What's it really like?
Henry Edward, 24, worked as a chalet host in Val Thorens, France.
How long have you been working as a chalet host?
For one season. I had always been attracted to the idea of spending a winter in France. I had a gap year before leaving university but after I finished I was working in a boring job and waiting to move house when I thought I could go away instead. I had been skiing before but was not very good and wanted to improve, and also wanted to spend some time in France and practise my French, which was pretty rusty. After going to a few interviews I found a job in Val Thorens and went out in November to start the season.What do you do in a typical day at work?
The key to being a chalet host is to be prepared and get everything done in advance so you have as much time as possible to go skiing or go out for a few drinks. If you can get the daily routine honed then everything becomes much easier. Change-over days are usually Saturday mornings, and this means a very late night on Friday cleaning the chalet before the new arrivals come, and may involve long hours going to collect laundry or stock deliveries or helping the reps with transfers.
After that, the routine settles down and each day involves getting up early and preparing breakfast. In some chalets the hosts have their own rooms, but otherwise you have to walk from where you are staying and get to the chalet around 7:00am. Breakfast may be cold or hot, depending on the company and the guests you work with, but you will be expected to get the guests fed and then clear up after them. You may also be required to make sandwiches if they are having a packed lunch.
After breakfast is cleared, the table is set for tea, for when the guests arrive back after skiing in the afternoon. It is necessary to provide snacks with the tea, usually a cake, some biscuits, or something similar, so this has to be made in the morning. After this, at around 11:00am, there is usually a bit of free time, during which you can go out skiing or go back to sleep for a bit.
After serving tea, preparations begin for dinner, which has to be prepared for around 7:00pm, although some guests prefer to have it earlier or later. The number of courses and the expectation of extras such as aperitifs or canapés depend on the company. After dinner, you wash up and set the table for breakfast (to maximise sleep). Then, around 9:30, although sometimes much later, you are free to go out or go home.
What do you like and dislike about the job?
Being a host is a good way to meet people and it allows you to ski every day, even though you do not get paid very much money. The atmosphere can be good and it is important to make friends so you can help each other out when one is tired, sick or feeling under the weather. Your partner is your backup when things go wrong and it is important to stick together to make life easy.
The hours are very long and, compared to other jobs, the amount of free time you have is relatively small. Also, you only get one day off a week and this is usually a Sunday, when there is nothing going on in the resort. If you want to out and party you have to be prepared to face the music the next morning and drag yourself out to make breakfast.
Any other advice?
If you are not a very sociable person this probably is not the job for you. Even if you are very sociable, it is nice to out with someone you know, even if you are not working together, as it can get a bit lonely sometimes. Your co-host is the person you will spend most time with so it is important to get to know them well, and make an effort to get on with them.
Another really important thing is to get tips for your work. Most people will pay you something extra on top of your spending allowance and, in real terms, this can be the difference between being able to go out or not. A lot of people bring money out with them and spend everything they have, and if you do not have any money to bring then the little extra from tips makes a huge difference. This means keeping everyone happy.
Chalet hosts work in apartments or chalets within ski resorts during the winter season to clean and cater for visiting parties of holidaymakers, cooking and serving meals and snacks throughout the day.
Being a chalet host involves a range of activities. Common tasks would include meeting and greeting guests on their first day, when they arrive. Preparing hot food and snacks is a big part of the job, as is serving the food and drinks. After this comes the washing up, clearing tables and setting places for the next meal, and during the week it is necessary to keep the living areas and bedrooms clean, change bedding, hoover and tidy. Additional help for the guests may be required, with childcare facilities for example.
Chalet hosting is not very well paid but many people are keen to do the job because it covers transport, accommodation and basic living costs and allows them to go skiing during their hours off. Pay depends on whether food, drink and a ski pass for the season is included in the employee's package, and, when this is the case, companies simply pay their staff a small weekly allowance of up to £100 - other packages which include fewer helping costs vary accordingly. An important source of extra money is tips, which can significantly increase these earnings, depending on the size of the party and the service they are receiving.
Chalet hosts aim to make their guests' stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible by removing all their basic duties and allowing them to concentrate on skiing and having a good time. As with other hospitality roles, it is important to consider the needs and wants of individual guests and parties in order to make things run smoothly, including:
- Catering for children and special dietary requirements
- Working in pairs with other hosts, helping each other to deliver the required level of service
- Acting as the public face of a particular tour company to be personable, presentable and courteous to guests
- Liaising with senior representatives and managers
QualificationsIt is possible to become a chalet host without specific formal qualifications, although employers will look for evidence of experience with customer service, hospitality, and other related employment, such as catering, hotel or bar work, is also desirable. However, many young and relatively inexperienced workers are taken on without a track record, on the basis of energy, commitment and enthusiasm. Some companies require hosts to undertake a basic cookery course, covering simple, tasty recipes which appear in the chalet cookbooks. These may be chargeable but the cost is often waived after satisfactory completion of a season or half season.
SkillsBeing a chalet host requires a range of skills, including:
- Stamina and enthusiasm
- A friendly personality
- Basic cooking and meal planning ability
- A willingness to work long hours
- Patience and flexibility
- The ability to live and work away from home
Working conditions are generally safe and comfortable, although cold weather can be expected outside the chalets and this means the usual winter hazards of ice and snow. Hours may be long, with only one day off a week, and there will be many early starts and late finishes, especially on Saturdays, which are change-over days in resorts, but a "work hard, play hard" mentality is the usual means of enduring these hardships.
Experience is desirable but not essential. Having done a season before shows an employer that you have the staying power and commitment that they want. In the absence of experience, however, energy and personable character stand in its stead, and evidence of previous employment utilising similar skills or levels of commitment will be acceptable. Interviews may be important in deciding a candidate's suitability, and individuals may be asked to bring a piece of food or a snack to show they have some basic ability.
EmployersThere are a number of major tour operators which run catered chalets in resorts around the world. Some of the largest include:
These companies find workers in the UK in the run-up to the winter season then send them out to their chalets at the start of the season or, in some cases, in January.
There is no strict career path that follows chalet hosting as many see it as a gap-year activity or casual employment but there are a number of possible ways to take the work further. Obvious options include further work in a travel agency, either as a rep or chalet manager, and work in hotels or tourism in general.