Groundhog Chalet

Help! The husband and I are trapped in a ski chalet in the middle of nowhere, forced to socialise with strangers for four nights.

It’s like a bad episode of Come Dine With Me meets Big Brother.

We did, of course, bring this all on ourselves. We should have done the sensible thing and booked into a hotel for our Easter getaway. I had managed to find a lovely hotel on the slopes; it came with an indoor swimming pool, roaring fires and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to converse with any other guests.

However, I’d also been tempted by the last minute offer of a room in this remote chalet, which can only be accessed by James Bond-style skidoos (I’m a sucker for a gimmick). The owner said there was only four other people staying – a couple with their daughter and boyfriend. Could it really be that bad?

‘There’s two options for the mini-break,’ I told the husband. ‘We can stay in a relaxing ‘ski-in, ski-out’ hotel where we can sip a glass of Chablis by a crackling fire and read our books in peace – or we can plump for a chalet where we will probably be forced to make small talk with four other strangers every night.

‘Let’s try a chalet again,’ said the husband. ‘After all, how bad can it be? Let’s be honest,  they can’t be any worse than Carol and Martin.’

Oh yes, Carol and Martin. Our previous and only taste of chalet-cationing was with quite an eclectic mix of characters in January 2012.

They included: a pair of fun-seeking lads from Chorley, a man and wife from Birmingham with a 9-month old baby, a chain-smoking couple from Geneva, and our party-loving pals who we’d invited along (they also proved the perfect social shield when we inevitably sloped off the bed early).

And then there was Carol and her hen-pecked husband Martin. Carol was a preposterously posh, slightly-bonkers housewife, bordering on parody. She actually claimed – hilariously – to be working class yet lived in a 6-bedroom manor house in the middle of the country, skied about four times a year and sent her daughters to private school.  She wore her hair in strange, little-girl plaits and had a permanent look of disapproval about her. This might just be that she was unfortunate enough to have quite a long, banana-shaped face.

Carol was incredibly feeble and only seemed to managed a couple of hours on the slopes, before staggering back into the chalet and crying, ‘I think I need a large G and T urgently.’


To be honest, Carol was quite fun dinner company for an evening or two but after several nights of her plummy drawl and constant references to her manor house back in Somerset, it started to get a bit wearing.

The husband and I developed a daft little obsession with Carol and Martin. After the holiday, the husband would occasionally cry ‘Carol’ to me in a silly psuedo-sexual voice and I’d breathily gush ‘Marrrtin’ back.



So, three years on, it was with some trepidation that we finally arrived in Morzine on Thursday to be greeted by a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in a green Landrover (the skidoos unfortunately being out of action due to lack of snow). He really did look like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. See evidence below:


‘The other guests have already arrived,’ said Young Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the Landrover bumped and bounced us into the wilderness. ‘They’ve agreed to hold back dinner until you get here. They’re really looking forward to meeting you.’

‘Great!’ I squeaked, while simultaneously looking wide-eyed at the husband, and thinking, ‘this is far more intense than I ever imagined’.


We pulled up to the chalet and the hostess was waving at us a little too keenly from the front door. All thoughts of sitting in solitude in the corner and reading my book were rapidly evaporating.

‘They’re here!’ cried intense hostess over her shoulder. She held out her outstretched hand. ‘Come on in.’

The other guests were sat cosily in a circle around the fire, two empty seats awaiting us. But as they rose to greet us, I froze in abject horror.

Two familiar faces – one particularly long and banana-shaped – were smiling politely back at us, without so much as a flicker of recognition.

‘Meet your fellow guests,’ said the intense hostess in her sing-song voice.

‘This is Carol and this is Martin.’

Booty Vicious

I realise that the very idea of purchasing a pair of custom-made ski boots might make me sound like I’m married to a Russian oligarch. But due to having enormous feet (recently documented in my Big Foot blog), I’ve had an ongoing battle to find a pair of ski boots that can adequately house my sizeable clodhoppers.

And the long-suffering husband became so fed up with my incessant moaning about ill-fitting boots, that when we stumbled upon a custom-made ski boot shop, he frog-marched me straight in there.


The shop in question goes by the name of Surefoot. Sounds comforting, doesn’t it? If you happened to be in the market for a pair of bespoke ski boots, you’d feel in safe hands with a company called Surefoot. Or so I thought.

It all started off quite positively. After a bit of a wait, we were served by a thoroughly pleasant man. He was a kind of ageing surfer dude – all bleached hair and rolled up sleeves – with a relaxed but confident manner.

Ageing surfer dude talked us through the Surefoot process (based on 25 years of scientific development, no less!): first, my big feet would be measured in 3-D by a special machine, in order to create a sole that hugs the contours of the foot; next, a boot is selected based on the shape of the foot and skiing ability; finally, hot resin is injected into the shell of the boot, which cools to create a mould to hold said foot and ankle snugly in place. Simples.

And then he hit us with the price… £800! I was flabbergasted.

‘It’s too much,’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Let’s go!’

But it was too late. The husband had already been sucked into the whole Surefoot process, hypnotised by Ageing surfer dude’s steely blue eyes, soothing sales patter, and – moreover – the promise of the comfiest pair of boots you could ever ski in (ie. no more moaning wife).

‘I think we should just go for it,’ he said. ‘Just think: no more stressing about finding a pair of boots that fit. It’s an investment.’

Two hours later, we were still in the shop, waiting for the boots to bake in the oven.

Ageing surfer dude emerged with the boots, holding them aloft triumphantly. I slipped my feet into them.

They immediately felt like they were entombed in concrete.

‘How do they feel?’ he said, in his hypnotic tones.

‘Very, very tight,’ I said. This was no understatement; I was worried.

He assured me this was perfectly normal and before you could say ‘Not-So-Surefoot’, we were bundled out of the shop – £800 lighter.

The next morning, I set off skiing in my new boots. The first run was mildly painful. By the second run, a hot throbbing pain had begun to pulsate across the bridge of my feet. By the third run, it had escalated to intolerable burning that had spread through my ankles, toes and calves.

By noon, I was in so much pain that I thought I was going to pass out. I was forced to abandon the slopes and head back to boot camp.

I hobbled through the door of Surefoot and nearly collapsed face down.

‘I’m in so much pain,’ I cried dramatically.

Ageing surfer dude simply smiled at me in the way a doctor might try to placate a mentally unhinged patient.

‘Not to worry,’ he said. ‘We’ll pop them in the oven and re-shape them a bit. This is quite normal.’

I waited an hour. There was an alarming amount of bashing and clattering behind the scenes. During this time, several other disgruntled customers came in – including one man who had been having his boots chipped away at for the last three years!

‘The right boot is just about okay now,’ he said, cheerfully. ‘But the left one still needs a lot of work.’


Eventually, one of Ageing surfer dude’s lackies emerged with my newly-heated boots. It might have been my imagination but he looked a little sheepish.

I tried them on. Nothing had changed.

Back in the oven they went.

Meanwhile, several new customers entered the shop sniffing around, while I woefully massaged my swollen feet.

‘Don’t do it,’ I mouthed at one of them. ‘It’s a living nightmare.’

Ageing surfer dude caught wind of my moans and the blue eyes hardened.

‘You’re not chasing off my customers, I hope,’ he said, maintaining his Cheshire cat smile but with none of the earlier warmth.

‘No… no… of course not!’ I hastened, grinning back.

After their second oven bake, the boots felt no better and I had wasted a whole afternoon’s skiing. Ageing surfer dude naturally assured me that they just needed a bit more breaking in.

I trudged home rueing the day that I had ever set foot in Surefoot.

A year on and we’re back in the French Alps. I begrudging lugged my Surefoot boots all the way out here. I tried them for the first morning’s skiing, tolerated the pain for as long as possible, and then had to head to the boot-hire shop to get some different boots.

My redundant Surefoot boots are currently sat mocking me in the corner of our hotel room.


I passed the Surefoot shop last night. Ageing surfer dude is still there: same soft sales pitch, same bleached hair and same irritating grin in place – as he snares more victims.

And behind him, a line of weary victims waiting futilely for their boots to be re-shaped by Surefoot’s backroom boys, wielding hammer and chisel.


‘He’s a snake oil salesman masquerading as an affable ski buddy,’ said the husband. ‘He sows dreams but reaps nightmares.’

So far, I haven’t had the energy to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with Ageing surfer dude. But I’m building up to my next battle with him.

And I’ve got a feeling that during our next encounter, surf bum will be getting the boot.