When I applied to work for New Generation ski school in Villars, I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely aware of its existence. I had no clue where the resort was, apart from that it was in Switzerland, I didn’t know what it was like as a resort and I didn’t have a clue where I would stay for the season (then again while applying I was working as a ski instructor in Australia, a country famed for its beaches and deserts). All I really knew was that it was a brand new work/train school set up to train BASI Level 2’s to pass their BASI ISIA exams and was being run by Alessandro Cambon. In short, it was a slightly nerve-wracking experience.
What I soon realised was that it was more well-known than I had realised. My mum knew all about it – she had skied there in the late 80s and thought very highly of the place, as did a few friends who had been there. I was aware that it had a lot of history and that British people had been staying in Villars for a very long time indeed. Back in the Victorian era, Villars and the surrounding areas had been famous for their eye hospitals. People would come from all over the world, particularly from the UK, have smoke blown into their eyes (or whatever the treatment was back then), and rest and recuperate in Villars. Evidence of this can still be seen in the town. The Villars Palace, now a Club Med hotel, is a huge Victorian building where these people would stay.
Many people know Villars because of its stature as a ski resort, but also it is equally famous for its boarding schools. Aiglon College, founded in 1949, is an international boarding school located in Chesières with roughly 360 students. As if one major boarding school wasn’t enough, Villars has another – Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil – with roughly 200 students. It is also the site of one of the oldest cog-railways in the world. Reaching the Col de Bretaye in 1911, the Bex-Villars-Bretaye (BVB) railway is still used to transport skiers up the mountain each day, even using trains that date back to 1945. It is no wonder that Villars has an unique feel about it.
As a result of its popularity, finding accommodation for the season was not too challenging. Before the team met each other, we had a Facebook group where we were able to share information such as letting agencies and various apartments we had found. Out of the nine team members, three had found apartments to live in on their own: one in Chesières and two in the Domaine de Rochegrises, a 30-second walk to the train that takes you to the meeting point every day. The rest shared accommodation, two living a stone’s throw from the Roc D’Orsay Telecabine, two sharing a place in Gryon (a short tram ride from Villars Centre), and two more in a place in Arveyes (half-way between Villars and Gryon). Rent prices can vary, from 500CHF per month up to 1,000CFH per month. The majority of agencies also offer discounts the longer you stay, so it is a good idea to do a little internet searching before deciding on a place, and this is where the Facebook group comes in very handy.
We descended on Villars in early December and were pleasantly surprised at what the town had to offer. It’s situated on the south-facing slope of the Rhone Valley, and once the December fog had cleared we were greeted with stunning views of the valley floor all the way up to the North Face of Mont Blanc. There is a diverse range of bars and restaurants in the town itself and the team’s favourite became the Moon Boot Lounge, where we hosted a number of themed parties. Next door is an extremely good pizzeria, and the various Cookie establishments became regular spots, too – not only for their great food but also because of their infamous coffees. Other popular spots included the P’tit Chalet in the middle of town where there was often live music, or if you’re feeling fancy, the bar of the Hotel RoyAlp.
About half an hour’s drive from Villars is the popular Bains de Lavey – the largest thermal baths in Switzerland situated on the Rhone offering steam rooms, saunas, Jacuzzis, and underwater speakers that play whale song. This proved very popular after an evening in the aforementioned bars…
The first week in Villars was spent sorting necessary admin: ski passes, work permits, internet, mobile phones etc. It was during this time we discovered Monthey – a large town in the Rhone Valley, about 20 minutes drive from Villars with various places like Aldi and Lidl, where food was considerably cheaper than in resort. Here you can find helpful places like phone shops; a few of us bought pay-as-you-go phones but those with phones unlocked could buy a Yallo sim card which allowed free calls to anywhere in Europe. With an “L” work permit, you are able to buy an Orange contract with 100GB of data per month, very useful if you’re staying somewhere without a phone-line.
Written by Tom Green – Tom began his ski instructor training 5 years ago as part of the Courchevel 10 week BASI 1 and 2 Residential Programme . He has since headed back to the UK and attended university before deciding that he wants to make a full time career from ski instruction. A key member of our Villars team his aim is to return next season and help grow the ski school.