I loved the chaos of working a ski season – Brexit ruined the fun

Winters on the slopes featured bronchitis, bed bugs, an ice penis, and staff affairs

December 2, 2023 6:00 am(Updated 12:39 pm)

The Alps have always been my happy place. I spent three winters working in their ski resorts, and I remember those days fondly. But finding employment in the mountains is now nigh-on impossible, thanks to Brexit, which ended Britons’ right to live and work in the EU. This has had a swift impact on seasonaires.

The number of UK workers in the bloc fell by more than two thirds between 2017 and 2023, according to trade bodies Abta and Seasonal Businesses in Travel. Businesses must contend with bureaucracy and extra costs to hire British staff. As a result, some operators have switched from fully staffed ski hotels to self-catering apartments. It is a loss for young people who would otherwise gain skills, hardiness and memories on the slopes.

Life as a seasonaire was tough, but an absolute blast. When I go skiing now, I feel jealous as I catch workers with a familiar, bleary-eyed look that results from the first-world problem of balancing après-ski excesses with being first in line for the chairlift.

My fatigue was self-inflicted. A habit of leaping out of bed – no matter how bad my hangover – wasn’t motivated by a desire to serve guests. It allowed me to give rooms a quick spruce-up before hitting the slopes. I was paid just £40 week, but I got a free lift pass.

Some hotels had seen better days. In Tignes, France, I’d lug guests’ bags to their rooms, then flee before they saw the rust-caked bathtub.

Staff accommodation was worse. Once, I stayed in a basement room with cracked windows. I got bronchitis twice. The bartenders lived below me, in a dungeon-like network of rooms. But I still envied them, as they could ski all day. They excelled at guest satisfaction in untraditional ways. On one occasion, a co-worker stumbled across a barman in flagrante with a married holidaymaker.

At that hotel, the manager didn’t believe in customer service: he slashed the tyres of a guest’s car after they had dared to complain. His girlfriend was our equally terrifying assistant manager. After she sacked a much-loved kitchen assistant, we awoke to find a 200m-long penis shape carved into a frozen lake, alongside a rebuke to the dastardly duo.

There were other horror stories. In Courmayeur, Italy, I was a housekeeping assistant in a property resembling The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. My windowless room had bed bugs and the chef was an alcoholic.

I told head office about the state of things. They said I’d be transferred to the company’s hotel in Courchevel, France. Three days later, in the middle of a snowstorm, I was driven to a remote spot near the border with France and handed over to my new hotel manager as if it were a hostage swap.

Courchevel felt like Las Vegas after Courmayeur. The hotel was swanky, and there were organised pub crawls for seasonaires, weekly newsletters documenting our escapades (including who was sleeping with whom) and some seriously wealthy guests. One handed me a tip on his last day – a huge bag of weed. Thanks for the memories, Courchevel.