A personal experience – Leigh (UK)

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Being able to spend the winter season in the mountains was exactly what I’d had in mind for my gap year between ‘A’ levels and university.  Being a skier I couldn’t wait to arrive and get started.  The journey was quite a long one for me after spending a night in Luton Airport and another in Frutigen after arriving a day too early!  Just on arriving in Frutigen though I could see the mountains and I knew that I’d be happy living in them for three months.

Arrival…

I was the first of the winter volunteers to arrive and I was shown to my room in Stöckli where I started to unpack and waited for the  others to arrive. By the end of the day the other five volunteers and the new programme manager had all arrived.  We sat around for a while telling each other about our lives and families mainly and I went for my first of many walks with Kathryn (Canada) and Margrethe (Denmark), who was also to be my room mate for three months. There was then a welcome party in Squirrel House.

Getting started…

Training started the next day and I began to learn more about what my time at Our Chalet would involve. Our team began to build and everyone was working really well together. What I was most looking forward to was the arrival of our first guests just after Christmas.

However, we got to experience the nature of the Chalet before the arrival of our first guests. As a tradition, each year, the Chalet holds a Christmas party for its neighbours. We started work preparing the Chalet for the arrival of the visitors; getting the place really clean and ready to show off the new work that had been done on it, making cakes and biscuits, decorating and, of course, rehearsing our introductions in German and our Christmas song that we would be singing.  The whole evening went very well and the whole spirit of the Chalet was there. We were all wearing our new uniforms and we really looked and felt like a team.

Memorable moments…

Christmas and New Year were some of the most memorable times I had at Our Chalet. Christmas was spent with just the staff – it was great for us all to spend the day together. I skied in the morning with Margrethe and came back to a wonderful Christmas lunch cooked by the others. We did a ’secret santa’ gift exchange so everyone got a surprise on the day. It was a fantastic day.

At New Year, the Chalet was full.  With around 80 guests we were kept busy but again the whole time was really fun. New Year’s Eve was great. With a disco for the children and a huge bonfire by the flag pole at midnight everyone was really happy and celebrated 2002 in a way that will probably never be forgotten.  The evening ended at 4am and I was up again at 7am the next day to do breakfast. There wasn’t chance for the tiredness to catch up!!

Skiing!!!!…

For me skiing was a major part of the reason I wanted to go to Our Chalet for the winter season in the first place. Just the thought of living in the mountains for three months and being able to ski on snow for more than one week a year made me happy. When I found out that I had a chance of getting a Ski Guiding qualification whilst staying at the Chalet, I put my all into it. I also learnt a lot about my own skiing and was really pleased when I found out that I had passed the course and would be able to take guests out to ski on the mountain.

This for me was an ideal situation, not only did I get to ski on my days off but I got to ski as part of my job.  It was a real sense of achievement when you realised that you’d taken a guest to somewhere new and enabled them to achieve something new. The thanks that you got from them at the end of the day made it all very worthwhile. One of the best days at the Chalet was when, after morning chores, the skiers were told that we could go to Entsligenalp for the afternoon to familiarise ourselves with the area.  The snow was great and the sun was shining…

And the rest…

Of course, skiing wasn’t the only ‘work’ I had to do. As well as the cleaning, we got experience in the shop and the new bar, as well as such things as shovelling snow (sometimes lots of it) and chipping ice!  I also got the chance to show some day visitors around Our Chalet. When they commented on how clean the Chalet was and you could see how inetersted they were in what you were telling them, it again made you feel proud to be staff at Our Chalet.

There were also many new experiences for me. When we were between cooks we each got the opportunity to cook for the guests. Gluten-free bread was also something that I attempted.  The bread raised the thought that trying is sometimes more important than the outcome at the end!! I also tried new things like eisstockschiessen (like bowls on ice) and cross country skiing.

Guests…

The guests were a major part of making my time at Our Chalet the way it was. Sometimes you’d get on so well with the guests that you’d ski with them on your day off and you’d be sad to see them leave. Attending programme alongside guests and helping to run the programme for guests was also a fun part of time at the Chalet. Visits to Hoehliebe and the Wildtrubel for drinks and ice-cream were always popular and campfire really brought everyone (guests and staff) together.

Special sessions…

During my time at Our Chalet there were some quite special sessions. The Juliette Low Seminar was held for ten days. As well as trying to make the time for them enjoyable and memorable it was also a great week for me as staff. It was very hard work but it really paid off. We got to experience a Swiss evening involving a Swiss music group, an alphorm player, raclette (a swiss cheese dish) and the local woodcarver. They also held an International evening where they all wore their national costume and cooked dishes from their countries. They put on a huge spread and entertained everyone for the whole evening. We got the chance to mingle with people from all over the world, something that would be hard to do anywhere else I’m sure!

Thinking Day was also special. We sent greetings to friends and family all over the world, had a lovely buffet meal in the evening, renewed promises and had an indoor campfire to round off the evening. In the lead-up to Thinking Day, the Chalet had been receiving greetings from people all over the world whom I got to reply to and send greetings from Our Chalet.

The town and community…

As time went by, it was nice to realise that people in the town were beginning to know who you were. It was also great to be able to get involved with things happening in the town.  We attended a concert at Adelboden church and a church service in Boden that the local school children played a major part in.

One of the highlights of my time at the Chalet was being able to stand right next to the World Cup ski run and watch the skiers as they came down. The whole day had a great atmosphere and it was fantastic to think that people would be watching at home but that you got to witness it all.

I also got the opportunity to do some work at a local ski race day. It was pouring with rain (even at the top of the mountain) and it was freezing cold but I had a wonderful day being involved with local people to make the day a success.

The end drew near…

The new volunteers arrived and we helped to teach them all about what we had been doing during our three months at Our Chalet. Our last week together flew by and we were soon saying goodbye to each other at the bus stop. It wasn’t a sad day, as people were going on to other exciting things, but there was a feeling that you were saying goodbye to very good friends.

And so…

My time at Our Chalet was hard work. There was sickness and health, sadness and happiness but I can honestly say that it was a fantastic three months.

As we looked back, we could see how much our system of work had improved, how many different people we had met and how well we had all got to know each other in what was really such a short space of time. For guests to fill in such positive evaluation forms and write such lovely things in the guest book it really made everything I did at the Chalet worthwhile.

I had a great three months working at Our Chalet and I would definitely consider coming back here with friends to ski in the future.

Leigh Paley (UK)
Winter volunteer, 2001/2

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