By Ernie and Marjie Di Rollo
We left home on the 4th Feb returning on the 15th March. We were definitely not ready to come back and should have followed our original plan to leave on the 28th Jan. The advantage of holidaying in a motor caravan or caravan is that one does not pay up front and therefore one's approach to holidaying is supposedly more flexible except when other engagements interfere.
This year the repeated snow falls gave us wonderful conditions; for the first time in nearly thirty years of skiing we have returned, after 24 days skiing, with downhill skis that have not required a service and are unmarked! Our waxless cross-country skis required waxing! During our trip we skied Flims, Davos/Klosters, Zell am See, Civetta and San Vigilio, the latter two being part of the Dolomiti Superski Area. Apart from Davos we had never previously visited any of the other areas.
You might ask why choose these areas? Good question!
O.K., but how do you decide where to go?
Flims was chosen because some years ago, at Pat and Harry's "end of the season" party, I asked Roy Formby, George Mill's very good friend, where he had skied that year. He replied that once again he had returned to Flims. H said that he loved to ski, non-stop, the 14Km run from the top of the Vorab Glacier all the way down to Flims.
We returned to Davos having visited it briefly when Harry Ashworth had organised a ski holiday to Klosters. It is a resort well know to Alan Brown and, of course, recently visited by Trudy and John Lymmer.
Our visit to Zell am See was probably influence more by Holiday Advertising than anything else.
Civetta will probably be a name known to very few. Our trip there was prompted more by the chance remark that my cousin, from Rome, had made. At a wedding in July she said, "One day we must meet on the piste". Since she was going skiing in February we did meet up in a place called Pescol, part of the Civetta (Zoldo Alto) ski area.
San Vigilio was a place that I had remembered reading about, many years ago, in the Bladen Lines brochure. We were going to be in the area so why not give it a shot. That was our last resort before heading off to Lille.
You're quite right there is no skiing in Lille but I, Ernie, was playing for Scotland 60+ hockey Tournament. This was a two day event. When I told my Hockey friends that I was skiing before playing Hockey one of them suggested that I might be getting in some high altitude training before the games!
For most of our return journey it snowed all the way from northern Italy until we reached the French border at Strasbourg. This was a reflection on the exceptionally good snow conditions that we all had this year.
This year our first taste of Switzerland was Films. Here the top station was at a height of 3018M on the Vorab glacier the lowest lift being at 1100m. We skied for four out of five days, with snow stopping us getting onto the mountain on one day, when we went walking. We did not manage to emulate Roy Formby's efforts and ski from the top to the bottom of the resort probably because we were not in the resort long enough.
We were fortunately based between the two main access points, Flims Dorf and Laax Murschetg. The latter was our preferred starting point as it had fast gondola or cable car resulting in smaller queues than at Flims Dorf. The Black run from the glacier is quite easy being rather wide. Our copy of "Where to Ski" book described it as suitable for good intermediates, as in fact it described the more difficult runs whether they were pisted or unpisted. As the snow conditions were very good the skiing was relatively easy, hence queues started to develop as more and more people came out. This resort seemed to have long chairs and tows with similarly long runs. We felt that the piste was poorly marked. At one point the piste divided into three and to our embarrassment we had to ask the way. All the mountain tops are called "crap" and so not surprisingly one comes across the "Crap Bar" or even Crap Hotel! The Tourist Office at one time used the unfortunate slogan "Flims is Crap"! Incidentally Flims does not have that pretty Swiss look about it.
Our next location was at Davos. This resort is rather disjointed. Of the six ski areas only the Parsenn and Gotschna areas are directly connected. To access Pischa, Jakobshorn, Rinerhorn and Madrisa areas from any other sector you have to go down and use the bus or train. The campsite was bang opposite the Rinerhorn gondola station. To get into Davos proper we had the fortunate choice of either the local bus or train, both a five minute walk away. We arrived in a snow storm and so the first day's skiing was magical, lots of lovely powder on and off piste. At Rinerhorn the reds were almost blacks and the blues reds.
On our first encounter with the Parsennbahn, taking us up to the largest ski area, we queued for 90 mins. The next day we returned and for some reason we only queued for 10 mins. presumably on first day we had coincided with the ski schools and missed them on the second. I have since spoken to Matthew Barr, he skied Davos this year, and he found that as long as you went out after 10.00 there were no queues. We managed to ski from the top of the Parsenn area (Weissflughgipfel 2844m) down to Kublis (810m.) on very good snow. This is graded as black and red, but is mostly a "motorway". Unfortunately the train and bus journey back took 1 1/2 hours. We thoroughly enjoyed the run down with hardly anyone on it. The higher slopes were generally packed with skiers. We found the slopes quite dangerous due to the number of skiers and to their lack of control. It almost seems that with the advent of the shorter skis people find it is easier to ski but that their control is lacking!
Transport around the whole area is good. On one occasion we skied a black run, through the forest, down to Wolfgang which is halfway between Klosters and Davos. Just as we arrived at the village the bus departed so we went over to the railway station, waited for ten minutes and took the train all the way back to the campsite.
Throughout the Davos area there are plenty of marked sledge runs, sledges for hire and sledging. Walking on prepared routes was popular both in Davos and Flims. There are well marked cross-country ski routes, the use of which is free!
Our next stop was at Zell am See. The campsite was situated on the side of the lake, a very scenic spot. The bus, which ran every 30 mins. picked us up at the entrance and took 20 mins to get us to the gondola station - nice and easy.
The resort is split into two areas that above Zell am See, called Schmittenhohe and that on the Kaprun glacier named Kitzsteinhorn, after the gipfell (mountain) at the top. Access to the ski area above Zell could be made from one of three base stations. This area was divided by a natural barrier giving two distinctive areas.
Once at the very top, Schmittenhohe 2000m, the choice was to go left to the Sonnen area or right to Breiteck. We spent most of our time on the Sonnen Area. Here we found some ski routes which were unpisted and, most importantly, free of other skiers. The red and blue runs were again too busy. The blacks were not too demanding. We eventually skied all the blacks in the resort, finding that generally we were almost the only people on them. We did make the trip to the Kaprun Glacier on a glorious, sunny day. It seemed to take forever just to get to the gondola. The queues were horrendous at the bottom; the whole world must have decided to go to the Glacier. There were queues everywhere and the slopes were covered with people. The Glacier was like an ant heap! We did not get much skiing that day. It turns out that this resort is very popular with East Europeans and English schools. As it was half term it was bombed out.
On the one day that it snowed we got out the cross country skis. We made enquiries at the campsite about where to buy our tickets. Only to be told that here, as in Switzerland, the Loipes were again free!
The campsite restaurant had really fresh lake trout. These were kept in a very large aquarium in the foyer and were caught to order. I could not resist the appeal of a genuinely fresh trout. It was delicious!
Our second last stop was in the small Italian Resort of Zoldo Alto. As many of you know the scenery in the Dolomites in winter is superb. The whiteness of the snow seems to intensify the pink of the granite. The mountain behind the campsite caught the rays of the setting sun, the effect was stunning.
The chairlift was right outside the campsite. Being outside the main resort we had no queues. The pistes were all reds and blues but for one black which was shut off. As I was feeling adventurous, I nipped under the barrier and skied the unpisted snow - it was great! The skiing was fairly easy and relaxing. Despite this we were stopped, on at least two occasions, by people who thought that they had strayed from a blue onto a red run. Over a two day period we had comprehensively skied this resort.
On the one day that it snowed we crossed the road and spent our time on the cross country trail, which again was free.
Our next stop was San Vigilio; we had an appointment to meet up with Dot and Tony Keats. Of course the drive from Zoldo Alto up and over, through Coravara to San Vigilio was spectacular but very slow.
We seemed to have made a good choice with the locality where we stayed. If we had gone to Brunico, the other end of Plan Corones, the access point to the slopes was the gathering point for all the coach parties. There was a huge car park with many many bus and lots of cars. To cope with the crowds there was a double twelve person gondola which shifted enormous numbers very quickly. Despite this huge uplift capacity there were still large queues.
At our end we had easy access to the slopes. We walked 15 metres to the campsite bus were dropped off at the ticket office and took an escalator up to the gondola station which was our entry point to the ski area. Not once during our stay did we have to queue at this point. The ski area is mostly blue runs with a few rather wide easy reds. Again we heard people complaining that the blues were far too difficult. The only black runs were the two runs which returned all skiers to Brunico; we did these a few times with Dot and Tony. Unfortunately, while we were on the blacks, we repeatedly encountered many, to put it politely, "Debutant" skiers or were terrified by hordes of "bombers". We enjoyed our stay here but I suggest that after three days it was skied out.
Again this year we found that if we presented ourselves as single skiers we regularly got onto chairs and gondolas without queuing. We saved ourselves considerable amounts of time.
Lift passes continue to be a source of puzzlement. As 60+ skiers we have come to expect discounts. This seems to vary considerably. At Flims, the only discounts applied to "six day" passes; that for five days cost 300SFr, six days cost 301SFr. In Davos a 5% discount could be obtained with a Guest Card issued by your Hotel, but only if you bought a six day pass. We generally bought passes for each local area which generally proved to be much cheaper. Zell am See no discounts were available. In Civetta you could buy a two day pass and get a 15% discount! In San Vigilio we had a 20% discount on the rate of the one day pass.
Moments that we shall no doubt always remember from this trip.
Our trip to Davos was remarkable, not only for the skiing, but for an exceptional incident. The lift that we were using stopped for over half an hour. Fortunately we had the company of a Swiss lady with whom, my wife Marjie, not only had a lively chat but who was, more importantly, able to interpret the various announcements. After half an hour we were greeted by a knock and voice enquiring, "Is there anyone there?" Yes, it was a bit ironical that we should be stuck, between floors, in a supermarket lift!
At Zoldo Alto, while I was in for a pit-stop, Marjie saw an 80 year old going out to ski. His only clothing being swimming trunks! He was as brown as a berry. We subsequently met other skiers who thought that either he was mad or was drunk. Marjie decided to find out about him and asked at the bar. She was assured that he was quite sane and apparently skied like that regularly for his health. In this area although it is very cold the atmosphere is quite dry.
The hot chocolates in Zoldo were out of this world. They were delicious and so thick that a teaspoon almost stood up in the liquid chocolate.
At San Vigilio, while travelling in a gondola, we were amused to see a flock of Ostriches padding about in the snow. Someone remarked that they though Ostriches were desert birds! Yes, it was an unusual sight! However none of them had buried their heads in the snow!