Have you ever daydreamed about jacking it all in and moving to the mountains, but just wondered how you’d ever make a living out there? Well, it doesn’t have to stay a dream — Al and Kat Judge can tell you how to make it a reality.
This lovely couple left a hectic life in London for an admittedly busy but totally fulfilling life running mountain chalets in Morzine, France. What’s more, they get to go skiing, snowboarding, trail running and picnicing loads! And they’re looking for fun, energetic and passionate people to join their team for winter 2016/17 (if that’s got you written all over it, scroll to the bottom!)
When I was six we moved from London to East Sussex to a house with a huge wild garden. So I spent a lot of my formative years climbing trees and building dens with my brother and sisters. We also used to go fell walking in Cumbria every year and this really planted a love for climbing peaks with amazing views. That’s what eventually brought me to live in the Alps.
I was pretty obsessed with wildlife and spent a lot of time collecting frogs, toads and snails and putting them in a paddling pool. I even smuggled an abandoned dove chick into my bedroom to try and keep it as a pet — I made a nest for it in my wicker sewing basket, but eventually the smell of it got so bad that my parents discovered what I was up to!
I did the pretty standard gap year route of Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji with a group of friends, which was good fun and helped me develop more of a sense of independence. But I wasted too much time drinking to make the most of all of the culture available to me. I definitely got the travelling bug though, so went on another trip to Ecuador and got to visit the amazing Galápagos Islands and climb Cotopaxi (a volcano in Ecuador) which was brilliant.
I did the 9-5 in London for a long time and found it completely unfulfilling. I had always loved food and cooking and really wanted to find a way to combine this with creating a different and more adventurous lifestyle so when the opportunity to move to Morzine to be a chalet host arose, it was a very easy move to make. There were no second thoughts! It also helped that I shared the ambition with my husband, so I had someone to make the move with.
Getting to snowboard pretty much every day is the best motivator in the world! No matter how relentless the work is, it all falls away the minute you get out on to the slopes. It was one of the best feelings to be sat on a sunny terrace drinking a beer while enjoying incredible views after a few hours of riding — particularly picturing all the people stuck working in their offices!
Can you tell us a little bit about AliKats Mountain Holidays and where your inspiration to start it up came from?
My parents really instilled the value of being a good host in me, simply in the way they looked after friends and family. So this laid the foundation for me to become really passionate about hospitality and also made me want to turn it into a career. I then went on a chalet holiday in St Anton and thought what a great model it was. But I was also pretty sure I could do a better version of it myself. When I met my husband, we immediately started refining a plan to move to the mountains to set up a chalet company together (Al & Kat = AliKats!), as we felt that it would provide the perfect opportunity to combine all our passions, namely skiing, snowboarding, cooking and hosting.
Our first year was certainly a steep learning curve. We rented a 26 bed chalet and the plan was for me to do all the cooking. We hired four hosts to handle the rest of the responsibilities, while Al worked in a bank in Geneva to give us a back up plan in case we didn’t make enough money from the chalet. I had never cooked for 20+ people before and so to start doing sophisticated four course dinners every evening was extremely nerve-racking. But it was so rewarding, as I could see how much the guests were enjoying it. But I wasn’t only cooking, I was also managing the team, handling the sales and on top of all that, I was pregnant! So it was pretty challenging to say the least. Seeing how much the guests were loving their holidays though was so incredibly rewarding that all the hard work felt completely worthwhile.
Definitely do it! I’d recommend trying to negotiate a sabbatical first though, so you can go and do a season to see if you like it before you cut all ties with your normal life. Then during the season try to work out exactly what job will suit you best and try make a plan for turning the move into a permanent one. That’s what we did and it seemed to work pretty well for us!
There are so many places to choose from! Our favourite place to ski is definitely Mont Chery which is a smaller mountain on the Les Gets side of the Portes Du Soleil. The lifts are a little slow and rickety which means it’s always much quieter than the other areas, so you have brilliant fast red and black runs to charge down, plus brilliant off-piste. It also has incredible views of Mont Blanc on a clear day. We’ve also been camping there in the summer, where we’ve woken up to some truly beautiful views. But one morning, on opening the tent, we found we were surrounded by a herd of very curious goats!
Outside the winter season, my favourite way to explore the mountains is trail running. There are endless routes to choose from and it’s the quickest and cheapest way to get out there. I also have the added motivator of our lovely and endlessly energetic dog, Murray, who stares at me intently until I give in and take him out for a run — rain or shine.
Morzine looks like a gorgeous place to have a young family — what are the benefits of bringing your kids up in the mountains?
Our two children, Ivy and Wilf are the most energetic children you’re ever likely to meet and they absolutely love all the outdoor sports available to them. They both snowboard and Ivy skis in winter. Then when the snow melts they ride bikes, climb and swim in the lake. We also have daily picnics — basically we like to spend as much time outside as possible to help burn off the excess energy!
We’re also really lucky to have lots of like minded friends with young children, so there are always tons of people around to play with. It’s a lovely community to be a part of and everyone helps each other out and looks after each other’s children. We love that the children are growing up bilingual — Al and I joke that even if our kids turn out not to be that academically successful, if they can speak French and ski, they’ll always be able to find work!
What makes for the best meal after a big day in the mountains?
Tartiflette, a local dish involving potatoes, bacon, cream and lots of reblochon cheese would be the obvious option, but I tend to try and serve things that are a little different in the chalets. My version of this traditional dish is a tartiflette tatin served with a home-made reblochon ice-cream — it sounds weird but is absolutely delicious!
I see you’re recruiting people to join your AliKats team in winter 2016/17 — what are you looking for?
We’re looking for people with tons of energy and a real passion for customer service. A need to please is essential! The best of our previous hosts have always been fun, caring people who personally enjoy food, wine, skiing and socialising. Their enthusiasm ensures our guests have a brilliant holiday.
The day normally starts at about 7am with preparing a delicious breakfast for the guests. Every day there is a different hot option, plus fresh baguettes, croissants, smoothies, etc. This is followed by cake making and driving guests to the slopes. Then it’s back to the chalet to service the rooms and make sure the whole place is completely spotless for the guests’ return later in the afternoon.
On a good day, morning work can be wrapped up by around 10.30am. The hosts then have a good few hours free to get onto the slopes. Later in the afternoon, the guests need to be picked up and brought back to the chalet so they can have tea, cake and maybe a beer or two in the hot tub. By 6pm the hosts will be busy prepping the evening meal, laying the table, serving drinks and canapés while chatting to the guests. Dinner is served at 7.30pm and after that coffee and cheese is served. Then everything needs to be tidied up and set up for breakfast the next day. Work is normally finished at 9.30pm, so there’s generally time for a glass of wine with the guests or a few drinks in the pub before bed. Then it’s time to wake up and do it all again!
Please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org — we like to see a recent photo, CV and an enthusiastic and personal cover letter.