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A Season In The Life of A Ski Rep - Part 3

by Alan Brown

I stayed in three different hotels in my three week slot in St Moritz. The first two were far from mediocre, and very comfortable and friendly. The Badrut's Palace was different. I knew it was going to be special when I had to arrange an interview with one of the reception managers to discuss which of the many bars would be a suitable venue for the Club's Social Hour. I felt that I was being vetted too, but the bar "we" chose was perfect - views through arched casement windows of the famous frozen lake with its racecourse subtly floodlit in blue. Wow !

Evenings are traditionally a lonely time for reps as their friends of the day slope off for evenings with their mates. The Palace was a great draw, and people dressed up in their finery - yes fur coats and suits even - to share a drink in The Palace ! Dinner was massively entertaining. Imagine the scene : dress is formal (suits accepted : DJs better, and pretty dresses ), chandeliers, dark panelled walls and glinting cut glass and silver everywhere. I had a table facing the entrance doors a bell boy to opened as anyone arrived. Down curving stairs to the floor of the main area where the head waiter would greet you by name - even me ! For a social voyeur like me it was fascinating : what people were wearing - I thought one couple were still in their wedding outfits they were so OTT ; and the way people, who just knew they were the best of Europe, reacted when the top man wasn't there to say hello was a hoot !

Then there were the characters. The best were two successful self-made business men on the prowl. They homed in on two lonely women in the Palace bar one night and spent each evening of the rest of the week pursuing them. I won't give the game away, but it meant that I got free wine with my dinner on the strength of their eagerness to appear generous ! They also had an eye for bargain fine wines, and couldn't believe their luck when they spotted a special little number on the wine list of a small mountain restaurant one day. It must be the first time a rep has not only had to book a table, but also ask them to open a bottle of no. 37 to breathe!

My great regret of St Moritz was not managing to convert one particular skier into a member. She was more of a professional tease than I had thought and managed to string me - and Bryce Cooper, the salesman par excellence - along for a whole week. It's amazing how determined rich widows from Berlin can be. Beware !

The aforementioned Bryce was repping in Davos while I was in St Moritz, and he came for "a day's skiing" one Saturday. Of course this turned into a serious evening session and he finished up staying the night with me. Yes , in the Palace of all places. Being respectable Ski Club reps, we checked that his staying would be ok. It was by the hotel, but I was a bit concerned as it was a double bed. Luckily he chose the floor and the alcohol allowed us both to get a good sleep.

The replacement rep also wanted somewhere to stay for his overlap with me, so it was back to reception again. Different reaction. Of course sir couldn't stay in my room as it only had a double bed and another room was made available. Wow ! Just concerned what the Palace staff think of me : wining and dining every night with two men ; having another sleep with me one night and then ask to do it again. Mmm.

Whilst I was in St Moritz, Claire gave me the best news : she needed me in La Plagne in two weeks, so it was off for a break - from repping, not skiing ! - to Val d'Isère for a well deserved holiday ... Val was excellent. Good company, accommodation and weather (but no new snow). And it was interesting spending each day as a mere punter skiing with the superlative rep Lucy who skied the pants off allcomers. Well, not mine literally of course ..

Then it was La Plagne. Another new place. I went early to get to know it, but found that the previous rep, having heard I was on the way, had gone home sick ! Some introduction. It was back on with the revered jacket and bluff my way through the first few days. Didn't work of course. Day 1 I was wandering aimlessly down what seemed to be a promising valley when voices from the ridge made me and my one member stop. Danger ahead? No way out ? But no. Just another couple wanting expert guiding. Mmm ...

I was a bit in trepidation to start with as the rep's brief for La Plagne was full of dire warnings not to cross the Ski School Director. No programmes to be posted: no advertising anywhere. Maybe I was lucky as I got to know one of his old flames, and it seemed to break the ice a bit. Amazing what reps have to do ... It got better as I got more familiar and I finished up loving the place. Certainly bigger and better variety of ski area than St Moritz and a more enthusiastic type of skier. I enjoyed Belle Plagne, the highest and prettiest village, and preferred it to Plagne Centre where Norma described last year and which appeared less like a ski resort and more commercial and functional.

I thoroughly enjoyed checking that my group was up to it and then, insurance cover checked, encouraging them to follow me under the rope at the end of the pisted area to mosey on down a lovely valley on the Les Arcs side and back to civilisation on the form of a lovely quiet restaurant. It's interesting to watch a resort planning its development. La Plagne has installed some enormous capacity in anticipation of its link to Les Arc in 2001 / 02. Shame 'cos one of my favourite restaurants will be overwhelmed soon.

La Plagne can cope with all conditions because it has lots of trees. I had the classic conversation après-ski about dreadful whiteout days when I'd loved every minute of good visibility in the trees. There are pistes of course and some exciting areas where you can ski the trees off piste on a range of gradients suitable for any standard of adventurous skier. It's still always a relief to come out on a trail at the bottom ! I found it interesting to see who were the most adventurous, and actually got it completely wrong with one couple where the female half was by far the more ambitious. She'd follow me anywhere. Or was it just the magnetic attraction of the jacket....

Then disaster struck. I'd been very good with people and told them how theft was rife in La Plagne, but been lax myself. With hindsight it came as no surprise that my skies and poles had disappeared. What really bugged me was that I'd just paid for a full service so they got a pair of like-new skies. Swine ! It took forever to register the loss with the police as I was always committed to my schedule when they were open. I was beginning to think that I'd invalidated my insurance by taking more than 24 hours to report the loss.

My claim was eventually successful, but again, I'd recommend everyone to read the policy small print as the insurers have the right to set aside cover if you leave skies "unattended in a public place" (i.e. everywhere !) It might be interesting to hear other claimants' experience here. So I had to hire for three weeks. By then I was so pleased with the Salomon Excremes that I just stayed with them rather than experimenting. Just keep them short : I liked skiing 179 which is well below my pre-carver length. One time I did try the new Salomon Pilote ski with the integrated bindings attached to the sides rather than the top of the ski. The very sophisticated binding makes for a heavy package, but they were great fun in the soft snow. Apparently not so good in harder conditions. Last year they were a restricted trial only, so watch the reviews. It's interesting that they seem to have been released with totally different graphics from the test pairs which were a lovely khaki green.

The season was finished off nicely with my daughter, Hannah, joining me for a quiet week's holiday in a chalet in Chatel. Then a sightseeing tour home via Rotterdam again.

Did I enjoy the experience ? Well suffice it to say, I'm planning next season now, and by the time you read this, I'll probably have had a couple of months doing it all again. No sameness or boredom though. It's all too fluid and stimulating for all that. Come and join me !