If you told my New York self that I’d someday live somewhere with a mild winter and would actually MISS the raging snowstorms, I’d have laughed at you. If you then told me that this feeling would be cured with a luxury Swiss chalet stay, I’d have laughed even harder.
Unlike our friends & family stateside, we didn’t experience much of a winter in France. Obviously, it’s not a complaint for me at the moment. At the moment, I can open the windows and the birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing. At the moment, I’m Snow Freaking White.
But back in February? February was gray and cold and deeeeeepressing.
My Facebook was flooded with tales of Polar Vortexes and an absurd number of photos of people’s dashboard thermometers. Honestly, I was feeling a little left out. It’s not that I wanted the, erm, good old days of bracing myself against the wind blowing up 2nd Avenue en route to the subway. I just wanted to trade all this winter rain for a bit of snow! Just a bit!
Luckily for me, our week in Verbier solved it all.
Prior to the trip, I received confirmation that the hubs & I would be spending a week at Ski Armadillo‘s Charly’s chalet. Based on the pictures and description, it was clearly perfect. Big, bright and centrally located, it was an ideal homebase for me, the hubs, and, we noticed, up to 12 other guests. I’ll be honest — I was immediately curious to see how this works.
With two meals per day included, this meant that we had a week full of breakfasts and dinners with 12 possible strangers. Though the hubs and I love meeting new people when we travel, we’re not usually fans of organized group travel. You just never know who you’re going to end up with.
I asked the Ski Armadillo team for a little more info about our fellow guests. They told me we’d be with nine adults and one child on night one, and six adults from Monday until Wednesday morning. We’d end with one group of eleven from Wednesday night to the end of our week.
I was scheduled to arrive a day earlier than the hubs. Originally, we were booked in a chalet that requires Sunday-Sunday bookings. At the last minute and after our travel was confirmed, we were upgraded to Charly’s. This is one of the few Ski Armadillo properties that allows guests to check-in and out midweek if they please. This is perfect for a long weekend, and the reason we had so much turnover during our seven nights.
To be honest, I was a little nervous when I arrived on my first night. I was greeted by Alice, who, after I took off my boots (house rules!) showed me to our room. It was adorable but basic, and with a shared bathroom between two other two-person rooms — both of which were also occupied. It looked similar to the below, just flipped:
I dropped off my bags, freshened up, and made my way back out to the living room, where I found the different groups draped around the couches.
Oh god, it’s like I’m crashing a family reunion, I texted the hubs as Alice came over with a glass of champagne and directions to help myself to the canapes.
I sat on one of the empty couches and tried to look engaged. Suddenly, a bright-eyed girl around my age plopped down on the couch next to me.
“Darling! I’m Dhivya! Tell me about yourself! Are you here alone??”
I explained that I had arrived the day before my husband, who was wrapping up finals back at INSEAD. She started laughing and borderline shrieking — apparently Kate, one of the other girls, had just finished the same program, and our time living in Fontainebleau had overlapped by about three months.
I sat down to dinner with Kate the fellow INSEADer to my right, and across from her friend Marina. They were both Australians who met while living in London, and traveled to Verbier with Dhivya, who was from India but also now lived in London. To my left was a BBC sportscaster named Sally, there with her husband, their adorable three-year old son, and her sister, who was now living in Switzerland. At the end of the table was a couple, Stephen and Lucy, and their daughter, Ruby — a seasonal employee at a nearby hotel and staying in Charly’s for her night off. Together, we enjoyed an amazing dinner cooked by Chris, as Alice walked us through each course before inviting us back into the lounge for more wine and dessert.
By the end of dessert (and a lot of wine), it felt like I actually was on a family vacation. Everyone was warm, chatty, and friendly. I couldn’t wait for the hubs to arrive and meet our new friends! I went to bed that night feeling complete excitement for the week ahead — all of my doubts about vacationing with strangers totally erased.
The next morning, everyone was up early and ready for a custom breakfast, courtesy of Chris. There were fresh croissants, eggs either poached or fried, toast, a side of mushrooms, and bacon & sausage. Sally and her family were traveling back to the UK that afternoon, and everyone else was heading out to ski. I spent the day exploring the village (too nervous to take to the slopes alone), before making my way back to the chalet just before dinner. Again, Dhivya appeared in front of me, this time wearing a white fur hat and an emerald green, quilted winter coat over a sweater covered in sequins. I was wearing one of the hubs’s flannels and a pair of leggings.
“Darling! You can’t just sit here, it’s time for après-ski!”
And with that, I was promptly whisked around the corner to The Farinet with her, Kate and Marina for a quick pre-dinner drink.
When I saw the number of people still in ski boots, I was happy that I was the one more appropriately dressed.
By the time the hubs had arrived around 10 PM, I was lying on the couch chatting away, completely at ease in our home for the week. Alice had saved the hubs a plate from dinner, and we all sipped our wine while filling him in on everyone’s backstories.
The next night was more of the same, minus Marina & Dhivya who had already checked out. The rest of us lounged around, stretching out our ski-legs and drinking wine by the fire. It was exactly how I envisioned our week in Verbier to be: warm and cozy and, most importantly, full of wine.
I was seriously sad to see the last of the crew check out. Alice didn’t know much about the next group — just that there was a lot of them. The hubs and I had plans for the night, so it wasn’t until much later when we got home to find some of our new chaletmates in the lounge. We walked in to say hello, and the tone was decidedly different.
We tried to make small talk and find out where they were from (a mix of Dubai and London, but no real explanation past that). When conversation died to a minimum and there was an awkward silence, the hubs and I looked at each other and said, “Ok, well! Goodnight!”
Grumble mumble in response.
Luckily I had had more than a few cocktails while we were out, but the next morning the hubs said he’d had a tough time sleeping. Apparently the newbies were up until close to 4 AM, which we hoped was just jetlag. When we walked out to breakfast, a few more had arrived and, surprisingly, the hubs knew one guy from his first job in New York. They literally sat right next to each other for two years, about five years ago. Maybe it wouldn’t all be so bad?
It took a moment, but when he finally put two and two together, the hubs’s former co-worker yelled, “Holy crap, dude! Hey! Did you put on weight??”
From then on, we steered clear of the chalet as much as possible, only returning for meals. Each night before dinner, we tensely sat in the lounge, failing at small talk while they blasted techno and talked about how tribal every song sounded. Clearly I am an old person.
I e-mailed the Ski Armadillo team.
“Is there any chance to switch to a different chalet for tomorrow through Sunday?”
We tried to make the most of our first dinner together, but we were clearly as welcome on their vacation as they were on ours — there were just more of them. We moved to the lounge for dessert, and after Alice and Chris left, we were left to defend Charly’s as they inexplicably rearranged all of the furniture.
Once we compromised that they could smoke weed inside but had to smoke cigarettes outside (small victories?), it was clear. Our perfect week was officially over. Over the next 48 hours, we were back and forth with the Ski Armadillo team via e-mail. But things looked bleak. All other chalets were booked and no other hotels were available.
We talked to Alice, who was completely sympathetic. On top of our own frustrations, she was being majorly disrespected. She promised to talk to the team in the main office to explain that we weren’t being picky. We were all in hell.
Ski Armadillo’s first offer was to send someone by and talk to the group. This was literally the last thing we wanted considering that one was a former colleague. Plus, how awkward would that be for the rest of the weekend?
On our second to last night, pre-dinner, we sat in the dark (their request), music blasting, me trying to decide if I wanted to laugh or cry.
“So, are you guys, like, married?” One of the other guys asked, scrunching up his nose. To be fair, we’ve gotten this before. We both look younger than we are, so people (mostly tasteless and usually single) will occasionally ask this in disbelief. When we said yes and “three years,” in response to his, “for how long?” He scoffed.
“But you guys look alike.”
I wish I had been quicker.
“Oh, well yeah. We’re siblings. But we’re married siblings.”
But I wasn’t. And this is the story of how I killed 12 strangers and one pseudo-stranger during my Swiss chalet stay.
Just kidding. But it IS the story of how things can very quickly go from absolute perfection, to really, really hellacious.
In the end, Ski Armadillo agreed to cover a hotel in Geneva so we could escape for our final night. To say that I’m disappointed in how our week ended is an understatement. But given that we were in Verbier during their busiest week of the season, there really was nothing else to be done. I have no doubts that the SA team would have moved us had there been space elsewhere.
Having said that, I do think this could have been preemptively avoided. I’ve struggled a bit with how to share our experience. I don’t think that a couple should have been placed in a chalet with a group of this size, no matter what. Our first half of the week worked so well because it was 3-4 small groups, all totally respectful of one another. If a group is going to reserve the majority of a chalet, it makes far more sense to ask them to reserve the entire chalet. Otherwise, it quickly turns into an upscale youth hostel situation, shared bathrooms and all.
Do I think that this experience is the norm? No, I really don’t. Charly’s is an amazing place to stay, as proven by our first three nights. Do I wish that I had held our group from the first half of the week hostage so that this other group never entered my life? I don’t even have words to tell you how much I wish I had had that foresight. Or the resources to carry out a hostage situation, now that you mention it.
Still, there was a silver lining. A night in Geneva broke up our travels nicely. Come Sunday, we only had a three-hour train ride back to Paris instead of a full day of travel. For future trips to Verbier, I’d definitely plan it so that this was intentional and not just a byproduct of a group of crazies.
Plus, we made sure that these were the last faces we saw before we departed Verbier:
Because when all else fails, hug a puppy.
– I was a guest of Ski Armadillo and, as always, all opinions are my own. I cannot thank Alice and Chris enough for their hospitality during our week at the chalet. Plus, a huge thanks to the team back in the offices for trying to help us out.
Should you be interested in booking Charly’s for your own Verbier getaway, see below for more information:
Ski Armadillo’s luxury apartment, Charlys is just a two minute walk from the centre of Verbier and its après ski bars, and a five minute walk to the Medran Gondola. The contemporary apartment sleeps up to fourteen people in seven bedrooms. The interior is stylish with great living spaces and a large sun terrace. Prices start £571 per person, or £8000 for sole use of the apartment. This includes 7 nights accommodation, chalet board catering, a host and chef, canapés and afternoon tea. Upgrade to Ski Amadillo’s champagne service for £200 per person. For more information visit www.skiarmadilloverbier.com, or call 044 (0) 1799 668730