How to prepare for the 2012/13 winter ski season

By adamrowden, 16 Oct '12 at 12:15

I once said to my mate Ken that if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail. Now you might think I sound pretty bloody profound, especially if I tell you that we were in Wetherspoons at the time. You might think that not only is that statement completely true, but it is also pithy and has a nice ring to it. You probably do think that I am a pretty clever guy to come up with something like that off the top of my head. Well Ken didn’t agree. No, he got annoyed and claimed that I stole it from Benjamin Franklin.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter if it was me that coined the phrase or one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, when it comes to doing a ski season, there has never been a truer word said.

If you have never done a ski season before and you are preparing for your first, then you are most probably scouring the internet for snippets of advice. You could spend hours googling what to take with you and how to get there, so, to save you time, I thought that I would sit down and consolidate all of these small and unmanageable pieces of advice, into one larger article where all can be summarised. And here it is.

First off let’s discuss what to take with you... Cue subheading.

The dreaded checklist is here. All of the things that we at Natives feel are essential to your ski season. If you have done seasons before then you will most probably know about all of these and you may also get annoyed at others that I am missing off my list, and for that I am sorry. Now, I am not including your riding equipment in this list, as that deserves its own section, but see below for other essentials that you should take with you.

I know that you will be taking socks with you and that I don’t need to tell you to take each item of clothing individually, but do yourself a favour and take more socks than you estimate you will need.

If you are living in shared accommodation and have limited access to a washing machine then the more socks the better. You will lose a lot of these cosy little feet warmers on your season, well I say lose, some you will lose and some will be stolen or mistakenly taken by other people who share your living quarters.

If you end up trudging to work from an unknown apartment at seven in the morning with no socks on underneath your tatty trainers; after drinking a combination of a bottle of Jagermeister and some leftover wine from the kitchen the night before - then you may be in need of some pain killers. Hangovers are one of the only inevitabilities of a ski season, and trust me, they are always worse when you are in fancy dress. Ibuprofen and other paracetamols or pain killers are great when easing the recovery after a heavy night out, but they also come in handy if you have any accidents on the slope. Doctors’ fees and pharmaceutical goods are hugely expensive on the continent, so make sure you stock up before you make your way to the mountain.

Other fantastic treatments that you should consider taking include Barocas, Strepsils and Lemsip, as living in close quarters with people can enhance the spreading of colds and other gross ailments.

Extension lead
These are lifesavers. You should always take a 4 gang 3 pin extension lead (pictured left), as this only requires one European to UK plug adapter and it gives you four sockets. In your staff accommodation you aren’t likely to have many more than two plug sockets, so the more extenders and extra sockets you can create the better.

There is nothing worse than having one plug to charge three people’s phones, or just two plugs for two phones and two laptops, or a plug to be shared between three people who all have laptops, phones, camera batteries, hair straighteners and electric toothbrushes. Basically, the more plugs the better. Oh, and the longer the extension lead the better as a lot of your rooms will have the sockets located in the most awkward place possible.

Head torch
These little beauties can be used to help you find your way back from the bar late at night, which is extremely useful as getting lost is not fun in the cold. Ask my friend Frank, he ended up having to sleep on the piste the night before a morning shift. To be fair, a headtorch most probably wouldn’t have helped counterbalance the gallons of beer and genepi he drank or the two kebabs he ate, which, when all combined, rendered him unable to make it back across the piste. But still, a head torch could come in handy for you.

Head torches are also extremely handy inside your apartment. If you get in late after a night out and you don’t want to wake your roommates but you do want to navigate your way across your room safely, then don’t switch on the light, just pop on your headtorch. In fact, it seems that most seasonaires’ floors are harder to navigate at night than the mountains, not only do you have riding equipment and empty beer bottles to avoid, but you may also have to step over random people and small mammals (my friend Bryn swore there was a badger in his room) in order to get to your bed safely.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the birds and the bees, but ski seasons breed (most probably the wrong choice of word there) promiscuity like nothing else. Face it, you have a large group of young people who consume large quantities of alcohol, which combined with the fact that you are surrounded by the same people 24/7, means that sex is going to happen. That doesn’t mean you are guaranteed some action, that is not what I am saying, but there is no harm in being prepared. And though you can get hold of condoms in resort, it is far cheaper to bring some from home.

An iPod crammed full of music
Listening to Freebird whilst hurtling down the mountain is an unrivalled life experience, but there is such thing as too much Freebird, though my friend Tommy would no doubt disagree with me there. Make sure that your iPod is full of music before you head out as you will find yourself listening to it a lot more than you may have anticipated. We used to whack on plenty of music in the kitchen where I worked and the wider your music collection is, the more appreciated you will be. All music tastes are catered for in the mountains from old school hip hop to banging power ballads, so whatever music you have it should be accepted, so long as you don’t try and play Usher during an 80s night that is.

You should also take a hard drive that is crammed full of great films and TV series, so that on a lazy day, or cheap evening in, you have something to keep you entertained. Oh, and by bringing a hard drive you are also making it possible to get other films and TV shows off of your mates.

Cheap watch
When you are out riding and you need to know the time, having a watch on can be a real timesaver. If you have to get back to the chalet for work at a specific time, you don’t want to keep stopping on the slopes like a lemon and getting your phone out to check the time.

‘But why does it have to be a cheap watch Mr Natives man?’ I hear you asking. Well mainly because if you are taking it out riding, then it is quite likely that it will get wet and bashed up quite a bit, so don’t go bringing a £500 Rolex with you when a classic Casio wrist watch will suffice.

Right, I could go on, but I have to draw a line somewhere. Other important things to consider taking include the following:

  • Home comforts (proper tea bags, Marmite etc)

  • Lip balm

  • Spare rucksack

  • Any fancy dress gear

  • Araldite (for fixing any equipment you may break over the season)

  • An international SIM card

  • Socks

  • Socks

  • Socks (three times for added emphasis)

Next up is how to get to where you need to go...

This all depends on a number of key factors. Obviously your mode of transport will depend on if you are travelling alone, in a group, where it is you are going, and how much stuff you have to take with you etc . When I went on my first season I got dropped at Gatwick airport and flew to Geneva, before getting the train to Bourg Saint Maurice, where my boss picked me up. Obviously this is just how I did it, and yes, my method of car-plane-train-car has been praised a lot in the past, but you don’t have to do it my way.

If you have a job with one of the larger chalet or hotel companies then your travel arrangements to the resort may be sorted and paid for by them, but this does not always happen, so you may be required to make your own way out.

If you require a vehicle with you whilst you are in resort then you may want to drive out. This can be fun if there are a few of you, however, a long drive from Bognor to the Alps on your own can be as boring as doing a really boring puzzle, like a puzzle that is the depiction of the earth from millions of miles away meaning that it is essentially a black puzzle with a small blue dot in the middle, imagine how boring that would be.

However, as I said earlier, if you do decide to drive and there are a few of you, it can be an awesome road trip. You can even spread it over a few days if you have time. There is nothing better than loading up the car with all of your gear and hitting the open road. Now, if you have done seasons before then you will know all of this, however, if you haven’t you may want to read carefully, as what I am about to write is something that you will need to know for your road trip to the Alps. Here we go: In France they drive on the right hand side of the road! I know, but trust me on this one, it is true. Oh, and they also have toll booths on the motorways so you must ensure that you have a bucket load of cash in all its different forms (preferably notes and change) with you at all times. Otherwise you may just end up holding up a lot of traffic and crying into your lap.

Oh and another thing, get yourself some snow tyres or chains before you set off. If you are insisting on taking your car with you to the mountains then you will need either of these. They may come in useful before you actually get to your desired resort, so don’t think you will buy some once you get there.

Another good way to get to a resort is using the trains. It is relatively cheap and pretty darn fast, thanks to the Euro Tunnel. However, most ski resorts don’t have their own train station, so you will have to arrange a lift at the other end. You can also fly, as I did, but again you will have to arrange something at the other end so you don’t have to walk. Airport and train station transfers are pretty easy to come by though, so getting from where you are to where you want to go is pretty simple. Here is our comprehensive list of transfer companies.

As I mentioned earlier, if you are a seasoned seasonaire, then you will know what riding gear you should take with you. This part is mainly aimed at those of you who are preparing for your first ever winter season. You will need to decide (preferably in advance) whether you will be skiing or snowboarding during your season so that you can buy the appropriate equipment. But don’t stress too much, as I know many people who began the winter on a board and then moved to skis and vice versa. But here are some of the essentials that you will need to own whether you are on one piece of wood or two.

Gloves or mittens
If you can afford it then it is well worth investing in a decent pair of gloves or mittens. Getting cold hands when you are out on the mountain is about as fun as helping your dad collect the hedge trimmings when all your mates are down the park throwing rocks at a bin. You will want to ensure that your gloves are nicely insulated as well as waterproof so that your hands stay toasty and dry.

Even if you aren’t a Russian oligarch who can spend a couple of thousand euros on the best gloves out there, you should still ensure that you at least buy gloves that are intended for snowy conditions. Regular cotton gloves, goalie gloves, driving gloves, socks on hands and boxing gloves just won't suffice.

You may intend on riding around the mountain in your latest pair of Raybane or Oakey sunglasses that you bought in Majorca with that completely legitimate copy of Inception that turned out to be Robin Hood Men in Tights. But you will, at more than one point in the season, require a decent pair of ski goggles. When it is snowing out, or when the light is flat, it can be very tricky to see properly in sun glasses.

In fact, once you get into resort, you will notice that most skiers and snowboarders will wear their goggles every time they go out riding. Shades are for looking cool on the bar terrace with a demi.

Ski pants and jacket
As much as the one piece ski suit seems to be becoming more and more popular, you will want to invest in a reliable pair of ski pants and a decent jacket. When it comes to colours, neons and lary designs are still very popular and for a lot of seasonaires the mantra is ‘the baggier the better’.

But if you are doing your first season then you will want to be wearing something that is comfortable and that you like. There is no point trying to learn in some of those new skinny jean style ski pants if they hinder your progress. In fact, I see no point in the skinny legged snow pants at all... But maybe I shall tackle that another day.

Whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances, take a hat with spikes, or horns, or a tail, or any quirky design with you to The Alps. You will be ostracised almost immediately, and you will deserve it. Don’t ignore this advice and then come crying back to us in the forum asking us why people keep throwing cigarette butts at you and move tables when you join them for a drink. If you want to survive your first season in the mountains then, for the love of Bob, leave the wacky hats and snow blades to the tourists.

When it comes to getting a beanie or a bobble hat, there are loads of great brands out there like Wesc, Funi and Analog, so you really are spoilt for choice, which means you cannot be forgiven if you are seen on the slopes donning a hat that resembles a viking-helmet-shaped-tea-cosy made by your gran.

Gone are the days when ski and snowboard helmets were as aesthetically tragic as Dean Gaffney’s face. Also gone are the days of heavy and huge helmets that weighed more than two Rick Wallers.

The new models are cool to look at, comfortable, lightweight and highly effective. More and more people are choosing to wear helmets when they go riding, which is good news. If you are new to skiing and snowboarding then you really would be foolish not to pop a helmet on before you set off.

I won’t go into details of brands, sizes, or designs, but what I will say is this. If you have never done a ski season before and are relatively new to winter sports, it is always a good idea to buy a cheap board or a cheap set of skis before you invest in a more expensive set up. No one wants to spend a bucket-load of hard earned cash on a set of skis just to find out that they prefer snowboarding.

Browse the internet for a decent second hand set up, including a board and bindings, or skis with bindings and poles to learn with and then when you become more confident you can head out and buy a sweet new set up. Plus, initially you may not know what kind of riding you are into, but after a few months you will know if you need some sweet powder skis, a stiff off piste board or a flexible jib-stick.

If you ask most seasonaires what you should take with you on your season, they will almost always recommend you pack a decent set of thermals. Life in the snow is not always cold, and even when you are riding in the coldest weather you can build up a sweat. However, a set of thermals will ensure that you stay warm and comfortable the entire time you are on the mountain. It is not fun sitting on an ice covered chair lift in a snow blizzard feeling like you are going to freeze to death, but I guarantee it will be even more unbearable if you are not wearing thermals beneath your ski gear.

OK, well, this article was supposed to be a brief guide to help you prepare for the coming winter season, however, it ended up being pretty long, and a bit rambly. For that I am sorry. I hope that I have been able to enlighten you as to how you may want to get yourself ready for the wonderful adventure that lies ahead.

If you have sorted yourself a job in the mountains then I envy you. I love my job here at Natives (I have to say that, they are listening), but there are days when I miss waking up and looking out of the window at the fresh blanket of snow that has fallen all around. There is no better feeling than riding through fresh powder on your day off knowing that later on you’ve got a decent night planned in the bar with a disgustingly named rock band and plenty of beer.

If you have done seasons before and are preparing to head out again, then you have that warm feeling inside as the winter draws ever nearer. And if you are preparing for your first ever season then you are surely filled with anticipation and excitement that is surely unrivalled.

Here at Natives we know what it feels like to be preparing to head out, so browse our site for some decent tips and advice to ensure that you are fully prepared. Or, if you are stuck with something then you can always head to our forum and ask a question.

If you have any of your own advice for first time seasonaires, or any secrets that would help anyone preparing for the winter, then feel free to leave your comments below...

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