Julia Drake tells Dan Poole why a ski season exceeded all her expectations - and prepared her for university life

A lot of people who enjoy skiing find it difficult to go as often as they'd like, simply because it is so expensive. But, there are ways around this. Julia Drake, 24, did a ski season as a chalet girl at Méribel in the French Alps before university. Here, she tells us how, with a bit of hard work, you can have a great gap year picking up useful skills for your CV and hitting the slopes in the process!

What inspired you to be a chalet girl?

I'd been skiing four or five times with my family and developed a bit of a taste for it. My brother had also done a ski season in his gap year and I heard nothing but great things about it. I also enjoyed languages at school so I really wanted to live and work abroad.

When did you go?

I did the winter season of 2001 to 2002, which was the very beginning of December till the very end of April. It varies slightly on different resorts but that is essentially the season.

How did you arrange it?

I went to the British Ski and Snowboard Show at the NEC in Birmingham where I got in contact with the Ski Club of Great Britain, who have a list of every single ski company that exists. I went through that, picked out some of the names I knew and checked out which resorts they all worked at. I then sent off my CV with a covering letter and the Ski Company [now Descent International] got back to me!

What happened then?

If you're going for the standard chalet girl or boy job - where you're cooking, cleaning and taking care of the whole chalet - you're asked to provide a sample menu of what you would cook for the week. If they like that they then ask you back for an interview. I was actually quite late applying - in October - so it was the end of that month before I lined it up.

What did your typical day as a chalet girl involve?

My day started at about 7 o' clock. I had to go in, lay up for breakfast, then go and serve the guests tea and coffee in bed. I'd give them time to wake up and then the chef would come up and prepare the breakfast and I'd serve it. Then we'd try and get them out of the chalet as quickly as possible, as every chalet person wants to get out on the slopes.

Once the guests have gone you clean quickly and thoroughly as you can. I was usually able to get out of the chalet by about 10, apart from on changeover day when it was pretty much an all-day job. I could be on the slopes by 11 o' clock and then I'd have to be back at the chalet by 4 o' clock to light the fire and lay out afternoon tea and cakes. The guests would then usually have a shower and get changed and have canapés and Champagne. I'd lay out supper and then leave at six o' clock, which is when the chef took over for the evening meal.

Was the evening then yours to do what you wanted?

Totally mine, so that was perfect. That varies from company to company, but I think I was just incredibly lucky because most chalet people have to do the cooking as well, so they stay later.

Did the reality of the experience match your expectations?

It went far beyond them; better than I could ever have imagined. Everybody has their low points - you're thrown together with a group of people from all different walks of life and are expected to live and work with them, so it has its moments - but I have nothing but good memories from it.

Are there any skills you picked up that you took on into university?

It gave me a lot of confidence and taught me tolerance because you have to get on with people, so in that way it was really good preparation for university, living and socialising with people from all over the country.

Any advice or tips for would-be chalet boys or girls?

You have to be able to get up very early and be on spritely form. You have to take it seriously because you're essentially making or breaking somebody's holiday, but overall it's just a lot of fun!

For more information visit www.skiclub.co.uk and www.descent.co.uk