Back in 2011, I decided- on a whim- to apply for the role of Chalet Host with Crystal Ski. I was unhappy in my current job in a local Cafe that I'd got after a summer of working in America. I was 18, had nothing tying me down and fancied an adventure.
The day after submitting my application, I received an Interview Offer for a few days later. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting in to as my only experience in the mountains was the school Ski trip a few years before. My family had never been interested in Ski Holidays but something about them fascinated me. I booked my interview in for a few days later. Due to the scale of the company & the number of Ski Resorts that they operate in, Crystal runs recruitment days rather than individual interviews. I travelled a few hours up to London and walked in to a huge offer with the rest of the hopeful applicants. We had to do various group tasks, presentations and a one-on-one interview. I knew from my research that Hosts were responsible for baking Afternoon Tea for the guests, so I had baked some brownies and offered them to my interviewers. They said that that had sealed the deal and I was put at the top of the list.
It was early January so the season was underway and I was on standby to fill the role of someone who quit, got fired, or got injured. Luckily for me, someone in St Anton got injured and I was put on a flight for that Saturday (or 'Transferday' as I'd soon come to know it) and found my self heading to the Austrian Alps for the next 5 months, less than a week after I had clicked on that Job Advert.
I was met off the transfer bus by my Resort Manager. He was very welcoming and in desperate need of an extra pair of hands. I was initially put in a Chalet on the outskirts of town as that had been where the previous host had been working. I had completely missed the Training Week where all of the staff bonded which resulted me being both physically and socially an outsider at the start. I had to run a huge 12 person Chalet, on my own, with no training. Another host was placed with me for a few days to show me the ropes but it was obvious that she wanted to be in another Chalet. I was so optimistic and excited to be there that I barely noticed though.
After the summer spent as an Au Pair looking after 3 kids in America and having always loved cooking, the domestic tasks were no problem. The Hosts were moved around between Chalets a few times throughout the season, depending on our skillsets, the guests booked in that week, the character of the Chalet and the area of the Customer Reviews that needed a boost (Food, Cleanliness, Friendliness of the Hosts etc). It varied between the Chalets, but a typical day would consist of:
06:45 - Leave Accommodation
07:00 - Arrive at the Chalet, the Bread (traditional Austrian Semmel rolls) has been delivered and is sitting outside, prepare the Continental Breakfast
07:45 - Guests start to come to Breakfast and request their cooked option, I put the cake in the oven for Afternoon Tea at the same time as cooking the breakfast
08:30 - Clear away Breakfast & then tidy the kitchen while the guests leave
09:00 - Housekeeping
10:00 - Lay out Afternoon Tea and leave the Chalet, go back to the Accommodation to get changed in Ski gear
10:30 - 15:00 Ski/Snowboard (or sleep off your hangover which is what a lot of the staff used to do)
15:30 - Get changed into uniform, do any Laundry/pick up any ingredients needed for Dinner
16:30 - Arrive at the Chalet to cook dinner, do the paperwork and clear away the afternoon tea
19:00 - Dinner is Served, something the Resort Reps would stop by
21:00 - Leave the Chalet, run back to the Accommodation to get changed and then go into town for drinks
04:00 - Go to bed to get a few hours of sleep before doing it all again!
We would get a day and a half off every week which is when we would be able to go to Apres Ski and get a bit more time on the mountain. If it was a snow day then that day would be spent watching movies and catching up on sleep.
I had a few 'Host Hacks' that I developed over the season to make my life a bit easier:
• We were supposed to say to guests in their Welcome Meeting that if they wanted us to not go into their room for Housekeeping, then they should put their rubbish bin outside their door in the morning. I told them that if they DID want Housekeeping, then they should put their bin there. In the rush of leaving to go skiing in the mornings- usually with a fuzzy head from the night before making it that little bit more challenging- they would usually forget which meant that I didn't have to do it and was usually one of the first Hosts on the mountain every day.
• I found out quite early on what some of the best restaurants were in town and would chat to the guests about them. The Food budget and menu in the Chalet were shockingly bad so by the end of the week they were quite keen to try out some of the restaurants which meant that I didn't have to cook for them every night of the week. I would also tell them the whole menu for the week on their first night, instead of telling them each day, so that they planned ahead and would start thinking of the nights that they wanted to go out for dinner and let me know in advance which meant that I could make plans too.
• They would arrive on the Saturday, get an early night and be really excited to get up early on Sunday for their first Ski Day and then hit Apres Ski hard in the afternoon. I would then suggest meeting them in town in the evening and showing them around some of the bars. They would love the idea of a personal tour with someone who knew the town already. I got free drinks, they had fun, we built a rapport and hangovers later in the week would be forgiven more easily.
The point of doing a Ski Season is to spend as much time on the Mountain and having fun as possible. I always made sure that the customers had a great time- they'd soon write it in the reviews at the end of the week if they didn't and then I'd have to deal with Head Office via my pissed off Resort Manger- but I definitely made my experience easier for myself.
There are many more stories to tell from that season which will be for another post (think about that scene from The Hangover where they wake up in the hotel after the crazy night... but in the Alps instead of Vegas). I think that Chalet Hosting is such a great experience for young people because you really get thrown in at the deep end and have the most incredible experiences. The other staff in Resort become your family and when my season came to an abrupt end after I had an accident resulting in multiple Pelvis fractures, I was absolutely heartbroken. Leaving the Resort made me so much more sad than the injury that I had to deal with. Seven winter seasons and various jobs in Resort later, I'm so happy that I grabbed the opportunity and got the chance to start my mountain life.
It's still not clear whether it will be possible for Ski Tour Operators to hire British Hosts anymore due to Brexit, but I really hope that they can and the long-standing tradition isn't a victim of the exit from the EU.
Some photos from my 2011/2012 season in St Anton