...but someone has to do it

Sue Wheat meets three people who make a living by, and for, skiing
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The Independent Travel
They think it's all over, or at least it soon will be. Though the prospects for Easter look good, most northern hemisphere skiers are awaiting the thaw and a long, warm wait until next season. Yet for some people a week a year is just not enough. They make a living by, and for, skiing.

THE INSTRUCTOR

Diane Henderson

Diane went out to San Carlos de Bariloche in southern Argentina as a nurse, doing night shifts so she could ski by day. But the pull of the mountains was too much and she exchanged tending those who had injured themselves skiing to trying to prevent them from having to go to hospital at all - by becoming a ski instructor. "I did a local guides course to learn about the area, and when I got fed up with nursing, someone suggested I use my guiding skills as a ski instructor. So I spent a season teaching South American kids aged between two and nine how to handle having sliding feet."

"It's hard work, but great fun. The first class is at 9am and you usually have six or seven people. In the busy season, you probably have half an hour for lunch and go back to teaching again until about 4.30pm. In the evening, you join other instructors or skiers you've met. It's really sociable, but you have to remember you're a professional, too - you can't go too mad or you'd never be able to get on the slopes in the morning."

For enthusiasts who can't bear the thought of packing their skis away for summer, South America is the ideal place as the season starts just after Europe's ends. "A lot of ski teams from the northern hemisphere train here, but it's less well known for Europeans, many of whom want a summer holiday in the summer. The atmosphere is different - Latin Americans definitely have more fun."

THE OPERATOR

Debbie Marshall

Your run to the slopes could start in Surbiton, the home of Crystal Holidays - where every day is focused, snowflake sharp, on winter. Debbie Marshall started working with Crystal Holidays seven years ago, when the company just had one chalet in France. Now she is programme director for France - Crystal Holidays' biggest destination. The company now takes 90,000 people skiing a year to France, Austria, North America and Italy.

"Each winter season starts as soon as the previous season ends," explains Debbie. "After the winter, we start recruiting for the next season and hire about 300 staff as reps, resort managers, chalet girls, chefs, nannies, maintenance people and head office staff. Almost all staff recruited are British but they need to speak French, ski proficiently and have the right kind of personality for the job - you could say they're our ambassadors."

"The contracting programme starts in December until the end of the season, contracting chalets, apartments and hotels; at the same time, we start brochure production. Our first brochure will be out in two weeks, and there are two more editions through the year. Before the season starts, there is a massive training course for everyone we've recruited, then the first arrivals come in the first week of December. We have a few quiet weeks, then Christmas and New Year, which are enormous."

Courchevel is proving the most popular French resort, followed by Meribel and La Plagne, and the nuclear tests in the Pacific don't seem to have prompted clients to give France a miss. "The main problem seems to be the franc at the moment, rather than the nuclear testing," explains Debbie, "but people who really love good skiing will always go to France."

THE CHALET GIRL

Bridget Collyer

If you spent the winter cooking, cleaning, mothering in a surrogate fashion and being an all-round good egg, you might be counting the days until the season ends. But Bridget Collyer doesn't regret being any of those things.

She was recruited by Bladon Lines to work in Verbier, an upmarket and lively resort in Switzerland. "Basically, I was hostessing a week-long house party every week. It's a really special week for everyone - it's their holiday, they've saved up for it, they love skiing and they probably want to party as well."- so it has to be good

"A day in my life as a chalet girl meant being up at 6.30am with the five other chalet girls I lived with and walking to the chalet via the bread shop. Then I'd cook breakfast, make the packed lunches while everyone was eating and bake a cake or biscuits for afternoon tea. After that, I'd wave them off on their day's skiing, making sure no one had forgotten their ski pass, and tidy the chalet. I'd go skiing from about 11.30am until 4pm and then go back to give them afternoon tea, and prepare the evening meal - which had to be good. Then I'd go back to my apartment for a while, and later back to the chalet to cook and serve the three- course dinner. It was a party every evening - every chalet had unlimited wine included in the price."

Was there nothing she didn't like about making endless home-made cookies, drinking unlimited free alcohol, skiing five hours a day, one of the most beautiful resorts in the world and meeting hundreds of people her own age? "No" says Bridget. "I loved it - it was the best job I've ever had."

Photographs: Colin McKillop, Geraint Lewis, Kalpesh Lathigro

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