Ski Club of Manchester Holiday To Verbier, Spring 2007

By Tom Russell

It came as a shock to realise that I didn't know how to persuade a hen to adopt an orphan chick - it involves strategically inserting and removing a pot egg (in the nest, not in the hen), but that was one of the (non-skiing) tips provided during meal time conversation on this Verbier holiday. Other tips, maybe not as interesting but more applicable to improving my on-piste activity, also came my way, which just goes to proves what an interesting society the Ski Club of Manchester is.

This holiday was one I had anticipated with some trepidation due to the combination of my lack of skiing experience and Verbier's reputation for "challenging skiing". Almost every reference I found to it used this term, so my expectation was of narrow, vertiginous pistes populated by flying superheroes with thigh muscles like Fijian prop forwards. My expectation of the outbound flight (not very high) was exceeded considerably when the lovely lady on the check in desk took pity on my long legs and awarded me a seat in an exit row, so I thought maybe that was a good omen. It might have been a reward for my angelic behaviour in the past few weeks, but, on second thoughts, maybe not.

We departed more or less on time at some unearthly hour of the morning (I was half asleep, so it's hard to remember exactly when) and thumped down on Geneva Airport's runway a short time later in lovely sunshine, definitely a good omen. There was a short delay on the transfer bus while we waited for another flight to arrive, then the hour and three quarter ride east along the north side of the lake to arrive mid afternoon in Verbier.

Our hotel was right in the centre of the town, in the middle of the apr├Ęs ski action. The bus was able to unload outside the door, so no humping heavy luggage cross country here. Since we were a relatively small group, room allocation was painless and quick, and the rooms themselves were ok. Ernie and I shared a room on the top floor again, which meant don't forget anything from the room or be very fit. It was, however, convenient for the exam Ernie was due to take to test his understanding of the moment of inertia course he took during the Flaine holiday (see the report on the Flaine holiday in the previous newsletter).

Since we arrived early enough, the really keen skiers took to the slopes immediately using complementary lift passes provided for the afternoon. Others explored the town and clocked the bars and restaurants (well I was hungry!). Nic and Joy, the two Inghams reps, were very helpful, advising us where to ski on Sunday to avoid the local Genovese swarming in to take advantage of the dump of snow which had arrived on the previous Thursday.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, as did every day. Nic had advised us to go to Savoleyres to avoid the crowds, and it was good advice, with several blues and reds to allow us to regain our ski legs. Skiing down to the bottom of the hill we found certain parts of the pistes closed or traffic controlled where they were crossed by the luge piste. It was interesting to watch these madmen sitting on wooden frames careering down the hill totally out of control (steering, such as it is, seems to be accomplished by giving a hand signal in the direction you want to go and scooping up some snow). Much better to go careering down the hill totally out of control with two planks strapped to your feet.

Arriving at La Tzoumaz at the bottom of the hill it was disturbing to find the snow so soft and heavy. The second time we went there the snow was even worse, and it was only mid morning. This set the pattern for the week, with the sunshine taking its toll on the snow quality. By the end of the week, even the higher pistes were suffering by midday, particularly on the steeper sections.

For Monday the advised destination was Les Ruinettes and all stations beyond. This gave access to a large number of runs at high altitude with good snow, at least in the morning. The fly in the ointment here was that the jumbo cable car from La Chaux to Col des Gentianes was out of operation, making it difficult to get to the long red between these two stations. Accessing this run meant skiing to Chassoure and either skiing the horrendously steep and mogully (in my opinion) Tortin itinerary run (much worse than a black run according to Nic) or taking the cable car to Tortin, then using the large gondola to get to Col des Gentianes.

For Wednesday Nic and Joy had organised the "4 Valleys Challenge". This involved skiing over to Thyon, spending some time on the pistes there, and then returning in a bus. It is possible to ski there and back, but as the estimated journey time is two and a half hours, so that doesn't leave much time to ski the runs there. En route the red from Combatzeline to Siviez was in beautiful condition and we skied that twice. We went back later in the week to sample it again, but the snow had started to deteriorate and it was much less fun. Beyond Combatzeline the lifts were mainly drag lifts which were not popular, and the snow was in good condition only on the higher runs. Getting to the bus rendezvous point meant skiing the Ladies Downhill to Mayens-de-l'ours, the lower slopes of which were pretty soft and heavy, although on our second run the conditions seemed a bit better, perhaps because the sun was no longer shining on the run.

On Wednesday evening Nic and Joy had organised a quiz night. With a little bit of arm twisting we assembled two teams, neither of which, unfortunately, won, but the team I was in did beat the other one, which is more important! Carol's aluminium foil snow bunny sculpture (don't ask why, please) received plaudits even though it didn't win the prize, but everybody enjoyed the evening.

On the remaining two days, under the onslaught of wall to wall sunshine, the snow line continued to retreat up the mountains, and by mid afternoon most pistes were very heavy and churned up. Soni, a skier from Leeds who was in our hotel, told me that the sports centre in Verbier was very good, with "a Jacuzzi to die for", so on Thursday afternoon I came off the piste early, when the snow started to get slushy, and went for a swim. The sports centre was excellent, with only two other swimmers in the pool, and the Jacuzzi really was brilliant. I came away feeling very relaxed and refreshed, all for SFr 8. After returning my hired equipment on Friday a small group of us went for a celebratory Knickerbocker Glory. I thought the one I chose was pretty naughty, but Norma's was positively decadent. They were delicious.

Dinners at the hotel were convivial affairs, with most members taking the opportunity to sit next to different people during the week (that was where I learned the hen wrangling tip from Brian Winstanley). The food was reasonable and was enhanced by the free wine, which was much better than that served in Flaine. The only problem I could find was that there weren't enough rolls to throw at the other tables. On Wednesday the hotel staff had the day off, so we had to eat elsewhere. Derek Draper and Steve Wardle did the footwork (thanks very much fellas) and came up with a classy restaurant which served a delicious meal.

So, at the end of the week, my fears about "challenging skiing" conquered, knackered but happy, the thought ran through my mind as had after previous holidays; "I've survived another skiing holiday!" I've heard other people say the same thing. I wonder why we do it?