You often hear or know of people who have set up a chalet / apartment rental business or a property sales business, but it's not very often that you hear of a company that does both, and successfully at that. Co-directors of Mountain Base Matt & Andy take time out to tell us how it all began, as well as their favourite places for skiing, eating, and how they cope with that terrible 2 minute commute to the office...
Tell us a little bit about your business, how it started out and where you're based...
We formed Mountain Base in May 2004 just before we came to Chamonix, basically just to run a catered chalet, Chalet Chimere. In all honesty, we didn't think it through that much, it was all about getting out here and going for a complete lifestyle change. They won't mind us saying (I hope), but we'd seen Debbie and Al from Demipiste in action on No Going Back on Channel 4 and thought "if they can do it...". We arrived in August of that year to run the chalet for that first winter and ended up looking after 4 or 5 other places for clients. Really, it just snowballed from there with 50 properties by year 3, the point at which we stopped catering the chalet.
After wading through a mound of paperwork (Vive la France), we finally secured the "Carte Professionnelle" in 2007, allowing us to convert our UK property qualifications to the French system. The property sales side of our business then began in earnest and we have continued to grow. The business is pretty much 50/50 to the present day - we are focusing on sales with a team handling the rentals. It's a great combination, we are unique in that respect in Chamonix. We moved into our office in the square in Chamonix Sud over 3 years ago, where we are still based.
What makes Chamonix a special place to be for someone in your profession?
It's all about having the chance to do what we've trained to do in a place like Chamonix. Of course, there are some much more adventurous ways to earn a living in Chamonix, but there aren't that many people who have had the chance to move here and pursue the career they'd begun in the UK or elsewhere. We have the chance to meet people from all over the world and share our passion for the Valley, an easy task really. To put it another way, it beats measuring up a distribution centre in Warrington or an office block in Crawley. But moreover, it's about having our own business and being able to forge a living in one of the most fabulous places on the planet.
What are the best bits about your job?
Having the flexibility of running our own business and being able to enjoy the mountains when needs must...
And the worst bits?
The commute is a right pain, it takes nearly 2 minutes to get to the office.
What is in store for the future with your business, any exciting projects in the pipelines that you can share with us?
We are excited to have started working with Knight Frank International and being part of their Global Network. It's early days yet but their network of 330 offices throughout the world offers us huge potential to reach buyers and sellers alike. As the market in Chamonix gets increasingly international, we're hopefully in a good position to be very much part of it.
What are you personal and professional goals for the future?
We've worked very hard over the past 9 years and our goals are to make more time for ourselves and our young families to enjoy Chamonix and all it has to offer. Work is never a drag but it's not as much fun as a powdery descent through the trees. And then to retire as early as possible....
What's your favourite piste or off-piste area & top tip to go skiing?
We tend to spend every moment possible off-piste, so you can't beat a good belt down the route of the Kandahar in les Houches or the Bochard in Grands Montets. You kind of forget the thrill of going like the clappers, when no-one's around, of course...! For off-piste, there are so many places to list, they're all fantastic when the conditions are spot on. Some of the best days we've had have been in the trees in Les Houches and from the mid-station at the Aiguille, mainly from laughing at each other getting it wrong and ending up in a big pile of snow upside down. Top tip for skiing? Don't forget your gloves. Otherwise, when it's crazily busy, catch the train to Vallorcine - the journey is really nice and there's never a queue at the lift. A beer in the Cafe Comptoir at the bottom of the home run is a cool place to finish the day as well.
Where would send someone who was after that something 'something special' in resort, to stay, eat or drink?
If it's not bad form mentioning one of our own properties, Chalet le Favre really is something special, particularly after the total renovation it's just had. So many places in Chamonix claim to have the "best view", but we think it takes a lot to beat this chalet. It's difficult to look beyond Munchies for the place to eat, even though the times they offer for a table are ridiculous, far too early or far too late.
Your favourite place for lunch or dinner?
[ANDY] For lunch, it's the terrace at La Cabane on a sunny day and Munchies for dinner. But actually, everyone has the wrong impression of Chamonix Sud and it's hard to beat the Savoyard burger at South Bar for a quick bite. Claude is a great host, the views are fabulous and the kids can play safely in the square when the adults are having a coffee. The beers are much cheaper than in town, people should give it a go rather than hanging on to some outdated opinion of the place. Big up the Sud!
[MATT] I've got to agree with the Cabane for lunch and Munchies for dinner (the duck's a classic and the starters are very imaginative always tasty), although I also love the terrace at La Maison Moustache et Filles. The Monsieur Moustache burger is a must.
Where will we find the best coffee or hot chocolate?
Slightly randomly, the best coffee seems to be in the Vertical Café at the Aiguille du Midi base station. Or a good old mug of coffee at Elevation for us Rosbeefs.
What has been your best ever day in Chamonix?
[ANDY] That's very difficult to narrow down but the things that stick in my mind the most are the more ordinary rather than the spectacular. It's the things that remind me of where we live and enjoying it with the family - looking at the view from the outdoor pool as parapentes circle overhead, cycling down through the woods from le Tour back to town, walking from the Plan de l'Aiguille across to Montenvers, watching the jubilation of people finishing the marathon, for example. That's not to say skiing through the trees in thigh deep powder from the Plan de l'Aiguille isn't good fun...
[MATT] I'd be in trouble for not saying my wedding day!! To be fair it was just amazing and as well as an unbelieveable day for personal reasons it was wonderful for all the guests who had never visited Chamonix before. It was in April so everyone went for a ski in the morning and then enjoyed a taste of summer with Champagne on the terrace looking out onto the 18th hole, then dancing and fun on the dance floor of the Cabane. Where do you choose to go for honeymoon when you live in Chamonix...suppose it's obvious...the beach!
Do you remember your first trip to Chamonix?
[ANDY] Yes, it was when I was about 10 and I remember getting a bit carried away on the luge at Planards, going up the Aiguille du Midi and randomly bumping into my French teacher from school. As an adult, the next time was a bit of a disaster, coming over for a day trip from a ski holiday in Courmayeur. The bus left incredibly early in the morning and we'd "slightly" overdone it the night before. I was even worse a skier than I am now and only managed 1 descent from Col Cornu in deep, heavy powder before deciding to bin it and spend the rest of the day in la Potiniere, drinking lagers with croque monsieur chasers.
[MATT] Yes, I was on a two week, last minute package holiday with mates. 650 Euros for 2 weeks fully catered including lift passes! Can't get bargains like that any more. Accommodation wasn't the best it has to be said! We were mainly in the mountains though making the most of that ski pass (and making the most of the Chambre9 apres-ski).
What's your favourite thing to do in resort when not skiing or snowboarding?
[ANDY] Getting on the bike, whether road or mountain. Can't beat it but I'm determined to rescue my fledgling parapente career next year and get flying regularly.
[MATT] Has to be playing tennis on one of the 13 clay courts at the Tennis Club, the setting is just breathtaking. You do get put off every so often when you toss the ball up to serve and there's a parapente 20 metres above your head...! Trail-running is pretty amazing too, seems to be one of the fastest growing sports over here. It's not surprising considering the terrain. One day I might even do the UTMB.
What do you do in the summer?
As much as we both love the winter, you can't beat the summer in Chamonix, it's not all about the skiing. Isn't the cliché that you "come for the winter but stay for the summer"? We both love our road biking and the many famous cols to climb in the area, but that's mixed with golf, tennis, mountain biking, parapenting, hiking, the beach at lake Passy and just being able to enjoy a BBQ in the garden with friends looking at the fab views. Put it this way, come April, we can't wait for the end of the winter season...
Which is your favourite shop in resort?
[ANDY] Zero G, just for gawping at all the jazzy bikes and the kit.
[MATT] Boardriders (Quiksilver) or any of the technical ski shops like Snell, Coquoz. I love seeing the new stock of skis come in in the autumn - they seem to be getting fatter and fatter (and more expensive).
Where are we most likely to find you for après-ski?!
[ANDY] At home, lighting the fire (or more factually, modern wood burning stove, just in case anyone from Inspire reads this). But if we're not en famille, then wherever the nearest place serving beer is and I can take my boots off. For proper après though, from what I can remember before the kids were born, the triangle of Moo, Chambre Neuf and Elevation is where it's at. Where Pelforth is involved, anything can happen (and often has).
[MATT] Maybe a beer or vin chaud outside l'M Brasserie, but more likely crouched over a bath with the kids!! Maybe on the tennis court too.
Thanks to Andy & Matt for spending time to talk to us, it's been very imformative! If you want to get in touch with them about Rental Properties or Property for Sale then they'll be happy to hear from you.