Straight into the extreme zone – John and Joy’s story

John & Joy

What are the decision-making processes that people go through to take up a flexible lifestyle?  Is it a process of logical analysis and preparation?  Well possibly – but like skiing, it is a dynamic sport.  There are always changes in the terrain that you don’t expect. Here is one such story.

At the end of the 2014 ski season, I had an opportunity to sit down with Shepparton Alpine Club lodge managers John and Joy.  They are well known faces at Mount Hotham, and I suspect may carry legendary status amongst some of us less-experienced lodge managers.  I personally consider them both as mentors in this regard.

Theirs is an interesting story as they really trail-blazed the flexible lifestyle, and it seems to be working because they’ve been at it for 15 years!  This is a Snow changers story!

How did it all start?

In 2000, John and Joy kick-started this lifestyle change – but not quite in the way they expected.  They have always been skiers so when friends suggested managing a lodge at Mt Hotham that seemed fine. They downsized – leaving the high-flying corporate job, moving to the country, purchasing a smaller house, getting away from Melbourne prices, and organising some sound investments. All very organised and well thought-through.

One day, by word of mouth, they were offered a job in an exclusive resort in the Kimberley in WA.  That really is in the extreme north, and quite isolated accessible only by plane. So into Faraway Bay they flew.

“We just black-sloped, just jumped – straight into the extreme zone.”

Joy was the cook.  Initially, John was an “add-on” (his words) but in his inimitable way, he talked his way into them operating as hosts – meeting, greeting and assisting with the guests. Despite this they worked long days, but relished the change.  They both agree, the surroundings of the Kimberley were just beautiful. It was the experience of the environment that remained memorable and kept them returning. They worked there for three seasons. It was an unexpected delight.

The ski lodge was to be their thing.  That was expected, anticipated and booked in.  The Kimberley was an opportunity that took them into a new zone.  Green-run skiers venturing into extreme territory for experts?  No preparation or training. They landed and hit the ground running.  They didn’t have a clue what they were in for! Checking billabongs for crocodiles?  OK. No shop for emergency ingredient supplies.  They made do. All this was taken in their stride. Sounds to me like they are pretty adaptable and resourceful.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
(The more things change, the more they stay the same)

So there was this contrast – the Kimberley was followed by their first season at Mt Hotham. Lots of change … or not? Their surroundings changed from one extreme to another.  On arrival at Asgaard (the lodge to manage) they had to dig their way through the snow to find the front door! They arrived in winter 2000 – one of the best seasons the resort has seen. The work? They were hosts again!  And, it would seem that they keep being called back to that sort of role. Joy is frequently called on to cook for school and other large groups. John too has learnt these skills and manages to do the same.

At Mt Hotham they have managed Asgaard, Kalyna and currently Shepparton lodges. They also did a stint overseas for a lodge in France in Courchevel. Has that been enough to sustain them year on year though? They set up themselves up to be financially stable. However, they needed to cover expenses and needed a little more income than lodge management offered.

“No one is more surprised than us that it has just flowed on and we’ve never been short of a quid.”

John recalls when they started they were at the age when people said “don’t employ people over 45 or 50”. Yet finding work has never been an issue for them. In small places (like ski resorts) you use your networks!  It is also a place where you want to maintain your reputation – because that news travels fast too! They have never been out of work, and they’ve always been asked back. That has included working for the Resort Management Board, Isobar (cafe), Trekset and the Alpine School.  Importantly, they always fit any work in with the lodge. They’ve always been available for guest change-over days.

“We altered our lifestyle – to a much smaller house in the country.  We wanted to live not work.”

So despite these roles, are they living, not working? They say it is not “real” work.  John and Joy only want to earn enough to travel and do things that interest them.  This has changed over time working less work now than ever. Just casual work – so as not to be tied down.

What keeps bringing them back?

Friends. Being able to ski again. The mountains. Perhaps it is also about being part of the “community” that I spoke about in my post called Snow encore? There it is again, that “je ne sais quoi” of snow and skiing.

The alternative? Staying home in the country for wet, cold and miserable days.  They look at each other and say, “What else would we do in the winter? It’s now part of our lifestyle.”

What else has contributed to their success?

Balance – John and Joy claim their balance is a bit different to others in the resort.  Some come to ski – all day.  It surprises many that John and Joy only ski for two hours a day.  They do other things.  Joy has her sewing and patchwork quilts.  John has his sketching, reading, darts and CFA (Country Fire Authority) involvement.

Learning – They have really evolved with the roles they have taken on, honing their skills to suit the circumstances. For the management side there is always something different in a new lodge but that’s situational.

Mindset – They were in the right place at the right time to be able to “give it a go”.  It is more than this though.  It is about being comfortable with the decision and the consequences that may come with the choice.

“There were so many things to do on our non-composed bucket list.”

John suggests that with so many things on their non-composed bucket list and suddenly finding themselves to be empty-nesters – they felt free to change, free to do something different.  They decided if it didn’t work financially or was unsuitable – they could work for Woolworths or Bunnings for a while. It seems there have been no regrets.

Wisdom on flexible life

Being flexible – You have to be able to roll up your sleeves and do the job – no matter what the task. If domestic tasks don’t appeal may not be flexible enough to cope.   If you have a special skill that is in need across the world that may be different, but be prepared to do the less glamorous work.

A people person – Being in tune with people is hospitality. You don’t have to overdo things – although some do. Being in a resort environment has its own perils – requiring a balance of  involvement and detachment from the party scene.

Work hard – To run a lodge efficiently and well, you have to work hard. Joy and John came to this lifestyle after the era when  a ski-patroller or ski-instructor was engaged to “keep an eye on the lodge”. Lots of lodges now recognise their commercial situation needs “meeters and greeters”. John and Joy have built a reputation for quality management in their uptake of these roles.

“… people love the lodge experience – especially if they have children who get together and play …”

Some people love the lodge experience.  Lodges are designed for communal living.  Everyone shares – from sharing the meal table to children playing to fireside stories.  Mingling and facilitating interactions is part of the job. That’s the essence of the lodge experience – that’s what John and Joy make happen!


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