(Published in The Malay Mail on 27 April 2014)
It’s usually the guests that pitch up knackered and short-tempered after a hard day’s drive to their ski resort. But from the look on our chalet boy’s face, I could tell the day had not been kind to him.
“I’m late, sorry”, he puffed out as he made the last steps up the snow-coated hill to greet us. “I’ve had to deal with the small issue of two large suitcases left outside your chalet.”
The family who had checked out that morning had just called him. They were at a service station north of Lyon, some 3 hours drive away, when they had noticed the empty space in the back of their car, precisely where their luggage ought to have been.
“The husband told me he had had a massive “matrimonial” with his wife as they were leaving, so bad, that they’d stopped talking to each other.” Keen to leave sharpish after their showdown, they sped off — oblivious to the forlorn looking suitcases left standing in the snow.
Luckily, they had their passports and were able to catch their scheduled Eurotunnel crossing. And, with a touch more luck, they might have kissed and made up on reaching the UK.
We had a good snigger over this silly mishap — safe in the knowledge that we would never, ever, let that happen to us…
He’s seen much of this sort of nonsense in his 12 years working for chalet owners in a pretty village, deep in the French Alps. And he was surprisingly keen to spill the beans, albeit anonymously, so I’ve given him the nom de plume ‘Bob’. For despite what he describes as “the real life lunacy that occurs in ski holiday situations”, he still wants to keep his job (and, in turn, keep skiing).
Bob’s one of those rare creatures who makes a living out of his passion. Although there was little planning involved, with his childhood dream to learn to ski growing organically to completing a ski season in his 20s, and later becoming a ski guide.
Skiing in the French Alps: fun in the snow but hard work behind the scenes for the likes of chalet Boy Bob.
Ski guides, even if they’re not French, which he isn’t, are, of course, terribly sexy, and it wasn’t long before the single man life of all-day skiing and all-night après-ski bar action switched to a wife, baby and an urgent need to cover a mortgage on his very own chalet. Et voilà: the chalet boy role.
I use the term “chalet boy” loosely since he’s far from young, single and naive, but rather a worldly, athletic thirty-something with boyish good looks. And I’m now handing you over to him:
“The typical ski holiday guest is well-educated and paid a decent salary (so as to afford a ski-hol), yet I get asked such glorious questions as:
“What time will my 9:15 ski lesson start?” (Errr … thoughts of replying “let’s look at the words and work that out together, shall we?” — but I remained sarcasm-free).
“Will my ski lesson have waited for me?” from a hung-over guest who surfaced mid-morning.
“Why won’t the supermarket be open for me on Sunday afternoon” (Oh,..I’ll personally revoke Sunday trading legislation just for your needs…).
“But what will I do with my children?” on a ‘lifts shut due to high-winds day’.”
I’m regularly shouted at by bad-tempered guests — who do not have my idyllic life in the Alps — when their arrival expectations are dashed.
One set of ballsy guests actually took possession of a chalet before the previously guests were due to check out. There were a few choice words exchanged, and I had to intervene before it turned ugly.
“You must come here (5km down a snow-covered road) as we do not know how to put our snow-chains on and cannot drive any further!”
“We booked a bus to the neighboring resort (50-mins drive away) by mistake and are on foot … how do we reach you?”
“Can we just leave (all) our bags with you today while we go skiing?” (As you have nothing to do on changeover day)?”
But there are also times when guests are just unaware of how much work they create:
“No problem for us, as we showered in the leisure centre for the last couple of days. But there was a loud bang and smell of burning midweek from the electric fuses and no hot water since!” (Offered 4-hours before the new guests were due to arrive during peak season).
“These are my hire car keys … as I’ve booked a taxi. Could you “just” drop it off at the airport today?” (a 4 hour round trip).
“The many, many “we’re here early but,” lines, or most broken things in properties were “like that when we arrived” or “already broken and carefully reassembled only to fall apart in my hands”. And after a guest superglued a broken handle back onto a teapot, with “scalding” consequences for the next guests, I banned all forms of glue from chalets.”
There’s plenty of stressed moments in the job, often funny in retrospect he says, and for all those he remembers, there are countless forgotten.
But it’s hard to feel any sympathy for Bob. Envy, yes, for I agree with the sentiments of most other Brits who meet him: “he’s lucky to have all this”. After all, he’s carved his own dreamy piste, so let him enjoy it … and those pesky guests too.