Ski reps' days off raise concerns

At Monday's inquest into the death of skier Stephen Gladman, who fell into a snow hollow while skiing at the French resort of La Plagne in February 2007, it was said that on the day of the accident none of the resort employees of Thomson – the company with which Mr Gladman and his family had travelled – were working. Apparently, they had all taken the day off.

In other businesses this might indicate a dereliction of duty, or simple bad management. But giving all chalet staff a day off at the same time is normal practice for UK ski tour operators, and a tradition enjoyed by seasonal ski workers. Since the weekend is the busiest time in the resorts, no one gets time off on Saturdays or Sundays. But in midweek, once the clients are settled in, the tour operators give staff the chance to indulge in what they came to the mountains for: skiing. The day off is usually Wednesday, sometimes Tuesday.

On the chosen day, guests get breakfast in their chalet but no evening meal; having been warned in advance, they know they will have to fend for themselves. The staff get the opportunity to ski and socialise, not just with their workmates but, crucially, with other seasonal workers in the resort. From an area manager's point of view this is good as it maintains the morale of employees who are not well paid. And for company accountants, the communal day-off is absolutely essential. Without it, working-time regulations would demand the employment of additional staff.

But this all applies to chalet staff, who are stuck in a daily routine. Things are different for resort "reps". Their primary task is customer care: herding guests on to coaches, enforcing jollity, selling holiday add-ons, and so on. Their hours are irregular and, under normal circumstances, having a defined day off may not be appropriate or necessary. If they succumb to the temptation to join in when their workmates are all out having a good time, there should be no problem – provided they keep their mobile switched on and focus on guests' needs.

The other thing that emerged from the inquest should really be no more surprising to observant skiers than the staff day off. Mr Gladman's body was finally found after the electronic record of the use of his ski pass was examined, revealing where his final descent began. Of course we know how data storage works; nevertheless it is somewhat dismaying that Big Brother doesn't take a day off even when we are skiing.

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