Mall of America

Published on Friday, January 18, 2019

Over 50s seasonaires

If you thought being a chalet host was just for youngsters fresh out of college, think again. Ski companies are increasingly employing more mature hosts to care for their guests. We spoke to Tony and Carol Gilmour, hosts at Chalet Fleur de Neige, a 15-person chalet in Plan Peisey, Les Arcs. Tony, 63, is a retired secondary school teacher and Carol, 51, is a supply teacher who goes back to work after the season. They come from West Sussex and this is their third winter with chalet specialists Skibeat.

What made you decide to become chalet hosts?
Carol: We wanted a better work/life balance. We'd seen our son work three ski seasons and we liked what we saw.
Tony: We absolutely love the environment, being in the mountains and the chance to do all the outdoor activities and to meet such a variety of different people each week.

What skills do you need?
Tony: Having a background in teaching definitely helps because the chalet host role is a lot about interacting with people and having good interpersonal skills.
Carol: Being a teacher helps with the organisational side too, but the other older hosts come from all different backgrounds. We've met people who were previously civil engineers, dentists, or work in IT. We took a chalet hosting course in the Alps in the summer. It was £500 each for a week, including accommodation, and we learned all about what the job involves.

Can you describe your typical day
Carol: We're up at 6.15 for a coffee to get us started. We live in the chalet, but not all of the hosts do, so for us we just go across the hallway and we're in the kitchen.
We make the cakes for the afternoon then serve a cooked breakfast to those that want it - eggs, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, toast. When everyone's finished we clear away the breakfast things and do the prep for the evening meal. Then we clean the bedrooms and the communal areas. We're usually finished by 11am then we have free time to ski or go walking until 5pm when we're back in the kitchen again preparing the three-course evening meal. Once dinner is finished, we get the table laid for breakfast and lay out the cereals and fruit, replenish the teas and coffees and we're usually finished by around 9.30pm. Wednesday is an easier day, when we do a continental breakfast of cereals and croissants and there's no evening meal.
Tony: We're also here to help answer any questions from the guests, recommend restaurants or bars and tell them about events or how to arrange activities, and generally make sure they get the most from their holiday.
Carol: We share the jobs. I generally do the cooking and Tony is the bottle washer but with other couples it's the other way around. It makes it easier to have defined roles.

Which aspects of the job do you particularly enjoy?
Carol: We love having such easy access to the mountains - skiing, hiking, snowshoeing - and just being in this beautiful environment.
Tony: We love meeting the guests. Each week we have a new bunch of people to chat with. We meet all kinds of people and that's really enjoyable.

Which aspects do you not enjoy as much?
Carol: Changeover days are very tiring. We're up at 4am, getting breakfast for the guests who are leaving and then turning the chalet round - changing beds, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping, mopping, baking the welcome cake, getting the guests settled in and preparing the evening meal.
Tony: On one changeover day I measured how many steps I did on my Fitbit and I did 29,000 steps!

Why did you decide to join Skibeat?
Carol: It's a really good company to work for, with high quality chalets and with other more mature hosts. We've become good friends with the other hosts and we'll perhaps go skiing or walking together, or meet for lunch.
Tony: Skibeat also has good systems with regards to menu plans and a useful online shopping service, with a dedicated link to Super U. It means we don't have to go to the supermarket each week and do the shopping in person, which you'd have to do with other ski companies

What advice would you give to anyone considering being a chalet host?
Tony: It's tiring work. You need to be physically fit. You've also got to like being with people and be a fairly gregarious person. I would definitely recommend doing the chalet hosting course too. It was very useful.
Carol: As a mature chalet host you need to be in a reasonably good place financially. You would probably struggle if you had a big mortgage to pay back in the UK or school fees. Some of the older hosts rent out their homes while they're away to help. We get our accommodation, meals, ski pass, and ski hire and due to a change in employment laws companies are now required to pay at least the minimum French wage. Skibeat is keen to encourage returning hosts so the more seasons you do the more you are paid. From their point of view, it's good to have hosts who have had experience and who know the resort well.
Tony: Some of our friends think we're on an extended holiday but it's definitely not!
Carol: They often say we're so lucky and that they really couldn't do it for this reason and that reason, but that's not true. If you really want to do it, you can make it work.

View from the balcony of the Chalet Fleur de Neige

Factfile: A week's fully hosted ski holiday to Plan Peisey Les Arcs, with direct access to the Paradiski region and it 425km of pistes, costs from £499pp in winter 2018-19. This price includes return Gatwick flights (Manchester +£20) transfers, 7 nights accommodation in a chalet, with cooked breakfast, home made afternoon cakes and tea, 3-course evening with wine (6 nights) and the services of a chalet host. A week's stay at the Chalet Fleur Neige costs from £759pp.

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