Two chalet boys in Verbier give an insight into their job – from cleaning chores to topless table service.
The release of the film ‘Chalet Girl’ this week may have put the spotlight on the armies of young women cooking and cleaning in resorts across the Alps, but one trend has attracted less coverage – the growing number of chalet boys. James Bedding talks to two who have been working the season in Verbier.
Sam Playfair, aged 21, is from Poole in Dorset. He is taking a year out from a degree in biomedicine at UEA in Norwich, and will return for two years this autumn.
Oli Jones, aged 23, is from Malvern in Worcestershire. He graduated last summer in Earth Sciences from Durham. He is weighing up whether to join a graduate training scheme in London or continue studying.
On chalet boys vs chalet girls
Sam There’s lots of friendly rivalry with staff at other chalets. We’re always bantering about who’s best.
Sam When we get the feedback forms, or when we get tips, we always compare how much we get.
Oli Some guests ask why there aren’t any female staff. But we share a room, so we can’t have boys and girls.
Sam Most people, I imagine, think a girl is going to be more caring.
Oli When we first meet the guests, sometimes I say to myself: I bet they’re thinking – it’s three lads…
Sam … they’re only out here for the piss-up.
Oli Whereas if they saw charming young girls, they might think: ah, they are going to look after us well.
Sam Sometimes guests are a bit stand-offish, but as soon as they get to know you – it only takes about a day – they are so much nicer.
Oli You can tell when people have been on a chalet holiday before, though, because they are more friendly.
Sam They’ll stack plates, and stuff. They are thinking: I’ll try to help this person out – rather than just, I’m eating my meal, and this machine is coming behind me to take my plate away. It’s very good to hear a thank-you.
Oli You really do appreciate it.
On becoming more eligible
Sam The main reason I wanted to do a season – apart from skiing – is cooking. Helping out every day, serving three-course dinners, you’re obviously going to improve a lot. It’s life skills, isn’t it? We have these great recipes we do like chorizo pork and banana tarte tatin – they’re really easy to do but they’re delicious.
Oli I told my mum I’ve been cooking, and I think she’s looking forward to me being back, seeing what my cooking’s like, while I’m applying for jobs.
Sam It’s the same with girls – you tell, them, and they say: ooh, you’re going to cook me a meal, then?
Oli And we can actually do it now!
Oli We generally get up between seven and half seven, and serve hot breakfast from 8 to 9.
Sam As soon as guests have left the dining room, we eat our own breakfast – and chill out for five minutes. It’s the only time we get to sit down together and relax.
Oli When the guests have left the chalet, we start cleaning and prepping [preparing dishes] for the evening.
Oli We tried to work out the quickest way to get it all done, and done well, and that was to each have set roles, so we don’t get in the way of each other. I do most of the clearing up and washing up…
Sam … and I make the beds, clean the bathrooms. Then we hoover the foyer and lounge, and set up afternoon tea.
Oli Then it’s a matter of finishing up in the kitchen, prepping the dinner – and we’re done until 5.30, 6.
Sam We normally serve dinner at 7.30, so in the time in between, we’ve got to lay the table, set the room up, finish preparing the food…
Oli After dinner, it’s just cleaning the kitchen. Sam And a lot of washing up. And then you’ve got to set the table up for breakfast the next day.
Sam The first week, we didn’t have a break at all. We woke up at 7, and weren’t finishing until half-past midnight. Now, when we go really fast, we can get five, six hours off during the day.
On lack of sleep
Sam Wednesday’s the day off, so we have a big night out on Tuesday. And we normally have a big night out Wednesday, as well.
Oli And Monday. I’d say the most regular nights are Monday, Saturday, Wednesday, Tuesday.
Sam And Thursday. We don’t get a lot of sleep. I’d say on average, we get about four hours a night. That’s a good night, four hours. I’ve never had such a long period in my life with so little sleep. At uni, you sleep all day, you sleep all the time. But here, you do just as much partying if not more, stay out later…
Oli … but you don’t have the option to not work.
Sam You have to be up at seven. It’s character-building, it’s good experience to just have to be up.
Oli Skiing in the afternoon really helps. It’s the best way to wake up.
Sam It’s just getting out there, though. When you’re here, and you’re knackered, and you go into your room, and you lie down on your bed, you just want to sleep.
Oli The room downstairs is a bit like a dungeon. Once you’re in there, and there’s no natural light, it’s so easy to just forget that it’s nice and sunny outside, just lose all motivation and go back to bed.
Sam One of us is usually more motivated than the others, so they encourage them along.
Oli It’s strange how much time we must have spent together, as a group. We work together, go out together, we share a bedroom – there’s three of us in the room – almost no time apart. We’re very lucky to not get on each other’s nerves.
Sam So basically, we work lots, and don’t ever sleep!
Transfer day hell
Sam On Saturday we wake up at 4.30, the guests leave at 5.30, so we’ve got from then until 11, when the guests arrive, to completely turn the chalet around. We’ve got to get all the sheets changed, all the rooms hoovered, everything has to be immaculate, windows polished, hot tub cleaned, kitchen cleaned, dinner prepped…
Oli …and there needs to be afternoon tea for when they arrive.
Sam At the start of the season, we were doing 19 hours straight.
Oli Now we’re used to it, there’ll generally be a gap when we can have two hours off, from when the guests have arrived and settled in until we have to go back into the kitchen. But some weeks we have self-drives, and they arrive staggered throughout the day, so you’ve got to be ready the whole time. So it’s 19 hours non-stop.
On unusual client requests
Sam We had this one group that took the whole chalet. There were about three couples, and a little kid, and the rest were gay men. Really, really keen drinkers.
Oli They convinced us to serve topless one night. So we came out, serving the meal with our shirts off, and they went wild. It was funny – and we didn’t mind at all.
Sam They had brought speakers and put them in the lounge, and had clubbing tunes on the whole time. They were dancing on the tables, taking photos, us with our tops off…
Oli … and forcing so much drink down our necks.
Sam I was serving that night, every time I came out, someone would pour a quadruple vodka or glass of wine into my mouth. It was such a good night. Then we got the guitar out afterwards, and serenaded them, the two of us…
Oli … a formal concert in the lounge.
Sam But every evening they were in the lounge, just going wild. That week, we were like part of the group. We spent the whole week with them, we went out with them, we drank with them in the evenings. It was like having our friends staying.
- Sam and Oli are working as part of a team at Mont aux Sources, a 22-bed chalet run by Skiworld (08444 930 430; www.skiworld.ltd.uk).
- Further general travel information: the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the Verbier tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
- Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch)