Born in Limoges, Bertrand was the third born and middle child of the Babaud de Monvallier clan. He was a cheeky boy, naughty, always joking and never too serious. He participated in family debates which were common around the dinner table, history and politics often at the centre of their discussions. It was perhaps during these exchanges that Bertrand’s interest in and admiration for history and military leaders such as Napoleon and Nelson was ignited.
The family moved to Collioure in the south of France and then onto La Plagne in the Tarentaise Valley in the Alps when his father bought a local estate agency.
Bertrand learned to ski in his early teens whilst away at boarding school for a year. He didn’t particularly apply himself at school and left without his Baccalaureat. Upon leaving school his father gave him 500 francs and sent him off to England for a year where he worked as a kitchen porter, learned English and had his first experience of British culture.
When it came to his military service, Bertrand opted for a longer service that would take him overseas. It took him to Djibouti in East Africa where his cheeky side and a series of ‘misunderstandings’ led to him being sent to the ‘hole’ and after a short spell in military prison, back home to France.
Upon his return he followed in his older brother, Pierre’s footsteps, training to become a ski instructor. He qualified in 1987. Bertrand adored skiing and idealised the profession. He held a firm belief that anyone could learn to ski in the right conditions – with the right equipment, instructor, teaching techniques and patience. He maintained this philosophy throughout his career.
He began his career with the ESF but the institution together with Bertrand’s non-conformist tendencies weren’t a match made in heaven. Together with Pierre, they decided to become independent instructors.
In the early 1990s, Bertrand went to Zinal in Switzerland to work at Club Med to find out more about their style of teaching. During his time there, the club manager told Bertrand that a certain couloir was off-limits and that he was forbidden to ski it. Like a red rag to a bull, Bertrand picked the perfect day and skied fresh tracks down the couloir. Upon learning that the tracks belonged to Bertrand, the manager gave him his marching orders for disobeying him. What the manager didn’t bank on was the respect that Bertrand had garnered from the rest of the team, who all told the manager that they would all resign if Bertrand was sacked! Needless to say, he didn’t end up leaving.
Whilst working independently together in 1992, Pierre and Bertrand hatched a plan to create their own ski school and with Ski Beat setting up in La Plagne at the same time, saw an opportunity to serve the English-speaking market that the ESF had less of a hold on. Work with Mark Warner followed and Oxygene was born and had its first clients.
The first few years were tough. They had to do battle at every turn to be able to work alongside the ever-dominant ESF, who went to great lengths to try and limit their existence. Bertrand considered every move a battle, and with Pierre fought the authorities every step of the way, for a meeting point, for a snow garden, to display the Oxygene flags, to be promoted by the tourist office etc. It was hard work made harder by the brothers’ often tumultuous relationship.
With the growth of Mark Warner in Val d’Isere, the opportunity was presented to open another ski school under the Oxygene brand. Recognising that whilst they had the same passion for skiing and goals of growing their business, they had different temperaments and methods, Pierre left La Plagne to establish Oxygene in Val d’Isère.
Out of necessity, the first instructors Bertrand recruited to Oxygene were misfits, those that had failed to find their place in other ski schools. He encouraged them to come and work with him and took pride in giving people a shot and helping them be the best they could be. Many of Bertrand’s instructors and other friends credit him with helping them achieve their goals, saying they never would be who they are today without his support. He was generous with his time and valued the opportunity to exchange with his contacts on a variety of subjects, especially if a good bottle of wine (or two) and a good plate of food were involved.
Bertrand motivated his team with speeches akin to those of an army general going into battle, galvanising his instructors with his discourse on the noble profession of being a ski instructor. He was a demanding boss who held his team to high standards, particularly when it came to customer service. His insistence that his instructors took pride in their appearance with clean uniforms and clean-shaven faces was often met with a knowing roll of the eyes. His team were united in their love for winding him up, which they did frequently. Bertrand didn’t tolerate fools and would be quick to reprimand a member of his team, but he was also very forgiving and understanding and his instructors and employees always knew that he had their back.
Oxygene was always a family affair, with mum, Françoise, working on the desk in the early days, taking bookings and paying the instructors. In 1994, his half brother, Julien, having been kicked out of high school, asked him for a job so he could stay in La Plagne. Bertrand said he could work as a skiman but wouldn’t be able to pay him. This was how Julien came to run their tiny ski shop, servicing their 20 pairs of rental skis. After a season and half ski-teching, Julien recognised that becoming a ski instructor would be more fun and lucrative, and so followed his brothers into the profession with their support, teaching with Oxygene from 1998. He went on to open the Belle Plagne branch of Oxygene in 2012. Julien’s twin sister, Manu, became the last member of the family to join the team in 1998 and, with her cool head for business and warm persona has been an invaluable asset since then, running the sales operations and sales team in La Plagne.
Bertrand’s father died in 2002, with a dying wish that the family, siblings and half-siblings, stay together. It was Bertrand that took on the patriarchal role of uniting the family. A short while after, he met his wife, Gaelle and had 3 children, Sixtine, Maxime and Appoline. He loved his family wholeheartedly and was as demanding with his children as he was with his team. He valued family time, particularly family holidays but worked long hours due to his dedication to his instructors and clients and his ambitions for Oxygene.
In 2016, Oxygene was given the chance to buy Magic in Motion, a ski school in the 3 Valleys which was founded in the same year by Lulu and Eric. Bertrand was reticent to begin with, but having mulled it over with Pierre, became convinced that this would be a great new challenge. He seemed to get a taste for growth and soon after had identified another opportunity in Megeve which became part of the Oxygene group in 2018 and Grand Bornand which joined in 2019.
At the time of writing the Oxygene group is present in 14 resorts across the French Alps. Bertrand’s ambition for the group was for it to be world renowned and appreciated. His personal ambition was to continue working and skiing into his seventies.
In April 2021 Bertrand caught COVID19. Around the same time he began experiencing headaches and difficulties speaking. He saw a doctor who made the devastating diagnosis that Bertrand had a brain tumour. He underwent surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and immunotherapy and despite remaining positive throughout, passed away 10 months later on 25 February 2022.
As was his way, Bertrand had everything planned out, including his own funeral. A three page document held all the necessary instructions and a two hour ceremony was held in commemoration of his life with the readings, music and eulogies he wanted everyone to hear. Hundreds of people descended on Macôt church and everyone agreed it was a fitting send off. He was laid to rest the next day in a family plot in Limoges.
Bertrand will long be remembered as a loving son, brother, husband, father and friend, for his love of history, his cheeky, rebellious nature, his frequent over-application of suncream, his rousing speeches, his positivity and perhaps above all, his ability to see and believe in people.