When winter sports fans Helen and Tom decided to work a winter season in France, they had no idea what to expect. After packing up their lives in the UK and moving to Chatel, they worked as chalet hosts from December 2013 - April 2014. The pair ran a catered chalet which slept up to 12 people; they hosted, cooked and cleaned six days a week.
The experience brought them closer together - and showed them the true meaning of hard work. They’re both keen snowboarders and wanted time to hone their skills, but what was the job like behind the scenes?
We spoke to Helen about the nature of working as a chalet host, and the lifestyle she and Tom had. Did they do much partying, and how did it change their relationship? Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering working as a chalet host with your partner.
Whose idea was it to find chalet work?
It was Tom’s dream to do a whole season of snowboarding. I was adamant for some time that I couldn’t leave a stable job - but after a particularly tiring day at the office I changed my mind. Life’s too short to not take chances!
You did the job for 5 months. Was that just the right amount of time for you?
Absolutely - it was great fun, but I’d hit my limit!
Did you sort out your travel cover before you left?
Yes, we organised it before we flew out; travel insurance is vital, especially if you’re on the slopes for up to six hours a day! We never needed to use ours, but we were always grateful that we had it. It was lovely to head off every day with peace of mind, knowing we’d have help if we needed it. Another couple working with us didn't have it, which I always thought was madness.
Do you think working as a couple was easy?
We found it easy to communicate, so it probably made the work simple. We both had the same goals each time we were working at the chalet. Namely, let’s get the job done well and hit the slopes!
How did it change your relationship?
I think it can be ‘make or break’ for any couple. It can be hard to work and live with someone. It ended up making us stronger, as we got to know each other's very worst traits.
What was your routine like?
We would typically get up at 6.45am to walk to the chalet and start breakfast for the guests at 7.45am. Tom would then take the guests on their slope transfer in a minibus after breakfast. Meanwhile, I would bake a cake for their return, start the cleaning and prep for the evening meal. Tom would get back and help me finish, and we would hurry home to get changed for the mountain.
Tom would usually have to pick guests up for slope transfers between 4-5pm. We would get back to our apartment beforehand, with enough time for a quick shower before he picked them up. By the end of the season, we used to push it and come back with the guests from the slopes. It was then a rush to go home and shower before getting back to prepare the evening meal!
What was your job like over Christmas?
Luckily, we had Christmas Day off. Our chalet didn’t have any guests booked until Christmas week, which, along with New Year, is the busiest and most expensive week of the season.
We had amazing guests - a large group of family and friends with a few kids. They were some of our best guests of the season. Highlights included the Yorkshire puddings rising so much that their tops burnt on the top of the oven, and completely forgetting the stuffing. The guests were happy though; they just laughed it off. Thank goodness!
Do you and Tom have any funny stories?
Christmas Eve was a hoot! We went to meet our friends in the bar at about 10.45pm, and we ran there chatting excitedly about our evening. We didn’t know that the bar staff rang the bell when they get a tip, so when the bell rang we thought it was last orders. We ordered quite a few drinks to tide us over, then discovered that the bar was still very much open. Well, we didn’t have to go to the bar for the rest of the evening.
Who were your best guests?
We met so many lovely people. The best guests were polite; all we wanted to hear was ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and most people do this. It was nice when families stayed, as they made me and Tom feel like part of the family and part of their holiday. This made us want to go out of our way to help them, so everyone won!
What can you tell other people about the hospitality industry? What advice would you give to people thinking of doing a season abroad?
I now know how simple things can make a world of difference to people working for you. It doesn’t cost anything to say please and thank you, and treat people serving you with respect. You get a whole lot more back. Tom and I have a newfound respect for people who work in hospitality; it totally changed us.
If you’re looking to do a season, I advise you to research who you will be working for. Make sure you know how much slope time you will get, and if it’s enough for you. The job is rewarding, but hard work. If you want to party and ski too, it’s tricky to juggle all three!
Images supplied by Helen Laws