By Ernie Metcalfe
So it was back to Val d'Isère for the January 2009 holiday. A popular choice for there is such a variety of skiing, particularly this year as the snow was as good as it gets. The weather was kind, and with one poor day, one rather mixed and four days of wall-to-wall sunshine there were no complaints about the conditions. There was something for everyone and every grade of skier, from good blue and red runs generally well groomed to untouched blacks and lots of powder for the off-piste aficionados. It is reported that the snow in the Alps this year is the best for about twenty years despite, or maybe because of, global warming.
After the usual, and unpopular early start, we found the promised rugby scrum for luggage at Chambery airport was no joke. In spite of this, one big advantage of Chambery is the quicker transfer time of just over two hours to the resort. Landing and taking off at Chambery can be interesting to say the least. One or two members remembered their last landing here where the pilot left on the intercom so everyone heard his conversation with the co-pilot on the approach when visibility was not at its best. It was something along the lines of:-
"I'm not sure I can see it. Shall we abort?"
"I don't know."
"Ah, there it is, I think. I'll try to get in" etc.
Not the most relaxing start to a holiday. This time our plane just thumped down and brakes were full on. Take off was full throttle on, brakes off and in twenty seconds (yes, I did time it) we were airborne for a short and pleasant flight home.
Our accommodation was in the Chalet Marsala, which was next door to the Hotel La Foret where we were last year. This meant the same morning trudge to the ski lifts (Olympique or Solaise) or down to the main road to catch a bus. We were in a chalet and had chalet accommodation. It was clean if a little cramped. The beds were comfortable and the tall guys appreciated no footboards so their feet could dangle over the end of the bed. This, I am told, is preferable to trying to sleep in the foetal position. There was plenty of hot water, we were well fed and there were ample supplies of free wine with dinner. We did not have the facilities of a full service hotel, but then we were not paying hotel prices. One day there seemed to be a surfeit of toilet paper and a shortage of towels. One doesn't substitute well for the other! Overall, however, it was considered comfortable and good value for money.
The skiing, as already indicated, was excellent. After the moans and groans of the boot room it was a relief to hit the cold morning air and set out in our individual little groups. I was in a core group of four (George Tomkinson, Brian Richards and David Coleman) and we were joined or abandoned each day by several other Club members. The first day was brilliant sunshine, but not many of the pistes had been groomed. The grooming was much better for the rest of the week.
Monday was foul and the worst day of the holiday, with snow, wind, cloud and lousy visibility. After that it became progressively better. Tuesday was rather mixed. Then the rest of the week was glorious.
Tuesday was eating out night as the staff had their day off. A variety of places were chosen and the reports were generally favourable for the quality of food, but not for the prices. In fact we thought prices were high last year, but this year with the adverse exchange rate, they were positively horrendous. Hot chocolate was from the equivalent of £3.00 to £5.00 and a bowl of vegetable soup from £5.50 to £13.00. Admittedly I did have cream, croutons and cheese with the latter. Still damned expensive croutons! It is no wonder quite a few members took their own sandwiches or did without lunch. After a large cooked breakfast, and tea and cake to look forward to at the chalet, not much was required during the day.
On Wednesday night Barry and Jonquil Lewis entertained us to pre-dinner drinks. They have a lovely flat there and fifty or sixty or so people (including local ex-pats and family) managed to cram themselves in. Nevertheless it was a lot of fun, thank you Barry and Jonquil. The next day Barry joined a group of ten members for a day's off-piste at Sainte Foy. By all accounts, it was a very good, exciting and exhilarating day.
The last day, Friday, was again bright and clear and my group skied as hard as we could. At the end of the final run down to La Daille we all knew we had earned our vin chaud in the pub at the bottom. Then we enjoyed the second one!
This was a favourite stopping place for many of us during the week before catching the bus back.
After dinner the evenings were spent in a variety of ways. There were early nights, there were late nights, and often a friendly get together in the basement lounge. This year we were a smaller group than usual - thirty-nine of us including several new faces. So there was the chance to see a little bit more of each other.
I had a really good week's skiing. Thank you to all who skied with me for your company. At some point I skied with at least twelve members. Those who didn't ski with me don't know what they missed, or maybe they do! Also a big thank you to Ian McNeil my room mate for not keeping me awake, and to everyone else for helping to make it such an enjoyable holiday. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.