By David Hodgkinson
If you were present at Terminal 2 of Manchester Airport in the early hours of Saturday 26 January, you would have witnessed approximately 50 excitable members of the Manchester Ski Club battling through the check in process. The members were on their way to this year's main club holiday in Val d'Isère and as usual, ludicrous boasts about "25% faster" ski equipment and classic examples of 1980s C&A ski wear provided the entertainment. The three people who arrived significantly later than recommended, including me, probably had a longer queue at the check in desk but this was rewarded with an upgrade to "first class" on the plane. While a late check in is not to be recommended under normal circumstances, it was an exceptionally early start and a pre-take off glass of champagne really perked the three of us up, not that we needed it!
Chaos at both Manchester and Geneva airports could not dampen the mood and a reasonably smooth transfer and a fairly straightforward hotel check in saw us settled into Val d'Isère by mid afternoon Saturday. The hotel was clean, well located, staffed by a friendly contingent of Swedish staff and the food was generally of a really good standard and incredibly well presented. It was generally accepted that some of the rooms were a little cosy though (especially the 4 man ones apparently).
Skiing in Val d'Isère was fantastic. There had not been any snow for a while but the pistes were hard packed, well covered and most had at least a bit of powder on them. The ski area is huge and the lift system is modern, largely without any queues at all and takes skiers up the mountain at high speed. All this left no excuse whatsoever for skiing the same area or routes twice and most people covered a lot of ground during the week. Of course, loads of great pistes could not dissuade a few separate guided trips off piste and everyone came back with great reports.
Another feature of the week was the World Cup event which was being organised during our stay. The build up was fantastic and it was great seeing the course being set out and the street parties and fireworks at night. All week the competitors impressive motor homes rolled into town and the sponsors set up stands and other facilities. All the chat in the bars and cafes of Val d'Isère was of Bode Miller being in town. The rumours were correct and he later stormed to victory in the event despite the whispers of his rampant appetite for enthusiastic partying!
A small number of intrepid ski club members reluctantly stayed out beyond their bed times in search of Mr Miller. Unfortunately they were left disappointed which perhaps explained his sparkling performance. However, they did come across a certain Ski Sunday presenter - Graham Bell! Mr Bell looked a little as though he was in need of a good night's sleep. He explained that because of the unique way in which the BBC is funded, he was spending his winter days skiing and his winter evenings in bars all over the Alps, all in the name of a new series of Ski Sunday. The Ski Sunday front man also took the time to explain to the ski club members that his somewhat tired appearance was due to his early ascent up the mountain to see the practise runs by Miller et al and nothing to do with the five hours he had been seen researching pints of Stella in local bars. He also posed for a few snaps with our team which was good of him, and to be fair, the new Ski Sunday is much improved in comparison to the old series. It is well worth a viewing on a Sunday evening for those who have not caught it yet.
The weeks weather was good and it was mostly sunny and without the harsh conditions which characterise many January weeks in high altitude resorts. The end of the holiday arrived far too quickly and I for one was left wishing for at least a few extra days of fun skiing.
The journey home was arduous because of the long distance between Val d'Isère and Geneva and the usual parlavour of transporting a coach full of people, luggage and ski equipment from mainland Europe to Blightly. However, this gave me some time to reflect upon a good holiday which required little effort to arrange through the Club. I have recently booked a second ski holiday for the season to Italy for a party of just 6 in March to which I am looking forward. However, it is a) more expensive than the Val d'Isère trip and b) proved to be difficult to organise for just a small party. I think a note of thanks is therefore due to Brian Richards, Dave Shepherd and Paul Sharp who between them arranged the holiday. Dave Shepherd in particular did a terrific job of sending out pre holiday instructions and helping to get the members organised.
Until next year.