The chalet host is one of the most common and easily accessible roles within the ski industry, open to everyone regardless of age, experience and gender. If you have ever wanted to work in the mountains, enjoy cooking, interacting with people, and want to get some quality time on the slopes, this could be the start of your snow and ski season addiction.
Most roles within the ski industry will not give you the opportunity to earn a fortune but they do offer the chance to live the unique and unrivaled experience of working the entire
length of the ski season, which runs from the beginning of December until the end of April. If you have ever been on a ski holiday you will know that it is lucky to have one or two snowfalls in a week – and if this does happen, you need to be up early to find some fresh powder that has not been tracked before the second chair lift hits the mountaintop. The best thing about working a season is you end up with countless powder days and benefit from ‘local’ esoteric knowledge that allows you to avoid the crowds and hit your favourite powder stashes with your new found friends and colleagues again and again.
Resort-based roles can be demanding and being a chalet host is no different. The pay is just about enough to live on and the clients can be exhausting but you could get six days of boarding or skiing in each week and even 100 days of mountain time on your lift pass!
Both experienced seasonnaires and newcomers apply to be chalet hosts, as everyone has to start somewhere!
If you are a newcomer or have never been on a catered chalet skiing holiday then you may be asking yourself what a chalet host exactly does on a day to day basis; that is easiest to answer with a brief breakdown of an average day.
6.30am: Struggle out of bed and get to your chalet (the one you will run for at least eight guests when full) – breakfast needs to be made!
7.15am – 9am: Serve cooked breakfast to guests in preparation for their highly anticipated day on the slopes.
9am – 10.30am: Clean chalet and rooms, prepare a cake for afternoon tea (you will become an expert at packet preparation!) and do any prep needed for dinner.
11am – 3pm: Ski or ride your heart out and explore the mountains!
3pm – 4:30pm: Grab a few cheeky lemonades in an après ski bar.
5pm – 10:30pm: Prepare and serve a three course meal. Don’t panic, you usually get a recipe book to keep you company and send you in the right direction! There is also a training period at the start of the season that gives you a chance to hone your new culinary skills. Clear and clean up after dinner and prep for breakfast the following day.
11pm: Chill out watching snowboarding DVDs, rest up after partying too hard, or carry on the good times in a local bar with your pals, colleagues, and newfound friends.
With such a culinary job, it helps if you can hold your own in front of a stove, but you will undergo a training week at the start of the season and get a recipe book to guide you through the dishes. You do need to be reasonably organised and good at multi-tasking, as not only will there be breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner to cater for, you might have vegetarian guests needing separate meals. Then there are the guests themselves, who will always want to pick your brains for the best runs and hidden spots in resort. The above ‘average day’ is done six days a week and then you get a prized and hallowed day off! Woohoo! Resort workers treasure this valuable time and usually spent a full-day skiing or recovering.
As well as running the chalet, you will be responsible for shopping and keeping your larder well stocked, having your chalet budget in check (with a bonus at the end of the season if you come under or on budget) and occasionally entertaining the guests of an evening.
As a new recruit, you are likely to find yourself working in one of the larger European resorts with a good staff support network and expectations of clients and guests may be slightly lower. More experienced chalet hosts may get the chance to work in the USA or Canada where the clients can be more demanding, the required standard of service slightly higher, and the support of colleagues and managers more remote due to the size of the programme and the vast distances between resorts. An experienced Host might get a choice of resort if you continue to work for the same operator after successfully completing two or three seasons, or been involved in the initial set up and training of new recruits, but do not expect to double your wages in resort. Most companies offer financial incentives for returning staff but these will only buy you a few more beers each week, rather than make vast amounts of interest in an offshore account!
Chalet hosts can benefit from client tips: although the UK does not have a ‘tipping’ culture like our cousins over the Atlantic, most skiers and boarders on chalet holidays have adopted the habit. If your service levels and culinary skills are just what they need after a hard day on the slopes, then you can expect to be ‘tipped’ at the end of their stay. Good chalet hosts can make enough from this and not have to dip into their actual wages to support their chosen lifestyle in resort.
People can be employed as chalet hosts with little or no experience so do not be discouraged if it is something very new to you. The same applies to skiing/boarding experience: seasonal work attracts both complete novices (it is an ideal way to become a demon on the white stuff) and more experienced riders and skiers. Assuming you like an outdoor lifestyle and enjoy meeting and interacting with new people, then you can fully expect to have one of the best experiences of your life. A well-worn cliché is ‘there is no such thing as only working one season!’
Recruitment campaigns usually start around May/June and potentially earlier for the US and Canada. Visas are required for both countries: your employer will organise a H2B visa if you bag a job in the US; for Canada you need to arrange a BUNAC visa yourself. There is limited availability so check the Canadian Embassy website as soon as you know you want to work there.
UK nationals need no visas to work in Europe.
Chalet hosts are provided with accommodation (varying from cramped rooms to proper houses) and transfers to and from resort at the start and end of seasons, so all you need is the commitment to get going and do a good job!
Previous experience has great influence over the resorts you may work in. Only experienced chalet hosts usually get to work in exclusive resorts or properties, as clients expect a higher level of culinary expertise. First-timers may be considered if they have plenty of previous experience in catering or hospitality roles. The resorts with the best skiing or off-piste riding also pay the highest wages, so you can work towards being placed in one after you have proven your skills over a few seasons.