Club Holiday To Verbier, 13th - 20th March 2010

Reporter: Helen Richardson

As one member aptly put it “See you tomorrow before I wake up!” - and that’s how many of the nineteen members, who met at Terminal 2 for the Club holiday to Verbier around 4.20am on 13th March, may have felt - but we were rewarded by a rapid ‘group check-in’, and a pleasant flight with minimal delay. On meeting one more member at Geneva Airport, we had a prompt coach transfer and arrived in time to ski on that Saturday afternoon. Taking advantage of complimentary lift passes from 3pm, generously provided by Inghams, many of us took to the slopes for a couple of hours to test skis and ‘feel’ ski legs, .... and so began a most congenial holiday, during which we enjoyed good weather, with sun and brilliant blue skies on most days of the week.

The ‘Hotel de Verbier’ is situated in the heart of the town, close to shops , buses, and bars, a few minutes walk uphill from the Hotel that the Club stayed at in 1999, and about 6 minutes walk uphill to the main Medran lift station (also served by the free buses every few minutes).

The lift system connects between the ‘4 vallees’ of the lift pass ski area, such that it’s possible to ski and/or take lifts across to four main ski areas (see piste map). This provided tremendous ease of access to a wide variety of skiing, including pisted slopes, ‘black’ itinerary routes and off-piste terrain. It was straightforward and quick to reach areas with more favourable snow conditions or less crowded slopes. This compared favourably with Davos (SCOM March 2009), where the main ski areas are separated to the extent that they require access individually by bus or train.

Early in the week, groups of skiers explored different areas, such as nearby La Chaux, Les Ruinettes and Attelas; the generally quieter slopes of Bruson (the only area requiring access by bus) or Savoleyres; or further westwards towards Siviez, Tracouet, Versonnaz, and Thynon, with some choosing to ski the challenging 1.5 km long itinerary ‘Tortin’ mogul field en route across the ‘4 vallees’. Unfortunately, a key connecting lift on the return leg from Thynon closed daily around 2.45pm, which restricted the time available for skiing in the more distant areas around Thynon or beyond. However, the hotel’s programme of activities included an opportunity to book for the Wednesday, a return coach from Mayens-de-l’Ours at 4.30pm, following a final descent of the ‘Piste de L’Ours’ (the Women’s Downhill) and rendezvous at Mayen’s ‘Igloo Bar’. Many Club members took advantage of the coach hire to enjoy a more extended day of skiing across the four valleys, - some skiing beyond Thynon to Les Collons and Les Masses, - followed by a pleasant and relaxing ‘nod-off’ on the way back to the hotel.

As well as opportunities for more skiing, the high point (literally) of the resort, the 3330m summit of Mont Fort gave wonderful panoramic views across mountain ranges of Switzerland, France and Italy, including Mont Blanc and Monte Cervino (Matterhorn), - individual peaks being easily identified from the platform’s viewing tables.

On one day, some of the party travelled with a hired ski guide to ski off-piste at the Grand St Bernard Pass area, and crossed the border to make a long descent to the picturesque Italian village of Etroubles in Italy. There, a late lunch was followed by a bus back through the Grand St Bernard tunnel.

Towards the end of the week, Verbier became a real hub of activity as it hosted an ‘extreme skiing’ event, and the pistes became extremely busy, even at Bruson, where teenagers were taking part in a slalom race on a black run, ending at the ‘Club de Bagnes’ hut there.

SCOM stayed at the ‘Hotel de Verbier’ a few years ago, and I can understand the attraction of returning there. The hotel has a large and comfy lounge, with deep leather sofas and chairs to sink into, whilst enjoying almost constantly available tea and coffee, as well as excellent home baked cake at teatime each day. There is a separate bar area with TV and pool table, and large well appointed dining room, with mountain views, where we enjoyed some delicious and very satisfying dinners, served with a plentiful supply of Italian and French wines (included in the price).

Midweek, on the hotel’s staff ‘day off’, we enjoyed a meal as a group at ‘La Pergola’, a Pizzeria just a couple of minutes walk from the hotel, with a good range of pizza, pasta and other dishes. The Inghams staff had booked the table on our behalf, so all we had to do was to turn up, enjoy ourselves, and pay!

As usual on Club holidays, tea and dinner every day were accompanied by anecdotes of the day’s adventures. One was the tale of the errant wallet, which fell from an unzipped pocket, was searched for on a vast mogul field by several skiers, who, when they went to check if it had been handed in, found it had been returned almost immediately, and thus it was quickly restored to its owner, - but this was no ordinary wallet: it had gone ‘awol’ twice before, once on a bus in Milan, and then at a restaurant in Samos, each time turning up again, and being reunited with its owner! Another tale was of a ski rucksack, which was left for a few moments outside the hotel, where it was inadvertently swapped for a similar, but not identical, rucksack by an Italian lady, who was most indignant when the ski sack’s owner, after running in and out of shops searching frantically for her and it, came to claim it; - the lady protested in no uncertain terms as to its being hers! On some days, a couple of members skied with the SCGB rep, (who turned out to remember some SCOM members from having been a ski instructor at Chill Factore), and were surprised to meet, in the SCGB party, Verbier’s ‘skiing Vicar’- the friendly visiting Chaplain, who also hosted an ‘apres ski’ during the week. Later in the week, due to the sunshine, people’s faces were tending to turn pink despite their sunscreen, and there was a ‘rumour’ that one of the party was pinker than everyone else due to the liberal use of ‘Factor 30 insect repellant’.

Unfortunately, there were a few injuries and ill-health incidents during the week. Two injuries were serious: one lady dislocated a shoulder and fractured a head of humerus whilst skiing on the first afternoon, and one lady suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament on the first full day of skiing. Although these injuries terminated their skiing for the week, neither lady was brought home by their insurance company. Nonetheless, each managed to keep smiling despite their predicament. There were additionally, and perhaps inevitably, a range of more minor injuries due to falls and collisions. There were also three incidents of upset stomachs, which originated in the UK and were not in any way due of the hotel. On the final day, it was reported that two people (not from SCOM) were killed by an avalanche whilst on a blue run (on the descent to Carrefour), which had been alternately closed and open during the week. Many of us had skied it, and this was a stark reminder never to underestimate the risks of mountains and skiing.

Our homeward journey was on time and without incident, and Manchester Airport was the scene of fond farewells for the camaraderie enjoyed during a memorable ski holiday. Thanks, Dave and John, for your excellent organisation of this trip!