• Sasha

Interview: Callum Smale of Cocorico

Callum is a very familiar face in Val d’Isere and has been here for 3 years. He has pretty much chosen to live the season lifestyle for the rest of his life and is very happy about it. In Val d’Isere, you can find him either at Cocorico, where he is the bar manager, or at any of the other bars having an espresso martini. He is a very keen skier but probably does not go up as much as he wants to due to his working schedule. I caught up with him recently in order to understand what his reasons behind choosing this lifestyle were and also what his views on the future of seasonal jobs with Covid and Brexit putting a bit of a hamper on things.

S: How’s it going in Val d’Isere at the moment? What’s life like in a closed Ski Resort in Winter?

C: Val is going good. A bit weird at times. It’s not like any other usual season as there are no tourists, not much work and not many places open right now. But on the bright side, there are some great people out here that we have known for a while, there is also touring (only on good weather days) and the ability of getting takeaway drinks is helping me to stay sane. I am getting a lot of hate from mates back home who are jealous of me being out here and posting all the pictures on social media and it kinda makes me sad to see the resort not in the full flow of things. Lack of work and structure also makes it harder for me to motivate myself and do the things I love. For example I have just had a very bad streak of waking up fairly late (1pm) and missing the days) just because I was not motivated to do otherwise. Self-motivation is a big thing that is needed for sure.

C: During the first lockdown, things were much different. The lockdown was a new thing and we had a lot of positive vibes about getting fit and taking time for ourselves, but it is just getting too much now. Back then, I was running often, I quit smoking, started drawing again, wrote a lot of songs that I posted on the seasonaire page (S: Those songs were awesome!) and just had a lot of positivity about the whole lockdown situation. Now it’s getting to a stage of being a broken record in a sense that it’s the same thing and just getting boring. The free time is no longer a novelty and therefore seems like we are stuck in a kind of a loop - sort of like the Groundhog day film. The end does not seem to be in sight, people are getting defeatist and because of this, motivation has turned into just not seeing an end at all.

C: But hold on, I am not trying to put a damper onto the mood here. I am kinda prepared for this. I saw it last March, during Interseason (the period between winter and summer seasons) and was expecting this to be the case. There were times in March where I literally saw nobody the whole day. You could be walking around the village and not see a single person, even in the supermarket apart from the people behind the counter. Not having work is a bit of a shock to the system but it’s nice to see some sort of life in the village. If I was to choose anywhere in the world to be right now, it would either be here or New Zealand because they smashed the whole Covid thing.

S: Alright, now that we understand your feelings about the situation in Val, can you tell us how many seasons you have done and agree that you have chosen this lifestyle as a way of life?

C: I have done 4 summer seasons in Greece and 3 here, in Val d’Isere. I kinda came to the conclusion about it being my way of life last summer. For a long time it was a stop break for me because I had no idea what I wanted to do. This was a substitution to real life. Had a eureka moment last summer and decided this was the way I wanted to live. Firstly the living conditions are way better here than in the UK for me. Secondly I get to live in this paradise. Ultimately I want to move on to bigger and better things and not just be stuck being a bartender, but that is in the future. At the end of the day, who would not want to live here?

C: I have grown to love this place more with this lockdown. We have seen the resort and the village in a completely different light. (Also appreciation for chairlifts has increased immensely) When just riding, you don’t get to stop and take a look at the nature and the beauty. But now, when walking up, you have plenty of time to stop, look around and be amazed by the beauty of the place we get to call home. First time I realised it was in March, just after everyone left the resort. I was going up to the top of Bellevarde in order to ski the ok/orange slope and met some friends along the way. Halfway up, I stopped, looked around and realised just how quiet everything was. I had only seen 4 other people on the whole way up! You don’t actually realise how much ambient sound there is when all the lifts are running and there is life around you. Not hearing anything was such a bizarre feeling. At that moment I realised just how special this place really is.

S: How come you chose to stick to the same place instead of trying out others?

C: I always strived to go to the same resort instead of searching for new ones as it starts feeling like home. You end up becoming part of the local community and I love it. I had this feeling both in Greece and Val. I went back to Greece this summer with some friends for a holiday and had a great surprise when even the elderly lady from the coffee shop realised who I was and spoke to me as if nothing had changed. Was super cool! I am from the UK and feel disassociated with it as I feel like it is not the place I want to be based. This is why I have strived to build a community for myself everywhere where I work. Don’t get me wrong - it’s nice to go back to the UK and see family and stuff. However the feeling of walking down the street and meeting someone you know is amazing. I have never felt that in London. I appreciate it a lot, as I have a brother who lives there, and love to visit it but living there would be too much. Would much rather be in the stunning places that I have chosen.

S: What would you say is your typical day during the season?

C: *Chuckles* On a normal day it all depends on the hangover from the night before. I want to say that the first you do is go for a ski in the morning. With working for an apres ski bar, I have a unique work schedule and therefore the amount of skiing I do always depends on that. My normal day - I get up, message some friends to meet up for a ski, then get back home, freshen up, get a bite to eat and off to work. Working is always fun because they have become a part of my community and feel like a family, making it not seem like work at all. After work it’s usually home to change and get a bti to eat before heading off for a drink. I always say it will be for one drink but never ends up being just one. When at a bar, you just kinda see where the night takes you - sometimes it’s until 5 am or sometimes just a catch up with some friends. I am not gonna lie, it usually ends up being a 5am finish but hey, you need to have fun with your mates. However there is an unspoken rule. Bluebird day means meeting for first lifts. No matter how much you drank the night before. There have even been times where there was no sleep involved. One time comes to mind, where I went without sleep straight to work just to find you (Sasha) come into the bar and buy us shots. Needless to say it was one of the worst days of my life. God I was so miserable that day.

S: Haha sounds like a fun day. Do you think everyone has the same kind of attitude towards winter seasons?

C: Well, I think there are 3 types of seasonnaires. First type is the type of people who do it as their Gap Year. They know they will only do one and therefore they go nuts (which they should) They ski as much as they can, party as much as they can meet everyone and just live it to the fullest. You are sure to make lifelong memories and friends for life this way. Second type is where I was until not so long ago. You have a bit of a gap in your life and not sure what to do. These people will do 2 or 3 seasons and then call it quits. All of these seasons you squeeze the most out of the time you have as you know it won’t last forever. By season 3 you tell yourself you will be more sensible (It’s a lie) but by then you would have met a lot of people and therefore get influenced to be as wild as before. The last type is the people who made this lifestyle their life and they are still going big but just in a different way. After a few years they prefer to have big boozy dinners instead of club nights (even though we still do that on occasion) as clubs get repetitive and it ends up being the same night out all the time. Dinner parties are cool because they are more personal but still just as fun. You can always just go out afterwards too. It makes it nice to spend time with your Val family though.

S: Sounds like you must have some crazy memories from Val, can you share one with us?

C: One that springs to mind happened on the birthday of a very good friend of mine. A few of us had put a bit of money together to get a guided day of off-piste in Val d’Isere for all of us. Being the night before this guy’s birthday, we all went out but were pretty sensible and went home pretty early. The same can not be said for the birthday boy. He went big and was very hungover in the morning. Next morning, at the meeting point at the bottom of Solaise, we were waiting for him for at least half an hour. A bunch of missed calls and texts later, we decided he was not coming and we did not want to waste the guided tour. We had the best day skiing of my life and I even managed to lose my phone in the process. Later that evening, we bumped into the birthday boy, who was in tears because of missing this amazing day.

C: It’s quite hard to pick a best story because there are so many good ones. Another one is when a friend tried to go for a jumping hug without me realising. I ended up catching her, twisting mid air and falling onto the beerpong table, creating a sort of a WWE style move. The beer on the table was freshly poured and this fall created a catapult of beer all over the bar and everyone near the table. Took me like 15 minutes to clean up and a lot of money to pay for the beers that I have spilled. Also as a forfeit had to lick some of the beer up. Spillage is lickagy baby!

S: Definitely some fun memories in Val! Sounds like you can suggest some tips on how to not act like a dick in Val. What are some?

I have actually written a blog post on the Cocorico blog about how to not act like a dick at a bar (https://www.cocoricoapresski.com/post/callum-s-tips-to-being-smart-at-cocos) but some of the main ones are - know what you want to order when getting to the bar, don’t order 1 drink at a time and also be ready to pay when you get your drinks.

Otherwise here are my top 3 tips for Val d’Isere:

  1. Get yourself a pass that includes Tignes. Yes it is more expensive, but it is so worth the money. Having the ability to go for lunch or apres in Tignes is super nice as the atmosphere is different and the sun stays there longer because of how the valley is located. Also you can’t get some of the Val d’Isere lifts without the Tignes pass.

  2. Enjoy apres ski. It’s part of the lifestyle of the alps. It does not mean you have to go to rowdy bars and get drunk. There are plenty of other activities you can do that do not require drinking. Don’t just ski and go home. You need to get involved.

  3. Market Monday. Every Monday there is a market in the middle of town where you can buy local produce and support local businesses. The food tastes great and you are supporting people all over the valley. There is also a van that sells chicken and is positioned outside the new K2 hotel (old Morris Pub) get on that! It tastes amazing.

S: Thanks for the tips! I am sure there are some useful things in that blog post. Now it is time to get serious. What do you think the future of the Ski Industry is going to look like in both short & long term considering Brexit & Covid?

C: It is quite hard to say at the moment. If this happens to be the last season that gets shut down due to Covid, it will not be too much of a problem I think. However if it goes on for much longer and local businesses don’t have an opportunity to open, they will be forced to close due to the lack of money, which will be a real shame. Brexit will also make it harder for British nationals to come and work the season in the Alps. Right now we are allowed to only travel to EU nations for 90 days in a 180 day period, which is only half of the season. This will make it difficult for businesses because they don’t know whether there will be a way to work around that with special work visas or having to hire 2 different sets of workers through the season. This will also mean that the second set of workers will need to be trained and stuff, which is an extra expense for the businesses. I have applied for my French residency before the effects of Brexit took place so I should be alright and do not have to worry about that though. It is a very tough time currently for the ski industry in France. There are some neighbours like Switzerland that have opened their lifts. Granted it’s for the locals and residents but it still brings in business and makes the ski industry run. It is definitely a very tough time for the French ski industry right now.

S: You seem to be very passionate about this topic. Can you elaborate on the reason behind this passion please?

C: Well I am just disappointed. There were rules in place before the start of the season that made businesses Covid safe and we all followed these rules. We had to move our tables around in order to create enough space to be safe, make our businesses table service only, order masks and gloves for the staff and also make sure to disinfect all the surfaces regularly. This made our business a very controlled environment and has cost a lot of money. We did all of this just to be told that we can not open at all. I understand that when on the mountain, preventing the spread of Covid is much easier as there is so much space and bars and restaurants pose a big threat to increased spread but we have all made it safe and following the government restrictions. I think the main place you can get it is the public bus that runs every 40 minutes and everyone tries to get on it, therefore making it crammed. Businesses were deemed to be safe in the summer but the ski industry is not. Feels like a bit of a slap in the face to be honest!

Find Callum on Instagram at @callumsmale or go visit him at @cocoricovaldi