent bars nearby which are already open and serving coffee. Roger was off taking one group up to the bus when I spotted a stranger in the lounge area, mug in hand. No attempt was made to explain her presence as I walked back and forth loaded with piles of bedding and towels. Finally I asked if she was an early arrival, which I thought was a suitably light-hearted way of asking who the hell she was. The only reply I received was a ‘no’, no explanation, no introduction, just rude!

In the midst of this I received a text from Sara, other owner, giving the arrival times of the last 2 of that week’s guests, coming by separate Ben’s buses and each wanting to be picked up. We had a group of 5 arriving directly at 11am and then 3 separate individuals arriving on different buses, to which we now had to add a further 2 pick ups.

So, what actually happened? The old guys (aged 50-85) arrived 2 hrs late, but we knew about their delay by then. They went off on the regular bus to town to have lunch, collect their passes and kit and we arranged to pick them up at 5pm from Indiana as 2 of the others were due in on Ben’s Bus at 4.45. The 2 latest arrival times were actually their departure times from Grenoble, not arrival, which we eventually managed to work out with a friend’s help, even though he is only responsible for AdH departures for B’sB, but it meant that we only had to meet 3 different buses. These 2 new arrivals didn’t actually get in until after 5.30pm, by which time we’d had to pick up the old boys as they’d waited for their lift and so missed the next bus down from town. A third person arrived shortly after at 6.15, reasonably promptly, but managed to leave his day-pack on the bus so after much chasing around that night and numerous phone calls the following day he was finally reunited with it . However, far from being a piece of hand luggage containing all his vital items, it transpired to be his water backpack! The  two final guys arrived on the 9.45pm bus, we left them with a plate of food each and some rice pudding to reheat, if they wanted it, and fell into bed at 10.30pm, only fifteen and a half hours after we’d started.

10. Too Much Snow!

I didn’t expect to be saying this but I really do feel that we need a break from the perpetual snow storms. Driving at as horizontally, blocking the roads so we have to walk and then melting rapidly to create rivers where we trudge. I know that we should expect this in a ski resort in winter but there is a limit and this has been way over the usual amount, in our limited experience. As we now have a vehicle to ferry guests up to the slopes in the morning we have had to dig or chip it out every morning, sometimes both. By the time of writing this we have a had a small reprieve and can now count 4 occassions, since the start of the season, when we have been able to get in and drive away without a gym workout prior to moving.

At least we could ski back to the door

Morning at the boulangerie

I may have eavesdropped a union meeting in the boulangerie one morning but as it was spoken in fast florid French I am not sure. However, the two huge diggers, unusually abandoned outside the bakers gave a little clue that all might not have been well. These guys are usually hard at work by 6am, never mind 7 but I suspect that they may have been even more weary of the weather than the rest of us. They have probably cleared more snow already this season than in the whole of the previous year. I just bought my baguettes and moved on.

The square outside the bakery

Unfortunately we had a guest’s car parked on our drive at the start of the season so we didn’t get ploughed when the rest of our road did, as has happened previously. This has resulted in our drive becoming deeper and deeper as it now looks like we don’t warrant being cleared, despite being located between the doctor and a councillor, which has served us well in the past. We now have a 2 feet wide trench between the walls of snow for everyone to negotiate and thought we may have been asked to clear it but no-one has mentioned that, fortunately. That was the cause of our near breaking point during our first year and we don’t want a repeat.

Ruth and Lewis came out for a week with their two little ones and unluckily didn’t have particularly good weather, not that they were deterred. Number 1 loves sledging but has no need of the actual sledge when trussed up in a snow suit and Number 2, who has just started crawling, wasn’t impressed when her hand disappeared into the snow and she face planted on her first acquaintance with the white stuff.

We skied with R&L a few times; we weren’t as resilient as they. Our final time was rather disconcerting at one point. We were stood at the top of the long, right dog-leg schuss – a flattish stretch which requires some speed in advance to carry you along the distance without having to exert oneself using poles for propulsion. Ruth had got up to 40mph on that section on the previous run. However, as we approached the top of the steep section in preparation for the long flat part, the clouds closed in around us. They’ll clear shortly we thought, so waited a few minutes, and a few more minutes. The marker poles designating the edge of the piste are spaced at 10-20m intervals, we could see the first one. Momentarily one of us thought we could discern the next one but then it would merge back into the murk.

It was pretty chilly standing in the dense cloud half way up a mountain in the Alps in mid winter so we couldn’t wait indefinitely. Another group came past us and set off tentatively so we decided we’d have to go or freeze. The initial steep section is followed by a right-angled bend to the right so we hugged that side of the piste, losing sight of each other immediately. As our speed built up it was a quandary whether to maintain it so that we could reach the rise in the distance or to keep the brakes on in case anyone of us or the other group and come a cropper and were strewn across the piste, only emerging in front of our tips as we raced through the fog. Luckily, we all made it unscathed and quickly diverted to a mountain restaurant for some well-deserved sustenance. We didn’t object to the half-hour wait to be served, we were just grateful to be inside and managed to nab the last table.

Anyway, we have 4 days of sun forecast before the snow returns again on Thursday. So only ice after the clear nights to contend with, or so we thought, before I managed to tip myself sideways off a steep bank – the same one I fell head-first down a few weeks ago – but this time I did land on the road and bashed my hip, so hard that I was concerned that I’d broken it, and took the skin off my elbow, through my ski jacket. So I’m laid up in the flat, hobbling between bed, kitchen and toilet with episodes of deja vu, but I’ll be back at work in the morning but may have to get up half an hour earlier to get down 3 flights of stairs. Heyho, the sun’s out.

9. Stella

Our Welsh contingent have departed, converted to the delights of catered chalets by yours truly. They have been unintentionally entertaining and proved that one’s tolerance level (mine) is inversely proportional to tiredness. We could see the humour in situations which would have annoyed me a couple of weeks ago. The sub-40 hour weeks, back to back, have helped to restore the equilibrium we lost from the beginning of the season, but we are back into the fray this week until 10th March when we hope to have another little reprieve from week after week of full occupancy (14) including 2 weeks of 15!

These guys were very Welsh and sounded to have stepped off the set of ‘Stella’ although we didn’t actually catch anyone being called ‘presh’. It seemed ironic to serve them leek and potato bake. They were very appreciative of all our efforts and finished the week as nice as they began, which doesn’t always happen. But they did give us a few opportunities for mild mirth.

One young man was obviously unimpressed with French breakfast. On the second morning he asked ‘Can I have some toast?’ ‘No’ came Roger’s immediate response. We don’t have sliced bread. What we do have is very fresh bread, literally just out the boulangerie’s oven. Roger offered to toast that for him, even if the words did stick in his throat, but he declined.

One young girl was finishing her course of antibiotics for tonsillitis. The syringes were discarded in the kitchen, not bathroom, sink and we both decided that we wouldn’t get involved with medication in any shape or form so were a little surprised when we were asked if we had washed them? Another ‘no’, in unison, but which we tried say as pleasantly as possible.

I was asked to confirm that snacking on crisps in an evening was ‘good family bonding time’. I did struggle to agree after an afternoon tea cake and three course meal had already been consumed. Perhaps their girths could answer that question better than I could. I wasn’t overly pleased at having to locate my mixing bowl in the morning, which had been filled with mixing-bowl-quantities of crisps the previous night.

A smile had to be concealed when there was a muttering about the buses not being on time (they are considerably better than they were at the start of the season.) This may be due in part to a certain person standing in the middle of the road at the bottom of our drive to force the driver to stop, not at a bus stop, and then wait for the rest of the family to make their way to the road, when they would have obviously missed it. A €10 note softened the French driver’s rant, but probably didn’t improve his timetable punctuality.

They would have liked the guy last week who tried to plug his phone charger into one of the few sockets in the kitchen. They have a four English socket block in their bedrooms, only one person in each room last week, and a charging station in the lounge with 6 sockets. At least he accepted our response that his phone would get wet and mucky in the kitchen, which was delivered with a uncomprehending smile. Do people leave their brains at home when they come on holiday?

Anyway our Welsh guests gave us effusively glowing reviews and want to come back to stay with us next year. Just as well we hadn’t been more tired.

8. Slightly Lighter Load

The following week delivered only 6 guys so Roger and I could prepare everything in the mornings and then do alternate evening shifts, resulting in a mere 36 hours, described as ‘ an easy week’, which it was, relative to the 50 hours previously. With that knowledge we thought we should make the most of our day off as we didn’t need the total recuperation of previous weeks. Also we needed to make use of the van, it was making us work harder/longer so it was time for reciprocation.

Our lift pass allows us to spend 3 days during the season at the nearby resort of Serre Chevalier, (SerChe to locals and SCh here) and we had heard it was superb since our first season so was our go-to destination. When I say ‘nearby’ it is all relative. It took us 1 hour 40 mins to get there, over the Col de Lautaret, in deep snow and on icy roads at 2085metres, but we made it. Luckily, as we had no snow chains to pull us out of trouble (possibly illegal, not sure if you do have winter tyres) but the third set is away for mend or exchange after one fell off and seems to have been run over. Fortunately for us Tim had put them on that day.

We had a fantastic day at SCh, even if the weather wasn’t all that kind. The runs cover a series of north facing slopes visible when above the tree line so you hardly need a piste map, if the clouds stay away. We had intended to enjoy the tree-lined pistes which are noticeably absent in ADH due to the altitude but found these to be rather icy so stayed high. Here are more photos of snowy mountains but these are different ones. We will return on a sunny day.

We both managed a nasty fall that day, neither of us on the piste. Roger slipped on the icy disabled space in the car park on the way to the piste, and his legs work reasonably well. I managed to face plant in the car park in front of the flat as we descended the stairs from the adjacent one. I got to the bottom step and set off, confident of my place despite the darkness, but tripped over a huge football of ice and fell headlong across the icy tarmac, but neither dropped nor damaged Roger’s new glasses which weren’t provided with a case when we bought them on the way back from SCh. I did however manage to lose a chunk of skin off my right palm, right on the pressure place for chopping veg and slicing bread. Despite Roger’s insinuations this was nothing to do with the shots we’d been plied with at apres at Undies. The first time we’d gone there after we’d actually been skiing.

Belatedly we heard reports of very heavy snowfalls in other parts of the Alps and that 13,000 tourists had to be evacuated by helicopter from Zermatt. Ignorant of further facts I couldn’t help wondering if that was because there are so many helicopter owners in Switzerland. It would take most of France’s fleet to choppers to move that many people from here. Perhaps it is akin to the British north/south divide when it snows: chaos in the south, stay indoors, etc. In the north, put on your big coat, but I might be wrong. Anyway, more snow arrived again today and is forecast for the next 3-4 days but at least we had 2 mornings when we neither had to dig nor chip out the van, but back to normal this morning, except that Roger vandalised the dustpan I use to clear the soft snow off the windscreen when he shut it in the door.

7. Behind the Scenes

It can be quite revealing to work as a chalet host in an open plan building. All conversations can be overheard (except ours, we are particularly careful.) The walls provide a visual curtain but sound carries through them like gossamer sheets. If you include going in to people’s bedrooms and bathrooms to give the daily sweep, there is little left unknown. There aren’t any drawers to conceal guilty secrets, no-one would be that interesting to tempt me to rifle, everything is on display: reading preferences, medication, underwear styles (usually left on the floor when dirty!) and tuck.

Last week provided material from the outset when we were told the blood and legal ties of the group of ten by the first 2 to arrive, a middle aged couple, 18 months in to their relationship. The other two rooms were occupied by the owners and daughter…………The weather was pretty poor, storm Eleanor or someone was passing through, and we now had the van so would have to manage in adverse conditions. I shouldn’t have wondered, they were out the door at 8.30 to catch the bus, as usual………….That evening went reasonably smoothly but the following morning when we were in for the breakfast shift you could cut the atmosphere with a blunt potato peeler. What had happened? We couldn’t quite decide who wasn’t talking to who because no-one was talking to anyone, apart from us, who tried to maintain a stream of inane chatter between wide-eyed and raised-eyebrow looks at each other. The owners said goodbye at their usual time. Roger took the guests up to the slopes in the van but learnt nothing either. Was it us?………….. Bet that helped to unite those two extended families………….We received probably our highest accolades, with consistent personal mentions, including being ‘great assets to the chalet’………..…we had been wearing suitable boots but the water had still come over the top at 7am and we had to continue to work with wet cold bare feet whilst our socks dried on the radiator. Not the best of weeks, but certainly not dull!

Apologies for the necessary censoring!

6. Our New Year’s Eve

Indiana

So, New Year’s Eve, a major event on the social calendar. It hasn’t taken me this long to recover to write about it. I’ve just trying to find a bit of space between working, skiing, researching and writing (but not yet sending) submission letters to literary agents for the manuscript of our first fateful season.

There is no restriction on closing time for bars in France on NYE, (this also applies to Christmas Eve and Bastille Day) so there is an unwritten competition to be the last bar standing. We knew that Undies was having an 80s themed party and that Gareth and Dave had been learning and practising some of the delights from that era. In retrospect, there was some good music in that decade, you just had to look a little harder to find it. We had been informed that one of our group woukd be celebrating his 50th birthday on that day so almost exactly the right age group, but we didn’t want to presume so fortunately didn’t invest in any €12 tickets in advance. They all stayed in the chalet after our delightful turkey dinner evening meal. Perhaps they’d had enough turkey by then?

We enjoyed ours back at the flat before getting ready to go out at 11pm (so wrong!) We walked up past the darkened O bar, now sadly closed. We avoided Indiana when we observed the inebriated youths roll out the doors on to the snow and carried on up the hill to Undies. On the door was the young barman from last year. Rather than just preventing people from taking drinks outside or making so much noise as to disturb the local residents, he was ticket monitor. ‘No ticket, no entry’. What?!

‘I’ve just had to turn someone away who was with 2 people who had tickets, I can’t let you in.’ Yeah, so what? I thought, they weren’t us! We didn’t want to make trouble for him by demanding we speak to Gareth or Adam. Neither did we want the humiliation of being told that no exceptions could be made. As several children disconcertingly fell out the door we bade them HNY and carried on up the hill.

Hanging a left on to the High St we were met with hoards of people loitering in good-spirited groups. ‘They have really good fireworks at Underground’ I overheard one enthusiastic if misguided youth. Undies’ ceiling is barely over 6 feet so there would be no pyrotechnics there, even if you did have a ticket. We headed for Etalon – Rum Bar – usually a good place but further afield that we tend to venture. We entered the darkened room to find it mostly empty but not dark enough to turn around and leave without being spotted. After a chat to Niff and Irish Dave we sat at a table near the door. Half an hour to midnight and the only action was 3 lads who came in and pulled the bar football machine back in to the middle of the dance floor from where it had been secreted in anticipation of a party. Marina (owner) couldn’t really object in the circumstances and we sidled out whilst attention was diverted.

Our next stop was Lounge 21. We’d been there once before for a pre-dinner drink but although the door was open we were too early for the bar on that occasion. We wouldn’t have that problem this time, it was 11.45. The room was heaving. Standing at one end of the bar, only 2 deep but no-one seemed to be serving us, they were all busy taking trays of fizz to the tables in the adjacent room. We spotted Shelly at the other end. She had been manager of Sphere in our first season and Malcolm and Emily joined her from Smithys the year after. They had got shafted by the building owner last year so she was now working here. As we made our way to that end of the bar she disappeared off with a tray full of bubbles and returned to the other end. I didn’t think we’d upset her but no eye contact was made. Finally Roger ordered my drink and as his was being poured midnight struck so we both toasted the new year on my pint of cider (and were charged for the late drink.)

We took up a position in a vacant gap between the dining area and the bar. Shelley came past with an empty tray and an ‘I know you but can’t remember who you are’ smile. Heyho. On her next pass she stopped and welcomed us effusively, apologising for having walked past earlier but her head was rammed with trying to ensure that all the dinners received their promised glass of fizz at midnight, but some didn’t quite make it, not that they’d have noticed judging by the antics on the dancefloor.

Indiana again

This wasn’t turning out to be quite the night out we’d anticipated  but then the best ones are often unexpected. We decided to drop in at Indiana on our way back to the flat and had barely got through the door when a boisterous Emily greeted us with actual open arms, closely followed by the laid-back Malcolm. Soon Maria came over to bid us HNY with Cookie, her boyfriend, the only English ESF instructor in resort. Next Rachel, ex of Capt Sandwich, next to Etalon and of slightly more mature years, thrust a glass of fizz in to our hands as she kissed our cheeks. The countdown started, we were now celebrating UK midnight with much more appropriateness than at Lounge21 and amongst friends. Rachel dragged us over to join a large group at the back of the room. Emily and Malcolm were off to Lounge to see Shelley. The accents were strong when we spotted Katie, a very Irish World Health Organisation researcher/chanteuse/masseuse; her boyfriend, an equally Scottish Neal, was working behind the bar. With her were a group of friends from her childhood who had all come over from Eire for the week who began a sing-off with a Dutch group at the front of the room. They never stood a chance. We found ourselves in the depths of Republican songs, many of which Roger knew from rugby and which I found myself picking up as they went along, there were a lot of verses so the choruses were repeated often.

Around 2am they all spilled out into coats and hats, heading off to Undies. We considered tagging along, they didn’t have tickets either but surely by this time there’d be access. Sense took the better of us and we turned right as they turned left and headed back to the flat. After the inauspicious start, we’d had a great time at the first bar we’d avoided but had to be up in 4.5 hours to deliver breakfast to our party of 10 guests plus the owners. Little did we realise how that was going to turn out.

 

5. Here we go again

Not ours but we knew it well in our first year

We are into our fourth week of the season so well under way. Christmas and New Year have passed and the French holiday makers have returned to whence they came until February when they will all descend again. Previously we would be waiting for the snow to arrive but that has happened already. Hopefully it will stay for the season, just be topped up periodically between bursts of sunshine. We are still waiting for the latter in this ‘Ile au Soleil’. Apparently we can’t have both although certainly have had in the past. And then the lifts have been closed for 2 and a half days due to the wind. We have only known this happen once before in the previous 3 years. Perhaps we were becoming complacent and thought we knew Alpine weather behaviour, but then it comes back and bites you on the bottom.

We had to resort to going skiing in dull conditions or we wouldn’t have been out for 2 weeks. There had been 4-5 fresh inches overnight and the forecast was dry at least, so off we went with flat light lenses in my goggles (Roger still wore his sunglasses optimistically.) The pistes which had been groomed earlier in the night had a fresh covering so felt like off-pisting but with the security of knowing there were no hazards lurking beneath. We took a quiet run down to the village of Huez, well nearly. This has some of the best/tamest actual off-pisting just adjacent to the run which curves down and round to the left. I set off along the right hand side on an even trajectory, just slightly downhill, and watched the piste disappear down to my left. At some point I would have to turn to head back and down or end up at the bottom of the valley festooned with brambles and branches. However, I just couldn’t find a good place to turn and when I did my skies didn’t want to go round, so I continued along my path, putting more distance between me and the piste where Roger was standing, wondering where I was headed. Eventually I had to commit, and it was a soft landing; the only consolation to falling in powder. At least I could throw my skis and legs into the air and roll round 180 degrees to be facing the desired direction if not by the intended technique.

Five long slow lifts later we alighted at the midstation somewhat chilled, despite resorting to swigging port from the flask in front of a child. From here we could begin our traverse back across the mountainside to return to our cosy flat but were met with falling snow, 2 hours earlier than forecast! The piste divides here and I took the more cautious option of a red run whilst Roger opted for the black. I realised that I had perhaps chosen correctly when I emerged at the confluence before he did. The piste then divides again on the same basis and meets again prior to a deep gully which requires considerable speed to climb the other side, thus eliminating the need to side step up a steep bank. Again I could see that I was making better progress than him but didn’t want to loose momentum as the soft surface snow would probably create some drag in the gully. Consequently I maintained my speed and crouched down a la the professionals to minimise wind resistance and dipped over the top of the nearside of the gully in to a complete white out. Fortunately we know this run well so whilst somewhat discombobulated (how often can one use that word?) I thought I should just set my skis straight and lurch up the opposite banking. Being able to anticipate a fall allows one some nanoseconds to take evasive or protecting actions. When there is no indication of a bank of snow against a white background there is no warning. The first thing I knew my skis dug in and I was being catapulted forward, thank goodness for helmets (again!) as I slammed head first on to somewhat less than soft snow on the downhill stretch.

Winded and shocked I lay there and slowly began to check all extremities for active movement, all the while aware that I was out of sight of any other approaching skiers i.e. Roger, who would land on top of me if I didn’t get out of the way quickly. However it isn’t easy to make a rapid escape when ones skies are twisted around each other and still attached to crooked legs. As I tried to sort myself out a flash of pink went past, a yell and an explosion of snow accompanied a young girl doing exactly what I done, landing about 5 yards below me. This was not a place to hang around and as I tried to rearrange my legs I heard Roger’s shout. He had struggled on the soft snow covered black but had noticed that I was taking an unseemly length of time to re-emerge on the other side of an area which normally takes seconds to negotiate.

He helped me up and we laboriously side-stepped up the other side of the gully. Other people were alighting a lift there, taking one look at the other side of the peak and heading off down the direction from whence we’d come. We needed to go over the top and I was overcome by that recorded desire to get back ‘home’. My ribs, right under my boob felt as though someone had stabbed me with a knife, although it had probably been a ski pole, and my head felt a bit woozy. Others may have turned away but I just set my skis down the hill and went over the top, through another funnel, straight across the crossroads and down to the hubbub area. Aware that Roger was still behind me we covered the bottom section in record time, blocked the racers who were trying to push in front of us at the next lift and climbed the final ascent before haring down the final run, to arrive at the door of our apartment block without further incident. Sometimes it is a bit of a problem to have our logo plastered across our ski jackets. I’m afraid that my piste etiquette had much to be desired, but at that moment I had only one objective!

Still no harm done, (I think, I didn’t look behind me,) and not a single bruise to show for my following days of discomfort. Tomorrow will be a week since we last went out and the forecast isn’t great again, in terms of visibility. We are saving ourselves for Wednesday, our day off, when we intend to go to another resort, Serre Chevalier, about an hour and a half away. We need to make this bl***y van work for us before we come to blows. Only today we were asked if we could do the fresh produce shopping in resort so that our shopper is only paid fortnightly. One of our reserves had been based on the foresight that we would be asked to ‘could you just….’ as we have the vehicle, thus negating any time we save for ourselves by having it. We were volunteered by the owner last Friday to drop in at the ski hire shop with guests so that they could sort out their return shoes. ‘Can’ and ‘worms’ come to mind (better than ‘we told you so’!)