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'A Tale of 2 Holidays', By A SCoM 'Virgin' (Graham Barlow), Part 1

Reporter: Graham Barlow

There was a point in the summer of 2015 I realised that the number of guaranteed opportunities I had to ski with others had reduced to zero, through no fault of my own. Hence I sought the help of the web in finding folks of similar persuasion. Born a true Mancunian (none of this 'Greater Manchester' rubbish!) and with lifetime connections with the city, I felt sure it didn't have a ski club. So I googled 'ski club Birmingham': Nothing. I thought 'no point googling 'Liverpool' (have you ever met a Scouse skier? - no offence meant, but I haven't yet and I've skied every year but one since 1990). Where now? 'Manchester', despite my preconception, yielded SCoM! Jackpot hit - 4 holidays a year, and room- pairing to avoid the dreaded single-supplement - just what I was looking for! I joined, but - by that time - only the Champoluc holiday had places left, so I sent off my deposit immediately, having spoken to David Shepherd who kindly agreed to hold a place for me pending confirmation of my membership from Janet Winstanley on her return from holiday.

Champoluc - February

Outward Journey:
Having checked in with Jet2 at T1 before David's pre-advertised arrival at c.6am, I could find only one person in the area I expected him to be. 'Are you with SCoM?' 'Are you David?' 'No, I'm Chris (Cleaver)'. 'Oh, hi Chris, I'm Graham - your room-mate!' After an uneventful flight, I sat next to Andrew Walker on the transfer coach. I was curious as to how one found members of the party who were of broadly similar standard to ski with: He told me that you just chatted to folks over drinks/dinner and took it from there. I was pleased by this as I had, some years earlier, been a SCGB member - where this process was too regimented for my liking. As we filled in the hotel registration form I noticed he was born on the same day as me! Clearly I was the 'runt of the litter' given our height difference! The transfer from Turin was pleasant and short, being c.90 minutes.

This was the nicest ski accommodation I have ever stayed in. The lounge area was spacious and well-divided, with back-supportive seating. The dining area was similarly well-divided, so that background noise was minimised. Our room was spacious, with ample storage. The predominance of wood gave the hotel a cosy atmosphere, and this was enhanced by a gas coal-effect fire and antique items like a table made from a huge pair of bellows. I did not hear any complaints about the food and, for those of us who do not have a 'sweet tooth' having a savoury alternative at afternoon tea was welcome. Breakfast was plentiful with a good choice of breads, fruit, cereals and hot options. The wifi, whilst only available in the lounge, had ample bandwidth.

The hotel was some 400m from the gondola, a gentle - if slightly uphill - walk along a one-way road. We had free warm ski/boot storage right opposite the lift, with the welcome bonus of a 'real' loo since, invariably, those on the mountain were of the 'squat' type. We soon found that if we timed it to catch a half-hourly bus from here, then a 5 minute journey got us to Frachey where a short funicular deposited us at the same point as would have required 4 lifts, a big flight of stairs and a flat 100m walk, had we started by taking the gondola.

Ski Buddies:
Talking to my room-mate Chris it seemed he wanted to ski the same sort of runs as I did and for a similar duration of the day. I sat near Janet Allen at the first dinner and she seemed to be of the same mind, so the 3 of us teamed up for most of the week, which worked very well.

It has to be said that the area encompassing Chamopluc, Gressoney & Alagna is small, so we did end up skiing many runs twice or more. Having said that, the lifts are very long and so are the runs they serve, since in most cases each lift only serves one or two runs parallel to them. So, if going to Alagna and back, it is almost a fait acccompli which runs you take. The lift system was efficient and links good too - the only significant exception being a longish walk from the end of one of the 4 black runs. There was a good variety of terrain, with some trees and rock outcrops creating more varied terrain than the vast areas of bland white one often encounters at higher altitudes.

Although there are 3 smaller satellite resorts on the Monterosa ski pass, they are all very tiny.

Janet tried the nearest - Antagnod - accessible by hourly bus, but found there were effectively only 2 runs - so was back well before lunchtime. On Tuesday, several of us went on a coach trip that had been organised to Pila, which is covered for 1 day on the ski pass. The journey, long gondola ride up from Aosta, then another lift, meant it was 11 o'clock before we actually skied, but we still managed to cover all corners of the resort before the 4.30 return departure. A similar outing to Cervinia on the Thursday was unfortunately cancelled due to insufficient bookings.

Being within 2 hours of both Turin & Milan meant we faced crowded slopes on our first day (Sunday) and there were some serious queues, particularly at one lift as the hordes made their way back mid-afternoon. The rest of the week, however, was pleasantly quiet apart from a piste-junction that Janet aptly coined 'Carnage Corner'. Winds meant the link to Alagna was closed on the Monday, and we had to ski through cloud on a number of occasions during the week, but there was never enough snow falling for a complete white-out. Fortunately, the base depths were good, and the only bare patches we found were on the red into Alagna village - hardly surprising, since here one is 350m below anywhere else.

Food & Drink:
If you come here you must try the local delicacy - Zuppa Valdostana - which is not a soup at all, rather a bowl of cabbage, bread and cheese: Very tasty, and widely available. This being Italy, prices on the mountain are cheap. I specifically recall having a delicious heated seeded granary baguette of ham, cheese and courgette and a 250ml red for just €9. Try matching that in the UK!

All but 4 of us went to the same restaurant for dinner on the staff night off, which turned out a bad choice. It was part of a hotel, and they had clearly overstretched themselves by opening to non-residents in such numbers. This was evident early on when they could only supply 2 menus between 15 people! It was over an hour before anyone got any food, by which time a few of the group felt it was too late to eat if they were to sleep well, so left in search of a light supper.

Most, but not all, of the group enjoyed the food when it did, eventually, arrive.

Return Journey:

Best & Worst of the week:
Best - the genuine friendliness of the Italians, evident in any bar or cafe we visited. This was replicated on the one occasion I fell - on the ice as I walked to the ski lockers: Even though I had already righted myself, a couple of guys in a passing car stopped to check I was OK.

Almost Worst - Mike Stemmer hurting his knee as he came off a chairlift, resulting in him spending the bulk of the week on crutches rather than skis. I had not met him previously, of course, but it seemed a measure of the man as to how cheerfully he accepted his fate. When I became aware that he was booked on the Tignes trip I asked David if I could fill his slot, and Mike was magnanimous enough to say 'I'm glad my place is going to a keen skier'. Mike: I hope your recovery is going
well, and I owe you a 'large one' when our paths next cross!

Worst - the sad news that reached us that a member had died. Again, I had had no opportunity to meet John Day, but many had, some even having skied with him less than 2 months previously.

A thoroughly enjoyable week. 18 people was a manageable number to meet and actually remember their names. The friendly and welcoming nature of everyone made for a great introduction to the club and had me wanting to come on all the holidays: I WISH!

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