When I drive up to my friend’s house that evening, I meet his roommate. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my accommodation with 28 year old Max. It’s his second season as a ski man and his eagerness to learn and climb the ladder strikes me above all.
When travelling, you learn to let the present take its own path.
“As a ski man in Val Thorens I rent out equipment for skiing and snowboarding, repair and fix broken or damaged skies and sell equipment. I started here last year as a ski man but am interested in boot fitting and am trying to learn all about it.
Following my studies in Normandy, where I grew up in a small village, I was offered an internship in Paris. A whole new world opened up to me. For the first time in my life I was forced to get to know new people and challenge myself in all kinds of areas. As an introverted person, it was not easy to just start a new life in a big city where I knew few people. Yet it was my first step towards change.
I come from a family where everything can be discussed, however, I don’t have a particularly sentimental relationship with them. As a child I was very attached to my mother, although that bond has become less strong following my parents’ divorce. I don’t know why our relationship has changed, nowadays we call each other once a month. My mother finds me being so far away from home difficult, while my father fully supports it and encourages me to explore the world. Occasionally I miss my friends, but it’s of a temporary nature and usually doesn’t last long. Building or maintaining a relationship with a partner is almost impossible if you don’t have that same seasonal worker rhythm; you’re better off staying single.
I stayed on in Paris following my internship. I had a job in design, often working fifty hours a week, for five and a half years. I enjoyed my job, but eventually grew bored of the long hours and big city lifestyle. I started thinking about leaving; work, Paris… I wanted to experience the world with my own eyes. Six months later I left everything and everyone behind. I spent two years travelling the world and for the first time in my life I truly got to know myself.
I fell in love with travelling because you quickly get to know new cultures and people. Everything is possible and nothing is promised. I really had to learn to let go in terms of plans, because that used to be my life. I was always busy with myself and thought that the plan in my head should always be executed exactly the same. When you travel, things often pan out differently than you have in mind and you learn to let the present follow its own path. When you travel, you book results every day that are immediately visible. For me, travel is the answer to everything.
I got to know Marcal while I was diving the Perhentian Islands during my trip to Malaysia. He told me about his life in the mountains and what it’s like working the winter season. Intrigued by his stories, I took my chance. This is my second season in Val Thorens. As a team we all have the same goal and mindset: providing customers with the best possible skiing experience. I wouldn’t have been as keen to come back if my colleagues hadn’t been this great. I also have opportunities to grow within the boot-fitting segment, something that interests me immensely. I don’t think you can do this job for the rest of your life; you should invest your money in a business. This work is much too tiring to have to work for someone else for the rest of your life. You’re better off becoming your own boss here, success guaranteed!”
After being forced to leave their house and job within 48 hours I called up some saisonniers to see how they were doing. Most of them fled the village immediately, although a small core decided to sit out a quarantine of at least two weeks. These anciens in particular were not prepared to leave their winter life all of a sudden, with some not even having anywhere to go. These last days have been spent getting groceries from the last open store and preparing for an eventual outbreak of the virus. Infected people are in a strict quarantine or taken away to a village lower down. However, since the slopes are abandoned and there is barely any police control, some tourists see this as a perfect opportunity to build their own snow jump and freeride those mountains. Even though this is strictly forbidden, the unclear communication of the village itself causes people to ignore the rules and troop together for house parties or outside on the slopes. Today’s Val Thorens looks nothing like it usually would during March, and although saisonniers tend to be flexible when it comes to leaving their jobs and homes: this abruptly ended season of 2020 will never be forgotten.