Winter came to La Clusaz earlier than usual this year, with enough snow at La Balme for the ski lifts to open for the past few weekends. These sheep in Saint Jean de Sixt were caught in deep snow in mid-November, and the farmer had to relocate them to a less snowy area. The icicles have started to build on anything from drain pipes to trees.
All of these events signal the start of chaos.
On the opening weekend, the carpark at La Balme was overflowing by 9.30, with locals excited about getting their skis and snowboards out. I was one of them. I joined the queues for the ski lifts and put up with the crowded pistes and food outlets just to enjoy a bit of snow under my skis. At the end of the day, I joined the snaking queue of cars waiting to leave the resort.
We all repeated this pilgrimage last weekend. Two weekends of queues and freezing cold weather just to enjoy sliding down some frozen water. With only a little fresh snow falling between the two weekends, there were loads more rocks both on and off the piste last weekend, and I think my skis found them all.
So why do the locals do this when there’s the whole winter in front of us? Before I lived in a ski resort, I imagined that the residents would be skiing every day because they can: it’s what I did whenever I went on holiday to a ski resort.
Living in a ski resort is a bit like having the lure of a ski holiday right in front of you all the time with a giant glass wall (called life) in the way. Many resort workers work six days a week, and some don’t get any days off during the peak weeks. I’m one of the lucky ones; as a freelancer with limited involvement in the tourism industry, I have some freedom over the hours I work. However, I still need to earn enough money to cover my ski pass and new equipment as the old stuff wears out (partly thanks to those rocks on the piste!).
Working so hard leaves a lot of people too worn out (or sick!) to ski on their days off, or too busy catching up on personal errands to get to spend time skiing or snowboarding. By February, everyone has recovered from the Christmas rush and the cold/flu/vomiting viruses that came with the influx of guests. Then school holidays start, and by March, everyone is exhausted again. At this point, first-time sesaonaires are probably wondering why on earth they came. It’s a hard slog being a seasonaire, especially when you’re constantly reminded by the holiday makers about just how much fun can be had when on holiday in a ski resort.
Barring the Easter holidays, the end of March and all of April tend to be quiet, giving workers a chance to enjoy the warmer weather and late dumps of powder. Everyday life still lingers, so it’s never like a holiday, but that’s okay because there are enough BBQs and end-of-season parties to keep everyone from thinking about anything else too real.
However, we’ve only just hit December, so those warm months are a long way off.
If you have a ski holiday booked, spare a thought on Christmas day for all those people working 15-hour shifts in shops (yes, really) or standing by a chairlift out on the mountain in freezing temperatures, away from their family and home. Even if they’re living in a luxury ski resort, their Christmas is far from luxurious, and a simple smile goes a long way.
Will I be skiing next weekend before the Christmas rush? Definitely!