The chalet girl has snagged quite the reputation from ski seasons past. So much so that I feel it necessary to jump to her defence with a little reminder that it's not all lustful trysts, lemon drizzle cake, hot tubs and toffee vodka-fuelled escapades in a life lived at altitude. The demanding slog of running your own chalet whilst catering for up to 20 people a pop sorts the prima donna bums from the alpine Cinderellas pretty sharpishly. A combination of broken legs, sprained wrists, one too many sleep-ins and over-doing it on booze and members of the opposite sex mean many get shipped home prematurely.
But it's an addictive lifestyle getting to ditch the nine-to-five routine for blue skies, fresh powder days and off-piste thrills. Of course, the work hard/play hard mentality that co-exists in these snow-capped playgrounds can all too soon result in mid-season blues as the eating, sleeping, working and playing alongside the same faces 24/7 means cabin fever kicks in with unrelenting force as the outside world struggles to penetrate the scenic bubble. People have a knack of making or breaking our experiences and having played the chalet girl role for four winters in Les Tois Vallee (Courchevel if we're being specific), I feel somewhat qualified in commenting on a handful of characters I encountered in the winter wonderland otherwise known as the French Alps.
Let me begin by introducing the loud, dominating tribe referred to as Seasonaires. These guys fundamentally understand the difference between a ski season and a ski holiday - that is, primarily having the luxury to miss a day (or week) on the slopes should conditions be less than favourable. This is a privilege they repeatedly remind themselves of when shovelling snow at -20 degrees or whilst spending the morning cleaning toilets. Decked out in the boldest, eye-catching attire the average seasonaire splits their time between the snow park and the bar while indulging the senses with healthy dollops of eye candy. Despite the inflated ego and show-off tendencies however, the seasonaire shares a massive affinity with the deep silence of the mountain and humbly appreciates their current lot in life.
While Aspen boasts of celebrity blow-ins (see Rhianna most recently), Courchevel plays host to the Russian oligarch who careens around perfecting their ski technique in Lacroix gold and diamond encrusted Ultime skis and Gucci goggles. Opulence is the name of the game where these guys are concerned and given Courchevel's very own Altiport to accommodate private planes along with its Michelin starred restaurants and state of the art chalets, it stands as the quintessential backdrop catering to the magnate's every whim. Being noticed on the slopes is as equally important as their ski performance so the blinding glare of the sun reflecting of the snow is more likely the coruscation of their diamond-gilded gear.
As you make your way from the piste to the bar the likelihood is that the Après ski beer monster is already in full swing. Goggles sit artfully strapped to his head, jug of Mutzig in hand and ski pants shimmying precariously low, this good-time-lovin' champ spends his days in a hung-over fog navigating his way through the snowy terrain with one eye on the piste and the other on Happy Hour lookout. Things are never dull when this guy hits his stride and the walls sweat and sway in beat to the frenzied crowd. Word to the wise - stay alert to the impromptu belching from the chair lift the following day.
Finally, since budget skiing is no longer a laughable oxymoron, family deals mean a much scarier breed to the lively beer cohorts have descended on the mountain: the ski-school kids. These fearsome whippersnappers snake their way down the piste, to shouts of "bend ze knees" from their instructors, oblivious to the trail of terror and destruction they leave in their snow-ploughing wake. Mum, Dad and friends, meanwhile, are off racing each other down couloirs in between their boozy pit stops.
And there you have it! So while the beer-fiend props up the bar; the oligarch entertains his current squeeze and the nanny mob pick the remains of last night's mascara from their crusty eyes, the chalet girl cracks on with the beef bourguignon whilst simultaneously dodging the unprompted advances of the chalet's male contingent fired up on the free-flowing red wine. She is a hero so to speak. She keeps the log-fires burning, the chalet spik and span, her guests fed and watered all the while listening attentively to all the inflated tales of ski artistry with a knowing smile. She could be forgiven therefore for the sometimes-questionable antics she's often accused of and the dreaded CBB (Chalet Big Bum) she might develop. But then again, it could be that I'm simply biased.