10 minutes with Mountain Rescue Transfers

STORY BY Patrick Thorne 17th February 2017

Mountain Rescue is one of the Tarentaise Valley’s leading suppliers of private airport transfers from Geneva, Lyon, Grenoble and Chambery airports to many of the leading resorts in the French Alps. Mountain Rescue prides itself on having a crack driving team, brand new vehicles and an excellent reliability record.  We spoke to company founder and boss Simon Wilkinson.

 

Why did you decide to launch Mountain Rescue?

“I have always loved driving in the Alps and even more so when snow is thrown into the mix, it becomes a bit of an art driving in these parts, the snowy roads, avoiding traffic and the unforeseen events the Tarentaise Valley can throw at you. I think that was the main reason I started Mountain Rescue, the love of driving out here and on top of that I have always been a big VW fan so the thought of owning a fleet of them has always been a bit of a dream of mine.”

 

What makes Mountain Rescue different to other transfer services?

“We are not really striving to be anything very different just to provide the best possible experience and to keep our standard of service very high.

We have learnt a lot every winter and have implemented what we have learnt and that has made us a better company every year. The Mountain Rescue team from day one has been a very tight nit group and as we have grown we have managed to keep a really great ethos amongst the staff. We are all very proud of what we are doing here and I am extremely proud of our drivers.”

 

 

What can you expect when booking with Mountain Rescue?

“If you book a transfer with Mountain Rescue you can expect a fast response from our office that is open 24/7 during the winter months, our drivers will turn up on time looking smart and eager to help. Our vehicles are all the latest model of Volkswagen minibuses and they are kept in immaculate condition.

Once on the road you will notice our drivers drive carefully and know exactly what they are doing, we have a extensive database of chalet locations built into our drivers app but the guys know the areas very well indeed. Many of our drivers live in the Alps all year round and all of them have a  driving background.”

Why did you decide on the name?

“It’s not the first time it has been asked and sometimes I even wonder if it was even a good choice but we’re kind of stuck with it now. In 2010 we helped organise transport for stranded holiday makers when flights in Europe where grounded because of the Eyiafjallajokull volcano dust cloud.

A customer said top me “you’re like the real Mountain Rescue” and it just stuck in my head ever since, when we set ourselves up as an out and out transfer business I just decided to go with that for the company name. It also looked really cool plastered down the sides of our first two vans.”

 

 

Any top tips for people looking to get the best value transfers?

“If you’re a small group then defiantly look to share your transfer. There are some good companies out there offering shared transfers as well as offering the option to share. For example you can book a private transfer with us and then tick a box to share. If we get another group travelling on similar times we can put the two groups together and they both make savings.

Booking last minute can also save you quite a bit if you’re willing to hang on or just happen to be trying to sort a last minute break then at the end of every week we have empty legs available up to 50% off the normal transfer price if the timings fit well.”

Things to look out for when choosing a transfer?

“There are a lot of hard working reputable transfer companies out there following the letter of the law and supplying excellent transfers at very fair prices. So in my opinion what every customer should look out for although its often hard to spot whether or not they are booking with an official French registered transfer company or not. It’s not always apparent when booking but in France a good thing to look out for is whether the company is a French registered business and has a transport license issued by the French authorities.

Every transport company has to have a licence and then a licence per vehicle, this is kept in the vehicle for inspection by the police. The company licence number should be displayed in the window of the vehicle and it’s an offence not to display it.

Another warning sign that the company is not legitimate is non-French registered vehicles, we only know this from discovering ourselves it wasn’t possible to insure non-French registered vehicles under the correct type of “paying customer” insurance. They may be ways around it but it wasn’t apparent to us or our insurer when we looked into it.

As a French registered transport business our employees have to be employed under French law and be paid under French contracts and get a fair wage for their work.

Finally always use companies that are actually based in the area you are going to, they know the area well as do the drivers and they know how to deal with things when when conditions get “interesting” let’s say.”

 

Where are you based and what’s the skiing like?

“Our head office and a large number of drivers are based in Peisey Nancroix which is part of the Les Arcs ski area so we are a bit bias in the fact that we just love what Les Arcs has to offer for living and skiing. I have lived there for 8 years now and it’s a great community, my two boys under 3 years old will undoubtedly start school there in the near future.

Before we came to Les Arcs I spent 6 seasons in Tignes and I absolutely love the Espace Killy as well. It’s got so much to offer and so much challenging terrain to keep any level of skier busy, forever!

We currently have vehicle/driver hubs in Bourg St Maurice and St Foy Tarentaise and we also cover the 3 Valleys ski area. Our drivers love picking up at Europe’s highest ski resort Val Thorens, it’s the top of the world!”

Any unusual transfer requests?

“There aren’t that many unusual transfer request I can think of but we have received several phone calls that have made me laugh. We have been called by CNN several times asking to comment of recent avalanches in Val d’isere and Tignes. I was very temped but thought better of it.

We have twice answered calls from distressed skiers explaining their friends had fallen over and was injured and could we come and help. Both times I told them to ski down to the nearest lift and explain what had happened to the lifty and they would call the pisteurs. So at least I was able to be of assistance on those occasions which was great.

The most recent contact and probably the most worrying was that someone sent us a Facebook message in the middle of the night saying

“I have a bad feeling someone may be in need of assistance on the mountain. Please help.”

I didn’t see until the next day but was not sure to be more worried about the fact that someone was in need of help on the mountain the night before or that someone thought the best way to help them was by Facebooking the Mountain Rescue!?”

 

Finally, what do you guys do when it’s not snowing?

“The winter can go on here into May but as soon as the snow disappears and the ski resorts close its defiantly time to relax a bit. The national, parks are fantastic places to walk and kick a football around with the kids. Its time to dust off our bikes as well and take those for a spin up or down, not a lot of in between here.

The mountains become a popular destination again between June and September and we transport a lot of mountain and road bikers along with their bikes to and from the Alps all over this period.

Myself and my wife are also keen surfers and have been visiting the west coast of France since we met around 8 years ago. We have worked with a lot of the surf camps there and as the winter  transfer business has grown we have now started operating transfers to the south west coast of France from Bordeaux and Biarritz airports.

It seemed like the most obvious thing to do seeing as we loved being there and had vehicles looking for something to do in the summer. We set up Atlantic Rescue Transfers 3 years ago and although It’s not on the same scale as the winter business it defiantly helps us, and some of the drivers that work for us in the winter have a very pleasant alternative to mountain life for a few months every year.  Here’s a link to the site.”

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