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 version...it 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 rented...one 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" SMETrippers...it 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.