It was a dark, bitterly cold night when I arrived in Ardent on the last week of November. The flickering glow of lights from the dozen or so wooden chalets in the village providing the only light.
It was my very first ski season in 2007. I was 22. And I had never been to a ski resort or town in my life.
After graduating from university in June, my summer had been spent in Italy, running a children’s club followed by a short work experience placement at BBC Leicester. Strangely, it was that placement which made me realise I was not cut out for an indoor office job. I needed action and I needed an adventure.
Lost, I took a Christmas job at a toy shop to buy me some thinking time. Whilst there, I remember a conversation I had had with a colleague that summer about trying a winter ski season.
I applied on a whim, not thinking I would get offered an interview let alone a job. I got offered 3 interviews and accepted a chalet job from ski company specialising in family holidays.
Two months after applying, I arrived with 25 other people to the silent hamlet of Ardent, a 20-minute drive up the mountain from the small town Morzine in the French Alps.
We had flown in from various airports around the UK, picked up in various minibuses from Geneva, and had a one and half hours drive to Ardent, tired but excited to get to know our new fellow teammates.
As soon as we arrived, we were shown to our staff accommodation. Up a winding narrow staircase led to a decent sized open plan kitchen and lounge. Around the corner were two small twin rooms, with only enough room for a wardrobe and a bedside table. A small bathroom with bath and shower completed the upstairs chalet.
In true mountain style, the chalet was named Edelweiss.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I opened the curtains, that I was spellbound by Ardent’s simple beauty.
Our chalet was also blessed with a balcony, and stepping out there into the freezing November air, I gazed up at the hamlet of Les Lindarets on the mountain opposite us.
I was in complete awe.
Below the mountain looked like a terrifyingly steep run down (it was, in fact, a less challenging blue run) leading back down to a ‘bubble’ cable car station. It was the journeys end for the single track road leading up from Morzine.
Beyond that, to my left, I counted six chalets, a bar and a crumbling old chalet and to the right another half a dozen chalets, a tiny restaurant and a river. And that was it.
We would be here for 5 months.
The beauty of no internet in the village enabled us to get creative on the social front: from kids parties to car sledging, to building an ice bar and fire pit, to bin bag sledging, these ridiculous social events were some of my fondest memories of the season.
It was a 20-minute bus ride to the internet cafe in Morzine for any digital communications, and our mobile phone reception was weak and irregular.
The postman only delivered to the first chalet in the village, and every month or so there would be a letter from my mum stuffed full of articles from the travel section of The Guardian (one of the only things I missed about the UK), along with brightly coloured envelopes from my best friends with all the latest gossip from home.
Beyond the village, the river flowed through a small wood and met its end at the majestic Lac De Montriond. On the days I needed some space or didn’t feel like snowboarding, I would follow the path through silent woods, with just the sound of my footsteps crunching through the snow down to a viewpoint above the lake to collect my thoughts.
It’s easy to sugar coat the experience – there were inevitable days when you felt frustrated with living remotely when you were sick of not only working with but living with the same team of 25 week in and week out. The days when the kids bought in bouts of gastroenteritis which would sweep through the team. The frustration of the guests using all the milk and having no shop closer than a 20minute drive to top up. But for me, they all outweighed the highs.
I ended up returning to Ardent for the following 2 winters, both of which have has many, if not more memorable moments than that first season. Despite an option to work in a different resort, I felt compelled to return.
I remember sitting on the edge of the disused chalet at the end of my third season, suddenly becoming aware that life would unlikely to be like this again.
I think it’s only now, eight years on from that day I can fully appreciate what a unique privilege it was to spend three winters living in inspiring isolation, in a time when a digital revolution was unfolding.
It ignited a deep love for the mountains and the outdoors which remains with me strongly to this day.
Photo credit to Clare Knivett