On Saturday I went to a ski jobs fair – not to look for a job but to make what I hoped would be useful contacts in the wintersports world. It was organised by Natives.co.uk (company strapline ‘Knowledge is Powder’), which has found jobs in the alps and beyond for thousands of mainly seasonal workers. As I write, Natives has more than 47,000 registered applicants and around 850 positions , so competition is fierce. Recently, for one especially juicy job, there were 3,000 people interested.
At the fair in Hammersmith, companies such as Inghams, Crystal, Scott Dunn, Skiworld, Esprit, Ski Power, Alpine Action and Ski Total were there to talk to would-be applicants; there were also three operators of ski instructor courses, who send hundreds of Brits to places like Canada and the US to improve their skiing and get a qualification. It is all very well organised and a far cry from when I was 18 and went to work a season for the Swiss Ski School in Anzere, Valais (where I’d skied throughout my childhood).
Back then we took a week’s course with the deputy head of the ski school, were given booklets on the Swiss teaching system in three languages (very useful for terminology) and went straight into Christmas high season. My first group was a Swiss-French-Dutch-English-Belgian-German gang of first-timers aged three to 12. But the most difficult part of my job turned out to be taking tiny kids to the loo in a hurry – on or off the slope – and trying to prevent them peeing all over their salopettes.
Going back further in time, I recently interviewed a brilliant lady called Julia Beldam for Country Life magazine about her days in the early 1970s as a chalet girl – which led to her running a chalet company for 40 years. I loved her stories of near-disasters, eccentric guests and fun times. You can read my article about Julia, from the 23 February issue of Country Life, here – Chalet girl interview Country Life.
I still think it’s far easier to be a rep, ski host or instructor than a chalet host (as they are now known due to the many boys in the job). When I was 23 I shared a room with a chalet girl in Obergurgl, and her job required way more stamina, skill and time than mine as ski host and rep (and I think I was paid more). All those beds to make and an open kitchen where everyone could see if she dropped something on the floor. Another friend of mine cooked for a barrack-load of British army officers in Verbier – quite a scary prospect for an 18-year-old – and another joined us in Obergurgl as a chambermaid in a hotel and was sacked after being caught fast asleep on a bed she ought to have been making.
By contrast, as a ski host and rep all I had to do was turn up on time and take people for great days out on the slopes – often continuing into apres-ski. I never minded the weekly airport run to Innsbruck – it was a chance to chat to reps from other resorts and read guests’ sometimes entertaining questionnaires. Gripes were few, as Obergurgl has great snow and hotels – and when things kicked off our formidable resort manager, Sarah Royston, came into her own. (The guest who brought his previous evening’s meal to our office hour, asking, ‘Would you eat that?’ got short shrift.) No wonder I stayed on for a summer – and a second winter – before returning to the real world.
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