Culture / Expat life

The Icy Prison

Icy Prison Header

Winter has come. Its the 2014 / 15 ski season. A group of young adults from the UK have come to work at a hotel in the French Alps. This story about their season is an extended metaphor comparing life in the mountains to life in a prison.

What folllows is also an exposé of an English company that tricks and bullies its employees into working additional hours without any financial reward, while simultaneously making a guaranteed profit on the wages it’s employees do earn by charging a compulsory monthly fee for ‘services’.

The trick comes in the form of a craftily worded contract, which subtly adheres to an old assumption that skiing is an elitist sport. It does this by covertly suggesting that menial labour employees should accept underpayment as they are instead earning the ‘privilege’ of being able to ski.

This story is also about the employees that allow companies like this to get away with this sort of bullying, because… well, YOLO. Life is too short to be kicking up a fuss. There’s skiing to be done and drinks to be drunks.


blog disclaimer

The Ice

All the ligaments in his shoulder ripped when the 19-year-old Sam fell on the sheet-ice that covered the pistes. He’d accidentally taken out the wrong skis, an easy mistake to make when the company’s stock are practically all identical except for the settings on the bindings.

Despite the pain he believed he should stay, otherwise the first month would have all been for nothing: Five weeks working 60 hours or more per week – 300 hours work – all for three days of skiing and £203.47. Sorry.No. Make that £53.47 because he would lose his £150.00 Commitment Bond (only returned on successful completion of the contract). Actually he’d also have to figure that the company wouldn’t pay his flight home either so he could kiss that last  £53.47 goodbye.

300 hours scrubbing burnt food from the bottom of pans for nothing but 3 days of skiing.

In the village corridor rumours, like winter’s breath, hang heavy in the air then evaporate before anyone can verify whether or not it really has “been the worst December snowfall in 20 years”.

The little snow that fell soon turned to icy pebble. Nowhere outside of the corridor feels safe. One wrong step could end it all. Sobre, everyone treads gingerly like old age pensioners exiting a bath.

On the way back from Discotheque Le Purple Dave put a foot wrong, slipped and bruised his ribs. After two days off work he is back on pot wash. Scowling in pain he looks up at me, his arm elbow-deep in a pot big enough to boil a young pig in. To this day I find that desperate grimace hard to forget. Dave was broke when he came out (invested all his money on retro garments that he failed to sell at a vintage clothes show in Brum) so he didn’t even have the option of cutting his loses and leaving. He’s stuck here for the duration come hell and high water. Forced to grimace and bear it.

In the bar a group of grey haired guests are agreeing that it is the sound the ice makes that they can’t stand. Like owls they are used to a near silent descent. Gliding on powder. Not this year. Rumour has it that it’s the worst start to the season in 25 years. The hardness of the slopes grates like teeth. And above all it’s that noise that annoys them. It scrapes their old nerves at every parallel turn.

The sound is something akin to dry, cracked hands dragging a breeze-block down a blackboard while somebody nearby hocks up a mouthful of flem. It’s even worse when a snowboarder passes. Having asked me to turn the music down I can hear them discussing it. They just can’t stand it.

I try not to listen to them. I move to the other end of the bar but when I get there Disney’s Frozen is being watched by a school group again: the second night this week, the tenth time this month. I pinch myself to try to get out of this recurring nightmare but I don’t wake up. The worst thing is I chose to come here. I turned myself in. Just like everyone else.

postcard Le Corbier carte postal

The Remoteness and the Institutionalisation

The resort we are based in is called Le Corbier, the bus that goes to the nearest town of any size costs €20 return and runs only twice a day. It is possible that our jobs here would be more tolerable if the resort itself was a bit more lively, however…

Almost unheard of in England, and only slightly known in France, Le Corbier is a small village perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the Maurienne Valley. Yes it is in no way cute. It is a purpose made resort consisting of 6 tower blocks, which are connected by – and rise above – a corridor that provides access to all the shops and services available in the village.

Designed in the 1960’s adhering to ideas popularised by Le Corbusier; functionality and security are its core traits. It is a model of slopeside urbanism, which, in terms of urban planning, ignores the social aspect of living in favour of ease, efficiency and the saving of space.

It is possibly a little difficult for you the reader to imagine such a place, I had never previously seen or heard of any other town with a corridor running through its entirety. So here are some photos of The Corbien Corrridor – allowing you perhaps to get a feel from its clinical, tiled, pastel coloured appearance of the overwhelming sensation of institutionalised tedium that would come from walking through it regularly.

entering the coridor in corbier

The entrance to La Rue Couverte

le corbier rue couverte

rue couverte au corbier

couloir corbier

le couloir de corbier

bar pub le yeti au corbier

snackshop in hallway

Pharmacie Le Corbier

local shops le corbier

 gallerie haute gallerie basse stuck in the middle of the hall with you going down down I overheard a French guy say this rhyming phrase “Dans ce trou il y a des escaliers partout.” Quite true. down some stairs in the corien corridor long hallway in corbier Orion Lunik etc Corbier The USSR space-race names for apartment blocks relect the epoch when Le Corbier was built and give a nod to the modernist thinking behind the town’s construction. halte garderie le corbier classic corbien corridor actionThe sun room corbier fromagerie le corbier The fromagerie, giving off a smokey-cheese smell day and night. more steps corbier boot fitting le corbier le purple meat market corbier The meatmarket and just across the way Le Purple discotheque ( both open 7 days a week) pastel coloured descent So that was the village tour. People that do come here tell me their reasons for choosing it are its cheapness. These tourists are mostly ill-favoured French families or Dutch student groups who’ve booked through Husk or Sunweb. Despite this I  hardly ever get to speak French because the hotel is at the very top of the resort and not connected to the corridor so it is ignored by everyone in town, the only people I’d see for any length of time are the hotel guests who are all the same person, demure biology teachers time warped out of the 1970s or militant Club Scout leaders. Loyal customers who have somehow always been with the company since its inception in 1933. Although I do recall hearing talk of one particular ‘party leader’: a short and wide, pink-faced, beady-eyed head teacher who, to the company, was a V.I.P. His name was Gotty and he knew all too well that we had to bend over backwards for him. He knew it so well that he’d ask for special treatment for his group then drool out his catchphrase in a filthy self-important squeak “What Gotty wants, Gotty gets.” At the end of the week Gotty got some of the younger, more naive members of staff to perform a strenuous physical task that the company doesn’t normally provide.

Clubhotel le mont corbier

The prison block

For one reason or another the flats given to staff are at the bottom of the corridor while the hotel is at the top. To get from one to the other it takes around 20 minutes walking indoors and 10 walking outdoors. It isn’t the time taken that is the problem though, it is the energy exhausted. The village is built in a straight line going down a hill. Walking up, the steepness drains you. But the less time in the soul sucking corridor the better. So you arrive at the hotel breathless. You have to plan what you take and what you are going to do while there because going home and coming back is not an appealing option.

Carte Postale Le Corbier

However, you need to be there a lot anyway. Even if it weren’t for the work you’d need to be there. Whereas normally the things you need to live would be at your home, here your flat is just a bed, a wardrobe and a shower. You’ve paid the company for food, but it is all stored at the hotel and you are only allowed it when it is cooked for you. This limits your freedom as mealtimes are set, even though the exact timing of them is very unclear. If you are there you get food, if your not you don’t. This often means a lot of waiting around.

Your washing machine is at the hotel so when your ski socks are too sweaty to bear the smell any longer you take as many clothes as you can to the hotel because there isn’t a laundry facility at Lunik Orion, your homely block of flats the bottom of the hill.

Lunik Orion

Neither is there any WIFI at the flat, nor the possibility of getting any so although you don’t live at the hotel you need to spend a fair amount of time there just in prder to communicate with the outside world.

The trouble is that while you’re there there is no privacy, no staff room, the wifi is slow, there is no peace, no quiet, a constant noise, ski boots trampling on floors, kids jabbering, staff arguing. Slowly but surely you get sucked into life at the hotel. A place where foul smells seep out from behind the heavy perfume of air freshener. A place where the close proximity of the staff allows viruses to breed and spread easily making illness a near constant. A place with puritanical rules: no hats or sunglasses indoors, shoes on at all times, no swearing. With its rules you feel you are constantly at work, and if you are there you can easily be asked to do some menial task.

A constant inmate.

You know you’re in some kind of prison when your sense of time is warped. After just one month it seemed like I’d been there half a year.

The rules, the motivational posters, the routine, the same faces …an insular life inside a bubble that smells of harsh cleaning products.

Equity ski dreams poster

Equity ski season cleaning

Equity discover poster ski

Equity ski jobs GA

Equity are you ready

General assistant job Equity

Prison beds

I hadn’t expected much of the accommodation but I hadn’t expected it to be four of us sharing what is essentially a studio flat.

Two sharing a narrow bunk bed in a room with no door – a room some would consider too small to be a walk in wardrobe.

The other two cell mates in the living room, one on a sofa bed the other on the coffin drawer that pulls out from underneath.


With everyone working different hours the little sleep available is often piecemeal and interrupted leading to flared tempers.

The Cell

Our cell had no rooms, no doors, nothing was your own, a complete lack of privacy. Certain foreseeable activities had to be regulated. The Masturbation Legislation had to be created. The basic rules were: 1. no choking the chicken while others are in the flat and 2. if and when you do get a chance, stick to your ‘Masturbation Station’ i.e. your bed. The punishment for breaking legislation was a public spanking at the hotel. I got one once, but only because I did it outside of my station. Sat at the kitchen table. Nobody else was in the flat so it was just a minor infringement. I’d even cleared up after…

So, perched on all fours on a dining room chair in the hotel restaurant, in front of the entire hotel staff, I took one lash from each of my cell-mates.

official masturbation legislation

About a week later I awoke to hear strange sounds coming from the living room. Lewis, one of my flatmates was breathing heavily, while evidently watching some kind of video. As I started to wake up properly I was able to recognize words:

“I could just grab you right here and squeeze all the air out of you with my huge muscles and my huge strength. Give you a huge bear-hug in my huge arms.”

When the video was over Lewis breathed out some sort of sigh of relief and went immediately to the bathroom.

I knew he’d been very close to the other Chris that had worked at the hotel at the start of the season. The other Chris known as ‘Gay Chris’, because he was, well, he was gay.

Lewis denied being gay and we believed him, but sometimes it was too funny to wind him up. Anyway we weren’t 100 % sure and we thought if he were homosexual then he should admit it to himself and also just to tell everyone, “nobody will judge.”

I suppose due to this, in my early morning pre-coffee thoughts, I imagined he was watching a man have some weird sexual relationship with a blow-up doll. Speaking at it while pumping his veiny muscles and doing sordid macho things out of shot.

A hideously masculine affair – but not gay – cos the doll is made to look like its female, you know a female doll wwwhhaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggghh.

Porn for men in the closet.

I couldn’t help but accuse him, I at least had to tell someone what I’d heard. It was all too funny.

The only way he could escape a public spanking now was to find that video and prove his innocence. It wasn’t easy for him but eventually he did find it. I was wrong. I admit it. Sorry Lewis.

A daily rape, only not in the showers

Continuing with the prison analogy I will now suggest the cliché of a daily, shower-room rape to illustrate the way employees get taken advantage of, treated unfairly and, to use a more vernacular phrase, get ‘fucked over’.

This is no simple everyday-butt-fucking though, this is more of a kind of double-penetration: a spit-roast if you will.

To begin with they fuck you over on the amount of work you have to do.

My contract stated ‘You will be required to work a minimum of 35 hours per week, worked on a rota basis over six days each week.

I was satisfied with this amount of working hours.

Later on the contract states ‘you are expected to work such additional hours as are reasonably necessary for the effective performance of your duties.’ And of course I signed.

It is understandable that a few additional hours here-and-there may be necessary (on occasions where something unforeseen happen) – this however was not the case.

In reality I was being made to work around 50 hours per week. And as bar staff I had it easy. Those in other roles were regularly touching 60.

We wrote our hours down on ‘time sheets’ hoping that we would be paid for this extra work we were doing. We were not.

This meant that we were earning well under the minimum wage, and that consequently our employers were breaking the law.

I kept e-mailing the head office asking if I’d be paid for these 10 – 20 extra hours of work I was doing without fail every week. Here are some of the responses I got:

‘I have escalated this to the Operations Manager Ruaridh who will advise us on this.’

‘This is still being looked into but once I have an answer for you I will let you know.’

‘This has been escalated to the Head of Operations and HR who are in discussions regarding this situation.’

‘We will get back to you once a decision has been made but I have been advised this could take up to a week. There is no direct email that I can give to you that will provide you with any more information than I have given to you already.’

Eventually they just stopped replying to my e-mails. Then one day I got a phone-call from the Operations Manager: a smooth talker, the kind of guy who could sell artificial-ice rink to a ski resort in the middle of the freezing cold Alps.

He told me that they hadn’t been avoiding me just that its better to chat face to face about things like pay. He said he’d looked at small print of contract and sees I can work up to 48 hours a week… looking at my time sheets he sees I haven’t been working ‘much more’ than this (55 hours some weeks) . He told me it has been like this with all the ski companies he’s worked for. I mentioned the minimum wage, that I didn’t mind working over 35 hours as long as I got paid for it. He said he hadn’t looked into it but as standard they pay a ‘flat rate’. Eventually I had to ask outright,

“So will we get paid anything for these additional hours we are doing?”

Finally I got a straight answer,


This attitude went hand-in-hand with another phrase found in the contract: ‘Due to the nature of our business, you are expected to be flexible in relation to matters concerning your working hours‘, a phrases that says absolutely nothing concrete while at the same time it speaks volumes.

To me it this says “You should feel lucky that you are getting the chance to ski. If you don’t want the job then we’ll find someone else to take your place. It’s not like this is a real job. It’s an experience. It’ll all be over soon enough. You can go back to the real world, leaving us to do exactly the same to some new kid next year. Do you think we like doing this? Do you think we benefit from it? No of course no, it’s just the nature of our business.”

Who runs this sort of company? How can there be such flagrant disregard for labour laws and workers rights. Rights that older generations fought hard to establish. One old man at the bar told me that Equity was owned by a Swiss Bank. I could imagine that. I would also not question the widely held belief that it was founded and has been run ever since on a cult like system of sexual cronyism.

One could speculate. And the irony of the meaning of the word Equity amused me.

Tee he he.


…because here comes the 2nd way in which they well and truly fuck you: In Resort Services

In order to get the job you have to agree to pay the company for accommodation and ‘In Resort Services’. You can’t have one without the other. I’d have preferred to find my own flat and make my own food, but it simply isn’t an option.

The accommodation cost £148.98 a month – not extortionate, I must admit. Though with four of us living in that one little flat, that would make the combined rent £595.76 (or around €832) per month. I’m sure that the company must pay less than this seeing as they rent the same flat, from the same owner year in, year out.

It is with the In Resort Services, however, where you can clearly see how the company make a guaranteed profit from their own employees.

On top of the rent they charged a mandatory £784.81 (around €1096) per month, for the ‘services’. Below I will show what the contract says this money pays for (in italic), followed by what I actually received.

The In-Resort Services Package will include the following for the period of your secondment:

  • Accommodation amenities i.e. contents, furniture, equipment, bed linen etc. – having paid the rent on a furnished apartment what they actually mean by this is that you get a duvet and bed sheets.
  • Provision of meals – i.e. whatever’s left after the guests have eaten their meals.
  • Ski, personal and medical insurance – this you do get.
  • Use of company in-house laundry facilities – shared use of one washing machine and one tumble dryer with the rest of the hotel staff.
  • Ski and boot hire from in house company stock – guests have priority, meaning the equipment you get given has been well used for a good few years.
  • A lift pass – this was for the entire Sybelles Ski Domaine costing €516.90, so spread over five months would make up just a little over 10% of the complete package.
  • Subsidised bar prices at the Company’s Club Hotels – on the bar we charged staff less for drinks than we did the guests but even at the discounted rates the bar still made a profit on every drink sold.
  • Opportunities for ski lessons – once again I e-mailed the company about this, and got obscure replies until receiving a face-to-face chat about it. I was told that this vague statement actually meant that I was allowed to ask the the school groups that stayed at the hotel if they’d mind me tagging along with them on their lessons. Voila, I was paying for the opportunity to ask primary school teachers for permission to follow their students around.
  • Transportation to and from the UK at the start and end of the season – a flight out, a 23 hours bus journey back.
  • Training relevant to the position offered – i.e. nothing.
  • Uniform required for your role – simply not true. They gave us shirts and aprons but told us we were required to buy and bring with us 2 pairs of navy blue chinos, a tan belt, and tan brogues in order to make up the rest of the obligatory uniform.
  • 10% discount on Rocketski bookings for friends and family – most certainly still making a profit from your friends and family booking a holiday through them even if they gave them a 10% discount, you are essentially being used as a living, breathing marketing ploy here. So how they can charge you for this? I do not know, especially when hardly any of the staff had guests come to visit.

So, in short, each month they deducted 933.79 from our wages for services whose value, as far as I can see, are worth around only half that.

The chains

As if to add insult to injury, each month the company offer what is known as a ‘retainer’.

This is a type of bonus you get for not quitting but one that you don’t receive until completing the entire season. It is their way of saying at the end of each month. “Go on stay, go on. I know it’s been shitty but go on stay, I’ll make it worth your while, look here’s fifty quid, work another month and I’ll give it ya.”

On top of this in order to get the job in the first place you have to give the company a Commitment Bond’. This is another form of monetary bullying that keeps the staff from walking out. Prior to confirmation of your job role you have to pay £150 to show that you’re committed. Understandable for a company that are flying their employees to France. However after you’ve proved your commitment and they’ve seen that you’ve done a good job for three or four months they still aren’t convinced. They keep that money until well after the season has ended.

They’ll only free you of those chains at the very last minute. Once you are well out of arm’s reach.

Prison food

On paper it appears as though the majority of your ‘in resort service’ deductions go towards your staff meals. This makes the reality leave a taste in your mouth even more bitter than the food alone.

The guests get meals which are designed to impress yet they complain about the poor quality of the produce and small portions. The staff get the guest’s leftovers which are more often than not cold. The set-menu recurs on a weekly basis meaning the guests only have to eat each meal once but the staff eat the same 7 meals every week for the course of the season.

The night porter has the rawest deal: a ‘plated up’ meal left out on the side for hours. Microwaved fish and chips isn’t good in any way – the batter soggy mess, when night-shift paranoia is added to the equation most meals become inedible. Plus their meals are the butt of jokes, often getting all the leftovers in a dirty great heap.

mega burger le corbier

For the regular workers there is rationing.

“Only two roast potatoes… All the staff have to eat.”

…then when all the staff have two potatoes on their plate and there are five or six left in the tray the team turns into a tornado of vultures. Stabbing at each others hands with forks to try to guard the remaining potatoes for themselves.

At very least you won’t starve. Each meal consists of some kind of potato product and some kind of meat.

Salmon with boiled potatoes and chicken gravy for example.

Or crushed new potatoes with a beef bourginon made without red wine using cheap meat that is little more than gristle. A huge pot of the stuff that, in the chef’s “has been rendering down for three days.”

Then for lunch; watery, over-cooked penne pasta in a flavourless white sauce. Gloopy glue.

Tiny cubes of deep fried potato (better to use a spoon than a fork) with chicken bones. It wouldn’t be right to call them drumsticks (or perhaps it would) because there is barely any meat on them and the meat you are able to rip off is either purple of grey.

The poor quality of the meat is particularly evident on the chicken. Which, not long into the season, became known as pigeon among the staff. Grey thighs covered in a thick skin or the small triangular offcuts that I’ve never seen for sale in even the cheapest of supermarkets.

It is especially worrying when the head chef tells you on a regular basis “I cook the food, I don’t eat it.”

Prison tattoos

Lest we forget.

fish with ice cream tattoo

Tattoo moon Le Corbier

It is a well known fact that where there are prisons there are tattoos.

The hopelessness, the endless repetition and the bland wasting of a pent up life. The boredom causes the mind to wander. Skipping off over the mountains, flowing with the streams, rivers fall into reflections on a still midnight lake…

The mind wanders so far that it detaches itself from the body. It is shown a slobbering moon and laughs at the thought of imprinting it on the organic mass that has held it captive for so many years. In the moonlight the prisoner’s mind is a slobbering beast on the loose, yet forever tethered to its enclosed owner.

Who can say why prisoners get tattoos? Who can say why it is always possible?

at home tattoo

DIY tattoo

do tattoos hurt

tattooing in corbier

homemade foot tattoo


moon foot tattoo


Escape attempt

The powerful urge to flee is ever-present but kept at the back of the mind.

I was tempted when two Catalan brothers came to pay me a visit. We skied on the first day but it rained on the second so we jumped in their hire car and drove to where we thought there’d be sun: Italy.

We drove through the famous Fréjus Tunnel and suddenly, as we drove out into the golden afternoon rays, Le Corbier seemed very distant. Suddenly escape had all but been achieved.

Il Pinguino in Rivoli

We had no real plans though. We stopped for an aperitivo at the wonderful Il Pinguino in Rivoli and by the time we reached Torrino – the city of light and darkness – the sun had almost finished its descent. I glimpsed the strange monument in Piazza Statuto but we turned our back to it searching instead for a hostel of some kind. When we found one we did not like the kind it was, so we decided to trust in fate. Little did we know how close we were to what is widely regarded as one of the earthy gates to hell.

It was two locals on a cafe terrace who informed us of the esoteric nature of the city… Of its duality of good and evil… Its geographic positioning as a point on both a triangle of white magic (formed with London and San Fransico) and of another magic triangle, this one the black (formed with Millan and Naples). Torrino, they told us, was even the old home of the Tarot card company.

Suddenly the secrets of Turin came flooding out after we’d plied them, and ourselves, with Jager, Pastis and beer. Our options grew. The takeaway that the local Chinese community have adopted as a drink-until-you-spew bar. Or Tamango – the cocktail of dreams.

“If you want a crazy night” they said, “you will definitely have it with Tamango.”

Tamango. Could found only a few streets away.

It sounded like an urban legend but the two Italians offered to guide us, there and then, to where it was concocted and sold. We swiftly arrived and persuaded them to enter the dimply lit establishment with us. Sitting on the pillowed floor I recognised an air of voodoo: The decorations. The still air. The vacant silence of the two other living beings present. My friends ordered a Tamango for each of us but the man and woman who we’d met insisted on sharing just one between the two of them.

The small, smokey red coloured drink in the white plastic cup tasted surprisingly sweet and we soon ordered ourselves a second – while our Italian acquaintances disappeared into the shadows. Luckily one of the Catalans drunk his second cup slowly and was able to remain upright and conscious as myself and the other brother fell out the door, onto the pavement and into the land of nod.

The effects of Tamango Torrino

He picked his brother up but said it was impossible to make him stand, his legs had become those of a baby horse. A newborn foal on an icy spring morn.

Two Carabinieri passed and knowingly turned a blind eye while I urinated in my deep, beautiful, feverish slumber. The next morning, covered in sick and piss, all that was left to do was to return to Le Corbier where my clean, dry uniform awaited me.

As I showered I noticed a circular sunburst of red blood veins on the surface of the skin that surrounded my stomach.

I’d escaped, only just.

…and now I was back.

(I later searched for Tamango online and found this description of somebody elses Tamango cocktail experience which bore eerie similarities to our own.)

Drinking Tamango in Turin

The Inmates

Back at the flat. A voice from bellow, from the bottom bunk declares in a sober Scouse accent “None of us must have had much going for us before. Definitely not.”

“How do you mean?” I inquire, already knowing what he’s getting at but never wanting to readily admit it.

“I mean to have come here for what they offered us. Everyone is running from something or didn’t have much else going for them. Why else would they have come here? ”

I agree, switch the lights out and force a world worn laugh. There is something slightly funny about this situation we’ve all gotten ourselves into. The humour is in just how twisted and wrong it all is and how just as you can’t imagine it getting any worse something else happens that you force another laugh at.

After half an hour of lights out Lewis comes home. He tries to talk to us in our bunks but stumbles backwards into the bathroom. There is a sledge behind the door so instead of bursting open the door creates a 45% angled path towards the bath. He falls backwards into the tub full of water and paces around the apartment for half an hour in a drunken rage.

At the times when it is was getting too much I had to remind myself ‘It was your decision to come here …you committed yourself” this finally lead me to believe that maybe it’s not a prison after all, maybe it is a mental hospital.

– The First Deputy Manager didn’t last long. She slept with a fair few people. Went to the police claiming someone had tried to force her back to their flat. Got angry and slapped the wall. Got moved to another one of the company’s hotels were apparently before she’d arrived police had received complaints that a staff member had masturbated off the roof.

The Original Hotel Manager was half French and wisely decided to keep the police sweet. This ended up with him hiding in the hotel’s kitchen because one of the twin gendarmes had taken a particularly strong shine to him. This affection may have served him well though on the occasion that saw him finish a night out in the nearby hospital. He’d started the night just like any other. At the hotel bar, climbing the Heineken mountain, drinking a few Syberian Ice Teas before moving on to a Chartreuse Gas Chamber. He had the habit of staring at people like a malfunctioning robot, he seemed to have the bizarre skills of social interaction most associated with children who are home-schooled. That evening in the nightclub a fracas ensued involving some Parisians. He was taking a beating so the Head Chef and Commis Chef stepped up, so did the Parisians friends and so did the club’s security guard. The bouncer pulled out a can of pepper spray and soon everyone was rolling on the floor with tears coming out of their eyes. According to the Head Chef this was no ordinary pepper spray this was high powered bear mace.

stefan pepper spray subtle with red eyes

Not long after this incident our beloved manager left / was asked to leave. Circumstances are unclear as to why but I’m certain that he was happy to go and I’m sure he danced and drunk Pastis all along the road to Marseilles.

The Ski Tech was very relaxed, a good skier who highly enjoyed seeing German girls “Sending it deep …on the black jump. He survived the season eating just mayonnaise.

The Sous Chef told us on close down week what the bits of unidentifiable chicken they’d been serving us was actually “Chicken ass” he laughed while telling us all and looked especially mad because of his missing teeth. But he wasn’t lying

The Head Chef on the other hand was lying, most of the time. It was funny though. I liked to hear his stories and let him tell them without interrupting. My favourite would have to be one of three. Either:

1. That he had a dog that was 93% wolf, which once took his ex-girlfriend down while they were arguing but didn’t bite her just grabbed her arm and forced her to the ground.

2. (and this one was more about the delivery.) Trying to talk off hand about surfboards.

“I collect them.”

“…how many?” He asked himself.

Then looking over his shoulder and down his nose he mumbled “Twenty one.”

or 3. His Australian skin – towards the end of the season as it started getting sunny he told us that he didn’t burn he just went brown. He flashed the t-shirt tan line on his arm by quickly pulling his sleeve up and down.

“I just go brown. It’s because I was born in Australia and have Australian skin.”

He hadn’t looked in the mirror yet, so hadn’t noticed that his face was red shade of pink.

australian skin

The Second Assistant Manager actually tried to kill herself. No idea if it was the prison conditions or what that made her attempt to jump off the balcony. But no joking, this happened. It all got pretty serious for a bit. Luckily no-one was hurt physically. I remember beforehand she’d been told she wasn’t allowed to have a sexual relationship with The Night-Porter because she was management and management weren’t allowed sexual relations with staff.

The Deputy Manager (who got Promoted to Hotel Manager after The Original left) – did hurt herself physically. There were a fair few injuries actually. Commis chefs slipping down stairways. Ankles swelling up all over the shop. The curious thing with our new manager was she never went out skiing. The first time she did, she fell. It was almost the end of the season anyway by this point. She fell, bruised her ankle, limped around on crutches a bit then didn’t ski again for the rest of the season. I wondered why she was there. Skiing was the only reason I could think of for being there. I could only assume that in her case she liked the chains, the insular world and the way the company fucked. I suppose in her eyes she’d worked for them long enough to have become a fucker rather than a fuckee.

The Executive Head Chef would routinely turn up to our hotel and start sucking the kegs of Stella dry. One night she swaggered into the bedroom of The Deputy Manager who would later try to kill herself. Thinking she was asleep (not laying there with one eye half open) The Executive Head Chef said to the other Deputy Manager “She’s a cunt.”

The Operations Manager came for a bit of a jolly too (I’m not sure if this is true or not but it was the BIG SECRET of the season that I wasn’t told until getting off the bus in England) Someone whispered in my ear that he had sexual relations with a member of staff: a General Assistant …and when she’d told him to “Go harder” he “licked her assh*le with his ginger beard.”

What I do know for sure is that he came, partied, picked up the 24 year old General Assistant from Essex and carried her over his shoulder in the nightclub. And later they were spotted coming back into the corridor together from outside the club’s smoking area.

narnia le corbier

White Walls

The ice disappeared the evening came when the snow fell. It kept falling, for days. The first big dump of the season. Everywhere looked like Narnia. Perfect snow. We all thought ‘If I’m going to be in a prison I don’t mind it so much if it has big white fluffy walls.’


Looking back it surprises me that we lasted 5 months. In the end we got by.

When our hands cracked and bled we put moisturiser on them,

When we knew the staff meal would be especially bad we splashed out on pizza from Le Yeti,

We invented the Golden Mile: a half-pint pub-crawl through all the bars and restaurants in the corridor,

We swam in the sun and in the snow (for all the bad things I’ve said about the town I must admit the outdoor heated swimming pool was very groovy),

We drew symbols in our skin,

Took enchanted day-trips,

Played games,

Became childlike in our distractions,

Laughed at the situation we were in,

Took nothing seriously,



Sent it deep.

Served out time.

ski group photo corbier

8 thoughts on “The Icy Prison

  1. Oh dear god . . . I’m due to go for an interview with ‘Equity’ soon and am starting to regret it. Don’t want to have to back out, I’ve paid for a train ticket to Brighton.

    Your place looks like some sort of horrific Scandinavian drama crime scene. I’m not surprised that somebody tried to end their life.

    The ‘Golden Mile’ half-pint pub-crawl through all the bars and restaurants in the corridor is funny though!

    • Thanks for reading Paul but I’d say go for the interview. There is still lots of fun to be had while skiing. I wrote this though because it is good to know what you’re letting yourself in for. Also Equity do have hotels in other resorts than the Scandinavian drama crime scene one I was at 🙂

      • Cheers for the encouragement, Christopher . . . I do still plan on going to the interview, I think. I will probably have to try and negotiate better accommodation maybe if I get offered a job!

        Who knows!

  2. Well, I didn’t get a job offer from Equity (but will be working for Alpine Elements), so I will have to content myself with your amusing write-up and enjoy ‘Le Corbier’ from afar!

  3. Pingback: The CQP cycle technicien formation | drinking it all in... bikes and beverages in Bordeaux

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