a tough life in the mountains...

Two years ago, I gave up the rat race to become one of the professional dropouts, who head off to the French Alps for the winter season. I joined the catering corps of the British, Oz and Kiwi saisonaires, who help you to experience the ski holiday you always wanted. (Apart from breakfast-time, as my ex-guests would tell you). My first season was spent in Meribel and last season in Val d’Isere. Both seasons I worked a chalet chef.

Before I went, even though I knew that I would be catering for the British holidaymaker. (Bless them), I had this notion that I would be basically ‘living French’ for a few months and therefore greatly improve my language skills, learn about local cuisine and probably, from reports I had heard, discover my endurance level for hangovers. Well, the last one proved to be true, thanks to The Capricorn and Jack’s Bar in Meribel. Both recommended by the way, not that I can remember much about them, you understand.

As for ‘living French’, in my experience of both resorts, with the exception of tradespeople and a few shop staff, I hardly met any French, let alone locals and surprisingly to me, a large number of British tourists wanted British food. I found both Meribel and Val d’Isere to be remarkably British. For me, the success of these resorts has caused them to lose their charm. In many ways, both resorts were like being in an alpine ‘little England’. I remember going into a pub in Meribel and asking for a ‘panache’ (shandy), to which the response was "What’s that"? The cut glass accents, speaking loudly in the wholesalers is how I will most remember Val d’Isere.

Much as I thoroughly enjoyed both resorts, for differing reasons, my wanting to find a ‘real’ French experience didn’t really happen. I felt that I was missing out on what I should be experiencing.

Another thing that intrigued me was, well, you know when you are out on the mountain and stop for a drink/lunch whatever, at one of the restaurants beside the piste, don’t you ever wonder what it would be like to live there? How do the people survive there? Or, When they want to go out for an evening, how do they get home? How do they get supplies?

This season, I’m about to find out for myself. Because this season, I will be living halfway up a mountain. This season I’m going to Valmeinier to enjoy a season of really ‘living French’. Because Valmeinier is a Frenchresort. A resort that the British haven’t yet colonised and where there is a genuine bienvenue, rather than a feeling of being seen to represent a unit, of income. It is the opportunity for me to improve my language skills that I first sought and, if the sample of my inspection weekend is anything to go by, thanks to Madame Combet’s skills in the kitchen, I shall be enjoying real, local, home cooking, because this year I’m not chefing. Well, not much, although hopefully, she will pass on a few tips, because she has certainly outclassed my culinary efforts and I’m a competent chef, if I say so myself.

This season, I shall have all of this, together with quiet mixed runs and off-piste that is said to be excellent and all I have to do in return is to help my guests to appreciate the experience. I will be working in a chalet where access, is by snowcat or skis, depending on which direction you are going. I reckon that I have found what I was looking for. In a previous existence, I would have happily paid a lot of money for this experience.

This season, whilst you’re all sitting in the Saturday traffic jam, on the way through Moutiers, I shall be driving my guests up the Maurienne valley, past some amazing rock formations, towards some awesome scenery. In fact, the guy you saw at Lyon airport, wearing a satisfied smile and carrying a Valmeinier placard, was probably me. It’s a tough life in the mountains.

To find out more aout working in Valmeunier, contact Ski Savoie

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