My Experience: Ski Season

Contributor Katie Lowry talks about her time spent in the French Alps after her Leaving Certificate.

It was the middle of fifth year when I decided that, after the leaving cert, I would defer my course and head off on my own for a 6-month ski season in The Alps. 

At 17, this was more of a dream than something I truly believed would materialize, but when something’s in my head, I seem to have a way of going after it. 

Sixth year came around quickly and I agonized over my choice of course, tossing up between physiotherapy, law, and journalism. One thing was for sure, I was determined not to go straight from the gruelling leaving cert into university, instead, my heart was set on an adventurous year away in a snowy ski resort. It was clear to me that after the Leaving Cert I wanted a year full of excitement and fun before heading to college.

Looking back, I’m not sure what put the idea in my head but reading up on other people’s experiences and going on several family ski trips, I knew it was something I wanted to do. 

Fast forward to April of sixth year and my lack of experience and short CV meant numerous seasonal companies declined my applications and I began to worry this experience was not going to be possible.

I wangled the email address of a hotel owner in Les Gets, a well-known family resort in the French Alps, from a friend of a friend of a friend and this was when my luck changed. 

Not immediately, however, my application did get declined at first, but after I bombarded the boss with emails showing my enthusiasm and determination to do a season, he finally caved to sheer pester power and I was offered a position at the Hotel Christiania at the end of August. 

The Leaving Cert was complete, Journalism in DCU deferred, and my job secured for the 2016/17 ski season. I now had a few months to work in a local café and save up to cover my flights and a little slush fund. 

I flew to Geneva on the 12th of December, a little nervous about moving to a new country and embarking on this journey solo. But from the moment I arrived in Les Gets, I knew this was going to be an unforgettable experience in the best sense. 

The package deal I received as a worker in the hotel included my ski pass for three valleys and ski hire for the season, my accommodation and all my food with one day off per week and a small weekly wage. I was working in the hotel as a waitress/housekeeper and the shifts were split so we could ski during the day. 

I had 3 roommates, two Scottish and one English all with the same idea as myself and were heading to University the following year. These girls soon became my best friends, even though we were cramped in a tiny box room with two bunk beds. There were 12 of us altogether living in the basement of the hotel.

A few days later, it was my first ever birthday away from home followed soon by Christmas. Thankfully I hit it off with my team straight away, which made being away from family a lot easier and fun. 

Unfortunately, my season had the worst snow for 20 years so skiing wise, I got off to a slow start. It was the later part of January before we had deep snow,  but up to then there were still a few slopes open and thankfully Avoriaz, a higher resort, was just up the road from us.

After a few weeks, our schedules were settled, the snow was falling, and we got to know our own team as well as the other seasonaires around Les Gets. Great friendships formed with ski instructors, bar workers and chalet hosts whom we would often see around the slopes and in the bars.

Work would either be 7-11 or 8-12 in the morning and then 6-10 or  4-7 in the evening, so the shifts varied. Working wasn’t always fun, and it was a certainly a tiring lifestyle of work, ski, work, go out but having the opportunity to live in The Alps and ski any day I wanted was an unforgettable experience especially during “Blue birds,” days characterized by bright sunshine, rich blue skies and shining slopes. 

During the season, I had to pinch myself several times as I skied around the mountains taking in the breath-taking views and knowing this place was my home for the next couple of months and having the slopes, literally at my doorstep, in this ski in ski out resort. 

We were incredibly lucky that the Hotel provided us with a ski pass not only for the Les Gets area but Morzine and Avoriaz too which gave us the opportunity to go off and ski for hours. One day myself and my three roommates skied all the way over to Switzerland, leaving us rather late back to work, which was certainly not appreciated by our boss but we had such fun and the time ran away from us that day. 

Wednesday’s at Happy Hours Après Bar was a regular on our agenda as was the Après Bar back at Les Gets. Barbylon and Bar Bowling were hit up a few times a week and for the big nights, one of the worst nightclubs I’ve been to, The Igloo, which felt like a teenage disco was our only option, but we still managed to have great nights there. The village of Les Gets became our own and we knew everyone around.

Lots of events were run in the resort throughout the season but Ski Colour and Rock the Piste were the two that stand out to me as being some of the best days.

Ski Colour is essentially a colour run but, on the slopes, skiing so everybody is covered head to toe in colour as people throw paint at you while you ski down the slope. At the bottom everybody dances, DJs play, and if the sun is shining, it’s a perfect day. 

Rock the Piste is a music festival that comes to the Porte Du Soleil and so came to Les Gets for a day where Caravan Palace headlined.  As you can imagine, music festivals are already fun, so a festival high up in the mountains was truly amazing and skiing home a little tipsy was only mildly challenging. 

It’s not solely the big events that remain in my memories. Hot chocolate on the mountain, staff tea together each evening, pre-drinks in the basement, outdoor Jacuzzis, tipsy trips to Carrefour after happy hours, my parents visiting, lunches in the village and even scrubbing a toilet with a toothbrush on Easter Sunday when the boss was in a particularly pedantic mood. (lol) 

My season was the time of my life and every time I think or talk about it, I smile. I made friends for life and have hooked up with them many times since, even spending a summer together interrailing.

I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world with completely different backgrounds. I completely funded my ski season myself and the perception of gap years and ski season being only for the better of is nonsense. I worked for a few months before I headed off and in fact, I came home with some money.

Before I left people doubted I would ever go to college on my return, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I knew I needed a break and an adventure after the Leaving Cert. Here I am now in my last weeks of Journalism in DCU, having enjoyed my studies all the more from the life experience that preceded. 

What I would say to anyone thinking of doing a gap year? Absolutely go for it!