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Steph, 36, owns a gym in Chamonix, France, and is a personal trainer and sports therapist. She talks to Susannah Osborne about running a business in the Alps.

2538 steph lightfoot


What first brought you to the Alps?
I originally came to the Alps after university to ski. I was 21 and looking back I’m not sure if it was the prospect of improving my snow-sports skills, or drinking shots and meeting sexy snowboarding boys that was more appealing. I gave the boys and drinking a go for a bit, before skiing won hands down!

What are your first memories of the mountains?
Being seven and on a school ski trip. I was desperately homesick and I remember sitting next to a big Austrian bloke in a restaurant, and crying into my hot chocolate and plate of chips. He tried to cheer me up but he scared the life out of me. I was very young to go away without my family but I totally fell in love with skiing: I came second in the slalom, beating all the big girls in my group. I was so proud of myself! And hooked for life…

Ski or board?
Ski. No question. I tried boarding for one day and quite enjoyed it, until I broke my thumb. It dumped a metre a few days later and I couldn’t hold a ski pole with my hand in a cast. In the end I got the doctor to redo the cast around a pole so that I could ski – I was going mad not being able to get out in such great powder. I never boarded again!

What’s a typical day for you during winter?
My working day is very varied. In the winter I do a lot more massages and sports therapy sessions, while personal training and running coaching tend to die off. The morning usually starts with me leading a class like ski fit. Then I’ll have a big breakfast while I tackle the day-to-day running of the business. I make sure I have some time for myself at some point in the day, too – mid afternoon I’ll go for a run or cross country ski. I often end up working until quite late in the evening as most of my clients want to ski during the day and save their training until the late afternoons and evenings.

Describe your path to becoming a sports therapist and personal trainer...
My first business was a company providing accommodation for seasonaires in the French Alps. I’ve since worked in marketing but I’ve always been interested in the human body. As I got more involved in endurance sports (in the winter ski touring and cross country skiing, and in the summer trail running and road cycling), I became fascinated by sports performance, injury prevention, and recovery. I came back to the UK to study for a while but came back to the Alps with my qualifications. Chamonix is a super sporty place, so it’s a perfect base for what I now do.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m very proud of my current venture, my gym, Be Pure Fit in Chamonix. It keeps me busy and although it has moments when it’s stressful, it’s a great project to have created and I love the fact that we make a real difference to people.

Do you feel like you’re living the dream?
Yes and no. I live in an amazing place and have a fantastic lifestyle and I will never take the mountain views, or all the sports and healthy lifestyle for granted. But I also work very hard and things are not always straightforward as an expat in the Alps (even if you’re fluent in French). You still deal with the day-to-day ‘life stuff’ that everyone does, and living here is expensive. But when I’ve had an amazing day out in the mountains I wouldn’t be anywhere else!

Where is your most treasured place in the Alps?
I have always loved La Grave – there’s something so special about that little town. I love the Elisabetta hut in Italy. I always love going to see my friends in Vallandry (Les Arcs), where I spent seven years. I love the view of the Mont Blanc range from the top of Mont Buet. There is no place like the mountains for clearing your mind and calming your soul.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to move to the Alps?
Don’t get lulled into thinking that it will all be like it is when you’re on holiday. Life out here is great, but think wisely. Unless you can afford not to work, make sure you have a good plan – either a job lined up, or work you can do remotely. Visit the place you may move to several times – at different times of year. And go with your gut instinct – life is for living, so be willing to take the risk. But make it a calculated one.

Be Pure Fit/ Chamonix Gym, 635 Avenue des Alpages, Chamonix Les Houches, 74310 France (+33 (0) 970447747;
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