Friday, February 24, 2012

the holidays

Live here is at a hectic pace now that the school holidays are upon us. The chalet is full to capacity most of the time with frequent changes of guests for over three weeks. It becomes challenging to match faces to rooms when folk order from the bar without asking their names the whole time, challenging to clean and change rooms as guests come and go, challenging to keep up with potato peeling for chips for all the lunches we are selling now, challenging to process the laundry fast enough to keep up with demand and challenging to keep everything as it should be.

I love being busy, don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the quiet times skiing and getting lost in a good book, but this is great. A constantly full house of people enjoying their holidays, tired from skiing all day and eating good food every night. Listening to their stories and hearing about where they come from. I am always amazed at how far people will drive for a few days skiing. Many guests this week are coming from Bordeaux or further north, all the way up to Brittany, frequently driving eight or more hours each way. With the autoroutes here, driving isn’t a chore like it is back in the UK, rather easy in fact, although, unfortunately you pay for the luxury as the majority of the motor way network is privately owned.

We have had doctors and farmers, tourist office managers and lawyers, a podiatrist magician and a heavy plant driver, teachers and hoteliers all staying within the last week. Groups of friends with children, families and single parents with kids of all ages, all determined to enjoy the mountains. It’s almost imperative that children learn to ski here and for these few weeks the slopes are smattered with snakes of ski school classes following one of a seemingly never ending supply of instructors across the snow. Parents often invest in ski school for their offspring so that they can spend at least some of their time enjoying the slopes too. It’s great chatting to these people and getting some little insight into their lives, the diversity is astounding, I think that I prefer working through the day and having the time to dine properly amongst the guests, everyone eats together here on long tables, all mixed in together, its great. It makes for a busy day, although I seem to be fully occupied with helping out whatever shift I do at the moment.

Whatever the shift, my lunchtimes are usually spent in the kitchen with Mark. A good team, he occupies himself with the complicated menu items and lets me get on with the rest, burgers, BLT’s, salads, desserts and endless chips. It can be hellish frantic one day and no one the next, which makes it very difficult to prep and plan. Demand seems to be governed by the weather, too cold or cloudy and there are just less people on the mountains, sunny blue sky days and folk stay on the mountain all day, suffering the queues at the mountain fooderies or sitting out on rocky outcrops with a picnics. The ideal, for us is cold and sunny with enough cloud cover to make it uncomfortably cold to sit out for too long. That sends people in search of warming locations to lunch and they often stay a good length of time to get thoroughly reheated before heading off again.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

life in the mountains

Andy, ready for another powder run

snow cannons blowing snow so fine that it looks like a forest fire

Fresh snow and icicles outside the chalet

The first time it has been possible to ski right back to the front door this season

It has continued snowing for several days now and the bare, green mountain sides are a thing of the past for a while. I hope the sheep made it safely back to their winter shelter. The temperature has plummeted, as it has everywhere in europe, down to a daytime high of -8°C and night times lows nearing -20°C. Now that the clouds have passed, the visibility is excellent and the whole region is blanketed in snow. Some guests due to arrive for dinner (7.30pm) last night eventually made it up the mountain at nearly 11pm. They had used their snow chains since way down in the valley and were still slipping all over the place.

Skiing has been great fun, on piste, off piste and anywhere else that has looked tempting. Its been great fun with Andy although I was so cold that I had to stop early. He just looks over a ridge and tips over, planning his route as he goes, a bit of a view is enough, and with the depth of powder, little chance of coming a cropper. Exhilarating.

Overnight the wind has picked up and chilled everything to the bone. So cold in fact that the central heating oil became so sticky in the pipes within the boiler room that the heating stopped working. The resort didn’t open and most of the loose snow has now been blown off the tops, huge squalls of icy cloud blasting down the mountain, skin stingingly cold, bringing what little traffic there is to a complete standstill.

Half an hour with a blowlamp on the chilly pipes and the heating burst into life again, Holes blocked and pipes further lagged, the frozen washing prized out of the machine drum and crumpled into the drier, the washer then refusing to work some more until the water supply thaws. All the paths that I cleared yesterday into neat gulleys through the drifts need clearing again. Nothing like a bit of energetic work to get well warmed through. I was much more toasty outside that I could have been inside the cool chalet.

Lets see what happens with temperatures forecast to stay low and more snow on the way tomorrow. Perhaps the winds will drop and some of the snow will stay for longer this time. Its great to stay snug indoors in front of the fire and spend some time doing very little. Full after a great Thai curry lunch and only seven guests to look after this evening.

Thursday, February 02, 2012