1 October 2019 from Nikki in General

Having once held the job title of chalet girl, a few years back now, I decided to find out what has changed and what has not since those rather hazy days working for a well-known low cost ski holiday tour operator in Val d’Isère! Apparently not much has changed apart from the size of the skis you use AND the tips you get! Read on to find out more about life as a chalet girl – whether you’re mother of one or would like to be one in the future, you’ll find out everything you wanted (or not) to know… To be taken with a pinch of salt of course – just like Tequilla you’ll be downing every night...

So how were chalet girls born?

The first chalet girls appeared in the 1960s when British aristocrats could no longer afford to take their staff on a ski holiday with them. However, the idea of getting messy cooking or having to make beds was just quite simply out of the question! To get round this annoying problem staff, who were already on-site, were hired at very reasonable rates to cook, do the housework and run errands! It’s intriguing that hardly any other nation of skiers and/or snowboarders uses this kind of service regularly – but then I personally can’t imagine a French family ever admitting to having paid an English woman to cook for them! It’s another one of those “English things” that people from other countries just don’t get! “Home from home” – porridge and a full English breakfast to start off the day is what most Brit skiers want on their ski holiday – other European winter sports fans prefer unusual foreign food served with a foreign accent! By the way, chalet girls are not always girls – they can sometimes be boys too, or maybe even a couple when there’s enough work for two in the larger chalets!

Chalet in Val Thorens
Not a bad place to spend your winter!

What kind of girl becomes a chalet girl?

When I met a few chalet girls in ski resorts last season, it’s clear that this job still appeals to young women from all walks of life looking for a way to do some free skiing! There are some girls who are a just bit lost and want to fill 6 months while deciding what to do next and then there are the determined students waiting to start University who want to relax and have fun for a while but who won’t quite allow themselves a whole YEAR out!

Essential advice for future chalet girls…

Who should I work for?? This is an essential question to answer before sending any CVs out… Well, the answer is, it all depends what you want to get out of the experience – big tips and useful contacts or hours of free skiing and having fun? For the big tips and the networking you need to send CVs to the top-end luxury chalet companies making sure you don’t lie about your cooking talents – a delicious, home-cooked lasagna is not what they are looking for! If you choose this option, be aware that you’ll have about 5 minutes free each day and one “day off” a week! If you’re prepared to work for hours on end with the hope of meeting a rich young man who falls in love with you, whisking you away from scrubbing floors and making organic yoghurts from local goats milk – this is the option for you! Isn’t there a fairy tale that goes something like that??

If you love skiing then being a chalet girl might be the right job for you!

Get paid to go skiing!

Personally, I would say the most fulfilling way to “do a season” is to work for a low budget tour operator. Why? Well, because if you do a good enough job that your clients are not phoning your manager every day to complain, then no-one will pay much attention to you and you’ll have a lot of freedom. Your resort manager will be too busy chasing after the lazy chalet girls who never get up on time, claimed they could cook but can’t even boil an egg and serve dinner looking like something the cat dragged in, to notice what you’re up to so you basically get paid to go skiing every day!

What can a chalet girl expect to earn?

Be aware, you will be paid peanuts - in both cases! When I say peanuts, I mean just about the tiniest salary you could imagine – €100 or maybe up to €120 a week if you’re lucky! BUT, you get to keep your tips (maybe as much as €300 a week if you’re in a large chalet), you get free lodging (OK, a single bed somewhere in the resort), food and a season ski pass - which is almost like the holy grail! On top of all of that, you often get free ski and/or snowboard hire for the season and once you get to know a few faces in the resort, free entrance to the nightclubs and few free drinks become part of the deal too! A lot of people (especially parents of young chalet girls) think that the tour operators exploit their staff, but it depends how you look at things! When you think about how expensive a week’s ski holiday can be it seems a pretty win-win situation to me!

Apres-ski at the Mooserwirt in St. Anton
Side perks of being a chalet girl

Not for the faint-hearted!

Unfortunately, as in many situations, a few individuals can spoil things for everyone! Because of this, chalet girls, in general, have a rather dubious reputation! Never ask a barmaid who works in a ski resort bar what she thinks of chalet girls as her answer might shock you a little! In some ski resorts there are actually awards given at the end of the season for the "most popular" chalet girl, and a special day when the girls run around half naked and pose for photographs! I’d like to point out that these activities are not a compulsory part of the deal! However, to be a good chalet girl, you need to have a strong character, know how to politely ward off a client’s wandering hand and to be rather thick-skinned as some people’s comments can be a bit cruel! If you do decide to take the second option and you just want to ski and have fun, make sure you respect certain limits and remember you are still an employee of a large company with a reputation to upkeep! If not, you’ll soon find yourself with a verbal warning, a couple of written ones and your season could end rather abruptly! Tour operators are not very tolerant as their reputation is on the line and the list of alternative candidates is endless!

A typical day in the life of a chalet girl

  • 6.00am – Get up, take a shower, get dressed, bang on your colleague’s doors to make sure they wake up and don’t lose their job
  • 6.45am – Walk to chalet picking up fresh bread and pastries on the way - this is one of the best parts of the day as the sun is rising behind the snowy peaks and you have the resort to yourself – magical!
  • 7.00am – Prepare breakfast - if you’re lucky just porridge, cereal, fresh bread and pastries and not a full English! Make a quick cake and pop it in the oven for afternoon tea… Set the table and get the coffee and tea on the go… oh, and clear up any after dinner debris from the night before
  • 8.00am – Brightly greet your puffy-faced guests as they stumble in for breakfast… serve breakfast while responding to the various different demands your clients are sure to have… oh and don’t forget the cake of course, you don’t want to have to start again and lose valuable skiing time!!
  • 8.30am – While your clients are tucking into breakfast, run round the chalet tidying up, quickly making beds, rinsing showers, sinks and baths, etc…
  • 9.30am – If you’re lucky to have keen skiers in your chalet, by this time, you should have the place to yourself and you can clear up and lay the table for afternoon tea in peace
  • 10.00am – Lock up your chalet and hit the slopes
  • 5.00pm – Take a quick shower and change after a fun day of skiing with friends, and stop by the local shop to pick up a couple of bits you need for dinner
  • 6.00pm – Back to your chalet, get dinner on the go (usually 3 courses are expected), clear up afternoon tea and set the table for dinner
  • 7.30pm – Serve drinks and nibbles
  • 8.00pm – Serve your 3 course meal
  • 9.30pm – Once everyone has finished eating, serve coffee and after-dinner drinks, get the dishwasher on and while wishing everyone a nice evening, get your boots on and get out of there… the rest of the night is yours – cinema, drinking games in the local bar or a quiet night in with a good book…

The above description is, of course, just a rough guideline! You can well imagine that if you decide to take the first option above and work for a luxury chalet company, a typical day will be quite different! Your time will be filled making freshly-squeezed juice, full English breakfasts, gourmet picnic hampers, SERVING afternoon tea, and preparing a gastronomic 4-course meal with home made canapés… You will be expected to clean your chalet from top to bottom every day, with beds made with hospital corners and bathrooms sparkling clean …You’re beginning to get the picture aren’t you?? You will, however, be in charge of a chalet that looks something like this!!

alpine chalet
Alpine chalet

Get your head around the numbers!

Oh, I forgot to mention that you are generally in charge of your chalet and this includes managing the week’s shopping and budget! This and change-over day are the most time-consuming and tiring parts of this job! However, once you’ve got the hang of things, you’ll be doing all of this with your eyes closed!

Luck of the draw!

What will the guests be like? Of course you might think that the type of guest you will have depends on who you work for but it doesn’t necessarily work that way – the richer ones are not always the nicer guests! You could have anyone from large families, or mixed groups with families that don’t know each other (meaning you may have to do some hosting to break the ice at first), groups of young women or men on stag or hen holidays, groups of serious sporty types or older couples! My first ever guest was a travel journalist who was on holiday with his family to do a report on chalet holidays with the family!! No pressure of course!! Everything after that was just a walk in the snow!!

Chalet girls on the red carpet

A few years ago, chalet girls received star status when the film, with the original name “Chalet Girl”, starring Bill Nighy and Felicity Jones, was released. This rather predictable film is about a working-class girl who falls in love with one of her posh guests in her chalet and then wins an international snowboarding competition and his heart at the same time! Although not an Oscar winner, this film does actually give merit to chalet girls and shows them as a breed of strong young women who know what they want and get it too!

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Being lucky enough to have parents who were crazy about skiing, my love for the mountains started when I was 4 years old on our first family ski holiday to Austrian ski resort of Obergurl. One ski holiday a year was never enough and tears rolled down my face as I looked out the back window of the car on the drive down the valley on the way home!