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Val d'Isère Training Week — 14th to 21st December 2021

Reporter: Jonathan Pollock

Many of us were unsure until the last moments whether we would be able to travel to France and most of us who did decide to make the journey count ourselves lucky to get onto the slopes, and not be sent home!, when the new anti-Omicron measures were introduced. Special thanks must go to the organisers, particularly David Shepherd and Steve Wardle, for brilliantly handling the anxiety of rapidly changing regulation. This was made doubly challenging by rule-changes during the week we were in resort. I hope I'm right in saying that all those our party did manage to get the required tests (despite, when the fit to fly app did not work, last minute dashes to the local pharmacy) and that we were all negative. We suspect that somewhere on the flight or in the airport queues or staffing there was a positive case since several people were pinged for close contact a couple of days after they got home (which fortunately did not mean automatic quarantine even though daily antigen tests were then recommended).

A feature of Covid lock-down meant that we were the first guests in the hotel in 2021! An inevitable feature of this was that the fabric of the building was cold and many of us needed an extra jumper to remain comfortable. Another, let's call it technical glitch, was that the boot room heating was out of action for most of the holiday, despite one successful attempt from a member of the Club team to fire it up for one night. The hotel did not object to us drying our boots in our rooms (when one could decipher the intricacies of the in-room heating!). Although changing in the comfort of a bedroom it is much easier to inadvertently put on one's ski boots before one's salopettes! But Covid also meant that the hotel was to close again the day after departure — we all felt so sorry for the Ingham's and other hotel staff, despite all the testing, having to pack up after only a week.

All would have to agree that we were exceptionally lucky with the weather. We had wall to wall blue skies and perfect visibility for the whole time we were in resort which meant the whole of Tignes and Val d'Isère were accessible to the group. As well as good weather, there had been a good fall of snow the previous week so the skiing conditions were generally excellent with some un-tracked off-piste still available to those who wished to be adventurous.

We had decided on our ski level before we arrived although there was a process of self selection for subgroups for the TDC training. Overall we felt our instructors were of a high standard. Some of us felt it would have been better if we had been grouped with a bit more early involvement from the instructors, so that each group was more homogeneous. I also thought that it was quite difficult for the groups to interact particularly for a newcomer like me as I was trying to learn people's names. I would have liked to have had some skiing time after the lessons with the other groups who might include people who know the resort better than I do. Simon did help a number of us ‘intermediates’ go down the often busy red run under the Solaisse lift. And a number of us congregated at the Marmotte ski hut for lunch so I was able to find people to ski with in the afternoon, although it does take a bit of time to pick up people's preferred skiing styles. I had a memorable ski with Ronan who skied first with Debbie who likes to keep it safe. Conversely Ronan is keen on darting off-piste whereas I prefer a reasonable pace on piste. Although skiing the longer distance between pistes he easily kept up with me until the bottom of one run when I had a slightly disconcerting wait for him to reappear. It transpired that he had lost a powder basket from one of his poles and on a turn in some soft powder his arm sunk to his wrist and the inevitable tumble ensued. I skied with Anne and Pete on the lovely intermediate runs off the Madeleine and Datcha lifts and then a return to the much visited Marmotte, Borsat (the runs from which get very choppy by early afternoon) and Fontaine Froid (which has a lovely lightly-used red). I also got to the spectacular view from Grand Pre where there seemed to be a perpetual party around the large "Val d'Isère" wooden letters where Jen and Claire paused in the sun for a photo-shoot.

A great help for communication for the week was the set-up of a WhatsApp group. This helped with ever evolving Covid arrangements and was useful to new members. But we were also without the hotel chef so had to make use of local restaurants and takeaways. The WhatsApp group meant those in the know were able to organise groups to eat out or bring in food to the hotel. Facilities in the hotel were deemed to improve when we discovered (not necessarily on the first night) that each of us were entitled to half a bottle of wine per night — I can't complain as one evening with Steve's group we seemed to be given our full week's entitlement with the pizzas we ordered in (I did just make it to the piste the next morning). Between us we visited the restaurants Grand Cocor, Taverne d'Alsace, La Source (where David was able to join the party), Bambou and probably several others - all of which seemed to be of a good standard. I have to mention too, the two Michelin Starred L'Atelier d'Edmond in a lovely setting in Le Fornet. It was noticed that this superior establishment did a fixed priced lunch-time menu for a truly modest cost - Simon kindly organised the booking but realised he needed to explain himself when initially asked for a deposit of Euro 165 per head rather than the Euro 48-58 actual cost! The service and food were amazing and all attending agreed it should be a standard fixture of any Club visit to the resort.

Apart from the Covid testing and paperwork the homeward journey had a bit of an early glitch in that the 6.25 a.m. coach did not have sufficient luggage space which involved the use of spare seats and much shuffling before we could set off. The driver took us on a non-motorway route back and the loo stop was not on his plan so as an emergency he pulled into a MacDonalds in Annecy. It was not fully open and the unsympathetic manageress said a definite "Non" when asked if we could use the loos. This necessitated some creative solutions especially for a few desperate children. (We could not use the coach loo as it was full of luggage!). And we arrived at Geneva airport with just over an hour to spare and it was a scrum. Jet2 managed to get us through quickly but it was a long way to the gate. Steve and I were in a particularly slow security queue following a lady with four children and some 'complication'. This, it transpired was a beautiful ginger cat which, to general disbelief, she eased out of at item of her hand luggage so she could carry it through the 'people' scanner — "That let the cat out of the bag" said Steve. Extraordinarily the flight was delayed not because of lost passengers but because the air-side transfer-bus driver decided to take the last batch of passengers to the Birmingham plane — a mistake that was fortunately spotted before take off!

Jen asked me to pen a few words and that was a great incentive for me to learn some names and recognise how lucky I was to be part of such a well organised and welcoming Club. I apologise if I have not captured the many special memories, I know all those attending will have.

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