After falling in love with the French Alpine town of Morzine more than 10 years ago, Sam Thomas and her husband Jon decided to take the plunge and move out there for a new life and a new career, setting up their own luxury chalet business, More Mountain.
StyleNest catch up with Sam to find out about her adventure, the challenges she’s had to over come, and after enjoying so many ski seasons, what her beauty and style tips are for when out on the slopes.
You set up More Mountain over 10 years ago with your husband Jon. What drew you to Morzine, and led you to launch More Mountain?
It all started in 2004 when Jon and I decided to take the plunge and leave our stressful recruitment careers in Manchester behind in search of new adventures. Our passion for snowboarding took us on back to back winters around the world for 18 months, and after spending time in the ski resorts of Whistler, Queenstown NZ, and the French Alps, we knew that our future lay in the mountains.
We stayed in all sorts of accommodation on our travels, from remote mountain huts to luxurious hotels, and our experiences inspired us to set up a chalet business that brings together everything we’d look for in our own perfect holiday in the Alps… laid back luxury!
There was ‘no going back’ when we discovered Morzine. We were won over by the mountains, the views, the welcoming local community and the charm of the town. We also loved the vibrancy of summer – something we had never experienced before. We knew this was the place we’d like to settle, and that it would complement the winter holiday experience we were looking to create.
With More Mountain, our vision was to create something luxurious and stylish with all the standards of a five-star hotel, coupled with a homely, laid-back and welcoming vibe. The traditional formal ski mentality which existed out there back in 2006 wasn’t our thing, we wanted to offer contemporary design and quality service, but without the pretentiousness.
11 years on, we have a portfolio of over 30 luxury properties in central Morzine, including catered chalets and self-catered apartments that operate in both summer and winter. Every property has had input from myself and Jon in terms of design, layout and practicality for investment and rental.
What have been the high points and low points so far? Have there been any challenges you needed to overcome?
Our biggest motivation is seeing our guests enjoy their holidays with us, it’s what makes us tick. We’re extremely proud of the feedback we receive, and have consistently achieved the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. It makes all the hard work worth it and inspires us to stay at the top of our game and continue to improve year after year. We love having guests return time after time; we’ve made lots of friends from our guests and property owners over the years. Some even came to our wedding and many feel like part of the family now!
The most difficult thing about starting a new life abroad is accepting that you won’t see your friends and family back at home as much – and particularly on special occasions like Christmas which is always a busy time for us. It was hard at the beginning, but Morzine is so accessible from the UK – it’s an easy drive or a short flight to Geneva, which is just over an hour by car from Morzine. This means that we can easily make trips back and have friends and family to visit. The wonder of modern technology is making it easier to keep in touch remotely too.
We also faced challenges with the language barrier at first, but threw ourselves into learning French which is crucial if you want to immerse in local life and run a business here. We’ve grown with the language, especially since having a child.
Any advice for other budding entrepreneurs out there who are thinking of setting up their own business?
When you move away, especially to a beautiful place like Morzine, you expect life to gain a better work life balance. We had much more spare time at the beginning, but have relished the challenges and responsibility that have increased as our business has grown organically. We’ve gone from strength-to-strength and now have a team of four full-time staff and over 25 seasonal workers. Myself and Jon are still very hands-on, but with a fantastic team to help with the day-to-day running of the business, we can focus our efforts on the business planning and property development side.
It can also be hard to switch off. Morzine is our office – the people we know are both colleagues and friends. My phone is always on!
Running your own business is all consuming, BUT it’s incredibly rewarding even when it has its difficult moments! If your business idea is linked to a personal passion, that’s the key to making it work in the long-term. I feel very fortunate to be doing something I love in a place that I love. It makes it easy to get up in the morning, even with the challenges!
What is a typical day for you at More Mountain, if there is one!
It’s a 6am start… I have 30 minutes to myself to check emails and plan the day ahead, before getting our five-year old son Ted ready and off to school. Jon and I walk our Fox Terrier, Figsy – this is our daily meeting! We talk about the day’s work, what we need to plan, who we need to see, and what we need to solve. We’re in the office at More Mountain HQ by 9.30am, then we round-up the day’s tasks with the team and it all starts!
From there, no two days are the same. I could be making an order with the local artisan baker, taking a phone call about a chalet reservation, interviewing new chalet hosts, visiting a building site in preparation for a new chalet launch, preparing a content marketing strategy on Facebook or liaising with our web designers to keep our site up to date.
If work allows, we try and make the most of the being in the mountains at least one day per week, although sometimes this slips as the business is getting bigger. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves and remember why we are here! If we can, we’ll take a couple of hours’ riding on the hill first thing before heading back to the office after lunch. After all, even the boss needs a snow fix!
I always have my phone by my side and rarely switch it off, I am still on the emails at 9pm at night – but that’s how I like it. I am a bit of a workaholic but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You juggle running More Mountain, being mum to Ted, and the sometimes added stress of living abroad. What do you like to do in your spare time to relax?
The mountain air is the best therapy, it keeps me grounded. When I get a bit of ‘me-time’, my simple pleasure is walking the dog along the mountain paths whilst soaking in the stunning scenery. I often find it hard to fit in social time with my friends alongside the business and mum duties, so dog walking is a great time to get together and catch up.
I also treasure family time when we’re all together without the feeling of a pending meeting or task to deal with. We’re a very active family and try to have as many adventures as possible. Morzine lends itself perfectly to our outdoors lifestyle and we’re spoilt for choice with activities to try and local places to visit. Ted loves mountain life as much as Jon and I do – he speaks fluent French, skis better than his mum and dad, and is learning to be a downhill mountain biker…. He’s only five!
More Mountain is located in Morzine in the French Alps, which is known for skiing in winter. What else can readers do there, especially those with families? Is it a good summer destination?
Morzine isn’t just for thrill-seeking skiers and snowboarders, there’s so much more to it and it’s fantastic for families – there’s something to satisfy all ages.
For many, summer is the highlight of the year. Believe it or not, it is now for me, even though the snow brought me here in the first instance. The mountains transform into an oasis of hidden trails, winding paths, beautiful natural lakes (which you can swim in!) and ridge top mountain hikes.
Plus, it’s such amazing value. With the Portes du Soleil’s Multi Pass Scheme, our guests can make the most of a huge variety of activities for €2 a day, or free for under-fives, including a huge indoor and outdoor swimming complex, tennis, ice-skating, mini- golf and access to 22 mountain ski lifts for stunning walks and hikes. Kids love whizzing up and down the chairlifts, which in itself is an activity… it’s like a rollercoaster ride on the mountain! They can also enjoy the luge, pony trekking, petting the goats in Les Lindarets and tackling Indiana Parc’s treetop adventure course.
The region is a mountain biker’s paradise and the sport is a fantastic way for older children and adults to explore the mountains whilst enjoying some exercise, fresh air, and of course that adrenaline fix. For even better views, paragliding is a must! There’s never a dull moment!
How would you describe your style, has the colder Alpine weather and sports influenced it all? Any favourite designers or brands you like to wear out on the slopes?
I have to say that practical clothing usually comes first due to the ‘hands-on’ nature of my job, and during the winter I never leave home without my reliable Sorel Snowboots and my Patagonia jacket or Didriksons Parka.
As for ski wear, I have always loved Nikita Clothing and Burton which are a bit more snowboard orientated. The Burton AK range offers a great balance of style, comfort and protection. This year I am going to try Patagonia… super tech, environmentally sound and warm!
For daily wear, I love the likes of Volcom, Element and Toast. You will always see me in a pair of Vans high tops. My everyday staple!
How do you protect your skin in the colder Alpine winter? Any favourite products or is there a particular routine you follow?
The altitude and cold weather makes me susceptible to dry skin, so I moisturise without fail every morning and evening. I use Dermologica Dynamic skin recovery with SPF 50. It’s expensive but brilliant, especially with Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. It’s fool proof, quick and easy. I also love Avene products which are sold at the local French pharmacy – Avene Cold Cream and Lip Balm is amazing stuff for when the temperatures drop.
Other than Morzine what are your favourite travel destinations and why?
I have to get to the ocean. I love Halkidiki. It’s a part of Greece which is unspoilt and still has a wilderness feel to it in parts, especially on the coastline. My go-to is always Sani Resort. It’s child friendly but also luxurious with amazing standards of service, cleanliness and style. All I want out of a holiday…. working in the travel industry has made me more picky – things have to be good for me to be happy!
And finally, what is your life motto?
Never be scared of taking a risk. Always be inspired to change your path and be influenced by people that make you stop dead in your tracks and think. Good energy around you from good people is the most important tonic and inspiration in life. Everyone needs a breath of fresh air!