Culture / Expat life / Language aquisition

The first week of working a ski season in the Alps

Seasonaire in The Alps

The Seasonaire in his natural habitat

“We are working hours that they aren’t paying us for and we can’t leave. That is technically slave labour. We are Slaves!” He said to me as he came to get a water from the bar.

“You could leave.” I suggested.

“Not if you can’t afford a flight. We don’t get paid until the end of January.”

We had only worked five days but already nearly everyone at Hotel Le Mont Corbier were highly strung due to sleep deprivation, and alcohol exhaustion.

“You can’t say we are slaves though. You could just walk away. Nobody would stop you.”

I said, realising on saying it that it sounded like I was snapping back. I just didn’t think it could be compared to work enforced on pain of death. Everyone chose to come here. What had they expected I wondered.

Clubhotel le mont corbier

The only hotel in the village

The confusion was apparent on arrival. Along with the corporate method of running a business, the contradictory commands, talking behind backs, power struggles, and gossip-mongering. The days were long, there were no days off for ayone during the set-up and it seemed like all we did was live and work in this empty hotel. But this was set-up week and there was an end in sight: a rota, set hours and an end to the constant ice-breakers.

I just wanted to get as much done as possible in the first week. To be prepared. There was no snow yet. Nobody had ski passes. The resort wasn’t even open. So working from eight in the morning until around midnight didn’t bother me. Plus I still needed to get used to the altitude nosebleeds and Genepi blackouts.

The heating not being on in my room did bother me a little, especially because the explanation I received when I asked about it was that company had re-branded and brought in a new ‘going green’ policy. This didn’t make so much sense when the empty rooms I’d been cleaning were fully heated. But the light at the end of this tunnel was turned on and getting closer as I’d be moving into the staff accommodation the next day. My expectations weren’t high but I’d been told by a returning seasonaire that at least the heating worked well.

Ski lift inside don't use

No smoking in the lift

Everyone nears breaking point on set-up week. Some break. They flip straight away. Quit or transfer hotels. I think the KP was nearing his while talking to me about slavery, but he pushed on through. Mine came when we were shown into our apartment. There would be four of us living in a studio apartment: two on the bunk-bed in the cupboard sized doorless bedroom, the other two in the communal area on the pull out sofa bed. I’d expected all this though.

Equity staff accomodation Le Mont Corbier

My staff flat is the block in the background

Equity staff flat

Th eggheads that live in the lounge

The manimal

The Manimal in the bottom bunk

The apartment was clean and warm so I was content… until I saw the shower. If you’ve read my previous blogpost about finding my flat and the shower that awaited me there then you’ll know I have a serious issue with showers that aren’t hands free. If not then know this: I strongly believe all showers should be hands free! So when I found this horrible joke of a douche I almost broke-down. It was not only not hands-free, the hose didn’t even reach above shoulder. So you’d have to lean over while holding the shower head in one hand to wash you hair. EVERY DAY!!!

unhappy showering


But I didn’t crumble. I kept my cool and thought ‘Save it for the blog, you haven’t written for a while, kill two birds with one stone: bash out a blogpost and get it off your chest online at the same time.’

Donc voila, je fais d’une pierre deux coups.

This is not a pure moan though. There have been lots of good points. To begin with I’ve been speaking a lot of French. I was worried I wouldn’t get the opportunity but it is quiet the opposite. Le Corbier is a very French resort and although all the hotel’s twenty strong staff are anglophones, only three of us are confident speaking in French, so I get used as a translator. Not only does this allow me to drum up hours of language practice it also gets me out of repetitive situations and secures me interesting ones. I’ve already taken deliveries, translated fire-safety talks, even got to leave the resort and drive down the mountain to the the nearest town, to pick up gas cannisters.

Corbier town front

Corbier town

I even helped cool down a potential fight. The town was void of tourists, the seasonaires and locals were getting aggressive because of the lack of snow and abundance of Chartreuse. Translators were few and far between but I appreciated the role. The town is odd by the way. It is all connected, all the shops, restaurans, blocks of flats etc, are connected by a long corridor.

I can’t complain about the food. It is rare for me to eat three square meals a day. It all tastes good. Even after the original head chef quit before the hotel even opened to spend his first Christmas in six years with his family in Slovakia; declaring his joy and singing Driving Home For Christmas on leaving.

I’m also happy (smug maybe) that it is my job to light and maintain the log fire.

I especially like the brightness and clarity of the stars,

The shifting and melting of the snow,

A constant natural change,

Seeing rugged white cats spring,

Seeing tawny dogs leap, pounce, and land on their front paws,

Being surrounded by ancient giants,

The spectacular panoramas,

The light on the summits,

Pink, Orange, Blue, Pure White or Purple,

And the fact that there are two roads out of the village, one of which leads into a valley, reaches a farm and ends.

View from Mont Corbier

3 thoughts on “The first week of working a ski season in the Alps

  1. Missed this blog when you wrote it. Looks great! i think. Anyway, it’s now nearly April, so I assume you are still alive and enjoying it. Bordeaux will look good when you’re back, I’m sure.

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