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Gareth Chandler: General Manager of The Lodge, Verbier

An insider's guide to managing Sir Richard Branson's luxury ski chalet

Featured in: | Sophie Nicholson, Verbier Editor | Published
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Verbier is one of the best luxury ski resorts in the world and the destination of choice for those looking for top quality skiing and nightlife in the Alps. With an abundance of 5 star ski accommodation on offer, Verbier really delivers at the top end of the market and leading the way is Sir Richard Branson's very own luxury ski chalet - The Lodge.

Here at Verbinet.com we were more than a little bit intrigued to find out about the day to day running of such a prestigious ski chalet so we had a quick sit down with Gareth Chandler, General Manager at The Lodge
Warning - this interview has the potential to make you green with envy!
 

Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from and what you do at The Lodge..

I was born in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I support the Welsh rugby team and my two biggest sporting loves are skiing and biking. This is my 10th winter season, 7th in Verbier, and the others were spent in Mammoth in California, Queenstown in New Zealand and Perisher Blue in Australia. I lived in Sydney for 6 years where I met my wife, Jo from Petit Verbier and Wholey Cow), before coming to Verbier in 2006. My role as General Manager of The Lodge means I am responsible for the day to day running of the chalet, a challenging role and one that I love. Not one day is the same as the last!

How long have you been working in the industry and how did you get the job?

My first job when I was 14 was as a pot-wash in my Uncle's youth hostel in Guernsey. Before Virgin Limited Edition, I was General Manager at Scubar in Sydney, a Backpackers bar where I used to run weekly crab races. I also worked as the Assistant Manager at the Snow and Rock store at Monument in London and also in Guernsey with my Uncle setting up a café! I came to Verbier in January 2006 to work for Toby Mallock (from Performance) who was at European Snowsport at the time, and I met Hannah and Paul Allen who set up The Lodge that year. I was offered a job at The Lodge in March 2007 while I was part time with ES. Jo and I moved to Verbier full time in October 2007 and I started working for The Lodge one month later as the Activities Coordinator. By the time I left in 2011, I had been promoted to Assistant Manager and only left to move to another Virgin Limited Edition property – Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands where I was Deputy Manager. I returned to The Lodge as General Manager in May 2012.

In a competitive marketplace, what do you think sets The Lodge apart as a mountain retreat?

The Lodge has been fortunate to retain a high level of business over the past couple of years and I think it’s down to a mixture of factors really. Firstly, The Lodge is located in a wonderful, quiet little spot in Verbier just 250m from the main ski lifts and backing onto one of the returning pistes - a perfect location for the slopes. I think the service we offer is certainly something that makes us stand out. The Lodge is small and intimate, accommodating up to 18 adults at any one time with a bunkroom especially designed for children which can accommodate up to six kids. With 15 members of staff looking after the guests we try to ensure every need is catered for by offering the highest level of service and attention to detail.

Go on, make us jealous - give us a rundown of what a day in the life of a guest at The Lodge would look like...

If I was staying at The Lodge, I would be a bit torn between lying in bed looking at the view in our extremely comfortable beds & being served breakfast, or getting up early and getting a lift down the mountain for a full day’s heli skiing! If I opted for the latter, a lovely picnic would be brought to me on the mountain after which I would definitely head back to The Lodge and relax in the outdoor hot tub with a beer or two, then a steam in the steam room followed by a massage in the Spa. I’d then have a quick soak in a bath before coming down and working my way through the wine rack and sharing an amazing 5 course meal with my friends. All before heading down to the party room for some live music, and then a round of guitar hero to finish off the night before heading back to my extremely comfortable bed!

Talk us through Sir Richard Branson's involvement with The Lodge - did he choose it himself and does he visit on a regular basis?

Well it all came about really as Richard thought it seemed a shame to have a series of homes around the world that lay empty when he’s not there. So over the years he has created some really special homes that he shares with other people. Virgin Limited Edition is an eclectic and wonderful collection of retreats in some of the most beautiful spots in the world. He does indeed visit The Lodge each year and loves to ski with his friends and family.

A quality guest experience is obviously the goal - how do you find your staff and what do you look for in potential employees?

We take great pride in our team and want to make people proud to work for us! We usually start the recruitment process in June and aim to have winter recruitment finished by the middle of September. We get hundreds of CVs each summer and we filter them through a series of emails, Skype chats and phone calls before progressing to the interview stage. We have quite a specific skill set in mind and it is quite easy to spot that early on in the process. We look for people who have the right balance between professionalism and fun. There is a very fine line between overstepping the guest/staff boundary and we pride ourselves on evaluating each group appropriately and delivering the correct level of service based on their needs/requirements.

Operating at the luxury end of the market must come with its unique challenges - can you give us an example of any outrageous requests?

We do get the odd eccentric request once in a blue moon, although I wouldn’t be able to share what they were! We generally use the support of our partners and our knowledge of the resort for unusual pre-arrival requests.

What are the best bits about your job? Any particular perks?

Besides living and working in the one of the most beautiful and amazing places in the world you mean?! I genuinely love what I do and for me that makes a huge difference in my approach to not only going to work, but my daily working life. We get to meet incredible people and help them to have a fantastic holiday. We’re also fortunate to be able to share it with them and being a part of their holiday is a huge part of what we do. Of course, days off with the mountain on your doorstep is a great incentive and you only need to get up the hill for an hour to leave any worries behind - a quick blast on the piste or on your bike and you feel refreshed and ready to go again!

When you get a day off, how do you like to spend it in Verbier? Any particular runs you ski, The Lodge staff favourite resort hangouts etc...

A day off generally starts with a little sleep in! I do try and check out my window first thing just in-case it’s been snowing all night and it’s a bluebird! If not, I’ll roll over for a little bit longer.  So... a slow start to the day, a long breakfast and a couple of coffees and then up the hill normally for a few hours skiing. Depending on who I’m skiing with, one of my favourite lines is on the front side of Mt Gelé if the conditions are right. If not, just a leisurely cruise on the pistes and over to the 4 Vallées to escape a bit is always good. There’s just so much terrain over there!  Sometimes I’ll stop for a few beers in the Fer a Cheval and then down the hill to home, maybe stopping at La Ruinette for a beer whilst walking the dog.

And finally - tell us a bit about Pebbles, the chalet dog! 

We got Pebbles in August ’12 - she's a Entlebucher, a Swiss mountain dog, so she loves the snow. She has the prettiest little face and being only 9 months old is very cheeky. She likes to do Yoga with Jo and comes skinning with me in the evenings after work sometimes! She has a great temperament and loves cuddles on the couch in the cold winter evenings. I cannot wait for her to discover summer in the mountains and swimming in the lakes! She has been a huge hit with the guests and the majority of them love having a dog about during their holiday.

A big thanks to Gareth for taking the time out of a very busy winter season to answer our questions.

For more information on The Lodge and the rest of the Virgin Limited Edition collection, check out the website and be sure to check in regularly with our Leading Locals section as we profile more of Verbier's key players.