Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lenore Lyle, A Customer Service Phenomenon

Lenore Lyle, the other half of the Ron and Lenore management team, left a mark on the Ski Masters Ski School and European Trips that will be long remembered by those fortunate to have worked and traveled with her. She brought an energy and passion to the business that left her students and fellow travelers coming back for more, year after year.

Lenore has been a fixture in Northwest skiing since the first lifts began grinding up the Snoqualmie slopes. She tells stories of arriving at the mountain early and volunteering to work with the volunteers, side stepping fresh snow on the runs in exchange for a lift ticket. That effort was called “grooming the slope” in the early days.

I first met Lenore back in the 1980’s. My wife, a Thursday ski school bus rider, suggested we sign up for the December “clinics” at Snoqualmie to polish our skills. Little did we realize that the clinics were a farm team for Lenore’s instructor pool. When we finished the clinics it was suggested that we return in January to serve as teaching assistants. That seemed harmless enough and, while we didn’t get paid, I believe we may have scored a modest lift ticket discount. But, by week two, to fill unexpected vacancies we were both elevated to “instructor” status for beginning elementary age kids and were part of the Ski Masters team.

From that “insider” perspective I began to appreciate how Lenore masterfully managed the operation. Lenore applied a “mallard” style of management. When you see a duck on a calm pond they seem to be gliding along with little effort. But, if you could see underwater, you would see lots of action as its busy feet paddle furiously along.

In Lenore’s case, the customer never saw beneath the water. The lesson operation ran with apparent ease as she moved from place to place, addressing questions and issues. During the day she would appear all over the mountain to see how things were going, staying in constant contact with her supervisors by radio. As a novice instructor I confess it made me nervous at first. I had the feeling that, no matter where I took my class, she was watching!

While the customer might be soothed by this calm demeanor, at the same time she would be sorting through the ever present complications of herding classes from place to place while keeping the parents of the smaller kids happy and relaxed. Missing instructors, missing students, broken down buses, lost lift tickets and dozens of other mishaps, some serious and some not, marked each day of lessons. But through it all the customer met a calm Lenore, was given a class A experience and was treated like they were the most important customer of all.

During that era every management consultant was pitching “total quality management,” a customer focused management philosophy made famous by such firms as Toyota, Sony and Honda. Listen to your customer; listen to your staff; constantly look for ways to improve your product was the mantra.

As I looked at Lenore I recall thinking, she could teach this stuff better than any consultant. Whether she took a course or just did it by second nature she had the whole “total quality” thing under control and the quality of her programs spoke to that success.

Then, in 1988, we signed up for our first trip to Europe with Ski Masters and were able to experience the best of Lenore, 24/7. Herding 48 adults to Europe is different from teaching kids but no less challenging. Is everyone at the airport? What did you forget? What, you say, your passport is expired? And so on.

Once again, her mallard management style—calm exterior, busy interior—was at play. Busses would arrive like clockwork, rooms would be assigned, lost luggage recovered all in a way that would put the guests at ease.

Does that mean she is a pussycat? Not on your life. Once the pick-up bus arrived on “Italian” time. Both the driver and bus company management will not forget Lenore. Once a hotel tried to stuff some of her guests in shabby rooms over a nearby barn (yes, there were animals downstairs). That hotel manager will not forget Lenore. One matri’d insisted that the guests dine at the same table each night of our stay. That was their way. It wasn’t ours. That matri’d will not forget Lenore.

As the week progressed Lenore found time to ski with everyone on the trip. Every guest was important and she made them feel that way. While she may have preferred to point her skies downhill and fly, she never forgot that she was in charge and everyone on the trip was one of her customers and guests. And yet, it never seemed contrived. She always expressed a genuine interest in each guest that was reciprocated by the number of repeat travelers. 2009 will be our tenth Ski Masters Trip!

Now the customer service mantel has been passed to the able hands of daughter Claudeen. Lenore is still the most beautiful AARP member on skis and occasionally joins Claudeen on the trips to Europe; now as a guest, not a leader. The current trips often return to places Lenore introduced to many of us years ago. Her legacy lives on in the memory of the hundreds who traveled with her and Ron in the past and were the beneficiaries of her “high touch” approach to guest management. She has clearly left her mark on Pacific Northwest skiing and the thousands that passed through her lesson programs at our Cascade ski areas.

Kathy and I both feel blessed to have known her these many years as an instructor, boss, tour director and, most importantly, friend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

2009 Trip; Space Available!

What’s new with Ski Masters Europe?
· There is space available on the 2009 trip.
· Carol Mast sends greetings

First, Claudeen Lyle reports that a few spots have opened up for the 2009 trip to Wengen and Alpes d'Huez. (Perhaps some former hedge fund managers had previously signed up!?)

Interested? Act fast as they won’t last long. Contact Claudeen at or give her a call, the old fashion way, at 206-799-7141.

Second, after reviewing the Wengen report (Nov. 13th post), Carol Mast, a fellow traveler and prolific writer, offered the following:
“ HI Steve, from Carol Mast, who looks on the coming SMETrip with longing and (already!) regret. It seems [our] son… is going to be a Daddy for the first time …so we are again, reluctantly, going to miss out. …we wouldn't miss this arrival for the world...even if the world includes Wengen and Alpes d'Huez. Not without regrets...but....I'll bet you understand.

Which reminds me that in writing that Kitzbuhel/Corvara bit last year, I managed to mention our "Montlake friends" we spent the winter of 69-70 with in Jochberg twice without naming them. It's probably because it's another Steve...Steve Beaudry (who now teaches for Claudeen at Crystal) and his wife, Susan, one of my dearest friends. Mea Culpa...can you repair my ommission by inserting their names into what I wrote on the SkiMasters Blog?
Thanks from Carol
PS. when we manage to do another trip, I'm happy to write for the blog...and thanks for the bidet links [April 15, 2008 post]. After a lifetime of European travel, I have never used it for anything more than sock laundry and wine chilling (wait a minute...FIRST the wine chilling, THEN the sock washing!) and was glad to see the demo done by a fully clothed Italian man. Very educational!

So now the Beaudrys are duly recognized. We will miss the Mast’s but understand the grandparenting instinct.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wengen, Jungfrau, Grindelwald; First Stop 2009

March of 2009 Ski Masters will return to Wengen for the fifth time, and for good reason. The area offers a wide range of terrain, an incredible setting and a rich history.
Two classic movies added fame to the area; James Bond pursued evil guys on the Jungfrau in “His Majesty’s Secret Service.” Clint Eastwood climbed the towering Eiger in the “Eiger Sanction.” Both are "must see" movies if you are going on the trip. Skiers don’t have to climb the Eiger; a modern train passes through the mountain on its way to the ski areas of the Jungrau region.
Wengen has a unique setting. Travelers leave their bus in the valley town of Lauterbrunnen and board a cog railway for the wind out of the valley to the hillside town of Wengen. From the station it’s a short walk to the hotel (not unlike Zermatt for you seasoned travelers.)

Skiing is available on the Wengen side of the valley via a network of lifts and a train that links to other hillside towns. But the Wengen side of the valley is only half of the adventure; the Jungfrau Region, across the valley beckons with altitude and wide open runs.

To reach the Jungfrau area visitors take the cog rail line back down to Lauterbrunnen, walk a short distance to an incline railway that lifts you out of the valley to the Jungfrau area. At the top of the incline another train awaits for a short ride to Murren, the launching point for a whole new mountain experience.

It may sound like you spend your entire time on trains but that is far from the truth. The train rides are short and scenic and, once you reach your preferred mountain, you don’t need to ride again until the end of the day when you return to the hotel.

Recalling Wengen I’m reminded of a spoon story from the 1998 trip.

A small group was gathered on the hotel patio enjoying the afternoon sun and an adult beverage when we noticed a fellow traveler, we’ll call him Steve, returning to the hotel, skis over his shoulder.
“Where’s your wife?” someone called out.
Steve paused, an “Oh sh**” expression crossed his face. He came closer and, under questioning, explained that his wife, we’ll call her Lin, had gone on ahead to shop and was going to meet him at the Murren train station. In a rush he’d passed through the station, boarded the train and was now three train rides away from the station where his wife (presumably) was waiting.
Steve faced a dilemma. If he retraced his steps he could easily pass her as she went one way and he the other. There was only one thing to do; order a beer.
Some time and two beers later Lin arrived. No words were needed. Her look said it all.

There is no record of their conversation in the room that evening. We do know that Steve earned the spoon that day and, despite the incident, they are returning to Wengen for the 2009 trip.
Wengen will be a worthy first stop for the 2009 travelers.

The resort describes itself this way:
Wengen's ski slopes are located on the slopes of Männlichen and Kleine Scheidegg above the resort, which it shares with neighbouring Grindelwald. The regional Jungfrau pass covers all lifts in the area, as well as those at the separate First ski area above Grindelwald and, a train ride down the valley and back up the other side, at Mürren. That same train line continues up to Europe's highest railway station where there's year-round snow and ice, but sadly no ski route back down from the top.
The skiing can be reached either by getting back on the train you took up to Wengen from Interlaken or Lauterbrunnen and continuing up to Wengeneralp, a 25-minute journey that, except for upgraded rolling stock, has little changed for skiers in 80 years, or by a cable car from the village. Both runs open up all kinds of exciting terrain and great runs up to 8km (5 miles) long down to Grindelwald.
Whilst the whole area is open to intermediate skiers, beginners will find good nursery slopes right next to the village. More experienced skiers will wish to pay homage to the legendary Lauberhorn race course at Wengen, where the infamous downhill race is staged each January as it has been since 1930. The course is one of the longest, at 4km (2.5 miles), and toughest, descending over 1,000 vertical metres (3,300 feet).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

European Ski Destinations; Ski Masters Favorite Resorts

Since 1982 Ski Masters have made tracks at some of Europe's finest ski resorts. Here is the definitive record of the past trips for those who can't remember when they went where. You may be shocked at how long ago it was that you visited some of these resorts.
St. Anton, Austria
Innsbruck & Five Surrounding Areas
Davos, Switzerland
Innsbruck, Stubai & Hintertux Glaciers
Pozza Di Fassa, Italy & Sella Ronda
St. Anton, Austria
Zermatt, Switzerland
Chamonix, France
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Mayerhofen, Austria
Vigo Di Fassa, Italy & Sella Ronda
Stubai Glacier, Austria
Kitzbuhel, Austria
Champery, Switzerland
Mayrhofen, Austria
Zermatt, Switzerland
Val d'Isere, France
Champery, Switzerland
Vigo di Fassa, Italy
Lech, Austria
Saalbach, Austria
Wengen, Switzerland
Saas Fee, Switzerland
Val d'Isere, France
Wengen, Switzerland
Val d'Isere, France
Cortina, Italy
Kitzbuhel, Austria
Zermatt, Switzerland
San Anton, Austria
Wengen, Switzerland
Val Thorens, France
Zermatt, Switzerland
Chamonix, France
Covara/Arabba, Italy
Lech, Austria
Zermatt, Switzerland
Val D'Isere
Kitzbuhel, Austria
San Moritz, Switzerland
Wengen, Switzerland
Chamonix, France
Corvara, Italy
Verbier, Switzerland
Soelden, Austria
Val d'Isere
Bormio, Italy
Zermatt, Switzerland
Lech, Austria
Courchevel, France
Kitzbuhel, Austria
Corvara, Italy
Wengen, Switzerland
Alpe d'Huez, France
Soelden, Austria
Courmayeur, Italy
Corvara, Italy
Courchevel, France

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ron Lyle and the Ski Masters Legacy

Since 2003, guests on the Ski Masters European trips have missed a special treat; the presence of Ron Lyle. For the first twenty European trips the Ron and Lenore Lyle team was the heart and soul of the trips. Each played a role, contributing smoothly to the overall travel experience.

Ron’s traveling expertise and Scottish heritage made him a unique resource. His packing list, still in use today, was an invaluable tool for a first time traveler. His little pre-trip tips on everything from money to medications helped insure a successful journey. While bathroom outlets are available in modern resort hotels, twenty years ago his advice to carry an extension cord was appreciated by travelers who otherwise would be drying their hair while kneeling on the floor behind the TV.

Upon arrival in Europe Ron would chase down buses while Lenore herded her charges through customs and baggage claim. Then, once on board the bus, Ron would take the jump seat, by the driver, and use the PA system for announcements and to point out passing features. His signature sign-on routine was often imitated but never duplicated. First he would tap the microphone with his palm to see if it was on. (It usually was!) Then he would announce, “…this is Ron, in the front of the bus,” as if it could be anyone else, anywhere else.

Ron’s taste in travel music ran toward German oomph-pa bands and, if the bus driver had a collection of cassette tapes, you could count on Ron finding them and playing all the traditional music just “to get the guests in the mood.” The music would only be interrupted by the frequent “this is Ron” announcements or group protests.

After settling into the hotel Ron would head out to scout the best options for lift tickets and make a report at the first available meal. That effort was more involved in the pre-Euro days with varied currencies. Each area offered single and multi-day passes in various combinations. Some offered discounts to ski instructors. Some offered guides. Some didn’t take credit cards. Some required photos and so on. But Ron would sort it out, share the information and make that first day on the slope just that much easier.

Once on the slope Ron was available as a guide, whether he’d been to the area before or not. But he acted with confidence and usually returned with the same number as he left with.

In 1988 I had the good fortune to ski with Ron our first day at Kitzbuhel and my first day ever skiing in Europe. It was a gray cold day but we had a ton of fresh snow to deal with and Ron led with the confidence of an experienced mountain guide. Mid-morning he led our group of eight to one of the charming mountain huts that make European skiing special. Part of a farmer’s home had been set aside as a small eating area with a limited menu. Ron introduced his chilly associates to an Austrian tradition; jaeger tea or hunters tea. It is a warm concoction of tea-like ingredients and may, I’ve been told, contain some liquor. In any case, two cups of jaeger tea seemed to ease the pain of my new boots and created indelible memories for our first European trip.

As an aside, David Black led a group to the same hut in 1996. Unfortunately the farmer was no longer operating a café, as Dave discovered after leading seven skiers into their living room and surprising an Austrian grandmother. The intrusion was good for a spoon.

Ron’s left ear was not his best so he always encouraged you to ride the chair or T-bar on his right. For the same reason he preferred the German language to French or Italian. The German, with its crisp, solid sounds, was just easier to hear and understand. He had an appreciation for written German as well. He could look at a word with 27 letters and take it down to its logical components for translation. So words that looked daunting to others were simply a challenge for him.

He was able to use his experience as a practicing pharmacist to good use on the trip. He was always there to provide medical advice and/or appropriate medications when trouble arose.

On of his greatest contributions to the success of the trips was his knowledge of local retail practices and, above all, where to get a good deal on wine. Most resorts sold wine in either grocery stores or specialty shops. But, as he pointed out, you needed to see what the locals were purchasing if you wanted a really good deal and, possibly, a good wine as well. “Look down,” he advised. The local and, often, inexpensive wines were usually on the lower shelves. Wines with creative labels like “Red Table Wine” or “White Table Wine” could be found tucked away near the floor and were typically quite acceptable.

So, after a hardy day of skiing and a quick shower, it was not uncommon to see Ron leave for shopping, later returning to the hotel with a victorious look on his face and a brown paper bag in his hand. You could bet he’d found what was likely the best buy on wine in the entire valley. His Scottish roots are deep!

On many a evening, with the right music in the dining room, Ron would offer polka lessons to all takers and seemed to relish taking the floor with multiple partners. Regardless of how hard he’d skied he had energy left for a good polka. He even tried singing along on occasion, though with less critical success.
Ron no longer travels with the group but the many Ski Masters traditions he fostered live on in the capable hands of Ron’s charming, well trained and competent daughter, Claudeen. But those who traveled with Ski Masters before 2003 will always cherish the warm memories of Ron Lyle’s many contributions to those wonderful and memorable trips.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cameron's Spoon Report, 2008

In March, 2008, The Ski Masters Spoon traveled to European ski slopes along with the annual Ski Masters tour. And, true to form, Spoon winning performances were put in by the participants. Doug Cameron was kind enough to document them for posterity.


12. (A Good Deed) Brittany Barker and Michelle Marikos and Alex and Jim Wise hosted the St Patrick’s Day and the Hawaiian Parties!

11. John Anderson, aka Mr. Rogers singing "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", as he cruises down the slopes.

10. Connie Cameron getting her glove jammed in the gears at the top of the rope tow causing the tow to shut down.

9. Demeree Schaefer used the "children's sink" in her bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her hair. Everyone else used it as a bidet.
(For the record, Demeree claims these charges are fabrications and is threatening to publish embarrassing photos of trip participants in retaliation.)

8. Nan Hahn totally frustrated as she was trying to open her hotel room door with her ski pass.

7. Rick Seim, "Pappa Grappa", dispensing shots of grappa at the joint US/Italian party at the top of the mountain, until they finally threw us out.

6. Judy Jones recently upgraded from Spoon Award to "Good Sport MVP Award", for her dramatic face plant on the mountain. (We are glad you are on the mend!!!)

5. Larry Mast lighting his personal methane creating a "Ring of Fire" and caused the fire doors in the hotel to close. Song written in memory of this fiery event:
Tune: Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash

To get the spoon's a treat
On Larry, it looks so sweet
He only lit a match
His gas made a huge flash
His room turned into a ring of fire
The fire doors closed, but the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The Ring of Fire
The Ring of Fire

Larry Mast responds…………I received the spoon from John Anderson. In Kitzbuhel our bathroom did not have a fan and, being concerned with olfactory sensitivity, I mentioned my concern to Steve Beaudry who then gave me a book of matches to help disperse excess fumes. The first and only time that I used the match in the bathroom, the fire alarm was set off and when I went out into the hall, I noticed that all the automatic fire doors were closed. I couldn't believe that one match would cause the alarm to go off. I made the mistake of telling John Anderson what happened after he asked about the fire alarm that morning. Our conversation was over a beer at the end of the day and in strict confidence. We were laughing because John had just skied through the children’s slalom course at the bottom of the hill and couldn't understand why the kids kept skiing around him. John looked down and saw that he was right in the middle of their course. I told him the story of the match because I felt that I was protected by what he had just done….a mistake. It was a great trip with a lot of laughs.

4. Rick Blumberg and Andy Hill were seen trekking through the cow pies. Andy preferred just walking through with his ski boots, while Rick preferred to slide on his rear end.

3. Nancy Celeron hands down the winner of the "skin game" on Hawaiian night.

2. Spencer Seim - what can we say? Winner of the "hands game" at the international party. Civil law suits should begin soon.

(Mark Quandee believes Spencer should also receive an award for pushing the cork all the way through the Lemoncello bottle into what was left of the free Lemoncello offered to the powder Marmolada group at Bar Diga.)

1. Tie. A. Claudeen Lyle managed to get her ski pole caught in the chair lift pulley stopping the lift.
B. Craig Stuart kidnapped the daughter of the owner of the Posta Zirm hotel to play the "Devil's Fiddle" at our final dinner.
C. Everyone got the "spoon" the final night for the great friendships and camaraderie and many screw-ups.

The legacy of the Ski Master’s Spoon continues.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Ubiquitous Bidet

One of the chief attractions of European skiing is the novelty of it all. Food, customs, language and manners are different in each country and different from “home.” One of the European novelties, found in most hotels, is the ever present bidet. It’s not that Americans have never seen a bidet. They are just more prevalent in Europe than in the States.

If you ask an experienced traveler what it’s for you may get a polite smile and a knowing, “…everyone knows what it’s for.” But bidets are somewhat like the subject of “sex” to a high school freshman. Everyone talks big but most have no idea how it all works.

It’s likely that the bidet has been a discussion topic on every SM trip. For example, consider the 2008 Ski Masters travelers. Since their return there has been steady on-line discussion of the little porcelain pedestal and its many uses. For better or worse most of the uses found by the group were not envisioned by the French furniture makers who produced the first bidets in the early part of the 18th century.

Yes, it’s true. Historians suggest it was first developed for the French royalty. And it was a piece of furniture since it sat in the boudoir along with the chamber pot. Separate bathroom were a 20th century innovation which came along with running water and indoor plumbing. The French name, bidet, translates as “pony” or “royal pony” and came from the fact that users were instructed to mount the device, facing the wall, and sit, much like they would on a pony saddle. (Hey, if you can’t believe what you read on the web what can you believe?)

The purpose, then as now, was to rinse off ones “private parts.” But the imagination of SM travelers has significantly expanded the list of uses to include a shampoo basin, a laundry and sock soaking tub and boot cleaner. The Masts found it useful as a wine chiller. Demeree Schaefer still believes it’s a “children’s sink.”

Each afternoon in Val d’Isere, 1994, a group filled the “party room” bidet with roadside snow to cool the beer and wine. It served that purpose well but the melting snow left behind a layer of grit and sand that must have left the housekeeping staff questioning standards of American hygiene.

So, you are thinking, enough about the history of the thing. How DO you use it? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so click here for a tasteful instruction video. If you want to read more, click here for a narrative version.

And if you have any other good uses for the device, pass them on. The whole group will appreciate the educational input.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Carol Mast's Impressions, 2008

In her words here are Carol Mast’s thoughts on the 2008 trip to Kitzbuhel and Covara.

We joined Claudeen for three of her last four trips. Our kids had the poor timing to plan a wedding last March just before the 2007 trip, and with family and friends in Seattle from around the nation/world, we chose to stay home with them...and missed a good one! Never again, we vowed, and the Kitz/Corvara trip reminded us why we enjoy the group so much.

Actually, the skiing in Kitzbuhel wasn't all that wonderful (much like a rainy week staying at, say, Alpental) but the town is every bit as great as it was when we rented a house there (actually, just down the road in Jochberg) the winter of 1969-70.

Long story; short was Viet Nam era, ten or twelve of us army couples were stationed at the hospital (the "Walter Reed of Europe") in Landstuhl, Rhineland Pfalz. It was a six hour drive to Jochberg and we did it with one of the other couples every weekend all winter long. The larger group showed up only twice...anyway, we convinced the 'other couple', who live in Montlake, to come along in 2008, and it was sweet nostalgia for us.

Not that we could find the house we'd of the Schwarzer Adler Hotel desk clerks called her mother, who said that the road had been altered around Jochberg and that houses now had addresses instead of "names" as they did back then. Anyway, it was fun to return to the Kitzbuhel bars we'd danced in, revisit the bakery where we'd watched a very young Robert Redford film scenes for "Downhill Racer" (which we screened on the bus to Corvara on the way out of Austria) and remembered the dollar back when it was supreme.

The reason I'm relating this personal minutia is to point out that there cannot be ONE trip summary, as each of us has their own highlight film, underlayed by their own past and expectations. In bringing our Montlake friends (along with a Sun Valley buddy from California, another story entirely) our story was non-linear...time travel, in fact! And believe me, Corvara and the Sella Ronda are our new #1 ski destination...we're going back...soon!

You can see from the constant back-and-forth of e-mails from the group how NO ONE wants this trip to end...we had SO much fun!
Let me mention one huge change: Tom and Jay were not with us; nor was Lenore. Further changing the equation was the presence of four 20-30 somethings, two sons, a daughter and niece of two "adult" was a yeasty mix, for sure!

Claudeen managed the group with élan and only a touch of (hardly obvious) worry...but secretly, I think she's probably glad we all arrived back in the US more or less safely. Demeree was a spectacularly effective herding assistant, and Judy's lung clots (not to mention the face plant she suffered) were the only obvious injuries. As far as we know, no arrests were made. Not that some may have been deserved....

As for next year's trip...we skied Wengen/Murren in that long-ago era and can't wait to return. The French resort, Alpe d'Huez, should be a blast as well...I'd better start practicing my "Francais"! Fromage, sil vous plais! Vin rouge, aussi! Tout suite, garcon!

READER NOTE: Are the photos too small. Just click on any of the photos for an enlarged version.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Spoon; A Ski Master Tradition

The Story of the "Spoon"

When introduced during the 1988 trip to Kitzbuhle, Austria, who could have anticipated the ubiquitous wooden spoon could grow to be such a revered and, by some, feared symbol of the Ski Master’s trips. This simple, wooden kitchen implement, inspired by the 88 Winter Olympics, quickly took on a life of it’s own and became a social ice breaker of the highest order.

That year, at the Calgary Olympics, the world was introduced to Eddie Edwards, an inept British ski jumper who didn’t come close to winning any medals. He did, however, win fame and a small fortune thanks to his complete lack of skill and lovably goofy nature. Nicknamed “the Eagle,” he dropped into the public view and was one of the most popular athletes to compete in the games. He also served as the inspiration for the wooden spoon award that was presented by Ron and Lenore to the first, long forgotten, recipient in Kitzbuhle.

While conceived as a way to recognize unsung achievements by trip participants it has evolved into a coveted emblem that is awarded in accordance with vague, unwritten rules the most important of which is “there are no real rules.” This flexibility allows it to adapt to a wide range of situations, events, recipients and the overall mood of the trip.

The process is simple. At the beginning of a trip the spoon is awarded by the trip leader to a worthy recipient. That recipient, in turn, stays on alert for a “spoonable event” during the next day and hopefully awards the spoon to a new holder at dinner that day. If the spoon holder does their job they never have to wear the spoon more than 24 hours. If they fail to find a spoonable event they risk getting stuck with it a second day. However, with such loose rules, it is rare that some excuse can’t be conjured up, even if the spoon holder has to make up a good story. (Remember, we said there were no rules.)

The spoon has been awarded for a wide range of incidents, some serious, most not. Consider the following examples”
· Male recipient misread an Italian rest room sign and tied up the single stall women’s room, much to the chagrin of a tall, buff Italian woman who met him as he exited.
· The recipient simply got lost on the ski hill.
· The recipient skied up behind a German woman he claims looked like his wife and, in German, complimented her derrière. Her response, in English or German, is best not repeated.
· Recipient, claiming to know the mountain after a day with a professional guide, led a group of twelve onto a ice sheathed slope, from which there was no polite escape.
· Recipient had the temerity to suffer a disabling injury while skiing.
· Recipient locked her husband in their hotel room and them complained when he didn’t show up for dinner. (It’s possible to do this in some hotels. To complicate matters further the room lacked a phone.)

This is but a sample of over 200 spoon awards that have occurred over the past 20 years.

Why is the spoon such a big deal. Well, as they say, you have to be there. A good spoonable event relies on:
An incident, serious or not.
Willing witnesses.
The embellishment of the award presention.
The recipients sense of humor.
The quantity of wine consumed by the participants and audience.

Most honorees accept the spoon with aplomb. But a few, fearing public exposure go to great lengths to avoid the recognition. Some:
Simply try to avoid making mistakes in the presence of witnesses.
Ski with close friends all of whom take a vow of silence.
Resort to blatant bribery to silence talkative witnesses. (as in chocolate, wine, hats, etc.)

So the spoon lives as an integral part of the trip culture, cherished by most, feared by some, but always a source of good humor and conversation.

Do you recall a spoon incident from one of your trips? We want to hear about them. We will protect the names if that makes you feel more talkative. Remember the simple questions.
Who did it?
What did they do?
Who made the award?
Just click the comments box below and send them in to share with others. Spoon photos are also welcomed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lenore Speaks; Ski Europe, the Early Years

SKI MASTERS EUROPE TRIPS – 1982 to the present.

Shall we call it a Movement, or a Dream that took on a life of its own? In the late 1970’s, as owner and Director of Ski Master Ski School I started to put together ski trips after ski school was over for the season in an effort to inspire my staff of instructors to ski other areas and get “really excited” about skiing, ergo, they will become more inspired and effective ski instructors. We went en masse to Sun Valley, Park City and Jackson Hole. Immediately, many students in the school got wind of our plans and wanted to join. Hooray, we had a viable project! We had so much fun and expanded our horizons.

The next year I was invited as the President of the Northwest Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America to be part of a group that represented our Division of the National Organization at a Ski Instructors Exchange with Austria. At that time 65% of Austria’s gross national product was tourism. They had recently come off of hosting the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. They had devised this “Exchange” to promote skiing in Austria. It fell on very fertile ground! Besides having the privilege of being hosted in grand fashion to get acquainted with Austria and its wonderful people and its great variety of ski areas, it made me feel like I would be comfortable escorting a group to this friendly country and their fabulous skiing possibilities. I was able to make contacts with their travel bureau called the “Tirolerlandesreiseburo”. (If they could live with that name and be a success, they must be competent – and they were.)

Thus, our first ”Ski Masters European Ski Trip” evolved. “Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread”. 108 people signed up for our first adventure! Our destination was St. Anton, Austria where we transferred our group in three buses and accommodated them in three hotels. Our second week was in Innsbruck, Austria where we took over an entire hotel, The Rotor Adler. It was like a European fraternity house! What memories we have of those two weeks! More to come.

Lenore Lyle, Owner and Director Emeritus of Ski Masters Ski School, Inc and Ski Masters Europe Trips

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ski Masters European Ski Magic

For nearly three decades the Lyle family has been leading groups of hardy skiers on European ski trips. The popularity of the trips is legend. Guests often sign up over a year in advance; often before the destination is even announced. When the trip begins they endure a nine hour flight in seats designed for children, long bus rides and languages and currencies they don’t understand for the privilege of skiing in a foreign country.

Why on earth would they do that? If they just wanted a foreign country Canada is just two hours away. Why would they send in checks to go on a tour to an unknown destination 14 months before the trip even begins? Why would they go at all? After all, there are plenty of wonderful ski areas in the USA that are easier to get to, have better snow and grooming and where they speak English.

This site has been created to answer that question. Ron, Lenore and Claudeen Lyle have created a travel experience that defies description. The trip is more than skiing. It’s about people, places, relationships, food, cultures, history and, oh yes, skiing. It’s about friends and fun.

This site is for those who have been on the trips in the past and those that might want to go in the future. We will explore the history of the trips; the why did Lyles do it in the first place. We will hear tales from those that have gone before. The veteran travelers will laugh and smile when they conjure up their memories of the trip. This is their site.

Have you been on the trip? Do you have a story to tell? Send it in and we will share it. Just e-mail your recollections to Steve Dennis at and he will post them to the site. Then come back often and read the tales. They will likely trigger another memory for you and you will write again.

Read, enjoy and “think snow.”