“Back in 1991 I was the first British girl to start school in Morzine. The École Maternelle was brand new and I was only two and a half years old. I remember ‘French school’ being really quite fun. We got to go skiing and we had a nap in the afternoon. I remember playing lots of games, doing lots of art and school lunch consisted of four courses, sometimes featuring moules marinière, with ‘goûter’ (a small sugary snack) at the end of the day. The language barrier was a challenge; there were certainly some tears! But my mum says she always hoped I’d thank her later, and I do. It was a challenge at times, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without the upbringing they gave me.
My mum Jo met my dad Peter while they were both doing a ski season in winter 1983 / 84. Mum worked for Supertravel in Avoriaz, and remembers the staff training consisting of someone at the front of a conference room with a Magi-Mix, demonstrating one or two suggested dishes. Dad had just qualified as a Chartered Secretary, and worked the season as a rep for Bladon Lines. They tell me they were two of only around 20 British people working in Avoriaz that winter.
To work in the chalet world in those days, it certainly helped to be a certain kind of person: ‘twin set and pearls’ — it was the era of the ‘Sloane ranger’! ‘Haute cuisine’ and en-suite bathrooms were unheard of.
In the five years that followed, Mum and Dad travelled, completed some of their ski instructor qualifications and bought a restaurant (Dusters Bistro in Salcombe, Devon) before marrying in 1986. The months between May and December would then be spent in the UK, returning to the mountains each winter for the season. There were very few British people in Morzine at this time. Dad remembers the first chalet companies launching, with names like Ski Nut, Ski Tips and so many others that have come and gone over the years. But it was Princess Anne’s visit in the late 1980s that really helped to put Morzine on the map.
When I was five, my brother George and I started school in Les Gets and again, we were the first British children at the school, along with an Irish girl called Toni – her parents started The Irish Pub in the village. We often found it difficult to settle into school; spending the winter learning in French was quite intense before returning to the UK once the season ended. The language barrier was a challenge at times but I remember the shock on my mum’s face when, at my birthday party, she was amazed to hear me telling off a little boy in French; his mum was amused that she didn’t know I could speak French. She’d assumed I only spoke a little, as we only spoke English at home.
My parents were sometimes concerned that we’d be holding back the French children at school and they’d often check in with the teachers to ensure we were managing. I distinctly remember children joining us from Bosnia – they were refugees fleeing the war in the Balkans. I’m sure they were struggling much more than us.
I’ve seen so many changes across Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz over the years. Skiing is so easy now! There are fewer draglifts, for a start. When I was about eight years old, I taught myself to snowboard and headed off into ‘the bowl’ in Les Gets. To get home I had to spend ten minutes on a super steep draglift! Those stringy, springy coils for your lift passes were a nightmare and we barely wore helmets, if ever. The pistes were also very challenging, very hard and there was no artificial snow in the bad seasons. Now the whole ski area has been landscaped to improve safety and accommodate all levels of skier.
Mum often recounts stories from the really bad snow seasons, of which there were many in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Did you know that Piste 64 in Les Gets got it’s name as it was the only run skiable in 1964?! There wasn’t much of a summer season back then either. Watching mountain biking, road cycling and other summer activities develop over the years has been great. There are also more expat residents in the valley than ever before, offering a variety of services all year round. With so many nationalities and ideas, there’s still a respect and understanding of where we live and I hope this continues.
I was always very tall for my age, and apparently I was on skis when I was barely two years old. I got my Ourson when I was just two and mum believes that my first ESF instructors are still teaching today! One day, when I’d moved on to Flocon, I actually fell asleep, upright, in my ski boots. Despite the hundreds of photos and all the videos of me learning to ski, in all honesty, I can barely remember. One year I won the Coup de Jeune in Avoriaz, but Dad says I just looked like I was going out shopping – so nonchalant at such a young age! But it was George who became the promising skier and family ski days always revolved around lunch back then.
People often assume that, because I learned to ski from such a young age, I was destined to become a ski instructor. But I was never particularly gifted and had to work really hard to get my BASI level 4 qualification (not to mention getting lost on the Test Technique course!). I went to boarding school in the UK from the age of 10, so the British qualification system suited me best. I first did the course out of intrigue and interest whilst still at school. Although the modules and qualification at each stage are very challenging, it’s hard not to get sucked in. After so much hard work (and so much money!), I wasn’t going to let this become ‘another string to my bow’. I adore teaching and being out on the mountain, but never did I imagine that I’d end up leading a team of instructors back in Morzine!
I was very excited when Supreme approached me to help them expand their already well-established ski school into Morzine. Supreme are widely known in other parts of the Alps for having instructors with excellent local knowledge, so I was delighted to join their team. The best thing about being a ski instructor is when you make a client’s holiday by helping them enjoy skiing even more than they did already. The amount of people I meet is incredible, and I make it my mission to find out as much as I can about them. We have a lot of laughs and a lot of good times; after all, I’m spending all day with people who are on their holidays! Yes, there is time on the magic carpet, but that beats even the best office job, hands down. Watching clients progress is extremely rewarding.”