That time when…. I worked as a Chalet Host.
It was early October 2017, it was probably raining, I was probably
bored, my work on the boats was slowing down and like many others under 30 I was
unhappily homeless. I’d taken a few snowboarding classes at a
dry ski slope and knew that no matter what job I could find next, it’d unlikely
be able to pay enough for me to pay rent anywhere decent. I needed a new challenge and so, in
my mind, the only solution was to apply for seasonal live-in work. The first I
found online was for a Chalet Host (without cooking) role in an exclusive, and
expensive, resort in the French Alps and then somehow, three weeks later I was
meeting the husband and wife owners and two others of the team of six in a café
in Bristol. Almost one month after that, I was boarding a plane, severely
hungover, for Geneva, ready for five months of laying tables, pouring champagne
and most importantly- snowboarding! I was excited to meet five other
like-minded individuals, keen on extreme sports, not stuck in permanent jobs or
bound to high maintenance girlfriends.
Sadly, the social side of life in small resorts in the Alps was disappointing, although I hear it is very different in larger party resorts, and totally different again outside of Europe, here however, the welcome evening drinks in the pub with five other under 25s in the pub included a conversation about getting a mortgage with the 21-year-old girlfriend in the Welsh Valleys and a game of darts, surrounded by a flurry of middle aged British ex-pats and not one French-speaker - more on that in a later blog- nonetheless, I found some enjoyment in the work that allowed me six hours of slope time each day.
A typical morning for a Chalet Host involves clearing up the last nights party leftovers whilst the guests are still snoozing, serving breakfast, tidying up after breakfast and cleaning all rooms before rushing out into the snow. For me, serving breakfast was a five-star event which required thirty minutes of preparing a huge table display of every possible breakfast food. I suppose, and I hope, that there are less formal Chalets about and whilst I did not enjoy watching people eat themselves into a food coma first thing in the morning, I appreciated working alone, entertaining guests, frequent conversations about snow conditions and being able to listen to my own music whilst housekeeping and secretly eating their leftovers. Evenings are pretty much the same affair; laying a fancy table with multiple knives and multiple forks, and sometimes multiple spoons too, making an origami napkin of same perfection I had just folded the toilet paper ends and serving a five-course, five-star meal, although this time accompanied by the chalets dedicated chef. It was the first time in my life I had been exposed to such fine-dining and I learnt a lot in the first two weeks dedicated to training. It was obvious I was from a different world and within a week I had complained of bullying from the five other colleagues, although no action was taken to solve it-I did not know what half the ingredients on the menu were, no idea which fork to use, which glass was for what wine, and my questions, and the mistakes I made were often met with a wave of eye-rolls. My pleads for help or explanation fell on deaf ears and I began to question my own existence when the entire team just stopped acknowledging me. I won’t bother to mention the tiny portion-sizes or ridiculous serving styles (#WeWantPlates) Almost a month in my manager just sighed and shouted ‘Do you just have no money, have you just never stayed in a five star hotel?’
Another thing that became clear, is that I had no idea how to be invisible. In five-star service, a waitress is a mystical creature that delivers your food and clears your empty plate with the same gentle touch as the tooth fairy. She receives no thanks, puts up with a lot of shit from both customers and chefs, and works unsociable hours for very little money. I’ve no idea why anyone would chose to be a waitress in such an environment without the promise of snow-time to keep them going. Not dissimilar in a chalet environment, just on a smaller scale per chalet, I struggled, mainly because I’d left my invisibility cloak at Hogwarts. A Chalet host is simultaneously a breakfast chef, waitress, housekeeper and sort-of entertainer. Occasionally customers would want to absorb me in conversation and I would reply with the verbatim response drummed into me from training- I was not to engage in conversation, especially about politics, philosophy, economics, literature, current affairs, or anything other than the weather, and I simply had to nod my head in agreement. It was soul crushing work as many guests, especially after a few nights, became attached to the chalet host that pottered around their holiday. Despite occasionally bumping into each other on the slopes or maybe sharing a drink at the pub outside of work duty, as soon as the boss came in uninvited for some strained small talk, I’d return to my magical robot-esque ways, serving from the right, females first.
The hours are long, split throughout the day; a Chalet Host works 6am-11pm at night and still manages to go snowboarding or skiing or ice skating or snowshoeing in between. There is serious FOMO in resort life, and whilst I managed to avoid heading to the same ex-pat-laden pub every evening, my colleagues were to be found there every evening and survived off very little sleep- I know because I suffered the dramatic moans of ‘I’m soooo hungover’ everyday.
Chalet Hosting is not a job I would ever do again-working in Hospitality is not for me. Whilst I am capable of keeping my mouth shut and not engaging in conversation, of abiding by rules even when they don’t work out beneficial for anyone, it happened at the sake of my own happiness. Compromising my personality for a job, no matter how much I enjoyed the extreme sport that accompanied it, left me in emotional tatters each evening. Every night I would facetime or skype with my friends scattered around the globe in a desperate attempt to make fun of the situation-to laugh rather than cry-though these sessions often ended with crying; my friends asking if I should not simply find a new job in a company which shared my morals, with management and colleagues that respected me and in role I had a sense of purpose. Less than a month after arriving in the French Alps I was being driven away, fired by management for no good reason other than not fitting in. It was the perfect rejection and just what I needed to set off alone. Within a week I had bought the Mazda Bongo that is quickly becoming my home and office. Perhaps I will take Kiwa the van to the mountains to enjoy more snowboarding without having to be dead inside.
Do you have any Chalet Hosting experience? Or have you been on a catered Chalet holiday? I’d love to hear your opinions of different styles of holiday, and tales from other resorts from holiday-goers and seasonal staff.