How do you define “experience”?
I work in event marketing for an agency that describes itself as “The experience agency”. We specialise in bringing brands to life through one-to-one experiences that are authentic, memorable and ultimately create brand advocacy.
I’ve recently returned from skiing in Verbier, Switzerland where my brother runs a luxury ski chalet business – Bramble Ski and its even more luxurious sister company Haute Montagne. They are also in the business of “experience” describing their service and raison d’être as “redefining the luxury chalet experience”.
But what does experience really mean? Surely one person’s idea of an experience is different to another’s…
Haute Montagne (HM) was recently featured in a Sunday Times article, entitled “Ice and easy: the £700,000 skiing holiday”, as the most expensive skiing holiday sold last year… Imagine clothes wrapped in gold tissue paper, gourmet food, arrival by private jet, a private sommelier and the promise of a secluded spot away from the skiing masses. These are just some of the things the HM experience promises. With art galleries, cinemas, pools, spas and a remote idyllic setting, these chalets have been described as super yachts in the snow. It’s difficult to imagine this kind of money and extravagance!
While staying (not in one of the luxurious chalets I might add!) with my brother (Colin), I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him and one of his fellow co-owners (Natasha), how they define “experience” in their business, as well as in other areas of life:
1. What’s your most memorable experience in life so far?
Colin: “A 3 month ski trip to Las Lenas, Argentina, not just for the skiing adventure but for the best red meat and red wine in the world.”
Natasha: “In terms of travel or holidays, a round the world trip with my husband was pretty memorable! We went to surf spots everywhere but the best was probably Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka. A Danish couple had spent thirty years building a beautiful little oasis of calm, beach huts built amongst gardens right on the beach. The central building was completely open on three sides and was such a wonderfully relaxing spot after years of London life. The best thing was how they looked after their staff, all from local families. During the civil war when no tourists came they simply bought some fishing boats and kept everyone employed as fishermen!”
2. What experiences are on your bucket list?
Colin: “Nothing so defined, but I have always thought it would be fun to combine sea kayaking with ski touring, while roughing it in a tent every night.”
Natasha: “I don’t do bucket lists, I’m not generally into lists or collections and I tend to take life as it comes. I guess I would like to take the kids to Africa and would love to see the Himalayas.”
3. What is it you think that sets the Bramble Ski and Haute Montagne experience apart from other luxury ski holidays?
Colin: “Our ability to be able to adapt to each client. Flexibility is key. Our chefs design their menus each week to suit the different guests, the hosts adapt their service style to the guests preference and our ski instructor-concierges and chalet managers respond to any requests thrown their way.”
Natasha: “The staff, without question! We have the most amazing team of people and that’s what makes the experience so great. Our staff are naturally service orientated people, you need empathy in order to anticipate what a client will need. You need a winning smile and you have to be prepared to roll your sleeves up and work hard to get the job done.”
4. What’s the simplest and most extravagant detail that your clients can expect while staying with Bramble Ski and Haute Montagne?
Colin: “From a phone call an hour before arrival, assuring the guests that we are ready for them (a simple Bramble detail)… to lobster and caviar served in the private spa area with Cristal Champagne (an extravagant Haute Montagne detail).”
Natasha: “The most extravagant details like having your bags packed for you with golden tissue paper are actually the simplest things to do, you just need to be trained. Once you are trained these things don’t actually cost more money. It just takes a perfectionist to do it so well that when you open your luggage back home it is like Christmas, it is the biggest treat you can imagine.”
5. What other companies and experiences do you take inspiration from or admire?
Colin: “We mostly learn from our staff who have worked in Michelin starred restaurants and 5* hotels, but we certainly look at what The Virgin Lodge and the new W Hotel in Verbier are doing.“
Natasha: “I take huge inspiration from music and art. I love that it is possible to create something pristine and perfect, if that is a 3 minute song or a watercolour portrait. I love simple things that can give you pleasure. The experience of hearing live music performed for example, it can totally alter your mood. It is the result of hours and hours of practice, sometimes a lifetime of dedication, to create something seemingly effortless and totally beautiful!”
Thanks to Colin and Natasha for sparing some time to share their thoughts on what makes a great experience… They and their co-owners are now in their 9th season with Bramble Ski, with many regular and celebrity clients, so they’re clearly doing something very right…
I’ll just have to get used to the thought of never experiencing this kind of super yacht decadence, beyond my dreams… even with my brother at the helm!