By Ernie Metcalfe
At the age of 67 to be called a new "boy" is, to say the least, flattering. But this is what I was on this my first holiday with the Ski Club. So, as requested, what are the first impressions of this holiday?
I have never been on holiday with a group as large as this before and was curious as to how it would work and what are the dynamics that make such a group tick. That it works, and works well, is obvious. It is a formula that has been repeated many times over, and furthermore members seem to want it to continue like this.
At the airport and checkin there was the usual hubbub and at the departure gate members were greeting old friends. I knew one or two faces from the Christmas dinner at Deckers and the January Friday evening meeting. So I was reassured that my son Michael and I were at the right place. Once on the coach and it was realised that these strange faces were also on the holiday, we were made very welcome. This was the first and overriding impression of the holiday. Its success is based on the friendliness that exists within the Club, a fact that was constantly reaffirmed throughout the week. It soon became obvious that there were no fixed groupings or particular cliques. Naturally people of similar ability tended to ski together, but there also seemed to be a lot of flexibility and quite a bit of movement from one group to another according to personal preferences and skiing destinations.
At dinner there was a similar movement between the tables. I didn't sit with exactly the same people two nights running. Here was the opportunity to discuss the day's skiing, where to go tomorrow and for old friends to catch up on the latest news. There was certainly plenty of time for this on the first two nights as the service was painfully slow. It did, however, improve as the week progressed.
It is, maybe, because of these two factors of friendliness and flexibility (how refreshing to be able to use three 'f' words without causing offence!) that the Club holidays are so successful. But this is not surprising when a group of people with shared values like ours - a love of skiing, the outdoor life, sport in general, keeping fit etc. meet infrequently. There is little opportunity to get bored with each other. In fact, my main regret was that it was not possible to get to know everyone. Something that has to be accepted with a large group.
As for the skiing itself, Michael and I were fortunate to be taken under Elaine Donnelley's wing on the first morning. Thereafter I skied with Elaine and Brian Richards for the rest of the week; with Norma Green, Helen Richardson, Pat Ashworth, Dave Coleman and son Michael often joining us. Skiing with such a group suited me ideally. There was plenty of opportunity for rests. I am not going to try to describe all the runs we did, or the areas we visited. To me second hand skiing is about as appetising as second hand garlic and, I imagine most members feel the same.
One advantage of skiing with Elaine I was able to tap into her expert knowledge of cookery. However the advice on making good gravy was a bit surprising. Instead of all the paraphernalia about using the drippings from the roast and adding flour and mixing in the vegetable water, and hopefully, some magic ingredient, I was advised to go to Tesco's and buy gravy powder. Well, I never!
For those who don't know the 3 valleys ski region it offers tremendous variety and La Tania is well placed to explore it. There is something for everyone. Members roamed the whole area from Pointe de la Masse in the West to the Chapeletes run above Courchevel 1650 to the East. It was made all the better by the excellent snow and the last four days of good weather. Very cold at times, certainly, but still very good skiing. All I can say about the first two days, it snowed a lot. Personally, I don't find it much fun trying to ski when you can't see where you are going. However this gave the off-piste enthusiasts plenty of fresh snow. There were lessons organised for the keener ones specifically in off-piste techniques, while others tried blades for a day or so. You could do exactly what you wanted with no pressure to keep up with anyone. I am sure this made a big contribution to the overall relaxed atmosphere of the holiday. For, after all, that's what we were - on holiday.
As for the hotel and the food, we all have our own impressions of the good and the bad points. I enjoyed the food, it was to my taste, even if a little richer than at home. After all we were given French food in a French hotel. What else could we expect?
Checking in was chaotic. They were not prepared for so many people arriving at once, and in several cases rooms were not ready at 4.00 pm. A very early start on the way home was not helped by the lift down to street level not working. All the baggage had to be carried down two flights of slippy steps in the dark. Fortunately there were no accidents, and everyone did what they could to help. A smooth flight home, more or less on time, concluded a very good holiday.
I really enjoyed the skiing, but most of all I enjoyed the company. A big personal thankyou to everyone who gave Michael and I such a warm welcome. We certainly hope to participate in future for as long as all the bits and pieces hold together. Finally an equally big thankyou to Paul Sharp for making it all possible in the first place.