by Alan Brown
Last season, I had the chance to do what I've been planning to do for many years - go ski for the whole season. I'd jumped at the chance to take early "retirement", and having negotiated an end date of November, all I had to do was gather my stuff and go!
Not quite as straightforward of course. I had to persuade my new "boss", Claire - the SCGB Reps Manager, that she should provide me with enough slots in Europe to make it financially viable. With increasing demand for this type of work, I was lucky to be offered two almost adjacent slots in Grindelwald and St Moritz with "no promises but you never know" for later on.
Preparation took much more effort than I'd anticipated, and it was only with lots of support that I was ready in time. Problems which might be relevant to others :
I knew I wanted to go by car, so I could take most of my extensive wardrobe with me, so with advice from Ian and Susan Webster, I joined the AA and claimed my discount from North Sea Ferries for the crossing from Hull to Rotterdam as I booked a cabin out and an open ticket back - seemed very romantic at the time ! Then I thought I'd best tell my car insurers I was going away for three months. They seemed surprised that anyone wanted to leave England at all, and their first reaction was that they wouldn't cover me for so long. Bit of a worry as I'd already paid for the ferry ! A nice man relented and said I could go so long as I paid them more money. Lesson : don't take a high risk car ...
Holiday insurance was the same. The good-cover, good-value SCGB annual package allows unlimited trips abroad so long as no one trip exceeds 30 days. Mmm. With a bit of persuasion, they relented as they were prepared to accept that periods of repping were covered on a separate policy, which broke up the season quite nicely. Lesson : read the small print and get a policy which gives you exactly what you need.
Getting the snow chains and ski roof rack had a silver lining. I identified the Roof Box Company of Sedburgh as good value, and called in on my way to a weekend of outdoor first aid refresher with the British Association of Ski Patrollers in Carlisle. Not only were they very generous with discounts, but sponsored a copy of our Newsletter last year. I'd certainly recommend them as a cheap and knowledgeable source for many car accessories for outdoor activities.
The journey to Grindelwald was very successful and straightforward considering I did it alone and in one bite. Hull-Rotterdam is helpful in that although it takes almost 12 hours to cross, it costs hardly any more than a Channel crossing with the AA January discount, and after a night's sleep you start the marathon refreshed at 08.00.
On paper, the route seemed obvious. Cross Holland, turn right at the border and head due south through Germany until you hit Switzerland. I had to make four significant changes in direction, and got three of them hopelessly wrong. On a foreign motorway by yourself it is very difficult to tell if a turning is the right one when it doesn't signpost you where you expect. Result : go too far; realise mistake; U-turn at the next junction; retrace steps past the right junction; come back again. Very frustrating and added about 100 miles to my journey.
I still got there in 11 hours elapsed which was about what I'd expected. I had found the interesting German countryside helped to prevent fatigue, and encountered no major hold-ups.
I'd arranged to stay the week before I started repping with Ian and Susan in the apartment they have always rented in January in Wilderswill which is just down the valley from Grindelwald. It was lovely to be met by friendly faces ! That week was taken up with finding my own ski legs and re-acquainting myself with the area. No real changes from the last time, and the first Rep of the season had got things well-sussed too.
Settling back into the resort (and the job) was easy - I knew the hotel (even the same old room !) and its staff, the Inghams rep had turned into a friend last year - actually from Macclesfield although you'd hardly tell from his strong Irish accent, and ex-pats Rich and Fran who winter there but return to summer golf in Guernsey.
So it was the boring ole routine of tour company welcome parties. "Hello I'm Alan, the Ski Club Rep ..." Skiing. Drinking. Eating. Drinking.
Actually, I was fortunate in that four friends came to stay my first repping week. It snowed hard the Saturday night, and Sunday was a real white-out with low cloud to boot. We started fine on the gentle slopes of the First ski area, but I lost Jane - she'd gone off the edge of a trail not realising how narrow it was ! It took her ages to get out across acres of waist-deep snow, and she had to go home to rest. Good start !
It could only get better, as they say, and it did. The week was cold and generally clear with lovely light powder if you knew where to find it. And that's my job ! We played in the soft stuff all over the place and had fun.
To be continued............