SEASON BLOG: Working the Winter in the French Alps PART 2

By Ian Fehler 

The snowboard stays home and Ian resorts to hiking, after a bad start to the winter

Well, It has been a very interesting and often very frustrating few months so far! We finally headed off to the Alps on December 2nd. Clearly though, it had been a mistake to go to an office Christmas Party the night before and drink copious amounts of awful free wine and then get up at 4am to drive down to the Alps.

It all started to go wrong when I miscalculated the drive from Bournemouth to Dover by about an hour, and we only made it to the ferry terminal with 10 minutes to spare; last embarkation was 30 minutes before. Luckily "Speedy Ferries" weren't living up to their name on that day and were delayed by half an hour, so we got on.

Unfortunately the catamaran and rough seas combined did nothing to help my gradually developing hangover. But all was good once we got to France, as my wife Deborah agreed to do the first leg of the French driving, which allowed me to have a little snooze. The downside of that was that whilst I was asleep, Deborah missed a turnoff on the motorway and before we knew it we were in the middle of Paris.... negotiating Paris with no real map other than an atlas of Europe and with a stinking hangover was not the best start to our trip!
Eventually, after 13 hours of driving, we did make it to Morzine, and started to get our stuff moved in. Unfortunately one thing we couldn't do was settle into our new chalet, as when we arrived it was still only a shell of a building, and it all needed to be finished within just a few days. It was no exaggeration to describe it as a total bombsite, with no electricity and a carpentry workbench where our kitchen should have been. Clearly there was no way it was going to be ready in time for the initial handover 5 days before our first guests. But with nowhere else to stay, Deb and I cleared out our room, the only nearly completed room in the Chalet, and basically spent the next few days along with Lisa, our boss, harassing the builders to get the place finished.
In a typically blasé French way, the electrician finally finished the last room and the chalet was finished just one hour before our first guests turned up, who just happened to be a bunch of journalists from Document Snowboard Magazine and some sponsored Vans snowboarders!

Without going into too many details, let's just say it was a fairly crazy and hedonistic first week of guests, particularly as there was very little snow at that time and so not much for the guys to do. Two nameless riders succeeded in spending 12 hours playing soccer on the Playstation rather than going out riding!

finally some snow arrives; Deborah on the slopes

The guys at Vans had also kindly donated all the staff at Ride & Slide brand new boots, jacket and pants. The only downside of this was that at the end of the week when packing their car, the Vans guys unfortunately mistook my jacket for one of theirs, resulting in my jacket and season lift pass being driven back to the UK. One thing seasonaires get very attached to is their lift pass! So started a daily ritual of arguing with the French liftpass officials every day for two weeks to get a temporary pass whilst I awaited the return of my jacket containing my beloved piece of plastic that gives me access to the entire Portes Du Soliel's expansive terrain.
The following week was Christmas, and with it came all the extra stresses of running a chalet you would expect. It also proved to be the week where we had our most difficult and demanding guests that either of us have ever dealt with. But, as generally happens in these cases, the following week we had some of the best guests ever- six couples who didn't know each other but all got on brilliantly and a fantastic New Year was had. Added to that we finally got some much needed snow, and the place was transformed. We finally got a chance to get up on the mountains properly and even managed to find a little powder. But it was to be short-lived!
Early January suffered from a chronic lack of snow, and with no real snowbase the whole Portes Du Soleil area was suffering badly. Bookings for Christmas and New Year had been good, but clearly people had been holding off booking any ski holidays in January until they knew the snow had arrived, and as it just didn't, many chalets and companies found themselves very, very empty.

We had two 4 day periods with the chalet totally empty- nice in a way to have a luxury 16 bed chalet to ourselves, but with snow conditions making it almost pointless going out, it did become rather frustrating, and there are only so many DVDs you can watch! So frustrating in fact that Deb and I even reverted to skiing as the conditions were so icy and horrid it was no fun at all being out on a snowboard. On some days we even skipped going up on the slopes and decided to go hiking, as there was no snow to board on. At one point it was so mild we had torrential rain at 2300m, and the mountain became one giant waterlogged slush slope- some of the most depressing conditions I have ever seen.
It was not until late January that we finally got a further dump of snow, an extremely needed 30cm, which was just enough to cover up the ice, but further snow was needed to get the conditions to a suitable level and for the season to really get going. Everyone in the resort had fingers crossed for more snow, but with forecasts not looking good in the short-term, no one really had an idea what February was to have in store. And with the traditionally busy French school holidays, and the UK half terms, it really is a bit unclear how it is going to go. Not the greatest start to our season and new life, but who knows what the future will bring?

Ian is working for Ride and Slide chalets in Morzine, stayed tuned for his next instalment.

Click here to read part 1 of a Season Blog; a winter in the French Alps