What The Buddha Says

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It is better to travel well than arrive.

Today I did not travel well. I caught an edge at speed and flew head over heels across the packed piste, landing on my helmet. Later, I helicoptered through deep snow before finally becoming planted face down (aka a face plant*) and I lost count of how many times my ass bit the hard-packed snow. From a beautiful blue sky day, I remember these things most vividly, not the crepe, snow streaked mountains, the magical walls they make around your little world, the sun, the speed, the friends…

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I know that I did not travel well as much due to my negative insides as my ability to keep my one plank going in the right direction, at the right speed on the outside.

What we think we become.

A spiritual ‘I told you so.’

When the idea for this trip was new I was immediately curious about the opposition of the two things I wanted to do: work in the Alps for the ski season, snowboarding, almost inevitably drinking, before visiting Nepal to work in a Buddhist monastery. I explained this to those who asked in terms of yin and yang, the hedonistic and the spiritual, one balancing the other.

But now it has begun, it is not that simple. It has been suggested that people do sports like skiing, snowboarding, parachuting (the list is endless) to seize the same sense of freedom that might be experienced through enlightenment; a sort of oneness.

During these activities you are thrust into the present moment by the immediacy of velocity and the need for control. You must be there. In one moment the piste curves and shines ahead, then the next minute you are on it, riding it. No past or future exist inside you; one moment follows the next. You inhabit yourself and the slope completely. This is the reason I snowboard, but these moments are rare. More often I brake hard on tired legs as my mind tells me I cannot deal with the challenges on the piste, the lumps, gradient, ice, cannot keep up; I break inside and almost inevitably fall. Then I get up, tired, defeated and a little more jaded. The quality of my snowboarding is a reflection of my state of mind.

And, contrary to the Buddha’s advice about anger and resentment (just let go – paraphrased) I am a terrible hater on the slopes. Everybody else is there to foil me. The skier who overtakes and brakes in my path, the learner skier who needs the whole piste to turn, the learner boarder, arms flailing, who could simply topple like a felled tree, the joker who stops in the middle of the piste and then makes their way across it without looking, the ESF dragon (that chain of learners, snaking across the slope). Those skiers with no concept of personal space or those who simply get off on abusing it (you know who you are). My fear makes me an irredeemable hater. And without the luxury of a direct quote, the Buddha would say ‘that sucks.’

So, it seems I can’t experience the freedom on my snowboard until I can experience the freedom in my head.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment. Roughly translated as ‘no mental hi-fiving for the last turn or landing a jump and no anxiety about the steep icy bit 100 metres away.’ Like Kenny Rogers sings, ‘don’t count your money when your sitting at the table…’

It is better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles. Which for me means ‘quit worrying how everybody else on the slopes is doing.’

The secret of existence is to have no fear. Do not fear what will become of you. This one is easier said than done in the face of, er…The Fear. once gripped by it then I have already imagined myself leaving an icy cat track in a windmill of colourful arms, descending hundreds of feet to ultimate doom (long falling with indeterminate crashing and breaking apart at the bottom) or suffocating face down in the pow pow*. Having imagined such a scenario I am understandably worried about what will happen to me. So clearly, I have not mastered the fear thing.

Curiously, these nuggets of wisdom are reminded to me by the Buddha App. A tacky, throw away medium for a spiritual leader? perhaps. It might seem like a joke. It can be, it is easier to say things like

The tongue, like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.

with a hint of the ridiculous to avoid alienating friends and colleagues. However, if you don’t care or if alienation is your thing, the Buddha can be quite direct when he wants to be; ‘Buddha says “shut the hell up,” seems to work a treat…

Here’s me raising a vin chaud to that positive state of mind…

*Reference the legendary snowboarding dictionary

**well not strictly, there is usually a definitive list in your travel insurance wording – what they won’t insure without some extra cash, if at all.

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Hoffwatch

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I’ve mentioned already that Reberty is a small place – one pub and one pizzeria small. The downside to this is there is no escape, you rattle around a small pen on the side of the mountain. The upside is that it is so small that even if you are out of the loop you are still likely to find yourself in the loop, that is given that a loop can only be so small and Reberty 2000 is smaller.

So that is how come we came to find out, on Christmas Eve, of the coming of the messiah, to Reberty. Not Jesus – incidentally one of the most mispronounced names in the world, discovered courtesy of the chalet quiz – but David – don’t hassle the hoff – Hasselhoff.

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Christmas Eve in Reberty was looking pretty underwhelming. Many of the chalet staff sat bored-shepherd-esque in Le Ferme nursing alcoholic drinks while the lights from the piste-bashers shone from the mountains. It was hard to hear over the raucous shouts of the seasonnaires from other companies, cheering a round of tequila or j├Ąger bombs. One by one we dropped out, our manager first after doubt was cast on his last season’s conduct (totally spuriously, as it turns out, which is a relief because now I can eradicate all thoughts of him doing the helicopter), then another, then another. Soon, we were pretty much a handful, still sipping, talking rubbish, waiting for midnight.

At midnight along came 18 year old Ski Host, Thomas (aka The Prophet) and Girl whose name I didn’t catch, but whose butt was commented on favourably and who it was agreed (not by me) wore Thomas’s hat well, albeit not in the ‘flaccid’ (I am not joking, a direct quote from The Prophet) way that he wore it. I had had two red wines by this point and was indifferently swimming through its fuzz while muttering acknowledgement of the fact that Thomas’s family had a chalet in another valley where he had stayed since he was small and in the UK he was eating 3400 calories a day. ‘Why?’ I asked, puzzled as much by the fact that he was counting, as much as by the large number. ‘All you need to know is the number,’ he replied, immediately confirming my instinctual disinclination to speak to him. He rumbled on talking, no gushing, about things he liked to talk about and no doubt had done do already that evening; food, particularly tartiflette, him eating food, him skiing, and rival chalets and one in particular by whom he seemed to feel snubbed. ‘Oh, they’re always going on about which celebrities are staying with them. Oh, this week,’ and at this point he had begun to effect an even more affected accent than his own (a stretch), ‘they had Greg [some name that left me blank but to which I nodded], then next week they have…[another blank] and David Hasselhoff.’

I was immediately shaken in my semi-soaked state. By the time I had swum to the top I was all

Knight Rider. A shadowy flight into a dangerous world of a man who does not exist…

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I was lost somewhere between the red polo neck, buoy and bomber jacket with multiple theme tunes waving through me. My childhood hero was coming.

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The messiah.

Although having said that, The Hoff appears to have been more lost than messianic in recent years, the depths of which were that video of him slurring and vomiting in a drunken mess on the bathroom floor. It almost goes without saying that he will fit in perfectly here. But, seriously, beneath the theme tune and the 80’s sheen (because everything from the 80s glitters) there was a lingering doubt. He’s 60, dating a girl in her 20s, this coming or arrival may more likely be the final awakening of my adulthood, the grit of reality, the shattering of dreams, something not far from finding out that Santa does not indeed exist.

Bugger.

But never mind. Hoffwatch commences Saturday 29th December, bring on that illusion-shattering-in-my-face-ugliness…

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Or indeed the devil himself…shit that is scary!!

A Nasty Sic Christmas From The Christmas Moose

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The recipe for Christmas Day on the slopes: five hours sleep, non-optional Christmas cold, G & T before 08:00 and a series of toilets to clean. All the before pulling on boarding clothes, stretching reindeer head over my helmet and standing outside the pub, on the edge of the piste in waning visibility and with equally trailing enthusiasm.

I had trudged through the morning to be there, my lethargy and the fact that I needed to grab for the ‘elephant roll’ every two minutes to catch my howling sneezes or the torrent coming from my nose, preventing any efficiency or initiative. In case you were wondering – as I was – elephant roll is NOT so called because it is the equivalent size to that which an elephant might use to wipe its bottom. Disappointing. I suggested the name might have been given for this very reason on my first week in Reberty, with a smile tickling my lips. I was told no, it was to do with the way it is dispensed if put in a cage on the wall. Also disappointing.

I was furthermore disappointed that I had forgotten to pack even a little bit for the slopes.

As it was I didn’t need it. The thigh burning sensation and the thoughts of being completely unable to do this stupid planky, slidey sport took over. The mind is an amazing thing; ask the Buddha. Then any snot-like moisture was completely obliterated from around my face after a spectacular sliding face plant – brought about by being too close to an edge that I then pictured myself being launched over – which must have looked more like Rudolf coming in for a poor landing because my trusty helmet cover didn’t shift as my face hit the ground and spray showered upwards.

When we got to the bottom, I was glad. I could straighten my legs, which after two weeks must be entirely powered by cake and boxed vin rouge (the folly of a chalet girl), and flop onto the lift.

But the Buddha (app) says ‘your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself too it’, so when we got to the top I did not slide off home, defeated. Instead, on to Les Menuires to give my face, once again, to the slope and my heart to a Baileys coffee.

‘Mooooooooo!’ – is that the noise a moose makes? – ‘Have a nasty sic* Christmas!’

* Giving myself to my world involves embracing its language. Nasty sic is the best. Sic without the nastiness is simply moderately good. See the snowboarding dictionary where all is explained.

Let Me Give You A Tip…

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It is a well-known fact that ski season jobs are poorly paid. This runs from chalet host up to resort manager. It is also well-known that the staff at the bottom of the food chain (me, for example) hope to be able to make enough tips to be able to survive on (in this context, read ‘survival’ as ability to purchase cases of Kronenberg bottled beer and the occasional tube of toothpaste). So, some staff might work harder to solicit these tips, they might go that extra mile for the guests to improve the chances of being recognised (financially, that is, because as one seasoned employee puts it ‘compliments do not buy beer’).

The recognition happens on transfer day.

Transfer day is a curious experience. One batch of humans are shipped out of resort to be replaced by another batch. To do this staff rise at 5:00 and over 12 hours turn over the chalet and settle in the new humans. What surprised me about transfer day was the hugging. Guests hugging staff, virtual strangers embracing the people who have looked after them for seven days. I was hugged. And afterwards, once all the guests had been loaded and moved off, I stood at the bus stop thinking, ‘how strange, how nice’ while my colleagues disappeared.

When I returned to my chalets there was no sign of either chef, both repeat seasonnaires. Then after five minutes they both reappeared, having (so it turned out) checked every room for tips. One chef proudly announced 150 euro, while the other had zero.

I took care of both chalets, had dined with the guests in each chalet and I had formed opinions of them too. It was interesting how those changed when the financial judgement had been passed. It leaves a complex taste in your mouth reflecting on your efforts over the previous week.

The point is though, it is not an exact science. Your effort does not necessarily match the eventual reward, which one of the other chefs discovered to his disappointment. All week he devoted himself to this family, not only cooking for them but allowing them wine long after the food had been cleared away, boarding with them, drinking with them, advising them, changing the menu for them. Nothing was too much trouble. Their wish was his command, they were always right. It could have been sickening but he did it with style (mostly, although I almost choked on my coffee when they left the chalet, offering to turn their Christmas CD off on the way out the door only to hear his response: ‘no don’t worry, I actually find it rather soothing.’ He doesn’t). On the last night they were singing his praises, they would come back to this resort again and again, if only they knew he’d be there to serve them. So, I could see why he’d be confident of a large reward, after all, that is what a tip recognises, personal service. Only in the end, it didn’t happen. From 11 people he received 33 euros.

He felt dirty, used, taken advantage of, a slightly naive girl, the victim of a one night stand. By the time the bus had pulled away from the snow crusted lay-by his treasured guests, his dining buddies, had become scum and worse.

It does beg the question: how do you know? And how far would you go?

Driving Home For Christmas

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Imagine the most cringe-worthy family party. Several family members drink too much, they drag up some disturbing family history that the rest had effectively buried, or they are just plain drunk; you play games you would not contemplate playing with anybody you know that you don’t share a gene or two with, or worse still you are forced into a blood-tied singalong. And you do it because it is family, right?

Imagine all the Christmas songs you grew up with. Not the carols, the real classics: Last Christmas ( the first hearing of which always marks the beginning of the season for me); Do They Know It’s Christmas Time (At All)?; Merry Christmas (Everyone); Driving Home For Christmas…

All of them have a place in my heart, a discreet one, carefully closed and only usually opened with a healthy dose of alcohol.

Now, imagine this all at once…the family gathered around a roaring fire, each family member warmed to the deepest cockles with the boxed vin rouge et vin blanc and in turn hollering out every Christmas hit they can remember. And, imagine this is taking place in your front room, beneath your bedroom and it’s not quite Chris Rea’s version of Driving Home For Christmas vibrating through the thick floor tiles…

…this is living and working in a ski chalet…Joyeux Noel!

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This is Reberty 2000

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The equivalent of a small Cotswold village set within a cat’s cradle of blue and red ski runs between hedonist Val Thoren and the high rise concrete of Les Menuires.

Like every good village it has a pub, one pub, Le Ferme. This is the way to it:

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Pretty, huh?

It also has a pizzeria, a shop (stocking an array of dubiously humorous postcards and ones with barely dressed women on too) and a snow shop
(and weirdly I recently visited a village in the Yorkshire Dales that has a snow shop too, so this is not the preserve of the Alps).

And as sure as night follows day, like many small villages, everybody knows everybody. At the pub or on the piste you will know somebody, biblically (for some seasonnaires and guests) or in the straight forward, nodding hello way. But it doesn’t matter which, you must treat everything you say as though it can be heard. So, if in doubt don’t say it…wait until you are at the top of a mountain, alone, in a blizzard, only then is it safe to talk about who was in the hot tub last night, who is quaffing the chalet wine long after dinner, the room mates who aren’t getting along…

Or your small world could get a whole lot more claustrophobic.

Music to Scrub Porcelain By (a playlist)

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Over the last three days I have scrubbed 9 toilets, 5 shower cubicles, 9 sinks, 4 baths and many tiles. I will do this repeatedly, six days a week for the next few months. I have realised, if I am to survive, I must have music and that music has got to be right.

The current top 5:

1. Surfin’ USA, The Beach Boys.
2. Hang Me Out to Dry, The Cold War Kids.
3. Night Swimming, REM, purely for the water content.
4. In The Morning, Razorlight
5. (A special one just for the toilet, when you are trying to get all the way behind that bowl) Keep Your Head Up, Ben Howard.