17. Looking Up

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

Roof snow clearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16c. Last episode of that week

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

Where’s Roger?

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

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

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

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

View from Le Spot

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

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

16b Worst week (cont.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

16. Worst Week This Year

That wasn’t a particularly good week! The guests were arriving from North Wales so Roger was hopeful that they’d be keen rugby fans and would therefore want to watch the 6 Nations on Saturday evening and Sunday. But no. They were football supporters, even if one had gone to school with James Hook, the Welsh fly-half/full-back. 14 people plus a baby came through the door, not the 14 including a baby we were expecting.

The first inkling that they’d be a challenge was when they arrived back at the chalet half an hour late for the welcome meeting, citing a need to purchase fresh milk for baby. Presumably only starting to look for a shop at the time they should have returned, so as not to erode any minutes from their drinking time. (There were 3 other children under 10 as well as the baby.) By this time on changeover day we are counting the minutes before we can collapse into bed and this week was no different, worse if anything as we’d been on the go since 4.45am. It would be easy to drop the meet’n’greet but as it gives us an opportunity to tell guests about the chalet facilities and routines it can be helpful for us to ensure that they know this information. I shouldn’t have bothered, no-one listened anyway. I had to ask/tell one to disconnect his phone from the bluetooth speakers I had just told them about, so that I didn’t have to speak over his playlist.

All the noise did mean that their porridge order was messed up as Roger attempted to count hands of those desiring it the following morning. When they all requested it the next day there wasn’t enough prepared. “I’m sure we all said we wanted it” came a slightly challenging response from the party organiser’s partner. What was said and what was heard were two different things in that melee. Another said she needed breakfast at 7am (instead of 7.45) to be ready in time. She tried to argue with me but as I could assert that everyone else managed to be ready in time in three years and that the bread shop didn’t open until 7am, we were not going to get up an hour earlier just to suit her.

We moved on to our night off and they wanted suggestions as to where to go. After some discussion and consensus they agreed a restaurant to book for Wednesday night “14 + baby at 7.30pm?” I confirmed. “No, we’ll be 18.” I had no problem with this, they must have friends staying in resort. “Are those guys coming to stay then?” came an innocent voice. The guy asking for 18 looked sheepish for a moment and then said “Yes”! They had arranged for 4 additional people to stay over on our night off. What were we supposed to do? They’d even let us know! I said they needed to be gone by the time we came in on Thursday morning. We booked their table for 18 people plus baby, they all want steak, not sure they’ll get it in that quantity.

Through-out all this Scotland were beating England and I missed it! Consequently Roger was in a bad mood because England played like muppets!

The meal was a rowdy affair, but no more so than some until a pea-brain decided to whiz the lazy-Susan round so that her friend could get the wine quickly. Obviously ignorant of centrifugal forces the bottle of wine flew off and in the process knocked a glass onto the floor which shattered in every direction. Whilst trying clear up all the shards of broken glass off the floor another guy became a little shirty with me because he was covered in red wine and it seemed to be my fault that I wasn’t cleaning that up. Meanwhile the perpetrator didn’t lift a finger to help clear up the mess she’d caused. We couldn’t wait to leave. Not an auspicious start to the week, especially when we’re knackered but at least Tramadol had kept my pelvic pain under control.

The following morning we struggled to get in the front door as they’d parked the multi-terrain pushchair against it. (There was little other space for it) At least it is now a glass wall so we could see what was blocking it (but I’m not cleaning it, there have been too many extra jobs added to our list over the past 2 years and we are now up at 50hrs a week when full – most weeks – not good!)

Once the porridge issue was settled and Mrs ‘I need breakfast at 7am’ finally emerged from her bedroom they disappeared up the hill into mixed weather. At 5.50pm our phone rang. They’d just got off the mountain and were cold and tired, could we come and pick them up? What a surpirse! All the adults except Grandad (experienced skier) and mum of the 4 and 8 year olds (inexperienced skier) were experienced snowboarders. So one would have thought that they’d have a piste map between them and keep an eye on the weather, particularly when skiing with young children, but no! I gave directions to the bus stop, about 100 yds away and due in 10 minutes. Half an hour later they called to say it hadn’t arrived. They hadn’t moved, not gone to the stop I’d directed them to, stayed at the one our bus doesn’t stop at. They asked another bus driver but unfortunately he didn’t speak English and told them that they were at a bus stop, they were, just the wrong one so it was his fault. Are UK bus drivers multi-lingual?

1 day in, 5 more to go!

15. Getting Better

The past few weeks have been a bit of a challenge. Pain levels have fluctuated and just when things start to improve I’m set back again, trying to empty the vacuum, finishing my medication or trying to assemble a recalcitrant travel cot have not helped.  I have been back on my skis a couple of times. The worst part has been walking around the back of the building, where the sun never shines, to the ski lift. This is just a little further along the same road as the scene of the crime, so I know how hard it is. The surface remains icy for most of the season and watching Roger slip and fall in front of me does nothing for my confidence.

On my skis on the piste 😊

The first time I went out I managed to go down the ‘pink’ run three times. Marcel’s Farm is a fun run for beginners so was very suitable, except that beginners are fairly unpredictable. On my second run I had to take quick evasive action to ensure that I didn’t collide with one, it jarred my back but soon calmed down again. On my third trip at a very slow speed I decided I had better make sure that I could execute a proper stop – turning sideways to the direction of travel, across the fall line of the hill. The only drawback is that you have to have some speed in order to do so. I had just drifted to a halt on the previous runs.

I’d sent Roger off to do something more challenging slopes and made my way down a quiet section and managed these little interruptions without incident so decided to progress to a green so steeper run. We used to come back to the main lift area by this route but usually at a significant pace as there is a long flat section at the bottom where we always try to avoid having to pole. I would just have to use those arms and perhaps tone up the bingo wings. Roger went off on the other side of the lift, through the snow park to eye-up the jumps. I was delighted to be able to ski without any increased pain, even on the turns, but was still anxious about being hit by someone else. I also discovered that you don’t have to ski that bottom section particularly fast to avoid too much polling, after three years!

I went out again a few days later and managed to come down three red runs so was even more pleased but then I had a fight with the hoover just before changeover day when I had my altercation with the cot so not sure when I’ll be out again but the weather isn’t that great so I’ll just sit tight and wait a little longer.

Meanwhile we are on our third week of half-term, i.e. families with school age children and younger. The first week was a group of lovely people who had come out last year and wanted to come back with us again. This included letting them know if we had changed employers so that they could be with us rather than the chalet. They drove out in 2 minibuses but as this was the busiest week of a very snowy resort parking was a problem. The chalet drive is snow covered – we haven’t seen it yet this season – but also quite a steep gradient so they wouldn’t have been able to drive up even if it hadn’t been under a few feet of snow. There is one space at the top and if guests want to be transported by us we reserve it for our van. The owners had said that people would have to park at the next drive way up the hill which provides access to several apartment blocks. We thought it was resident parking only but what do we know. Midweek someone knocked at the chalet door when we were out and told the guests that others in the apartments were threatening to have non-resident vehicles towed away, to Grenoble. Not wanting to risk that outcome our guys moved their vans to the edge of bend 2 where there is a little off-road space. Unfortunately, not being the road surface they became stuck and had to be pushed out so we were left with a not-unforeseen dilemma which we threw back to the owners, only just avoiding a ‘told you so’.

Last week we had another party of 15 (!!!) comprising 3 families from the Midlands. Not a bad bunch but not very experienced skiers so needed quite a lot of ‘hand holding’ including reminding them that if they wanted a lift up to the slopes in our van in the morning it might be a good idea to bring their skis with them. They had arrived in 2 hire cars but with the parking issues of last week, had been advised to park in the town (not that there were any spaces up there either – we’d had one warning notice from the police about inappropriate parking.)  This resulted in them being ‘stranded’ for the week and needing even more help and lifts. They were a good bunch on the whole but one young man, old enough to know better, had a bit of an attitude. One morning, after he had missed breakfast for the third day running, he was sat in the lobby with his ski boots already on, waiting for a lift up with us when we finished for the morning as several of them were in no rush to go out. Roger was vacuuming the boot room and he did deign to lift up his feet but then asked if he would bring him any spare pastries from the cleared breakfast table. He had been taking these as he exited the living room on other days but forgotten that morning before putting his boots on, which we ask not be worn in the chalet. Did he really expect waiter service? Apparently so! But there weren’t any left. It was illustrative of his attitude when, on their last day, he had to ask us where the mugs were kept. The same place they’d been all week!

😕😢😟

This week we have 14 people plus a 1 year old baby, which apparently doesn’t count as 15, despite the deluge of debris across the table, chairs and floor in that corner at meal times. Additional equipment had to be extracted from the eaves and space made for the cot in a very limited building plus milk bottles and plates etc to wash snd store but that isn’t extra work. She’s actually quite a good little girl, much easier than some of her aunts, uncles and cousins. The group are Welsh, but only just over the border from Liverpool, we find ourselves in the middle of an episode of Brookside crossed with Shameless but without the intellect or humour! We’ll see.

And our the bathroom still has no heating but retains its leak, we caught 12 litres in 4 hours at its worst.

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 neighbours. 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 for 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.