by Alan Brown
The remainder of the time in Grindelwald was a bit of a blur - not because of the alcohol, but because it's now a long time ago. Main features were meeting Mick and Cathy who are now Manchester members and one particular group who were different ... Usually people are fairly accommodating in that they go along with what's suggested. I really do believe that this group had all been - individually - to Grindelwald the year before and then spent the intervening eleven months working out exactly what they each wanted to do on Day 1. Result : chaos. With 12 of them it was impossible to do everything, so with a bit of quick thinking I split us into three led by Rick, the most vociferous one and me. I was for the powder, having arranged to meet the other groups for lunch. Bad move. I lost a ski well off the piste and spent ages searching for it. Did all the right things : don't disturb the snow too much, cut through it with the tail of the other ski (and everyone else's skis too!) and work slowly up hill. While we were all sitting having a breather, one of the more eagle-eyed of us spotted it sticking out about 150 metres down the hill ! Relief, but a bit tricky skiing on one ski in deep snow ... Reputation tarnished, but members only want to see us reps fall anyway !
I stayed in the very posh Grand Regina Hotel and there were some interesting characters there too. A lovely gent who apparently goes there every January away from his family to enjoy a break. His routine was rigid. Ski the day with the rep : hotel for a bath and g&t : dinner : coffee : bed. He was really pleased and insisted I join him for dinner. This of course required me to dress up in the mandatory suit, but it was worth it. He'd been there so often that the restaurant staff knew to be good. He always sat at the same table - with me in tow for a few days - which was just by the white grand piano. He knew when to come down to coincide with the pianist's first session. Wine was no problem - I told him I couldn't afford it ! Generous as only self-made Yorkshiremen can be, he just told me to drink it and he'd settle. Wow !!
Then there was the overweight gent who was there to eat and drink. He was up early to get the full breakfast twice, and he must have had an enormous bar bill considering how many drinks he bought me in the course of the week ! I'd discovered a mountain restaurant that did the regional equivalent of raclette, charbonard, and he made me take him. Lovely again as he paid - including the taxi there and back !
I seemed to get on better with the hotel owners this time, and Maggie invited me to join her exclusive Sunday morning aquaerobics session with some of her friends. It was lovely to be in the hotel pool surrounded by beautiful Swiss women, taking orders from a barking fitness goddess against a backdrop of the Eiger through the panoramic windows. Wow again ...
All too soon it was the end, and I had to cross Switzerland to St Moritz ... Picture driving across a strange foreign country in a snowstorm with a hangover after the Grindelwald send-off, and you have me. Desperate ! And it took 10 hours !
The best bit was arriving. The hotel I'd booked into, had said it was near the station. "You can't miss it". The taxi drivers at the station were very helpful :
First one : Never heard of it.
Second one : It's closed.
Third one : It's just over there behind the railway sidings.
Actually it was very pleasant, if a bit basic by St Moritz's standards. Convenient for the railway - which you sometimes use to get around and not too far from the town centre, albeit uphill.
Like Grindelwald, I had a week to acclimatise / orient myself before starting repping. I'd never been there before, so I spent the week with the incumbent rep - apart from the day after his fall when he put me in charge. Amazingly an American who I'd signed up the year before met me there. Small world ...
It's the people that make St Moritz different, and this is reflected in the way the tour companies operate. I'm used to welcome parties where I can meet the newcomers and persuade a good few to come ski with me. In St Moritz there were no such parties. It took me ages to work this out as the tour reps were not forthcoming. What actually happened was that each hotel had a champagne reception to which these reps went - it appears St Moritz clients don't want to be seen herded into tacky meetings, plied with cheap plonk and told of rip-off trips : they're too sophisticated for anything like that !
I was pleased to find that the skiing is good. It's extensive, has variety and challenges and with slopes facing every direction it's possible to follow the best conditions and avoid the bad. The off piste doesn't get skied out quickly as many skiers aren't the type, despite there being some great areas for it.
Each week I encouraged people to join the Engadine Ski Safari. It's organised by the combined ski schools of the area, and does a brief tour of the main pistes. Nothing special in that, but it was always a very cosmopolitan group with skiers from all over Europe and beyond. One time there was an English girl whose background I just couldn't work out : she spoke perfect German and was hesitant in English with a funny accent. Seems she'd spent years working on Canadian bases in Germany and now lived in Canada. Then there were the Dutch, Germans, Swedes and French. Uri, the guide for the day, was very amused when I got talking to a German student on one lift, and had him signed up as a student SCGB member on the next !
I particularly enjoyed my regular trip to ski down the Diavolezza Glacier, which opened while I was there. Philip, the German student, took me down the first time. Not too auspicious a start as someone just ahead of us took a tumble and had to call in the helicopter. The response time was the impressive bit ! Yes, it has some tricky bits on it, and I was a bit concerned to be approached in the gents' toilets one day by a nice man wanting to know what I was doing that day ... Concerned because he wanted to join me and I'd not seen him ski, you understand !. He talked confidently though, so with lots of mutterings about no liability he joined my little band on the adventure.
Basically the route crosses one arm of the glacier then follows the main ice to civilisation. So it's down an icy rocky bumps field before plodding across the ice and up the ridge at the other side. 30 mins of side stepping through soft snow is not for the unfit. But the views are worth it. As you breast the top breathing your last and savouring the peace and the solitude, you are confronted by a hut selling hot and cold drinks serviced by helicopter - typical Swiss ! You get very close to the exposed glacier ice on the way down which is always impressive - never the same colour but always dramatic with the crevasses and ice falls. The station café at the end is very welcome. My target was always to get there just in time to have a drink before the train arrived.
I stayed in three different hotels in my three-week slot in St. Moritz. The first two were far from mediocre, and very comfortable and friendly. The Badrut's Palace was different...
To be continued in next Newsletter ................