We’d finished a seven hour deep clean, we’d been up since 6am for an early breakfast to see off a group we strangely hadn’t really connected with. It was then early evening, I’d set a fire going in the lounge fire place, sun was going down behind the forests and the mountains, everything was a glow, a snow storm was blowing down the valley, the pines on the slopes opposite bending and swaying under the fierce wind, we couldn’t have known what the wind was driving up the valley towards us right at that moment.A lovely couple from Merseyside had arrived earlier that afternoon, when we’d finished we’d opened a bottle of wine and had settled down for a cozy welcome chat. We were expecting a group of ten from Lancashire, Clitheroe & Waddington in the Ribble valley to be exact. I was curious, I was born in Blackburn and spent a great deal of my youth in that part of the world.
It was about 7pm when the headlights of a Skiidy Gonzales transfer van flashed across the front of the chalet, minutes later the storm blew in through the front door.
We’d gone out to say hi as we always do, there were big shadows, laughter, loud voices, crushing hand shakes and big faces, large figures bundled their way in through the front door ski’s, boots bags and all.
Nine strange men who had obviously been drinking suddenly entered our chalet, dumped bags in the middle of the lounge, paced and circled the place sizing us and the environment up. One of them who seemed the particularly harsh right then, demanded his hire ski’s, another one barked orders, it was immediately obvious we were here to serve them, their energy was very high, it was nerve jangling
“I want 176 carvers and 125 poles, I ave me own boots, just get em ere quick”
I quietly made the phone call to Doorstep skies, the excellent ski hire company who seemed quite amused by the request, so I handed the phone over and let the guy bark at somebody who maybe knew what he was talking about
I’d then said “Would you like to see your rooms?”
At which point like a damn bursting, the flow descended down the stairs driving me ahead like a piece of drift wood, all trying to be first to see the rooms and lay claim to territories. Once down at the bottom floor and all doors opened, I stepped aside and left them to it and climbed back up to the surface of the lounge and took a gulp of air.
It was a shock to the system, faces leaned into ours, probed and jostled us questions or demands I wasn’t sure, I just tried to steady myself. We had no idea who or what they were, the chalet suddenly felt unpredictable and volatile. I went into the kitchen and said quietly to Orsi who was busy trying to steady herself chopping vegetables.
“This is going to be a very long week”
Ever heard the expression ‘herding cats?’ The chalet introduction chat had the same sort of feeling, we were interrupted contradicted and talked over with in jokes so it was all rushed through. The couple from Merseyside sat wide eyed and glued to their seats, we held our nerve and served dinner, they were obviously excited but the Mersey warmed to the Ribble and they mingled, though tentatively.
We though were reeling, trying to get a handle on them, put names to faces, we hadn’t separated them as individuals at that point. They were just a mob who although had booked we weren’t sure at that point whether their loudness indicated real danger.
A third separate party, two male guests arrived very late at around 10.30pm; dinner had been served to the main group and all were still sat up in the dinning room at the table downing Rose wine, which they had a taste for and were by then, shall we say a little more than ‘merry.’ We served the latecomers their dinner as they tried to steer their boat into the wild waters hanging on at the end of the table buffeted by the rising current in the place. Technically we couldn’t stop serving wine as meals were still being served, we thought it’d be ok, it was a warm welcome we thought they’d appreciate it, in hindsight it was pouring fuel onto a forest fire.
Later that night of course the unleashed forces of the Ribble Valley followed the course of the River Dranse that runs below the chalet straight down into the bright lights of Morzine. In the aftermath we cleared and reset the table prepped for the morning tried to smooth down our feathers. We finished that night at around 12.30 and went to bed. We were wasted tired.
I woke up with a jolt and knot in my stomach. My phone read 5.15am. A few minutes later there were heavy footsteps on the wooden veranda above us, then more loud voices and laughter. They were struggling with the door code, Orsi asked me to go up and let them in
“Let them work it out Orsi” I said “They have too”
They eventually did because at 5.30am the foundations of the Chalet shook with the sound of deep base groove dance music.
We looked at one another in silence and dread. I jumped into my jeans and went straight upstairs. I found a knotted tangle of human beings on the steps leading down into the lounge, they were absolutely blathered drunk, the one who looked like he’d been in The Stone Roses had set up his laptop on the shoe stand by the front door and was standing swaying over the scrum, grooving like rubber psychedelic priest MC. He had what looked like a broken nose with a whopping shiner that he’d not gone out with. He looked crazy.
I walked into the fray
“Can you turn that off please”
He looked at me with far away smiling playful eyes
“Sorry bro, yeah right sorry” and turned it down and lifted a finger up to his lips “ssshh, ok man, sorry”
I said “Turn it off please its 5.30′
“Oh right yeah sorry”
The music stopped mid groove, silence, they then became playful and giggling, the scrum untangled as the silence and size of the lounge closed in on them, a few of them muttered apologetically
“Sorry, it’s out of order” and “Sorry mate it’s not on
They trickled down the stairs noisily, doors banging, laughing and calling to one another. I was mortified for the other guests and wondered how we were going to control this.
Next morning which was 45 minutes later, we were up and in the kitchen, one of them had been dumped, with his trousers around his thighs onto the couch in the lounge, I left him too it, I figured somebody would move him when they came up for breakfast. One or two of them emerged and we just served up the scrambled eggs with salmon or lardrons. I’d come back down the stairs into the lounge and noticed the guy on the couch had gone, but something shone on the leather. I looked again and realized he’d pee’d himself and all over the couch and left a trail across and down the stairs to the bedrooms, I was at first stunned. Then calmly coolly went up to the ones sat in the dinning room
“Your friend has pissed in the couch, this can’t happen, you’re bang out of order” I said
They looked absolutely mortified, I was too. Word spread quickly and everything became very edgy and tense.
It was probably the worst day we’d had in the chalet, they seemed out of control. I wasn’t quite sure what our rights were, could I, should I kick them out?
Mountain Heaven came back to us later that morning
Yes, I could ask them to leave.
As the day went on I became more solid and clear about what was to be done. I decided to call a house meeting and lay some clear boundaries down, if it went bad and they carried on, I would ask them all to leave.
A few emails had been shot across to Mountain Heaven from the two latecomers one had been scared that somebody was gong to barge into their room, there are no locks on any of the doors and once the situation was realized, we had the back up that was needed. My years at the Network on the streets of London all came back to serve me too, I was quiet and although rattled, was clear minded. The chalet although hired was our home and nobody was going to treat it like a toilet, trash us, the place or the other guests come to that.
They’d been out skiing and drinking up on the slopes all that afternoon, I’d been told ‘no alcohol to be served to anyone who had been drinking’ In France if you did and it all kicked off, we would be held responsible. It was going to be a tough call in the tense and clandestine atmosphere that had grown to suffocating proportions that day, Jon who had organized the whole thing was melting down under the pressure, I felt for him.
He and another chap Eyan had gone to catch the group on the way back up to prepare them, so they’d all slunk in and sat spread out around the lounge, so I wasn’t able to speak to the group as a whole and had to choose somebody, who it turned out was Big J and who in fact seemed to be the leader and a very tough cookie.
In a nutshell, I told him as calmly as I could that if it carried on, they would be asked to leave. Big J of course countered me, said I was blaming them all for a few individuals, I shook it off and simply said, you booked in as a group, you need to police yourselves as a group, I’m not here to do that, if this carries on you will be asked to leave. That was that.
We took all wine glasses of the table and served water. I felt bad for the other guests but to serve one party and not the other could have escalated things. It was an awful evening, I felt bad for everybody and everybody I’m sure felt bad for everybody else. We had to stand our ground and I did my very best to keep it light every time I took the plates up
Orsi kept her head down in the kitchen I said “It’s terrible up there”
It was like walking into a cloud of highly charged glue.
Later most of them peeled off and went to bed the atmosphere lightened and those left began sipping Genpei which they’d brought back with them from the town, a 40% traditional alpine liqueur. Rocky the DJ MC had appeared at the kitchen window earlier holding up a two huge bottles for us to see and was making peace signs, at that moment before the meeting it had filled us with dread.
“Oh shit” we’d said
But one was a peace offering for us, later on as things thawed we were really quite touched
You see the strange thing was in all of this chaos there was something charming about them, something we liked about them, that something was most certainly down a long maze and we’d have to work a little to find it, but we sensed it and we did look for it. Perhaps it was in their accents that I recognized, they certainly recognized mine and I knew by listening to their voices that they had manners, and charm? Well yes, we came to know it as the next few days unfolded.
It had been quite an entrance and as the smoke cleared Rocky the MC DJ we came to recognize as the instigator, mischievous naughty and no matter what we asked of him he’d say
“Ohkay Capitan” in a disarmingly warm Lancashire accent and then mostly disregarded it and us, or forgot or maybe he just didn’t hear us or all of the above. He christened Orsi Urchi, you have to hear it in a Clitheroe accent to get the full effect, and it really made her laugh, I was sure at times he was just going to keel straight over, but there was steel in those rubber legs, the legs of a tight rope walker
That evening as the high tide receded, when most had gone to bed, DJ Rocky had been playing some very cool mellow music. Every one in the chalet had been enjoying it, it was quality, the trouble was as the world outside quietened and the stars became brighter in the blue black sky, the lethal Genepi began to flow and with it the volume increased under its mystical influence. I’d sat with them a little that night just to chatting, and I began to ‘see them as individuals’ DJ Rocky and a chap called Lex really were very funny.
Every time the MC ‘forgot’ and the volume crept up, I’d gently but firmly say
“Turn it down mate, turn it down”
To his credit he did and was apologies every time.
“Ooh sorry Capitan”
Next day there’d been another flurry of emails from the latecomers to Mountain Heaven and I found myself defending the group. I felt it was under control and in fact when they’d slept it off and came up next day everything was a lot brighter. They’d taken it all on board and it seemed realized their effect. There was a definite thaw and a playful mellowness took over the chalet.
Big J said “I think we came over a little bit strong there didn’t we”
The chap who’d pee’d in the couch also turned out to be a gentle warm mannered gentleman. He wasn’t a drinker and for a laugh they’d got him so drunk he’d not been able to stand up. He was absolutely mortified. Came in to us a day later, shut the kitchen door and humbly and sincerely apologized. We of course melted. He stumped up the cash for the cleaning bill and later that evening when they all returned back from the slopes they were a bunch of purring lovable cats, all of them sweet and conversational, the music was absolutely fantastic floating gently through the chalet, everyone was just gently bouncing and nodding
To their credit here too they included the latecomers who understandably had been hostile to them. They made in roads of warm conversation with them and that evening we left them all sat around the high table in the lounge, chatting and sipping Genepi
But DJ Rocky as I’ve said just can’t help himself, just his nature and at around 12.30 the volume crept over a threshold bass pumping through chalet foundations again.
We’d been three days of high alert and were by then deeply fatigued, Orsi lost it, jumped straight out of bed, marched upstairs without a second thought in her nightie and birds nest hair, shot like a hot arrow into the lounge straight over to the alter, the lap top and switched it off …Bink!!
“That’s it, it’s over.. !!” she said
DJ Rocky and Lex were out on the balcony smoking. They knew instinctively not to cross a sleep deprived Hungarian Woman and conceded that yes in fact it was time for bed. We never heard another whisper from them for the rest of the night.
On another night after they’d left for town I’d taken the speaker leads and hid them. I just knew Rocky MC would forget. I’d heard them come back in at around 4am that night, I’d felt a little mean, next day they asked me
“Was it you who took the speaker leads” I admitted it
“Well, would you have put the music on?” I said
“Erm, well yeah, I suppose I would have.. yeah”
“Well there you go” I said Point proven, case closed.
Everyone laughed and no harm done.
In the new relaxed atmosphere, I offered healing for Big J’s battered legs and a hypnotherapy session for another’s anxiety and sleeplessness, they were to my open to it and accepted and from then on it seemed the scales really tipped. A real warmth entered the place and the benefits of the healing were certainly felt I had been talking with my the team all day whilst we were out on the slopes and that influence seemed to have followed us back and infiltrated the whole Chalet, so much so that when Big J had to go home early a few days later we were all rather sad to see him go and it was genuine big hugs all round, a good guy.
Our skiing too has really begun to make sense too, we did the red run all the way down from Nyon to the car park below the chalet, really enjoying it now, looking up and around to see where we were as we glided, almost silently, through the snow covered forest community of majestic pines, it was remarkable and it really was wonderful.
That week too the snows had came and the whole area had turned into a wonderland. We’d been worried the week before that if we had another week of T-shirt weather up there the Piste’s would be just churned mud and mush. But boy it snowed, it was staggeringly beautiful, everything made sense now.
I’d insisted that we go and ski in a snow storm, We knew the slopes now so there would be no major surprises and it would perhaps be a once in a life time chance. I was goggles off flying along loving the snow splatting against my face and into my eyes, blinking and laughing as we shot down along and around the blues we even made it across to Les Gets.
We’d been for another lesson too, skied over to Pleny thrilled that we are now able to do it confidently but on the way over we’d seen another ski ambulance with another strapped up body, very sobering. Also later that day I’d seen a blind skier with his two guides, who clicked their ski sticks to signal left right or slow. They’d just come off a red, which is remarkable; it provoked a great deal of thought in me. Blind skiing, what? Courage? Money? Stupidity? Human spirit? most of all, never, ever give in. It has to be one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen and all the more remarkable because we know what it takes to learn to ski.
I also saw a guy skiing in a ‘Kilt’ I nearly fell as I was laughing so much, attention seeking? Madness? Eccentricity? I’m telling you his legs were red-purple with cold, a nutter if you ask me. I also saw a unicorn with skis and I know now that they really do exist and although it was inflatable and had a beard, I did see it glide out of the mists on that mountain side and I feel a sense of peace in my soul, revelations really do come it seems when you least expect them.
We have also never stopped marveling at the ESF French ski instructors, I’ve mentioned them before, with the kids out there on those mad steep slopes, long red coats with a snaking trail of 4 and 5 year olds following fearlessly behind, if we never come back here, that is one of the things I will remember, the little fearless children, curving and swooping, to the left and to the right, beautifully, all the way down, character building for sure
On my journey through this life I have seen groups of people I have admired greatly, horse riders in New Mexico, bus drivers in India, dry stone wall builders in the lake district, Sherpa’s in Nepal, the Therapixie therapists at the festivals in the UK and to add to that list are the ESF ski instructors people who are just good for the sake of being good at what they do. The ESF are invisibly winged effortless ski heroes
For example we looked down from a chair lift the other day an older rugged grey haired man was leading a bunch of little goslings over and down a black route right below us, there he was with a line of tiny kids following the tails of his long flapping red coat, over and around the Moghuls, arms behind his back, puffing away on a curved ivory coloured pipe, not a care in the world. !!
“Follow me, do what I do” expecting greatness from them and getting it, perfect gorgeous letter C’s, all the way down, simply amazing to see.
We talk to one another now as we hurtle downwards with our new friend sister gravity sitting comfortably on our shoulders and skies. The snow that came down that week must have been three foot deep, probably more. Everything was still, up there in the mountains, the pines branches were bent almost double with the weight and effort of holding up all that snow, just longing for the winds to come and release them.
To get back up onto the slopes you get a chair lift. You shuffle your way forward past a knee height automatic barrier, waddle another few feet forward, in the corner of your eye a bench seat is swinging round like a scythe, you brace yourself and then it jerks forward snaps the legs out from under you, you fall back with a thud and are swept up, struggling like a captured fly trying to pull the safety barrier down so you don’t fall off as your lifted higher and higher up into the tree tops.
Then you’re up and in amongst the peace and the trees, you suddenly see them up there, close up, all their quiet whispering majesty, their beauty, coated in a thick blanket of snow, incredibly beautiful, it is deeply silencing experience, we hardly ever talked when we were sat in those chairs, we just looked.
And the snow, there is snow the sticks to you, there is snow that blinds you, there is snow that dances on you and there is snow that drenches you, there is light snow that you cannot see in and there is heavy weighty snow that slows, and trip you, there are tiny crystal fleeting powder flakes that visit and disappear and there are big floppy flakes that pull you down and pull at your skies and underneath all these various blankets, there is the ice, it shines iridescent blue in exposed patches on the slopes and crunches as you fly over it
One of the guests had given us a tip that changed our skiing and opened it all up for us. Sometimes some things just makes sense, you can see it so you can do it. She’d said imagine a strawberry under your big toes, when you want to turn squash the right strawberry for left and the left one for right. It just made sense, we went straight out next day and tried it. We have kept on practicing all this time but this was a gem information, a steep learning curve, after a few runs we were able to tackle very tricky red runs with a much more control, all of a sudden the whole of the Porte Du Soleil was opened up, we were off. Yabba dabba do!!
We went across to Charniaz Ranfoilly and La Rosta our thighs were on fire, hearts racing, beaming from ear to ear. So we decided to go and attempt our toughest challenge the red run from the top of Point du Nyon.
It is a very long ride up there due to its height and half way up a point you can get off and ski half the way down, I was looking up realizing we were about to go into cloud
“Shall we get off or go all the way up?” I’d said
“Lets go to the top” Orsi said after a quick glance at me “I want to see the mountains”
So there we were looking out over the mountains and over the lip of that descent. 2019m up and honestly; my stomach was knotted, Nyon is a narrow run with 9 quick sharp turns before the half way where it widens out, full of moghuls (snow mounds) and ice, one false move and you were over an edge, if your not ready it’s genuinely dangerous.
So over the lip we slipped, I fell a few times simply being too cautious, Orsi snow ploughed in places, people whizzed by us and others were it seems as nervous as we were, we paused here and there, but no going back, slowly down, slowly over and down, over and down as we came out of the mist we breathed easier straightened up, and it was strawberries all the way down to the Nyon car park again.
We were absolutely drenched in sweat, thighs ablaze and wobbly but we’d done it. We’d walked up there on our first few days here back in December and looking down thought it was madness, it perhaps still is but fom that point onwards it was as if we were let loose and if we missed a day we missed the burn in our legs, I flew up and down the stairs in the chalet now with ease, definitely fitter and leaner.
All that pretty snow too, three feet of it that day and somebody had to dig out the forecourt, the veranda and the steps all the way down to the ski lift. The first few weeks were blistering back breaking work but now we argued about who was going to go out and do it, at times twice a day. Energy is its own reward isn’t it, the more you put out, the more you seem to have and in only a short space of time, I have lost weight and I like it.
Talking of running up and down stairs we still had a chalet full of eccentric mad English comedians. There had been a huge storm that week. They had skied right across into Switzerland on that first Monday when it came down they told us they were having a few beers up in a bar there. Apparently 6 pints of Stella each when the storm hit, it came down right across the whole region so all mountains lifts were closed if you were up there you had make your own way across the tops and ski down.
It really was a serious storm and definitely not to be taken lightly, The woman in the bar had come to them very worried and explained the situation, so there they were, stranded, what to do?
I think it was DJ rocky who said “Right lads, one more pint and then, skies on and lets go
There were stories of them all coming down the red routes hammered drunk. You have to imagine here the slopes, it isn’t a fairground ride, these are real mountains treacherous and unpredictable, I have told you many times about the accidents, but they seemed oblivious and so it seemed the Gods loved them
“F**k me I don’t no which f**kin roots it was but we were falling all ohvur the f**kin place, it were really funny”
Lex told us that DJ Rocky had somehow found out that Genepi did a spray, so there they were flying along he on skis DJ Rocky on a snow board, rocky had come up along side of him flying along, reached inside his jacket and pulled out a spray
“Here you go Capitan” he’d called, took a couple of sprays inhaled then passed it over. Lex managed to get hold, took a shot bfore loosing the top as they both narrowly missed a pine tree, I think it was, they just about shot around it and onwards to home, madness and yet it has to be said very very funny
Then there was the story of the first night and DJ Rocky’s broken nose explained.
Lex told us laughing “Well we were just avin a laff, one of us diving of the stage and the rest of us catchin em, stage diving you know’ then Kato dives off, misjudges and smashes his head into Rock’s face and broke is nose”
Rocky “There was blood everywhere, we weren’t being knob heads and fighting and all that, we’re not violent, so then big J got me and straightened it out for me, right there”
Big J gave us a vivid animated description of his fist hitting Rocky’s nose twisting it and that was that, it was straightened out, Dj’s Rocky’s face over the next few days went from Blue black to yellow green, he didn’t seem to mind at all
At that point in the evening they’d decided to leave, one of them was so smashed he was still standing at the stage waiting, arms raised for the next stage dive which never came as they’d been straightening the Rocky’s nose and then left to get a cab. So when he’d lowered his arms and looked round there was nobody there. There he was no money, no idea where he was or how to get back to the Chalet, in a T shirt in the French alps with freezing snow storm blowing down through the valley.
He’d somehow made it back, but people die every year doing the very same thing, We were incredulous
“You must have been freezing” we said
“Oh eye” he said deadpan “It were a bit bloody cold”
Nobody seemed to bat an eye lid, nothing more was said not even a case of where have you been, or why did you leave me, its just the way it is, comrades, no repercussions and every man for themselves. Hilarious
On the last night they’d gone out for one last blow out in Morzine, arrived back at 5.30am for their 6.15am transfer to the airport, hammered.
Lex laying there semi conscious on the lounge couch, as I served them coffee, said semi seriously
“Mick… Mick; this is harder than Ibeetha…!
The couple from Merseyside had a great week with them and us but the two latecomers never quite got over it. We really came to like them all and enjoyed them and the music, but boy that was a tough start. The English eh.. If they are in town you’ll not miss them, until they are gone and then, yeah, when we’ve had a sleep, I think we might do.