On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

20 August 2018

Head in the clouds at Mount Buller

Working in a Victoria state ski resort and making a decision for the future.
Mount Buller, Victoria, Australia © Claire Blumenfeld
DISPATCH

After Tasmania, I go back on the continent to head for Mount Buller, one of Australia’s most famous ski resorts. Yes, there are some mountains high enough in Australia to receive snow. They are called the “Australian Alps”. Mount Buller is about two hours drive from Melbourne.

I pick up some ski gear and drop off some stuff at a friend’s house in Melbourne before reaching Mount Buller. It has been years that I wanted to do a season in the snow so I applied a few months ago for a position in restaurant business at the various ski resorts of the area. Mount Buller ended up being the station that was offering me the most interesting position.

I arrive at the end of the afternoon after leaving my car at the employee parking at the bottom of the mountain. Abom, the company that employs me has a large restaurant-hotel in the center of the resort. I quickly learn that my home and my place of work will not be in Abom but in Spurs, a fast-food dormitory located on the slopes, a little higher. I will only do a few shifts in Abom. I am divided between the disappointment of not being in the village and the curiosity of finding myself living on the slopes, surrounded by snow. Located a ten minute walk from the center and accessible only by foot or skis, Spurs is a small restaurant with two floors dedicated to accommodate restaurant staff, ski and snowboard instructors and lifties (employees of the ski lifts). A hundred people are gonna live there during the season. After crossing the snowy expanse with all my belongings, I move into a tiny room with four beds (two bunk beds). Two people are already here: Melanie and Stephanie. Steph is Chinese, the same age as me and with a quiet character. We sympathize immediately.

The first two weeks on the mountain are full of joy. The work is simple. Cash customers, clean the tables and the room, help in the kitchen, clear the snow outside, tidy up deliveries, serve at the bar, etc., nothing too complicated. We are a team of four in the restaurant and three in the kitchen. Positions change regularly so that everyone can do a little bit of everything. The weather is magnificent, the slopes accessible in ten seconds, I ski every day, the sunsets and sunrises are extraordinary and the photo sessions successful. The mountain is not very high, 1805 meters, but sufficient to overcome the clouds often covering the surrounding valleys making the view quite exceptional. The mountain is not big and I quickly explore all of it but the variety of clouds and sunsets make the place beautiful and I spend a lot of time photographing the landscape.

But alas, that does not last, and I then spend a whole month in bad weather. Snow, rain, cloud, wind, gray sky. The beautiful weather has deserted Mount Buller. Add to that a job and a team slowly starting to be less and less interesting and a housing transformed into a pigsty, I saturate quickly. I often talk to instructors living in Spurs, most of whom come from all over the world: Italians, Argentines, Americans, Austrians, Poles, Swiss, etc. They too are deeply disappointed with the working conditions and accommodation offered. The depression that has stagnated like a sword of Damocles over my head for years and even more since a few months is about to explode. I feel it growing up in my brain, in my body, filling me with a bitterness that consumes me.

Brutally after a month and a half of work at Mount Buller I can not take it anymore. I choke. And for the first time I plan to leave Australia, to return to France. Me who thought of returning to Tasmania after the winter season to continue discovering the island that I loved or else applying for a position on a resort in the Great Barrier Reef, I take a wall in the face. I can not take it anymore. It has been a year and two months since I started to travel in Australia and almost three years since I left France. And no matter where I worked it always ended in disappointment. Should I continue, with the risk of reliving the same situation again, bad working conditions and very average accommodation or should I go back home? I spoke a lot with the ski instructors about the European Alps. And especially about the Mont Blanc and Chamonix. High mountains. Real one. And breathtaking landscapes. I went once to Chamonix when I was little but I do not remember. The idea of returning to France to work in Chamonix during the winter season slowly crawls into my mind. 

It is true that I miss little of France. Only good bread, architecture and mountains (high) I miss. Australia is beautiful in many ways, but its rather flat environment is not the most interesting for me. This is also why Tasmania with its much more hilly landscape really attracted me. Out of curiosity I apply for a position of assistant manager in a restaurant starting in October in a beautiful four-star hotel. The Alpina hotel in the center of Chamonix. With a panoramic restaurant on the seventh floor with an exceptional view of the Mont Blanc range. I do not believe in it too much, but the answer is soon followed by a skype interview. A week later, I am engaged! The salary is less interesting than in Australia but the position will allow me to learn more things and maybe become restaurant manager.

I can not believe it. Is this a good thing? Should I go home or persevere? Do I really want a career in catering? I spend several days thinking without being able to decide. I just started my second year of visa in Australia. I still have nine months left! And then I have the feeling that returning to France equals failure. Me who wanted to travel around the world for another five years before returning. And I still have so many places to go to in Australia… But working conditions and accommodation deteriorating further, a few relational problems pointing their noses and the joy I feel in returning to France to go to Chamonix make me take a decision. A few more weeks in Mount Buller, a month on a road trip around Australia and back in France at the end of September.

I do not know if it is the right choice. Maybe it is a mistake. Maybe I am still deluding myself. Still, the relief I feel once the decision is made is real. And as if to echo my state of mind the good weather returns to Mount Buller for my last days of work.

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