From the standard hoody and jeans combo that is a wardrobe staple you'd never suspect that this man was an incredibly successful businessman in Chamonix...
Not just another ski bum and not another rich business man, the owner of chalet company Mountain Highs is somewhere in the middle. Scottish entrepreneur, Ross Cluley is a well known face around town, a lot of fun to spend time with and has a portfolio of Chamonix businesses that are all heavily centred around the tourist industry in this fantastic town that he now calls home.
How did you come to live in Chamonix and what were you doing before you came here?
For 10 years I worked long weeks in Finance in Edinburgh, which is a great town to live in, but I always felt that there was more to life and that I didn’t really fit in the suit wearing corporate world. One day a memo went round our office about someone wearing appropriate suits to work (clearly about me) and I realised that life was too short and decided it was time to leave. Being a keen skier and mountain biker I already knew the French Alps were somewhere I would like to live and so I packed up and moved to Chamonix 7 years ago to run a chalet. This is how Mountain Highs began.
Tell us about your businesses and why you choose those particular areas to work in..
I have always loved working with people and the tourist industry here in Chamonix is the perfect place for that. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing clients enjoy their holidays. Part of that job is selling them the dream - the 'chalet in the alps' ideal that they all wish they could have. I used to love 'ski hosting' before it was banned, it was a great way to enjoy time with your clients and help them enjoy the holiday even more. Local CHX ski hire came about because I wanted the chalet to spend less time waiting in ski hire shops on busy transfer days so the idea of delivering skis to chalets started and has been a real hit with Chalet owners and tourists as they get fitted in the comfort of their chalet.
And Cafe Bluebird?
There wasn't a real British Style coffee shop in Chamonix so I decided to try running one and have a go plugging the gap in the market for different takeaway breakfast and lunches; most locals and seasonaires (including myself!) just want a good coffee, a bacon and egg roll and flapjacks! Finding a property right across from the Aiguille du Midi lift in Cham sud was too good an opportunity to miss. Its also becoming a nice point for locals and seasonaires to pop into and hang out. To keep costs down for locals we offer 20% loyalty to any locals or seasonaires that join our loyalty scheme. This winter we will be doing packed lunches, hot lunch options and home made soups.
How do you think the Tourism Industry has changed since you came to Chamonix?
Since I came to Chamonix the world has gone through the worst recession of the last 100 years and this has had a huge impact on the Ski Industry and especially traditional catered chalet holidays as driving regulation, increased food prices and inflation busting lift pass prices have made the traditional week holiday not affordable in France so people move to Italy and Austria. A weekly ski pass of 288 euros is no longer affordable for younger people so Chamonix is moving towards a destination resort to come for a corporate trip or short break with friends. With most of our livelihoods relying on the tourists that come hopefully the town and lift company can address some of the issues preventing tourists coming.
So what are your professional and personal goals for the future?
To work smarter (LESS...). Setting up the businesses has been hard so I now want to use the benefits of technology to work less from a fixed base in Chamonix and travel more. Working smarter will hopefully give me more time off to enjoy all the other things that I want to do. My chalet already operates year round as it turns into a hostel in the low season (www.chamonixlodge.com), and this reduces the pre winter stress so I have time to go travelling in the interseason. It is always good to get back to visit family and friends in Scotland and the last few years I have managed to get to Bali, Thailand and Sri Lanka on holidays. Hopefully the cafe can run throughout the year too giving me even more time to plan other adventures. This January I’m off to Japan for 2 weeks then going on an actual ski holiday with friends from home in February to Morzine. After that I'm off ski touring in Alaska at the end of April for 2 weeks, I can't wait! Thankfully my long term chalet staff (Nicole & Grace) prefer me not getting too involved with the day to day things so it works out pretty well for us all.
What is your favourite piste or off-piste area to go skiing?
I find Grands Montets gets tracked out so quickly but you can normally find some really good powder just of the Floria lift in Flegere. Sometimes with a small hike you can get some untouched powder and the place mostly to yourselves. Off-piste, anywhere in the Aiguille Rouges, off the back of Flegere, is also amazing given the short tour or hike to get there.
And what tunes are you listening to on the slopes?
I actually don't listen to music when I am skiing...concentrating too much on not falling over! But if I did then it would probably be a bit of Greenday blasting out :) I try these days to leave my phone in the car when I’m skiing so I can enjoy the mountains and time with friends without work getting in the way.
Where are we most likely to find you for apres-ski?
Probably in Cham sud, its close to the office, the ski hire shop and the cafe so its easy to run between them if need be. Monkey Bar is great to catch up with locals and friends and chat about the days skiing.
And your favourite place for lunch or dinner?
Munchies has to be the best restaurant in Chamonix, it certainly has the best food! But in the summer the Cremerie La Montagne is the best place for some outdoor BBQ lunch and music at super cheap prices.
Tell us about your best ever day ski day in Chamonix?
Last season, the snow wasn't as good as previous years but there will still some amazing days skiing. We were up the midi first thing one morning but due to wind and cloud they closed the lift. Most folk gave up or just didn't bother but we sat and had coffee at the top and waited it out. By midday the clouds cleared and we were pretty much alone skiing down the Grand Envers in amazing fresh snow - well worth the wait!
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why? Or would you still choose Chamonix?
It would still be Chamonix! Mainly for the views and the easy access to the outdoors (and the world, from Geneva!) that we have here, but also because I can have good balance of work and ski here. There is nothing else I would rather do either as I love working with people and the tourist industry in Chamonix gives me the chance to do that, but also the chance to ski every week in the winter! There is a great community here in Chamonix that I believe is unique throughout the world. It never surprises me that people come for a holiday and stay for a decade.