History of YSE in Val d’Isère
SPECIALISTS IN SKI HOLIDAYS TO VAL D’ISÈRE, FRANCE
When former Olympic skier Fiona Easdale teamed up with long term Val d’Isère resident John Yates-Smith in 1991 to form YSE, they started with 12 chalets and a mailing list made up of friends and family.
Long before, after reading modern languages (mostly in Penguin translation) at London University, John went to Germany and ended up as a filing clerk for the Free State of Bavaria, working in a castle. His brother Dick, who later set up Dick’s Tea Bar, got him a job washing dishes in Val d’Isère in 1976, and he’s been there ever since!
At exactly the same time Fiona was training with the British Ski Team and competed in the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, coming 18th in the slalom and 15th in the combined events. She later spent three years working for Mark McCormack’s IMG before getting involved in ski tour operating in 1981.
In 1991 Fiona and John joined forces to start YSE.
Our philosophy is simple. Fiona and John hope to grow old gracefully surrounded by satisfied customers, happy staff and locals who don’t resent them!
There are just a very few holiday firms realistic enough to accept that it is impossible to maintain standards across several resorts. YSE is the Val d’Isère version. In our view, concentrating on one resort allows us to know the resort and our accommodation perfectly, to have enough weight in town to negotiate the best prices on ski hire or get the pharmacy opened at 2am, while remaining small enough to offer a genuinely personal service. Not many tour operators have a founder on the spot day and night, whose phone is never switched off...
There is no shortage of chalet holiday companies. Each has its own mentality, normally reflecting its directors' philosophy. Some work on the theory that most people who try skiing only do so once, and won't come back however good the holiday. So why waste money giving them a good holiday? Others think that total luxury is the way forward, and try to appeal to the sort of skier who can't live without champagne in the bath, a massage before dinner, or a lackey to help him buckle his boots.
YSE's criteria are simple: first, would we enjoy this? We apply it to all of our chalets. Some are among the most luxurious in Val d'Isère, while others are quite simple. Most have en-suite bathrooms, and only two have to make do with one bathroom per two bedrooms. But they are all places we'd be happy to stay in ourselves. Recently we have turned down one whose USP was a hairdressing salon and another which, while beautiful, was ten minutes' walk from the lifts. Fiona has brought her family to most of our chalets over the years, and was about as interested in paying extra in order to be able to bring in her personal beautician as she was in having to drag her skis halfway across Val d'Isère!
We apply the same litmus test to everything we do. We love our chalet food and wine. We look forward to it all summer (indeed, John assiduously tests our wines all year, and for real wine buffs puts together a list where you just pay the difference between our house wine and something posher). We are too old to be hanging around airports or sitting in traffic jams, so we don't expect our guests to, so we travel on Sundays via Grenoble Airport, with our own flight and luxury coaches to ensure it all runs smoothly. Even our employees have to pass Fiona's 'would-I-want-these-people-as-my-chalet-staff' test, and if she falls asleep in the interview they don't get the job!
And secondly, will people re-book? We are not targeting people who want to try skiing but will probably never go again. Val d'Isère is not that sort of resort, nor YSE that sort of company, and both endeavour to provide the sort of experience you'll want to repeat. 75% of our bookings come from people who've been before, or their friends, so we don't have to waste a lot on advertising, and our guests know what they're getting. Val d'Isère is a hard act to follow, and we like to think YSE is similar.
Happy staff? Well, ask them. Most of our staff could easily get another job, but none does, and quite a few come back season after season. Annabel Clifton is in charge of our resort team, and most of her job is about keeping the staff firing on all cylinders so that our guests are looked after properly.
And locals who don't resent us? After 35 years in Val d'Isère, John Yates-Smith feels almost like a local. In another 165 years he may be accepted as one. But while YSE owns chalets in Val d'Isère and John's children go to the village school, we have many reasons not to upset the neighbours. We think our guests benefit from staying with a company which is known and trusted locally.