Belle de Neige (“Beautiful Snow”, if you didn’t take French) is a blog about what people who work at ski resorts get up to when they’re not fixing snow blades, or delivering après-ski drinks to Jemima Khan and whoever else goes on ski holidays. The writer just condensed a bunch of her blog posts into a book, so we asked her to condense her book back into a blog post. This is that.
I’ve been blogging about all the unpalatable shit people get up to on ski seasons for five years. And I’d say I’ve covered all the major bases: sex, ill-advised drug consumption, orgies, avalanches, immoral workplace behavior, rich delinquents, Russian prostitutes—everything you'd expect when you mix young people with high altitudes. So wrapping that all up into one snappy article should be easy, right? All I need to do is reel off a few anecdotes involving undignified sexual encounters as a result of British teens exporting British drinking culture, and I’m set.
But the problem is that I don’t want to start out like that, because perpetuating bullshit myths is boring. And because not everyone behind the scenes of Europe’s ski resorts are Harrovian drop-outs or braying packs of Hollister homeboys. In fact, many “seasonaires”—the word for people who work ski seaons up in the mountains—aren’t like that at all. Many of those I know are laborers or lost their jobs in the recession.
Ski resorts are often sanctuaries for misfits, mid-life crisis sufferers, and the odd dodgy guy with a big scar down his neck who, you suspect, probably can’t go home rather than won’t go home. Every one of them, just like me, is either running from something or towards something else. They move to the mountains because they’d rather live an existence that revolves around adrenaline and fresh morning powder than PS3 marathons and the kind of anonymous powders you buy off 30-year-old losers in parking lots.
Of course, it’s true that there are also plenty of gap-year vagrants who make ski seasons feel like a succession of back-to-back freshman orientation weeks—overexcited, rudderless 19-year-olds rolling out of school and rocking up in the Alps without a clue what they’re going to be doing for the next six months. Unable to clearly differentiate an ass from an elbow—let alone do an effective job of catering for holidaymakers—they spend the majority of their time doing stuff like drinking each other’s piss or jumping off roofs into snow drifts after 30 shots of Jägermeister.
Occasionally, events involving this sort of seasonaire start to take on a sinister edge. One girl I worked with got herself into a very nasty fix after she was filmed blowing a trio of guys (all in costumes) after the Christmas party. I know this because the video was broadcast by one of the perpetrators on a TV in a bar later that week. Of course, it was consensual and she only had herself to blame, but I couldn’t help feeling that it looked a bit like borderline gang rape. And who exactly, I wondered, was supposed to be looking out for her?
Stories like this fit the grand tradition of seasonaire life. For instance, there was another girl a few years before our Christmas party, Belladonna, whom staff had nicknamed “Harriet the Chariot.” She was a talented swimmer who’d once been groomed for Olympic duty, but had managed to escape her pushy mother and went off to work a season in a bar. By the end of her time there, she had slept with a total of 200 people, which—if I’ve got my math right—means she must have been having sex with roughly two different guys a day.
My own foray into the alpine abyss was triggered by a particularly hostile breakup, involving an engagement ring, a defaulted mortgage, and a gracious sprinkling of bankruptcy. I’d also only just got over the untimely death of my mother, who dropped dead suddenly from a heart attack when I was 21, and then my best friend bit it from a drug overdose.
It’s fair to say that I didn’t exactly touch down for my first season in the most self-possessed state of mind.
Conveniently enough, though, it turned out that a ski resort is the ideal location to get over all these issues—mostly by getting fucked in every sense of the word. For a while, I went on a one-woman rampage, spending most of my days either up to my armpits in soap-suds and other people’s pubic hair, having sex with stoned, broke teenagers on Tabasco-soaked mattresses, or careening down a mountain, fucked up on tranquilizers I’d pinched from one of my chalet guest’s bathroom cabinets.
This quickly descended into an amoral frenzy of bad behavior, which featured me cleaning toilets with my chalet guests’ toothbrushes, putting poop in their food as revenge for their rudeness, sinking vodka shots for breakfast, or doing a bunch of coke and driving seven-hour airport transfers.
In fact, more alarming episodes probably happened to me and those around me in that one season than throughout the rest of my life. I got buried up to my tits in snow after a roof slide, got pissed on by a paralytic French ski instructor, and nailed his friend off-piste in full view of a busy chair lift.
I gave numerous blow jobs in toilets and, on one occasion, woke up caked in my own vomit, naked in bed with a man I barely knew, and found a large piece of pink chewing gum stuck between my ass cheeks. Then there was the time I had a threesome in a $15,000-a-week chalet, reamed over an ottoman in nothing but ski boots and a beanie.
I should probably tell you about our guests. For a start, there was the vodka-saturated Ukrainian who let himself into the wrong chalet at four in the morning and got into bed with my guests’ eight-year-old son. This did not go down well—there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and screaming about pedophiles. Then there was the bachelor party—a bunch of guys who turned up with one of their “daughters” in tow, before offering their host, a wide-eyed 18-year-old girl from Devon, a line out of their huge bag of blow.
And, of course, there were the Latvian guests who turned up to my friend’s chalet with a couple of six-foot-tall, leather-clad prostitutes, looking like something out of a mid-90s pay-per-view. They had soon littered the entire building with condoms, leaving blood stains and cocaine all over the leather sofas and fucking in the sauna in full view of my friend. But he wasn’t complaining, particularly after they started having breakfast topless, or when he was gruffly offered one of the girls as an end-of-week tip.
So take from that what you will. But if you’re looking for chronic thrush and the opportunity to rub your genitals against an assortment of unwashed people in weird locations (bubble lifts, parked cars in busy town centers, store cupboards, bar toilets, overpopulated bunk rooms), or hoping to break various appendages in the pursuit of enjoying yourself, a ski season is 100-percent the best way to do so.
I have, of course, somewhat trounced my own point here. Instead of all this crassness, I could have talked about how ski seasons saved me from certain depression. That processing all my woes against a backdrop of soaring, inhospitable terrain taught me a lot about the minuteness of my problems and the corresponding insignificance of humanity as whole. Or that it introduced me to some of the most honest, motivated, and talented people I've ever met.
But people don’t want to hear about that. So I guess it’s just much easier to accept the hackneyed, clichéd image of snowboarding and skiing as a club exclusively for twats—the preserve of bearded rich kids who say “gnarly” and "far out" a lot, and have trust funds and yacht club memberships.
Snow sports are adored by those who do, and dismissed by those who don’t. Because the problem with skiing and snowboarding is that it’s hard. You can’t pay to be good at it; you have to earn it. Which actually makes it a great leveler. Believe me—I’ve watched plenty of petulant, knock-kneed super-wives fail at the parallel turn to know it to be true. Thousands of bucks in private ski tuition and a shiny Moncler ski jacket do not a skier make.
So, as an ode to the experience, I wrote a book about it all. And some of the sex, drugs, and vomit stuff made it in there, too. But much to my disgust, it seems that at this point the publishing industry would much rather scope around for the next slab of saccharine chick-lit to sell to virgins than consider what I have to offer. They don’t want vomit and VD—they want P.S. I Love You set in a snowstorm.
But my book has a bit about skiing on ketamine, for fuck’s sake. What else should adolescent girls be reading about?
You can read more of Belle’s tales of "catastrophe, sex, and squalor from the alpine underbelly" here.