Being a Ski Chalet Host and Cook?
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But have you got what it takes to be an asset or will you be a liability?? Why do people people book catered chalets versus self catered chalets?
You as an employee will have to recognize that there are many different personalities who own these businesses. The formats and expectations are very different to each other. Expectations, routines to standards can be very different which all add to your experience in a chalet company. You should come away after this period of time having learnt, having grown as a person and ultimately enjoyed your experience. Your employer is accountable for part of this, but you are as you will never get this time back. If your gut instinct tells you that you and your employer will not get on, then take that warning very seriously.
You must also evaluate the locations of the properties, how daily logistics are organised and what type of client might you expect to receive. There is no point going to a resort if you love snowparks but would have to drive to them on a daily basis but actually you don’t have a driving license?
Are you qualified or experienced enough to contribute to the business or will you be a burden that sees you packing your bags within weeks of arrival.
Do not accept a job because it is a job! You will cause a lot of people a lot of stress and in particular, yourself.
Once you have secured your role with a chalet company, a bar, a restaurant etc in a ski resort, it is important you should continue to do further research about the company and the actual ski area.
It is important to manage your expectations and fully understand where you are going and whom you are working for. It has been brought to my attention on many occasions that a person who thought they were working in a chalet as a cook was actually working in a bar at the bottom of the chalet for example. They left soon after.
Not only does this cause a problem for the business owner but also you. You must recognise a ski season is only 5 months and therefore, getting it right at the outset is imperative.
When being interviewed, be very clear as to what you want and clarify anything in the contract you do not understand. Go through the daily routine and what the expectations are of you. For example, if there is a requirement for you to go shopping to the town 10 miles away, do you have access to a vehicle, can you actually drive or do you feel comfortable driving in the vehicle they provide? Remember also, that conditions may be adverse and what is your experience of driving for example?
Having secured your job and done your extra research, you travel to your new destination where hopefully it is arranged you are met and greeted by your new employer or manager.
It is super exciting on arrival, there is a massive buzz in the air and a holiday atmosphere. Whilst it is important to meet new people, go out and experience the town, the reality is that your employer expects you to work! There are 3 things you can do in a ski resort, ‘Work, Ski and Drink’ – you cannot do all 3 on a daily basis with great success over a whole season, so pace yourself. Remember about making the right impression from the outset and concentrate on learning your craft and forming a positive relationship with your employers.
Your accommodation is key to your comfort for the season. You will spend at least a third of your time here sleeping, so ensure it is of reasonable standard and that if you are sharing with anyone else, you know who they are in advance. For example, if you are a chalet host expected to be at work at 7am, you do not wish to be disturbed by your room mate whom comes in every morning at 2am as they work in a bar and restaurant. Is the accommodation close by to where you are working, is it noisy above a bar or is it actually within the confines of the chalet? All questions you should establish before arriving. You may also wish to enquire as to what facilities the accommodation has? If you have a TV and Sky dish or DVD player for example, then it may mean you not having to go out every night to the bar to seek entertainment. If you do have to go out every night, it is very expensive and also can lead to temptation of continued drinking which you will become exhausted with.
Work out simple logistics and become familiar with your surroundings. Where do you wash and iron your clothes or uniform, how long will it take you to get to your workplace in good weather or in bad weather for example? Where are the shops, bars and restaurants for if you need them or your guests enquire about them. Go to the tourist office and ask all the questions you want to know plus a lot more which your guests may need to know. Get brochures and leaflets and read them all. Ski lift departure areas, ski shops, ski hire, ski passes, all these are must knows as you will be asked within 10 minutes of your guests arriving.
Hopefully you will be privileged to ski before the guests arrive and therefore gain a massive insight into the ski area and some great runs. You will inevitably find out where the best restaurants are for all budgets and which place is the best for a quick coffee. More importantly, which restaurants have the best toilets! A military term is ‘Recce time is seldom wasted’ meaning that get out there and find out everything you can, because even a restaurant is rubbish and you’ll never use it, you have gained some knowledge of something.
An employer will be noting you time keeping, your enthusiasm, your sense of pride, your honesty and integrity, your cleanliness, your ability to get on with others. This is just to highlight but a few self traits you need to be aware of. Communication is possibly the key to avoiding any mistakes.
Remember ‘Assume – makes an ASS of U and ME’
Therefore, perhaps if asked to be ready at the chalet, you clarify if you are to bring anything whether pen and paper or your cooking knives ready cook. Ask if there is anything to prepare for tomorrow so you are ready to start at 9am and thus waste no time. Forward planning is also key to your enjoyment and avoiding stressful situations. Understand if items need ordering in advance so you do not run out and have to wait a week for items to arrive.
Remember ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail!’
When asked to carry out a task, (if for the first time), clarify your employers expectations. Do not take the path of least resistance as this inevitably leads to you having to do the same task again. It can also prevent confrontation and resistance. Your employer has to raise the question which inevitably offends damaging relationships. Think the situation through and exhaust all possible solutions. Be tenacious and try and resolve yourself. Try and fix things that break before presenting them broken and demanding a new one.
Common sense is not that common
If ever unsure politely ask, ‘This is the first time you have asked me to do this and although I will do it to the best of my ability, would you kindly explain it to me, to make sure it meets your expectations. Thank you’
Doing something correctly first time will save you time in the long wrong. Likewise, if you see something that needs doing or fixing, then do it straight away. Lets say for example, your colleague has left a bin bag outside the front door. You see this and walk by it. After work you come out to find the bin bag has been ripped apart by dogs. You now have to spend ten minutes cleaning up the debris scattered around rather than the one minute it would have taken to walk it to the bin. Think, if you can see it, so can the guests and so can your employer.
Managing your emotions
There will be days where you feel you are unhappy, the clients are very irritating and abusing your good nature or perhaps you feel over worked. An employer will appreciate you and be more responsive if you finish off the job in hand and ask to speak to air your concerns when convenient. This is the polite and correct way to approach what is a negative situation. Remain professional. You are then in control and therefore hold an equal or upper hand. Constructively relay your concerns and then listen to the response. Evaluate and if need be take time to think. Importantly, ensure you are whiter than white in this situation. If you are upset that your boss is commenting on your appearance, ask yourself why? Use this opportunity to ask them why and how you can change? If you are tired because you are drinking every night till late, you may not get any sympathy at all? But there are circumstances where a business owner does not see what is happening and it is so worth while having a conversation for everyone’s sanity.
If a situation cannot be resolved amicably, you then have every right to take further action which may involve looking for alternative employment. But also be prepared to receive notice of termination of employment from the employer. The choice is not always yours, so be careful about what your issue is. Not being paid enough money to have a tattoo is not always a great argument. Not being valued for all the extra hours you are working is.
So, imagine you have worked hard, saved up all your money and started your ideal business. This is in a lot of cases, is every chalet business owner. They are proud of their empire and individual rightly so. They think they are the best people able to offer the best service and experience to the general public. The vision of drinking, dinner parties, skiing and socialising supersedes the reality of cleaning, cooking, exhaustion and stress. Therefore to relieve the latter, they decide to employ staff.
The employer instinctively thinks that this will be the easy task as there many people out there wishing to share the same dream of working in the mountains. They are very right in thinking that there are many people wishing to work in the mountains, but the simple fact is ‘Everyone can work in the customer service and hospitality industry, but not everyone can do it well?’
Selection of new employees is a tough process and with modern technology, there is a reluctance to meet in person, preferring to interview on platforms such as Skype or Zoom for example. If possible, always meet with your employer in person where possible. The benefits of this are second to none. I have known on many occasions when meeting someone in person, whether or not I should give them a role within my company. You will find in life, you will assess that person within seconds of meeting them, hence the expression ‘You cannot make a first impression twice’
‘You cannot make a first impression twice’
Whether you agree or not, we all judge people very quickly either consciously or sub-consciously. This can have a massive impact on how we treat people or how we are treated.
What can we do as a Chalet Team member, which meet levels of social expectation on our first contact with our employer, clients and any other person whom we would meet in this environment?
I would suggest wearing something neutral, clean and ironed. Confirm what the standards are in the chalet and what clothing is suitable. Is there a uniform provided? I once experienced a team member who wore a heavy metal t-shirt (within the chalet), with swear words across it. Not sure the parents of the children were too impressed but as an employer, nor was I, especially as we provide smart polo shirts. What foot wear must you wear in the chalet? If you wear piercings on your face or have tattoos which is usually visible, then ensure your employer knows this. Do not present yourself at interview as someone you have no intention of being when you arrive in resort.
Hygiene – ‘Its not a dirty word!’
You will be up and close with clients serving them dinner for example or handling food, so the expectancy would be for you to be clean and presentable. Waking up, rolling out of bed, putting on the clothes you left on the floor after a massive session the night before is probably not acceptable. Then walking into work like you’ve combed your hair with a hand grenade and your breath is like a brewery is not how most employers would like for you to represent their company.
In the service industry, presentation is key. It shows pride and that you value yourself and those around you. Think about how you wish to be perceived and if you do not, then I would think you are not in the right employment.
Shower regularly, wear deodorant, brush your hair, brush you teeth and clean your finger nails. Sounds obvious but amazing how many people fail to do so on a daily basis.
If you are a smoker, then think about not smoking before heading into work or meeting someone for the first time. The smell of tobacco is not always welcomed as is serving dinner with nicotine stained fingers as I once experienced. Disgusting!
First Meeting Someone new
The days of a strong handshake maybe over? Fist pumping, elbow touching or other tactile meeting procedures may be here to stay following the COVID era. This I am sure you will work out, but irrespective of this, it is also good to understand religious or cultural differences of greeting.
However, looking people directly in the eyes, a big smile and a confident:
“Good morning, I am Darren, pleasure to meet you. What is your name?”
You have commenced with an acknowledgement, a pleasantry and engagement whilst showing someone you are really excited to be their host that week or you are looking forward to working with them?
Add this to the notes of Personal appearance and hygiene, you have made a great first impression.
You then have the next 10 minutes to really cement that first impression, help people relax, settle in and feel like they have made the right choice in spending their week at your chalet.
Remember when they arrive, be compassionate to their needs. Welcome them with a smile, be positive, let them know you are there to help them have the best holiday ever that week. Get them a drink, serve them cake, ask them about their journey but most of all, establish their names. People like to feel special and remembering names is key.
A couple of techniques I may use would be as follows:
Repeating their name on initial meet and greet –
- Hello, I’m Darren, your name is?
- Hi Peter, how was your journey?
- Smooth actually, no dilemmas
- Where is it you came from Peter?
- Uxbridge, London
- Yeah, I know it well? Give me your jacket, take your shoes off and head upstairs. I’ll come serve you a drink in a moment Peter.
We have said his name 3 times in a short period of time and hopefully managed to do so quite discreetly without sounding like a weirdo. But further on in the initial meeting, remind yourself of peoples names again in your head. Listen to friends calling each other by name to remind yourself always……
Name to word association
- Nigel has a big nose
- Graham has Ginger hair
- Anne has annoying laugh
Best not to mention to your guests how you remembered their name? I am sure you can design your own way of remembering peoples names but never be shy in the first hour or even first day, to ask them to remind you of their names.
Social Awareness and Effective Listening
The art of conversation and correct balance is difficult and will vary from one client to the next. What is the correct ratio of listening to talking? Ask yourself, “Do I talk too much?”, “Do I listen enough?”, “Am I interesting or just rambling?”, “Do I suck the air out of the room?”. “Do I make people feel comfortable?” “Do I make people smile?” “Am I overbearing?”
Already, we are asking ourselves lots of questions which proves that conversation with a friend is difficult but with a stranger is tough!
Breaking the ice!
When you first meet your clients, be polite and if not natural for you, have a system of questions that you can ask them, to get to know them, their names and understand your audience. As you will be welcoming several people into the chalet, all at once, it maybe advantageous at this stage to keep most of your answers ‘closed’. This means ask them Yes and No questions. Have you had a pleasant journey? Can I take your coat? We leave our shoes here in the reception area to keep the chalet clean and comfortable for you all. Please can I ask you to take your shoes off? This technique of using closed questions will help you also when you maybe in a rush or need information quickly, but remember to sound out the question in your head first to comprehend if the question sounds abrupt or polite?
Your clients will want to get to know you, understand you, and will be interested in everything from when you were born to what you will do in your retirement? Your time will come in the week, but make your guests feel special. Show interest in them. You all have skiing in common hence why they are here in the mountains, so if the conversation is difficult, you can always revert to the easy open questions using the ‘W’ system:
- “Where have you been before?”
- “When did you go there?”
- “What did you think of there?”
- “Who did you go with?”
- “Why did you come here?”
- “How many times have you been skiing?”
The key focus at this stage is to keep the emphasise on your clients and not brag about your life. If they’ve been to Tenerife, there is nothing worse than being interrupted to hear about how you have been to Elevenerife. Do not continual trump your client. Be humble. You will have your opportunity to tell them at a later time about your great experience. Also, if you want tipped, if you tell people you have everything, been everywhere and done everything, they will assume you are a spoilt brat who does not need money and a simple thank you will suffice at the end of their stay.
Inevitably, clients will answer a question with a question, so keep your answer brief to be polite and then ask the same question back to your client.
Be cautious as to what you tell people also, whether this be your employer or clients. Keep your private life personal and to a minimum. Understand the ramifications of what you might say now, may come back to haunt you. For example, if you are jaded one morning, and tell your clients you have been out till 5am drinking and dancing but then don’t turn up the next day for breakfast because you are genuinely ill, what do you think the client will think? If you tell the clients how you have crashed 8 cars before arriving in resort, how safe do you think they will feel on transfers to the slopes?
Be aware also that clients will see you out and about in the bar, so if you know you are going on a wild night, can be worth checking if your clients are going out that night. You want to relax without the thought of inadvertently throwing up over your guests in the bar when telling them embarrassingly they are the best guests you’ve ever had!
Be thoughtful that your clients may not also want to be reminded of their actions from the previous night which is more common!
There is no rule book or instruction manual for how a client will behave or react. A chalet host is a chameleon whom can adapt to their environment. You are socially aware and understand when to engage. Not engaging with a client is equally important. It is not always necessary to strike up conversation with clients. They want their peace also and also don’t want to have to make idle conversation all the time. If they are reading a book, resting their eyes for example, leave them alone. Breakfast time, some people are talkers and others are those just wanting to wake up with silence. Who are you?
When serving at the dinner table, you will be privileged to many conversations. I have heard many stories, where professionalism and discretion is expected. From men being at the chalet with their mistress whilst their wife was at home, to openness of experimental sexuality phases in peoples lives. The art of remaining invisible and impartial is key to a great host. Do not get embroiled in arguments and do not comment on anything unless asked specifically. This is your guests time with their friends, and your opinion is irrelevant no matter how factually correct or how important to you. Usually at this stage, alcohol has been consumed so will not be remembered in the morning anyway.
You may have to approach a difficult situation or understand your own personal limits in dealing with such situations. I have had incidents of drunkenness, break up of relationships, arguments, fights, delivering bad news to relatives. There also comes a time when the guests actually do not like your company and only see you as a host and cook. All of these scenarios and many more help you to discover who you are, question yourself as to how you will or would act and even placing yourself in their situation, help you understand how you wished to be approached or told.
The reason we continue to roll up our sleeves each year is actually for the great people we meet and this truly is 99% of people. Not many people arrive on holiday miserable or not wanting to be there. They are super excited, energised and wanting to spend quality time with their friends and family.
Of course, I have had that experience where for example a very pretentious woman was most upset that her husband had booked Chatel and not Aspen! Unfortunately you have to deal with it and learn to ignore the derogatory comments you may experience. Think, this is their problem, not mine. If you experience negative comments from one person, take note but don’t let it bother you. Draw your energy from the positive energy in the room, unless there really is a problem!
It is super important to note down each week your experience. If you feel you’ve had a tough week, then refer to these notes. Note the group, what methods of communications you used perhaps, how your meals were received, any comments both positive and negative and most importantly, what you think you can do better! In my experience, we lose a little vitality in later weeks as having made the same meals for the past 10 weeks, we are a little negative about ourselves and self doubt. Remember to go back to your notes, remember, this group are seeing what you have prepared for the first time and so really excited about the dinner.
Concentrating your time on the nice people in the group. It is super rare to have a whole group who are miserable! However, an experience taught me that a group can be stand offish due to their previous experience in a catered chalet. Having offered to show a group of mountain bike guys the area as a qualified guide as part of their holiday, they refused and albeit they had never been to the area, insisted they would find places themselves. As they got to know me, I was asked by a couple of them to take them to different places as they were struggling with the main group. It transpired that the previous year, the guide they had was a dick but insisted on joining them everyday. By being patient and waiting to be invited into the group, staying polite and helpful when asked, a trusting bond was built which has meant the group staying in touch for the past 15 years and returning on frequent occasions.
“True qualities are showing flexibility and awareness”
There are many occasions when groups wish for you to be very much part of their holiday and invite you from the outset to ski or bike with them, go drinking, stay after dinner and chat and more drinking but there is an art to managing this. Remember your boundaries, you are actually working for them and whilst they wake up with a hangover in the morning, you are still required to be up well before them, provide breakfast with a huge smile, all hindered if you have a big hangover too or even worse, due to the hangover, unable to make it to breakfast. Trust me that the guests will switch from being your best friend mode to informing the boss that you have not turned up to work.
Being sociable with guests certainly encourages them to leave a tip at the end of the week. But don’t burn out as you have 17 weeks of full on work, partying and skiing.
Get to know them slowly. You’ve got all week. Group dynamics are important to evaluate.
No family is the same and all have different interpretations of how they apply rules to their children. Some children will be angelic, you’ll want to adopt them at the end of your stay. Some are mischievous and devious. Some will be shy and some will not leave your side. Remember, keep the kids happy, keeps Mum happy and if kids and Mum happy, Daddy is happy! Follow this rule and you cannot go wrong. So give the child a little attention, they crave it. Help them with their ski boots in the morning. Make pizzas with them, let them help you make a cake, get them to help deliver a drink or food to their parents. Show them how to work the TV or the Games console. It is easier to keep them on side as if they are being occupied, you will see that Mum and Dad will relax. Establish details about the children, from food they will eat and when they get tired for example. A child who is hungry, will be extremely grumpy and irritable. When feeding children, remember not to overload their plates with food. A child is defeated psychologically by a big plate of food and unlikely to eat much of it. Always keep some food in reserve in case they want more as this will be the case and looks better for you if they appear to be eating well.
There is no guide book to being a parent!
Then you have the parents themselves whom deal with their children in so many different ways and not always how you would agree or what you would be familiar with. Some parents are very relaxed about their child’s behavior which can be very frustrating as they trash the place. There is only so many times you can clean up after them.
We have experienced so many different dynamics that are super interesting, complicated or just don’t work. I always like to ask if the group has been on holiday before as being friends and living together in close proximity are two very different things.
Having friends or family to stay is tougher than strangers!
Each week can be mentally, physically and emotionally draining, especially if you have friends and family to stay!! I discourage friends and family staying in the same living accommodation as the team/staff. It is so common that once you have finished cooking and cleaning up dinner for the past 3 hours in the chalet, when you arrive back to your accommodation, your mate John will be sat in front of the TV with a can of beer, scratching his balls and still expect you to cook or provide for him. And because cooking again is so far from your mind, you go to the pub where you feel compelled to stay out until 4am with him. He then sleeps till 10am whilst you are up at 7am to do breakfast and clean up in the chalet. You then get back to the apartment to open the windows and clean up the mess from when you both came in at 4am and decided it was good to open up more beers. Meanwhile, he scratches his balls once more and asks what time are we going skiing. Oh and make me a cup of tea whilst I jump in the shower. Eventually, you get onto the slopes and a hair of the dog is required and as it is now lunchtime, it is the law. You start drinking again before you are expected to arrive at work to serve dinner fresh and dandy. This continues for a week. Not only do the guests in the chalet that week get ignored but also the following week as you are too drained to do anything other than turn up at the chalet and grunt.
Honesty and Integrity
Accidents happen, we can all cope with that. Where as a chalet business owner we fail to understand, is deliberate avoidance to come clean about such incidents. Drivers dent vehicles, vehicles can be repaired quickly though.
Reputation of businesses can be dented but this may take a whole lot longer to repair!
Most business owners would like to be informed of any real problems which may cause a client to feel uncomfortable or deprived of a service which was promised, so they can decide if there is action to be taken to avoid a crisis. For example, if you haven’t cleaned the hot tub, been late picking up your group from the slopes, said something inappropriate, we maybe able to pacify the group with an extra bottle of wine the following night which may just stop them giving a damning public review. Unfortunately, these reviews stay on the social media platforms for ever which do have negative ramifications.
If we make mistakes, we can discuss and learn from these mistakes so that hopefully we don’t make them again or put into place a system so they can be avoided.
Covering or hiding someone who makes mistakes can be as equally disruptive and frowned on.
Lying in your interview about what a dynamic cook you are, or that you can speak 3 languages will damage your reputation and integrity if when in resort it is apparent you cannot do any such things. Trust between you and your employer is imperative to a happy working relationship and you enjoying your season.
In small ski resorts, it is a hive of gossip and I will always tell my employees that, no matter what they do, I will find out about it. People talk. This goes from staff arguing over cheese in a supermarket, disgruntled staff berating their employers in the bar to drunken staff getting into fights and even getting sexual diseases! Even though I warn them, they are so surprised when we have to have the conversation. Therefore, if something does happen, then I would suggest be open about it as it is better to come from you than an inflated and exaggerated story elsewhere. Remember, you represent the employers business on and off duty.
What is your motivation to work a ski season?
In 16 years I have met some extremely interesting and great people, many of which I see on an annual basis as they return to stay because of my business and the service you deliver. You are an intricate part of my business and without you, I cannot work. Without me, you cannot work and would not be here. Mutual support and respect is required. Some of my greatest rewards in life is seeing the young teams I developed throughout the season go on to have great careers elsewhere. What will you learn from doing a ski season and how can you present this on your CV to substantiate your claims.
In many cases, this maybe your first time away from home so you are proving your independence. The hostile conditions of the mountains are difficult to live in. The routine and early starts show commitment and discipline. The ability to learn new menus, new driving skills in inclement conditions, new social skills are invaluable. You are showing that you are developing. Your communication skills within a work place, meeting new friends and the ability to flex to different audiences expresses your personality as someone who is confident and growing in maturity. Needless to say, your skiing and mountain awareness experience will improve. You will sub consciously learn about your environment and weather systems and perhaps the issues of global warming. I am sure you will pick up a few words in a different language but generally, it will be a packed 5-6 months full of positives.
A lot of people take a gap year to help them find what career path they may wish to chase in the future. There have been many occasions where the chalet teams have been opportunities by clients whom have stayed or shared information and contacts to get them ahead. You will meet other people in the same situation which means you can discuss and research together where to go next, what to do etc.
You ultimately should know what you want to get out of your ski season and I revert back to some of my original comments of taking time to find the job and company which suit you, will be beneficial to everyone concerned in the end.