One of the actual perks of this job is being allowed to retain whatever the guests don’t use from the starter pack or their own shopping. Groceries left in the fridge or cupboard are available for our consumption, consequently reducing our food bills. However, this is completely unpredictable (despite frequent scrutiny of the larders on Thursdays and Fridays) and we make our own purchases alternate Friday mornings, on the weekly shopping trip, without knowing what will be available to us on either of the following days.
Sometimes guests can understand this but on other occasions, they can be particularly ‘helpful’ and clear out their fridge and cupboard to save us the trouble! It is not beneath us to scavenge through the bin bag to discover what treasures may have been inadvertently discarded. (I frequently find myself delving through rubbish to retrieve glass and plastic bottles for recycling anyway, despite providing a separate bag for this purpose.) Washing debris off the outside of packaging can reveal or revive a treasure: curry paste, mayonnaise or even carefully wrapped peppers and cucumbers.
The freezer can deliver unexpected bonuses as we are not the only ones to forget about it. Last week I discovered a bag of oven chips, after the incoming guests had arrived, and Roger and I had to determine whether they’d been left by the previous group or brought in by the new guys. We decided on the former as the new arrivals seemed to have brought only drink, therefore a bag of frozen oven chips was highly improbable. The absence of an oven didn’t deter us and added oil made a very acceptable fry-up.
The tub of vanilla ice cream was more challenging. We don’t have a freezer, just an ice box full of half thawed meat, and a whole litre would have been too much to eat at one sitting. The window sill is barely 3 inches wide and slopes downwards towards the ground, four floors below. Even the ski locker is in a heated room but this delicious dessert was too much to lose. I finally devised a hanging fridge, suspending the ice cream in a carrier bag from the top catch of the window shutter by a piece of elastic, designed to hold glasses around one’s neck. We have nothing as practical as string. The sub-zero temperatures at night did the job but the slightly higher temperatures during the day enabled the ice cream to separate into a cream coloured mousse with vanilla flecks and a buttermilk liquid. Mashed together, it tasted reasonably okay but was the weirdest texture, but needs must. It was too good to waste and made a refreshing change.
We do buy some items, the most regular of which is our new tipple: a bottle of fizz for €2 from Carrefour. Whilst only €1.60 down the mountain it was too much trouble to go that supermarket when we did the shopping only to find a limited selection. We keep buying up the stock at the local Carrefour, just metres from our apartment block, but they don’t refill the shelves very often. When they ran short a couple of weeks ago we took the free bus up to the extortionate resort of 18,50 to check out their stock and price. Surprisingly it was the same cost as 200 metres lower. Price usually rises with altitude. So we have a spare supply if needed, even if the means of acquiring it seem rather desperate.
This week’s guests were difficult to read but the Saturday departures from Loft replenished our rapidly diminishing cocktail cabinet. They didn’t really cook, I don’t count pizzas, but made the occassional omelette so we were the happy recipients of eggs, bacon, cheese and ham as well. No chance of any salad ingredients. The guests at the other chalet, with their beautiful wolves/ huskies, were self-drives and going on for another week elsewhere in the Alps which enables them to pack everything into the car. They left one egg!
In this new role we have 2 consecutive changeover days. Whilst not as lengthy as previously, as we do not need to include breakfast and evening meals, they are very intensive. The standards with this company are higher, the chalets more elaborate and we are now being inspected, not just threatened with them. It also seems to be more usual for people to book flight times to suit themselves rather than opt for the cheapest, often anti-social period of the day or night. This results in departures around mid-morning or later, and arrivals during the afternoon, leaving time to sort out equipment before dinner. The result of this is that our turnaround time is squeezed from both ends and we have to deliver a glistening pristine chalet when guests arrive. Check out is 10am and check-in is 4pm, but this is rather loose. It is easier to work around departing guests as we have got to know each other and can be flexible. There is no established relationship with arrivees who can be quite put-out to discover that their abode isn’t ready at 2.30. They don’t know (or care) that their predecessors didn’t leave until 11am, nor that we had to complete the 2 hour daily clean in the other chalet as well that day, but not before 9.30. As we will have to do for them on the other changeover day, but that is not their concern.
Consequently Roger and I fly around like the proverbial blue-bottomed flies on 2 consecutive days and our week revolves around Saturday and Sunday, but not in the good way of previous employment. Our first couple of changeovers were so manic that we literally didn’t stop for 6 hours and worked at a pace that was unsustainable and also produced a less-than-fresh, puce reception committee (but we lost weight!) This past weekend though, we have made a point of stopping for 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea, even if ten minutes after it is made so it can be downed quickly. Also I have sat to drink it and I don’t mean on the loo, that has been an additional break, ensuring that there was one left for our use, which hadn’t been cleaned.
Lunch has disappeared from these days but this weekend we were treated to left-over grapes on both days and a real bonus on Sunday when those guests had brought their departure time forward due to the heavy snow and a trip home to Sydney with 2 young children. It would have been horrific for them to miss their connecting flight so their fresh bread order arrived after they’d left. Roger enjoyed 2 fresh croissants for lunch, a pain au raisin for evening dessert and our drivers gained 2 baguettes and 2 pain au chocolates.
Snow had started falling Saturday evening and continued through the night so we woke to several inches of a fresh powdery blanket. Well that’s not strictly true, the snow clearers woke me at 3.30am with their incessant barking sound of a hoarse dog, right outside our window. I fail to understand why it takes nearly 2 hours to clear a 200yd stretch of a few inches of snow. In Alpe d’huez they didn’t start until 5.30 and still managed to complete the main part of the job by 7.30, in a larger resort.
Now that we are without a vehicle again the snow under foot doesn’t bother us unduly. However, the guests coming to Mollard on Sunday had put in a shopping order for €350 of wine and groceries, which was in the store room at Loft since Friday’s shop, with kindling and laundry. All needed to be transported up from the basement, along the road and 100yds down the unsurfaced footpath.
In addition to the groceries was the weight of 24 wine and fizz bottles, 15 x 2 litre bottles of coke and lemonade plus 2 packs of 6 x 1 litre bottles of water. I envisaged us spending ages lugging weighty shopping bags back and forth when we should have been decorating changed beds, titivating sparkling bathrooms and polishing light-bulbs. One of the admin assistants offered her van for transport but the section of the journey on the roadside was probably less than 50% of the total. I had jokingly asked the operations manager if the company had a dog sled we could use for this purpose. No, but there was a trolley in one of the other chalets which has a long entrance. This duly arrived at 11am and by 11.45 all the necessary items had been loaded into it, at the cupboard door, and dragged and pushed (apart from when I took the photo) to the top of the chalet steps. The chariot even has wide wheels to prevent sinking into the fresh snow too much. I was delighted, which is slightly weird but illustrates my current life.
So another week starts. Friends are staying in the adjacent resort of Meribel so we hope to see them. My first impression of the Loft guests was not favourable but they left the place so tidy yesterday morning that I’ve revised that opinion, despite them starting to drink as soon as they arrived at 2.30, rejecting my suggestion to go into town for a coffee whilst we finished preparation and set up. The impact of the three huskies which arrived at Mollard with yesterday’s guests remains to be seen, or smelt!
Snow returned on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday. Not masses but a respectable few inches. This was very welcome after the continual sunshine, clear skies and freezing nights of the past couple of weeks. Although not as bad since Christmas day, the surface was still much slippier and harder than I liked. Every run was icy, everywhere, not just in the shade. The blues skied like reds and reds like blacks. I haven’t ventured anywhere near any real blacks but was beginning to understand why our colleagues stuck with ‘cruisey blues’. If this was normal for this north facing resort I was starting to feel a little deflated, but would see what the fresh covering brought.
Wednesday’s mist and snow didn’t appeal, despite this being our day off. With little to do the temptation was to hunker down in our ‘cupboard’ (thanks Tim) but I decided we needed to get out, for a short while at least. A trip to Aquamotion seemed like a good idea, we could take the 4 successive escalators down to the edge of fifteen fifty (or Courchevel Village), have a mooch around, possibly a coffee or verre du vin and catch the frequent bus back. As we walked the short section from the bottom of the lower escalator to the front of the building we were treated to the shouts and screams of those brave souls in the out door part of the pool. Rather them than me. I was sporting my big coat over a cashmere polo-neck jumper and fleece lined trousers with fur lined hunting hat and no-one could have persuaded me to remove any item. Apart from the pool area and beauty department there was little to engage us. The bar and grill was closed and the cafe prices were ridiculous: €12 for a single portion of cheesy chips! We did like the photo exhibitions though. A nature artist getting up close and personal with some large and potentially dangerous wild animals in stunning black and white and a landscape photographer specialising in Nepalese scenes, both snow-covered Himalayas and more temperate areas below those seriously dizzy heights.
Thursday dawned with promise. The early clouds dissipated as the sun licked the peaks opposite our window and stroked down across the south facing mountainside but the forecast was poor. We would have to review the situation when we’d finished at 11.30. Despite the wifi going down in Mollard and having to clear snow outside the front and down the side to the back door, I was out on time. I had my romantic assignation with Roger at the bin store, shoved lunch down our throats and headed out at 12.30.
By 1.30 the weather was closing-in so we headed back to 1650 from 1850 as we didn’t want to get caught in adverse conditions on the wrong side of the mountain. Thinking we were heading home we found some pockets of sunshine on our runs back and decided to divert off to the Chapelet red runs we’d explored the other day. They were amazing, unpisted, so covered in soft fluffy snow from where we cut in. The sort that you don’t mind falling down in because it isn’t going to hurt and the firm surface, a few inches beneath, meant that it was possible to get a purchase to stand up again.
We could actually ski rather than slide precipitously so played around on these runs for a while despite extreme cold. The sun shone and snow came down at the same time. We experienced an unusual although not exceptional phenomenon of fairy glitter in the air, presumably frozen moisture, not actual snow flakes but a magical aura.
However, it was so cold that Roger’s nose hairs grew icicles and frost developed on my very rosy cheeks, patriotically complementing the blue hue around my mouth! Even my phone decided that it wouldn’t play ball any more and shut down after enduring these seriously low temperatures for a few rather nice pictures.
Anyway, back to the grindstone tomorrow and the shopping trip. Hope it is less controversial than two weeks ago but it’ll be over by the time you read this.
An additional job for changeover this weekend was to dismantle the Christmas tree, remove and pack away the decorations and lights and then get rid of the dried fir. The challenge was how to do this making the least mess possible. Two options were available: put the tree in a duvet cover or use the plastic laundry bag. We only have one of the latter and 12 sets of bedding to stuff into it so I didn’t want it torn. Roger thought that sap might damage the duvet cover. It might, but I was less concerned about that than the ensuing mess of pine needles throughout the apartment. We were able to take it out the lounge balcony door, around the outside but back in the door by the kitchen before dragging the shedding skeleton though the narrow hallway, considerably narrower than the tree, and out the front door into the lobby. A trip down in the lift was followed by another drag along the corridor and through 2 sets of doors, still narrower than the tree therefore acting as a funnel for the branches before they sprang back into place catapulting needles in every direction. The naked tree finally landed outside the front door and I returned to start clearing up the inevitable debris which must have taken well over an hour. There goes the time saved by arriving early. Armed with a dustpan and brush for the needles and a bin-bag for the tufts which could block a vacuum I tried to clear the main areas downstairs as best I could. I wasn’t going to lug the hoover down there. This communal entrance area was not kept all that sprucely anyway so I didn’t feel compelled to remove every single piece of evidence, although our supervisor did inform us that we/I should (even if it doesn’t look too bad in the photo).
At 1pm we stopped for a well-deserved cup of coffee, reheated contents from the cafetiere the guests had at breakfast, when the ops manager arrived. I think he must have been lurking outside somewhere, waiting to catch us shirking when we drew a breath for the first time. We didn’t even sit down but I had insisted that we have at least one drink during the course of a minimum of 6 hour changeover day.
Twelve guests had departed and ten were arriving in this 8-10 person chalet. The incomers included a 7 month old baby. This doesn’t really count as a body apparently, although our experience has taught us that babies create as much, if not more, work than adults.
The first pair arrived, self-driven from the Isle of Man. Their offspring and grandson were due to arrive later. The place was more or less ready; most pine needles had been sucked up although I dare say they will continue to reveal themselves for the next few months. We received our first actual inspection, ten minutes before the guests were due. I find this process rather odd as there is so little time to rectify matters, if anything significant is discovered. If insignificant, it can wait.
The baby kit arrived shortly afterwards, brought by the ops manager again. As he was leaving I checked whether he was going to confirm the restaurant booking and order the raclette and fondue equipment. No, we were to do that. But we get charged to ring French numbers from our own phones. He did not look happy, which was endorsed by another public wrist slap later that evening on the WhatsApp group for not using our personal phones on company business, but that’s another story.
Mollard’s guests were not due to leave until 12.15 on Sunday but knew that they could leave their bags in the chalet, to where they’d have to return for pick-up. They had gone out for a coffee by the time we arrived, after completing the daily clean in Loft. They returned shortly after we had stripped the place down and removed the Christmas tree, this time straight onto the balcony and around to the front, avoiding the mess of the previous day. These guys had stripped their beds and even gave us a tip! They can come again. They were by no-means hard up but had cancelled a reservation at one of the restaurants in resort when they’d strolled past and seen the prices on the menu.
We rushed around to get everything ready for 4pm after indulging in one cup of tea since breakfast and were quite relieved to find a little reprieve before commencing the meet and greet but as time ticked by my concern and some frustration rose. I was finally able to raise a response from our concierge service, when the guests were over an hour later than expected, and learnt that they were 15 minutes away. In reality 45 minutes but hey, who’s counting, what does our time matter? They seemed a nice family, from Scotland and New Zealand via Sydney, with Mum and Dad senior were due to arrive later on the Edinburgh flight.
I had felt a twinge of guilt at the sparse but obvious carpet of needles in Loft’s foyer. However, my muddy footprints from the beginning of December were still in evidence on the stairs down to the basement store rooms. As far as I could tell the main entrance had only been cleaned once in a month which seemed rather poor for this prestigious building. I checked with Roger on Monday and no, there was still no evidence of cleaning of the communal areas. If it was as bad again, I asked him to take a photo of the debris. They needed a better cleaner. If the entrance wasn’t going to be up to a suitable standard I knew we would be told to do it so what if I obtained a few extra hours work cleaning the hall, stairs, lift and landing of the building we were working in anyway?
A ‘CimAlpes’ tag had been attached to our door key which I assumed was the building management company and we pass their office everyday. Stopping off on the way back at lunch time I discovered that these guys just rented out another of the apartments in the building (no idea how we came by their key fob.) However, the very helpful lady gave me the name and email of the management company based down the bottom of the valley in Bozel.
I fired off an e-mail, which seemed like a complaint as I listed all the areas which needed cleaning, (admittedly some of my making) but then suggested that they employ me to rectify matters. I held out little hope of them taking on a foreign national for the specified times of 8-10am Mondays and Thursdays, which were most convenient for me. They’ve asked for a quote!
We wash all the towels and dressing gowns in-house, and do a mid-week towel change. Consequently the guests hardly get a look-in to use the washing machine and dryer as they are in perpetual motion. This does mean that these gadgets have to work efficiently and sometimes technology facilitates all sorts of fancy sensors and systems, which just provides more opportunities for things to go wrong. 24 towels for mid-week change was too much for this dryer which refused to operate and just kept beeping at me with annoying indignation. On Thursday morning the company owner turned up to demonstrate how to deconstruct the filters and condenser to clean (and dry in the sunshine!) to maintain clear flow and cleanliness. Perhaps 4 weeks late? It is a right performance, and then he told me that needed to do that after each cycle – not a chance – no time. He did print the manuals for me and after a quick peruse I came across the symbols for filters or condensers needing clearing, so will be guided by those in future (having not seen them previously.)
Thursday afternoon we received a message to say that our colleagues would be dropping off the shopping. They only had to do the 5 chalet shops, no guest lists this week, but I took the opportunity to go and meet them for a very welcome coffee and cake. We were a little surprised for this to be happening on a Thursday, as guests are able to send in shopping lists up until the end of Thursday so there could have been another shop to do on Friday. We’ll see how that works out next week.
On Friday morning I was met with silence when I entered the Loft to do the daily house-keeping, then bodies began to emerge from the depths of darkened bedrooms. Their penultimate evening is party night so they don’t travel with a hangover. (It was just a shame they hadn’t said something and given me the morning off.) I tried to work around the dazed beings but they weren’t washed and dressed so were in and out of bedrooms. They grazed on breakfast and occupied the kitchen and dining area in rotation so I couldn’t do anything there either. With mounting frustration with the dryer, which continued to refuse to work, I surrendered and went down to Mollard to give Roger a hand. I had just brought the vacuum upstairs when I received a call to say that one of the drivers was on his way to pick up the wet towels from Loft to take to launderette to dry, so I legged it back to Loft. There were no big bags to take towels in the van and I knew I didn’t have any in the 3rd floor apartment so we went in via the basement store. I put the key in the lock of our essential storage space where we keep the excess for both chalets along with the food shopping. It wouldn’t turn. The lock wouldn’t budge at all. I tried several times then asked Hordy to have a go and felt some degree of satisfaction when he couldn’t open it either, but this was tempered by the fact that I needed to be able to get in to retrieve the shopping for both chalet changeovers, not to mention collect toilet rolls and toiletries. Hordy decided to implement Kiwi technology and gave the door a good kick. He tried the key again. It opened.
The Loft guests were due to depart at 9.45am, on Saturday although one of the adults suggested that they might leave later when I confirmed the departure time on Friday morning. I let her know, straight away, that they’d have to be out by 10am anyway as we needed to turn the place around for the incoming guests, regardless of them being the owner’s party. I quickly added that they’d be able to leave their bags if leaving later, trying to be accommodating. I heard nothing about an alteration in timings and we had to go to Mollard at 9.30 for their daily clean and couldn’t go there any earlier so wouldn’t be back at Loft until 10.30 anyway. However, the lovely guys at Mollard told Roger that they’d quite like a lie in on Saturday and he didn’t need to go. This meant that we could start on Loft as soon as those guys left.
Hoping that they hadn’t been able to delay their departure, I checked with transport. Changeover days utilise the art of logistical planning when trying to get all guests to and from a variety of airports with a limited number of vans and drivers, so I thought it unlikely that times could be changed at a short-notice whim. They couldn’t, and in fact, the group had to leave 15 minutes earlier anyway. This helped us immensely. We had an extra hour for this changeover and really didn’t want to have to be helped again.
After 2 changeover days preceded by 2 shopping and house keeping days we needed to ski. The sun continued to shine and the snow quality was deteriorating in this north facing resort. Not turning to the slush of previous experience but becoming compacted by the piste bashers and then freezing overnight in the sub-zero temperatures resulting from the clear skies. So we were reluctant to comply with call for a staff meeting at 3.30 in the afternoon on the Monday. 2 hours out of the middle of our ski time, supposedly our free-time, was not very enticing. The time was changed to 5.15 the following day which also enabled us to meet-up with a colleague from our first season who was on holiday in Meribel, the adjacent resort, but coming to Courchevel that day. We arranged to rendez-vous at Waikiki Beach Bar beside one of the pistes mid-afternoon and arrived as the sun disappeared behind the jagged mountain tops, causing the temperatures to plummet lower than any other beach bar would have ever experienced!
The vin chaud warmed us a little, as did the transient heat from a nearby firepit when those around it moved away to allow the rays to penetrate slightly further. Roger decided it was time to go after a pleasant hour as he watched my face turn blue. I was unaware of this although my fingers and toes were distinctly chilly. Not sure we’ll be back there until the sun stays higher in the sky for longer, June perhaps!
We didn’t ski on Tuesday because of the staff meeting, which is another story, but looked forward to our day off and time to venture further. We took ourselves to Meribel on Wednesday, clocking departure time and progress to discern how long it would take us when arranging to meet friends over there in the near future. However, we were nearly deterred by the ridiculously long queue for the second lift we needed to use but decided to stick with it. Approaching the top Roger noticed that the next lift we needed to take wasn’t working, which would explain the queue but also foiled our planned route.
We made to the top of Saulire by a different combination and dropped down into sunny Meribel via another icy piste. I can just about cope with ice on the blue runs but the red ones, which should be within my capability when covered with snow, are rather daunting with this unpleasant surface. Therefore, it was with a significant degree of trepidation that I led Roger on the route to Mont Vallon, the highest peak in Meribel at the head of the valley with 2 red runs emerging from the top. The view was spectacular and the piste coated in snow, not ice! This was the first run I’d enjoyed since before Christmas. I could actually ski down it instead of sliding in terror.
A rest day on Thursday was followed by a short session on the hill on Friday because despite the sun, it was soo cold, -9 and felt it. We ventured onto a couple of short red runs at the far side of our own resort of Sixteen Fifty, on a north-facing tree-lined hillside. The sun was just high enough to provide some illumination to the less steep sections as we made our way tentatively down this unfamiliar piste. It was still icy in places but overall not bad. The return chairlift was in the shade of the hillside until the last 200yds and after three descents I conceded that I really was very cold and wanted to go back. These are the only decent runs nearby and I fear that we may get bored of them before long. We have been spoilt by the soft snow and sun of Alpe d’huez plus their long conjoining runs, but it is still early days.
We had been quite lucky up until this point, starting gently and easing our way into the workload but weekend 29th/30th was our first full turnaround of both chalets. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a head start on Saturday as the departees were self-drive and not required to leave until 10am and our occupiers of the second chalet, who weren’t due to depart until Sunday, weren’t early risers.
We were both on the doorstep at 10am in the hope of getting in and starting to empty the hottub, a 2-man job. One of the 2 Russian families did look like they were packing but the other was sat at the table having breakfast, in no rush to go anywhere. I guarded the drainage pipe stuffed down an adjoining bedroom toilet whilst Roger switched on the pump, ensuring it didn’t jump out from the force. It seems strange that an internal hottub isn’t plumbed in, even some outside ones are. I then trotted back to Mollard to give them their 2 hours daily clean whilst Roger negotiated the dawdling family and monitored the kids chasing up and down the corridor to ensure that they didn’t dislodge the hose. They finally left at 10.45.
By the time I returned at 12.30 the place was stripped down but needed cleaning and setting up, including 2 campbeds in the anteroom on the mezzanine floor which usually only holds twin beds but would now take 4. This would take the whole floor space and this room has no cupboards or drawers. Usually when guests chose to live out their suitcases there is actually somewhere to lay the case, but once the campbeds were assembled I couldn’t work out where these 4 lads would be able to put their belongings. Still, not my problem. The incoming party was the owner and friends so she should know how much space there would be when 12 full-sized humans inhabit an 8-10 person chalet.
We cracked on without so much as a cup of tea, and consequently no need for a comfort break, let alone lunch. I was concerned whether we would be ready by 4pm and had been told to let ‘them’ know if we aren’t so that reinforcements can be mobilised. I set my alarm for 3pm, we would know by that time how we were progressing and better to give some warning rather than leave it until the last minute and then create panic.
I had to split the double bed upstairs into the single beds for 2 young ladies. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I tried to separate the divans that I discovered the double king-size mattress. A sprint downstairs revealed twin mattresses on the double bed in the room at the far end, so interrupting Roger’s flow, we lugged 2 single mattresses upstairs and brought the double downstairs and along the corridor, giving the floor a good clean en route. I continued setting up the 6 single beds in the attic as Roger took a phone call from ops manager. The guests were 20 minutes away. (My alarm had 20 minutes to run.) No, we wouldn’t be ready at 3pm, and possibly not even 4pm. No worries, he was on his way to help and bringing others. He duly turned up a few minutes later and promptly took a phone call and was never seen again. However, our lovely colleagues from the other self-catered chalet, whose guests were staying 2 weeks, stepped from the lift like the cavalry they claimed to be. I didn’t quite hug them. I was less than fresh, sweat glistened across my forehead, upper lip and other concealed locations.
The beds were made up, decorated with co-ordinated cushions and throws, welcome packs displayed attractively, bathrooms gleamed and complementary toiletries stood to attention. Sue and Pete disappeared with ops manager and our supervisor arrived with the meal she had prepared for that evening (her little side-line!) with her husband who was keen to help. I suggested he check the windows for sticky finger prints from the little darlings who had just left. Which ones? He asked. Wherever you see them I replied, a little less than helpfully, he is 70! The guests duly arrived, well 9 of them, and chaos ensued. The company owner was sweet talking the luxury apartment owner. Our supervisor was busy preparing their meal. We skulked off and downed 2 pints of water to dilute our pee from the colour of iced tea followed by a large bottle of wine and collapse, ready to do it all again the following day. The Sunday guests departed at 7.45am and we were on the doorstep at 7.50. The bedrooms were stripped in record time and the outside hottub valve was opened to drain. First load of washing of towels and gowns was put on. Yes, we wash and dry everything except bed linen. Cleaning was well underway when I left at 9.30 to give the other chalet its daily clean, and trotted back at 12.30 to significant progress. The guests were due around 2pm but knew that they could only drop their bags. We were so close to finishing when a delightful family of 4 arrived. They were most apologetic for being in our way (lots of brownie points in our book) and happily went into town for lunch. The rest of their group, coming from South Africa via London and Geneva, weren’t due until 2.30-45pm so we were able to complete the finishing touches, or so I thought until I saw a face at the door 10 minutes later. They were early, it was just past 2pm. A not-quite-so-pleasant but still nice family rolled in. He seemed a rather intimidating Boer but she was very nice. The kids were only concerned whether the TV worked. The ski hire guy arrived and they had to get fitted before we showed them where to go (into town for lunch.) But once that was completed around 3pm we bade them farewell, or au revoir, and trotted back to the storeroom to retrieve our cache from the departees fridge and cupboard. The previous day’s takings had been minimal, and indecipherable if you can’t read Russian, but we needed to find space in our tiny kitchen and fridge for any offerings available. Except that we had just done a shop on Friday, ignorant of what we might receive. A second 7 hour day, not long but so full on that again, we needed excessive rehydration and I can do my belt buckle up another notch. I’m not sure that I’m entirely happy with this deja vu 5 years on.
One of our responsibilities is to carry out the weekly shop, alternating each week with two of the other housekeepers. We buy the fresh items for the welcome pack and restock any longer-life foodstuffs, as well as ensuring we all have sufficient non-food products. This is for the five self-catered chalets; the third team of two, who look after one chalet, don’t get involved but are the recipients of what is rapidly becoming the biggest single shopping list. In addition we collect and buy any groceries which the guests have asked for in advance so that they don’t need to shop whilst on holiday (which has only been for this fifth chalet so far, but each week.) Moutiers, at the bottom of the hill, houses the nearest main supermarkets. They are considerably more reasonable than their smaller counterparts in any of the resorts where the prices increase with altitude. Sue and Pete had taken us to the town to the large Casino during our first week and gave us a little tour of the streets afterwards. It is more functional than pretty, with some local industry to provide jobs, despite nestling between the snow capped mountains.
We had been shopping twice in our second week. First, as a team on the Tuesday for the non-perishable items and then Roger and I had to go back again on the Friday to obtain the fresh stuff which hadn’t taken too long despite the shop being packed. We intended to take a little detour to Carrefour to purchase some cheaper items for ourselves, including the rather nice fizz we have discovered in resort, which cost almost 25% less in the valley. However, one of the admin assistants decided she needed to drive us (and do her own shopping) so we didn’t feel we could ask her to go to a different shop as well. That Friday morning we were met with a heaving mass of seasonal staff, all doing their weekly shop in advance of the weekend’s influx of guests. In addition to the fresh items for the five chalets I had been provided with my first shopping list for the incoming guests in the fifth chalet and found the experience quite strange, trying to shop for someone else’s tastes, but managed, apart from bacon.
We did ascertain that Friday morning was not a good time to go as the aisles were so congested and, despite continual restocking, the staff couldn’t keep up with demand. The Ops manager suggested we go in an evening and even have a drink or meal in the uninspiring town. We passed on this latter suggestion but thought that evenings may be the best time to go, although Friday evening was cutting it fine if there were any hitches, so plumped for Thursday.
Thursday afternoon I tried to determine which of the hourly buses we needed to catch across to La Tania to pick up a van to take down to Moutiers. This was determined by the amount of additional shopping required, over and above the basic fresh items. There was a sudden burst of activity on our WhatsApp group stating that there was some additional guest shopping for the 5th chalet but I couldn’t ascertain how much. I was informed that I should know as the list was attached to the itinerary (for the fifth chalet when we don’t even read the ones for the third and fourth.) I hadn’t looked as my phone takes ages to download attachments and all 13 chalets are attached to the email, and that’s before I can even open ours. My phone is clogged up with all the work related activity and photos so now doesn’t even work properly for my personal use! Roger checked through the itineraries again, including the fifth chalet, and only found reference to a list which was attached to another email, which we didn’t have.
I finally got the answer that it was an extensive list which would be left in the Man Cave in La Tania to pick up with the van, so opted for the 4.10 bus from 1650 (sixteen-fifty). At 4.30 we were still stood at the bus stop waiting for the bus, any bus, they all come through here first. Deciding to get on the next bus and make our way in stages to LT we were about to alight the next bus to appear, which would take us all of about a mile down the road, when we spotted Gordon, one of our drivers in a company van behind it. Unfortunately he signalled that he couldn’t fit us in so we jumped on the ski bus and off again shortly after at Aquamotion, the spa/pool/ eating experience. Here we bumped into 2 of our chalet host colleagues from La Tania. Their guests were in the van/minibus and Gordon would come back and pick us all up once he’d dropped them off.
The LT bus rolled up 40 minutes late, ram-packed to the gunnels. There was little chance of us squeezing in and Gordon would be back for us soon after, so we decided to wait for him. 10 minutes later he messaged to say that he’d another guest pick up to do so couldn’t get us yet. ‘The next bus to LT is in 10 minutes’ said Criag. No, the ‘next’ bus still had 50 minutes of a round trip before it would be back at this stop, heading in the right direction. A taxi was deemed the best option. Not again, we thought, in silent stereo. But these were rather elusive or full of abandoned skiers from higher up the hill. Roger and I finally decided to abandon the trip and took the next bus back up to 1650. We waved at Gordon as he drove past with another minibus full of guests and arrived in our room an hour and a half later, having got absolutely nowhere. I sent off a quick message saying that due to a completely unreliable bus service we needed to be picked up the following afternoon to do the shopping. At least if we were sat in a van we could refuse to get out, or refuse to do the essential shopping, but either way were not going to depend on the useless bus service for work.
So we ended up going on Friday afternoon, as originally scheduled. Dave, another of our drivers, picked us up at 2.30, as arranged and wanted to drop off some laundry at The Attic on the way. He hadn’t been there before so we stopped off to show him the location of the key safe (3rd floor) and the store room (basement). He had a van ready for us in La Praz, where the road forks for La Tania and down to Moutiers, which would have been very convenient, except the guest shopping list was in the man cave in La Tania. Whilst we picked up said list his phone rung to say that guests needed collecting from the slopes. We were taken back around the LT one-way system to meet Emily, so that he could go for the guests. Swapping into her van we set off to La Praz, except she went the wrong way and we had to negotiate around the one-way system again before going to La Praz and collecting the van which we were to use. A 15 minute trip had turned into 45 minutes and it was 3.30 before we drove past the SuperU, our destination for the shopping. But we were going to Carrefour to do our own shopping first as they stocked the fizz we wanted and were reputed to be slightly cheaper. We pulled up back at SuperU at 4.30 and bumped into the ops manager who sniggered at whose shopping list I was clutching. This owner is notorious, not only for long shopping lists but for them being in no particular order. Roger did the shop for our 2 chalets whilst I set off to start the guest shop. Sometime later I spotted him heading for the checkout and asked him to come back with an empty trolley as I had filled the first and was still on the front page of the list. By the time he returned I could hardly move my trolley it was so heavy with beer, waters, cokes, etc so we parked it by the freezer cabinet. It took a further hour to try to hunt down every item on the list but failed on 4 and had to determine replacements for several others, after scouring the store. The specifications were more like a Sainsbury’s list which just aren’t stocked in France. Finally we packed €300 of groceries through the checkout and loaded into the van then went back in to do the other 3 chalet shops, including a vacuum cleaner. Eventually we emerged at 7.30 to loads of WhatsApp messages, beginning at 5.10, about what time we’d be back. The store room we were supposed to leave the shopping in for LT had been confiscated so it was to be left in our store in 1650. However, that wasn’t very convenient for other people so they wanted us to deliver directly to them in LT so were waiting for us. Well the fifth chalet person (supervisor) had already delegated that task as they were too busy to wait in. Although being the only person who knew the size of the list, she would have been aware of how long it was likely to take us, in an unfamiliar supermarket. Roger set off very gingerly up the twisty road, trying to ensure that our own shopping, which was separate but not sufficient to be wedged in, didn’t fall over. In LT all the 5th chalet shopping was transfered into the back of the boss’s truck and filled the flatbed area. I gave Pete his 3 bags and we drove back to LP where the boss left his van and came with us to 1650 to drop off our chalet shopping at the store, where it all could have been left, and then on to our flat. As we unloaded he couldn’t help commenting about the number of bottles of wine (there were only 8, for 2 weeks.) We fell into the flat at 8.30 and tried to find homes for the contents of 4 large carrier bags before starting to cook tea. Hope its not going to be like that each time!
We welcomed the day at the Ski Lodge bar in La Tania with almost all of our colleagues as well as half the resort. Our festive hats seemed quite popular, including with a French child who alighted the bus as we waited and got Grandad to take a photo with us. No idea where that has gone. Our departure from the bar at a few minutes after the countdown to catch the 12.10 bus was met with a flow of more people surging through the door. We were not alone to leave at that time. An invitation to join Pete and Sue (the other self-catered housekeepers) and their son (England rugby physio) for Christmas lunch later that day was very welcome as was the card from our employers containing a generous Christmas bonus! (The chicken will keep.)
Christmas morning was a sedate affair. It wouldn’t have been fair to hurry or harass the guests so we didn’t roll up until 9.45am, but they were still there and most surprised to see us. However they got a move on and left soon after with my warnings of icy paths; dawn had broken with completely clear skies. Our two hour shift completed around midday and a quick snack lunch preceded the much anticipated session on the hill. We managed to access the ski-out lift for the first time, despite trepidation as it appeared to not be working and unmanned. However it transpired to be our first experience of a do-it-yourself ski-lift. Just press the big green button.
A short ride up to the slopes took us to just above the main lift which we could easily ski down to. I attributed the sheet ice we had to cross to the shade from the trees but emerging from the top of the main lift discovered that all the pistes were like glass, very hard glass, aka polished concrete. The sun had not managed to soften the surface, even by 1pm. Tentatively, we made our way to the top of 1650 (sixteen-fifty) for the first time, dismissing the red Chapelettes run which had seemed so tempting when studying the piste map but now looked treacherous. Following the first part of the descent we agreed that it was no fun so cautiously made our way back to the flat not only taking huge care of ourselves but considering all those behind us as having potential to wipe one of us out if they lost control. Fortunately we made it back safely but discovered that a guest from one of our other chalets had broken their pelvis. That was probably the shortest ski session we’ve ever had but at least we went out on Christmas day, in glorious sunshine, to areas we hadn’t previously explored and were back in time for a quick rest before the festivities resumed.
On our way to the bus-stop back to our dinner date in La Tania we diverted to The Loft to give the guests the spare locker key. No rest for some! We alighted the ‘Pere Noel’ Special, which seemed exactly the same as every other bus except the driver wore a santa hat. We arrived at our allotted time and after a quick glass of fizz, were off out again to watch the fireworks which really were quite spectacular. (No photos though, I’ll save those for the International Firework Show in February.) We returned to Sue and Pete’s flat for a delicious turkey dinner accompanied by roasties and braised sprouts and leeks with chestnuts. Not bad with a tiny oven which only cooks for an hour at a time. After a few rounds of quizzes we bade our farewells to catch the 11.10 bus, 2 before the last one!
Whilst waiting for the said bus back the 6-7 miles to1650 the stop was invaded by a bunch of rowdy seasonniares: our colleagues, who had just finished delivering stupendous Christmas meals to their guests.
11.10 came and went, as did 11.20. The moon rose in a clear sky, not quite full but casting a brilliant glow against the white mountainside. A few others took cover from the cold in the wooden bus shelter, they were holiday makers who were also staying in 1650. Our colleagues were on their way to a bar in La Praz, a village in between. We declined their kind suggestion to join them. They became bored waiting and set off to walk the 2-3 km downhill to LP. We gave the bus until 11.30 and started walking in their wake, much to my disgust as I had asked specifically in the Tourist office if the bus service was full on 24th and 25th, which they assured me it was.
There are many unreported incidents of fatalities in the Alps each year and we are often warned against the perils of alcohol and hypothermia at night. Not providing the advertised bus service between villages late at night must be considered totally irresponsible. I feel a snotty letter to the Mairie (mayor) coming on.
We walked along the unlit (and shaded from the moonlight by thick conifers) and unpavemented road to La Praz. A pavement did materialise as we approached the village but the sheet ice didn’t facilitate running for the bus we could see stopping ahead from a different direction. The timetable at the bus stop stated that their’d be another one along in 20 minutes, from La Tania, but we had little faith in that prospect. Almost resigned to walking the further 5miles, up hill, one of the ‘tourists’ flagged down a taxi and 6 of us jumped in for the princely sum of €5 a head. We rolled into our building just after midnight. It could have been so much worse!
Christmas Eve was our first day of normal working, which is anything but a normal day. Roger went to The Loft and I headed to Mollard to complete 2 hours of cleaning and tidying, depending on what we found. We needed to make the most visual impact so that guests knew they’d visited: beds made, towels folded, clothes picked up, bathrooms cleaned, kitchen sorted, floors hoovered. The living area work depended on the state it was left and in my case, working out how to clear the ash which hadn’t dropped into the tray designed for that purpose from the stupid wood burner. I refused to resort to sweeping it all out the front but the soot marks above my elbows evidenced how far in I reached, too far!
We were still expected to do the housekeeping on the 25th but hoped that our respective guests would either want some family time to open presents etc or take pity and release us from drudge on Christmas day. Hoping that whatever was decided would be compatible we set a limit at not working beyond 12.30. A spit roast chicken and saute potatoes would be ready for our pick up at 1pm. In fact neither chalet was occupied when we entered on 24th so there was no room for discussions or negotiations. The Russians in The Loft had lived for 8 years in Singapore so have an expectation of ‘staff’ and the new arrivals barely know us so may be in for a surprise when I turn up at 9.30 on Christmas morning to clear up.
We postponed our chicken from Farto deli (undeterred by the name) as the forecast was good so woukd collect it at 5pm after hopefully, a lovely afternoon skiing. This will be a novelty as we have worked the past 4 Christmas days, with no option to ski. Although last year was the first to have sufficient snow to enable us to even consider doing so. But our treat will be to traverse the slopes even if not celebrating in a more traditional manner. The temperatures are rising and no snow is forecast for the near future so we must make the most of the opportunity.
We have arranged to go across to La Tania this evening (Christmas Eve) to meet some colleagues now that the full bus service is operational and we can stay out beyond midnight without turning into a pumpkin/hitch-hiker. Ten past one is our last bus back so must make sure we don’t miss it! By the time you read this we will be practicing for New Year’s Eve.