Friday, October 16, 2009

Wengen Video plus Think Courmayeur, Chamonix, Cervinia and Soelden

Fall is waning, the Cascades are turning white and thoughts are turning to skiing. It is a time to reflect on the 2009 trip and look ahead to 2010.

First, Kim Kaiser, the consumate trip cinematographer, put together a wonderful video for the 2009 travelers. A short version of the video is available on You Tube, thanks to the efforts of producer Steve Sanford. To view the seven minute video, entitled "Wengen Short 0001," click here.

For details on the 2010 trip click on Ski Masters Euro Trip website.

Here is description of the 2010 trip in the trip director's own words:

Not for 25 years has Ski Masters Euro Trips visited so many ski areas in one trip! During our 2010 excursion, we will visit Courmayeur, Italy, a charming upscale Italian town with access to a remarkable array of premier European ski resorts. Taking advantage of this excellent location, we have our deluxe private coach for the entire week, allowing us to conveniently visit several nearby premier ski areas. We will not only ski Courmayeur, but also Chamonix, France and Cervinia, Italy, which offers easy access to Zermatt, Switzerland as well.

Our second week takes us to Soelden, Austria, where three peaks over 3000 meters beckon us into the vast skiing wonderland of this popular resort. World renowned for its year‐round skiing and magnificent views, Soelden provides extensive slopes for all levels of skiers.

Whether you ski, shop, or sightsee, the 2010 Ski Master Euro Trip promises to be an opportunity to experience European ski resorts in four countries!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sue Smith's Passing

It is with sadness that I post this message from Claudine. I'm sure many of you knew Sue as she has been on several trips; most recently the 2009 trip.

Hi everyone,
It came to my attention yesterday that several of you may not be aware that Sue Smith passed away last week. Here is the notification I received from Hal Burchard on May 27:

Susie passed away peacefully this morning. Rich, Morgan and Rick were by her side to say their final goodbyes. Private funeral services followed by a memorial ceremony are being arranged.
Rich, Morgan and Rick want to thank everybody for their incredible support during this hardest of times.

The Service will be this Saturday:
On Saturday June 6th there will be a private funeral service for the family followed followed by a Memorial Service at Sacred Heart Church in Bellevue. Please join us in remembering Susie. This service will start promptly at 1:00PM.

What a joy it was to be with Sue on our March trip, share her happiness and be with so many good friends. We will treasure those memories!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Robb Rough's Rough Ending

Oh mannn…what a way to end the ski season.

Last Sunday Robb Rough, a ski buddy and regular on the Euro Ski Trips, had a season ending accident on the last day of the season. Since Claudeen made the first announcement of the accident I naturally assumed that she might have led him astray with her classic line, “follow me.” But I’m advised by Eva Sabo and others that Claudeen was not involved. It was just one of those inexplicable accidents.

Here is Claudeen’s report of the incident:

Hi everyone,
A few of us stumbled across each other at Crystal yesterday (Sunday) for a fabulous ending day at Crystal. Unfortunately, Robb Rough kept the ski patrol busy with a broken leg. He has a spiral fracture of the femur. After three hours of surgery last night, Robb is resting in the hospital. He is doing well this morning and should be home in one to three days. (As Gretchen reports below, this didn’t happen.)

Robb, of course, has always been there for any of us, anytime. He truly knows the meaning of friendship. I hope everyone can take a moment to wish him well.

His contact information is:
Mailing address: P.O. Box 728, Enumclaw, WA 98022

Robb needs his rest, so perhaps phone calls could wait for a bit (cell 206-849-4145).

Prayers for seamless healing, well wishes, and a few smiles might make the next few weeks brighter for Robb.
Thanks everyone!

Other Ski Master’s friends have stepped up to help out including Gretchen Callan and Craig Weber. Here is Gretchen’s report from Tuesday the 21st.

At Robb's request, Craig Weber and I went down today to retrieve some things from Robb's house (cell phone charger, clothes, etc) and took them to him. We got to the hospital about 2:00 PM and spent about 45 minutes visiting. He had had the IV removed and all systems are working. He had been up once with the walker but got pretty dizzy so did not get much further than the door (same as yesterday.) … He had not seen his doctor today and there is no word about discharge….

Craig and I talked about getting him home. Looking at his home (which is quite wonderful) there should be no problem getting him into the house and making him comfortable with "a little help from his friends". Although we still do not know when Robb will be discharged, we would like to set up some sort of system whereby at least one person goes down once a day. Given the number of people on the team, that seems like it should be do-able. Let me know (reply all) if you want to help and when you might be available -- knowing Robb, all that will be involved is some food and company. I am out of town Monday through Thursday of next week. We will likely need help starting Saturday. Thanks. Robb thanks you for all your prayers, energy, and good wishes --G. (Gretchen)

So a big GET WELL SOON message from the blogger.

If you would like to participate in “Gretchen’s Meals on Wheels” program or help out in any way, give Gretchen a call at 425-941-3222 or drop her a note at

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wengen and Alpe d'Heuz Are Memories; Courmayeur and Solden Beckon for 2010

Photo by Jason Tang
Life is returning to normal for the Euro travelers of 2009. Now the director of trip planning, Ms. Claudine Lyle, is busy finalizing plans for next year at Courmayeur Italy and Solden Austria. Details about the 2010 trip can be found at Ski Masters Euro Trip.
2009 memories were captured by our resident professional photographer, Jason Tang. Those interested in seeing the evidence can visit his site by clicking HERE.
Now the blogger's thoughts are turning to spring. If the April showers that have pelted the Northwest are a sign, then we will have a good spring!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Farewell Alpe d'Heuz;On to Annecy

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Every SM Euro trip must come to an end and what an ending we had. After two days of storms and/or flat light and just “OK” ski conditions Thursday dawned with blue skies and a four inch dusting of new snow. Thoughts of packing were tossed and the group rushed through breakfast and out the door.

Claudine and her chasers attacked the powder on the hill nearest to and visible from the hotel. By the time the next wave of skiers hit the slope the first group had a half dozen runs under their belt. It was a picture of happy skiers. Judging from radio intercepts it sounds like the trip leader led her group into pasture land around noon. Participants claim they didn’t actually ski on grass; rather they were on thin layers of snow….

Some stayed in that area all day while others moved around the mountain to sample new skiing and restaurants. The sun stayed out and, though soft slopes were encountered, you didn’t have to work hard to have a great day.

Now it is packing time, that end-of-the-trip time when you have to pack wet gear and try to figure out how you got it to Europe in the first place.

The blogger will be off line for a few days. A trip recap may be produced but no promises on timing. I will let you know when it is available.

Good resorts, good weather and good snow all contribute to a successful trip. But the real key is a good group and the 2009 group was indeed a good one.

Robin and Gretchen Callan always bring a balanced energy to the trip; she is exuberant and he is a calm and moderating influence.
Dick and Kay Krutch, though they didn’t ski, were always around with a pleasant smile and a good story.
Eva Sabo took her spoons in stride and made the most of her first trip.
Katie Van Hees also joined the action with aplomb and, in addition to skiing, has become addicted to Sudoko by her roommate Eva.
My wife, Kathy, has put up with my blogging and proofed most of the postings. The good stuff is hers and the errors are mine alone.
Linda Lee has been a goodwill ambassador, engaging in long conversations with friendly locals at every stop.
Her son, Jason Tang, has been a non stop bundle of energy photographing anything that moved both off and on the slopes.
Veteran travelers Steve and Lin Sanford have been enjoyable ski companions and full of good spoon stories.
Larry and Vicki Geist have brought an energy to the group. Even after having their flight was cancelled and their skis lost Larry was a bundle of optimism.
Tom Naden, at eighty years old, is a role model for all of us struggling 20 years behind.
Tom’s son, George, is either crazy or committed. In addition to skiing hard and fast he manages to fit in a run each day, snow or sun.
Rich and Sue Smith are fun to be with on the slope or in the hotel. Rich claims he has imposed a 10,000 word per day limit on Sue but it doesn’t seem to dampen her energy.
Bob Dixey and Mo O’Neil liven up any dinner and his rendition of “Happy Birthday” will live in our memories.
Ed and Lorrie Meyer seem to enjoy every minute on the slope and off.
Stephen and Michelle Turnovsky, with their academic backgrounds, raise the collective IQ of the group and offer most interesting dinner conversations.
Kim Kaiser has managed to balance skiing his brains out with time for Pam, who is on injured reserve for this trip. We are glad she was able to make the trip.
Kevin and Sylvie OKeefe have been kind enough to allow the blogger to visit their room each night and post the blog. The blogger’s computer doesn’t seem to speak enough French to hook to the internet. And Sylvie’s command of the French language has helped in several tight spots.
Robin deRegt is a welcomed addition to the group. She and George Naden were even able to use their medical skills to assist a young skier until ski patrol could take over.
John and Carol Powis are always fun to have around. John has given new meaning to the term “my best friend” and Carol is the most spoon worthy traveler who has never actually received the spoon.
Robb Rough, except for the night he totally forgot about the bargain wine party, is always a key part of the group and conversation.
Mark Matthews appears to be having fun even though his wife has been in Vegas with their daughter doing we don’t know what all.
And finally there is the fearless, competent, care free leader of this whole rag tag bunch, Ms. Claudeen Lyle. She holds the whole thing together and proves that beneath the veneer of carefree whimsy lies an organized trip leader who can “bring’em back alive” after a long two weeks in Europe.

Kevin was able to pass the spoon on to Kim who was accused of leading the fast skiers off course and into some “walk out” situations. Kim, for his part, claims he wasn’t actually the leader of the group at the time but, never mind, he now wears the spoon.

Following Wednesday dinner about half the group gathered in the bar (now that’s a shock isn’t it?) The restaurant manager showed up and began pouring shots of various area liquors. Most were good, though some could double as paint remover. But few turned him down, not wanting to appear unappreciative. After several shots the blogger retired and, it was reported, the shots and new brews kept coming.
We were not sure what motivated his behavior though some believe he was feeling guilty about an incident at the dinner hour.
In any case, when I arrived for Thursday breakfast I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone appeared to have made it back to their rooms and there were no Ski Masters still reclining in the bar.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Storm Eases; Faithful Return to the Slopes

Wednesday, March 25

Tuesday’s storm blew itself out, the lifts reopened and the group ventured out to explore the new fallen and somewhat wind blown snow.

The aggressive group was out by 9:00 hoping to find some off piste pleasure. Reports indicate that, while there were moments of exhilaration, many icy surprises lurked beneath the new snow forcing most back to the pistes.

The more refined skiers departed later in the morning and found lots of available snow. The long run to Oz was not up to Monday standards but everyone took the occasional flat light and sticky snow in stride. Once again skiers were able to discover new areas just when they thought they’d seen it all. This is a big place!

Afternoon breezes in upper areas slowed beer sales but hot wine consumption took up the slack.

The highlight of Tuesday evening was the much loved Ron Lyle bargain wine event. Thirty people packed into Sylvie and Kevin’s room, which was itself noteworthy. Competition for the least expensive, drinkable wine was fierce. Mark Matthews weighed in with a worthy contender in the bubbly category with a champagne like beverage that was high on the drinkability scale. But, at over two Euros a bottle, it was not a finalist. Trip rookie Katie Van Hees contributed a red with a fine looking label and a 1.90 Euro pricetag. While a fine wine she soon learned that price is more important than quality.

In the end it was Kim Kaiser’s 1.25 red that was eased out by my own 1.20 white. I made no claims as to quality but it was drinkable and cheap. In all modesty I owe my success to years of travel under the tutelage of the bargain wine master himself, Mr. Ron Lyle.

Steve Proudly Displays His Cheap Wine Award

The wine portion of the event was closed with Bob Dixey serenading his wife with a wine fueled rendition of “Happy Birthday” in his best Donald Duck voice. Some may remember the event from past trips.
Bob Singing to Mo; A Touching Scene

Kevin was unable to make a spoon presentation. The foul weather had kept the group from committing any reported screw ups. But he was on alert today, Wednesday, and we can assume a new spoon holder will be crowned this evening.

While we were gathered for the wine event and in a small room where we wouldn’t offend the other hotel guests an “Untold Spoon Stories” program was launched. Promised immunity from spooning, attendees were encouraged to tell of incidents on past trips that, while spoonable, went unreported.

Kim Kaiser and Lin Sanford reported on a time they and the Powis’ left a restaurant without paying their bill. Each assumed the other had handled it and, between restroom stops and other distractions, no one did. Later in the day Kim returned to the restaurant, confessed to the crime, paid the bill and was rewarded with several rounds of grappa by a grateful owner.

Several hillside restroom incidents were reported but will not be repeated.

Carol Powis’ name frequently came up amid accusations that she has, in the past, resorted to bribery and granting of unnamed favors to avoid being nominated for a spoon.

Gretchen Callan reported on several occasions when she was new to the group and traveling as a single that watchful and caring Tom McGrath and Jay Kane saved her bacon and helped her avoid the indignity of a spoon.

The spoon’s rich and storied history was enhanced by the evening discussions/confessions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Winter Comes to Alpr d'Heuz

Tuesday, March 24
Monday evening was clear and cool; stars were scattered over a clear black sky. We all suspected Tuesday would be another fair day.

But the front desk clerk said it was going to blow and snow Monday night and Tuesday. The Meyer’s Monday guide predicted similar conditions. The waiter at the slope side restaurant began stacking tables Monday afternoon, predicting high winds. The gondolas were all removed from their cables and stored at the bottom of the lifts. The CNN weatherman said a storm was sweeping across Europe.

The clear Monday skies turned out to be deceiving. Tuesday morning dawned with six inches of new snow, winds whipping around the hotel and drifts in the lobby. By 9:00 am, the normal start time, the lifts that were occasionally visible from the hotel, were not running.

A problem? At 9:15 Claudine led Eva Sabo, Jason Tang, Robb Rough, Mark Matthews, Robin deRegt and George Naden into the white fury in search of an operating lift. She was hoping a poma might be operating somewhere.

The not-so-hardy/sensible part of the group savored their morning coffee while contemplating a more leisurely departure predicated upon a favorable turn in the weather and operating lifts. The weather never turned though a lift did begin to operate.

How bad was it? By 10:30 Claudine and most of her entourage was back in the hotel. According to Mark, the only runs accessible from the lift were wind blown and offered intermittent ice patches to keep you alert. Even for the dedicated, conditions didn’t justify the effort.

Kim, Gretchen, the Turnovsky’s and John Powis were all seen in ski gear but no one braved the hill for long.

Making the best of the weather most of the group took advantage of the downtime to find great places for lunch that didn’t require a lift. From early reports, all were successful.

In honor of Ron Lyle tonight is “cheap wine night.” (Inexpensive wine night for the more refined readers.) The goal is to find the least expensive, drinkable wine in town and bring it to a party being held in the area of Kevin, Sylvie and Mark’s rooms. Multiple rooms are required since none of the rooms are particularly large. It is not clear who will define “drinkable” but one can only assume it will be a fair contest. No box wines or plastic bottles are allowed.

Monday evening Steve Sanford was able to pass on the spoon. He first reported on several runner ups.
On Sunday the Powis’ managed to get separated on the first run of the day. They never reunited. It is unclear who lost who and the parties to the event have yet to agree. They seem to have made up and continue to share a room.
Monday morning, in front of spoon holder Steve, Gretchen managed to get her pole caught in a fence while boarding a chair. She spun from the chair, lost her ski and was dumped unceremoniously into a snow pile beside the line. The lift was stopped and she reboarded with grace worthy of a long time ski masters student.

The winner was Kevin OKeefe. As he tells the story he was speeding toward a lift line when he noticed a woman in red on a converging course. She appeared to be looking right at him and he was certain she would be turning but, alas, turn she did not. When it was too late to avoid a collision he somehow lost a ski and slide into the innocent woman bringing her down. It was then he noticed that, out of 5000 people on the hill he had taken out Mo O’Neil from our group. Hoping he hadn’t been recognized he thought of leaping up and yelling at her in French, to deflect the blame. But the wounded lass rolled over and said, “Kevin?”

For that regrettable act Kevin now wears the spoon.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sun Continues at Alpe d'Heuz

Monday, March 23

It was another sunny day at Alpe d’Heuz but, before I launch into a report of the day I need to deal with some old business.

First, it was brought to my attention that last Monday’s spoon report on this blog was incomplete. I reported that Kim Kaiser received the spoon but cut off the reason. I have corrected that report and added last Monday’s report to the end of today’s news so you don’t have to scroll down to get the answer.

Second, several readers have inquired about the use or misuse of bidets on the 2009 trip. Apparently bidets were the subject of much discussion on the 2008 trip and the subject of a previous post on this blog, if you look at some of last year’s postings.

Sorry to say no spoons have been awarded for the misuse of bidets on this trip because we haven’t had any to misuse. Absent the bidets we are finding other ways to wash clothes and cool beer.

Finally, yesterday I reported on a group of intrepid skiers that made the slush run from the very top of the mountain to the bottom thinking that only a small group would be foolish enough to make the trek. Silly me! At dinner it sounded like everyone who put on skis Sunday made the run. It didn’t matter what time of day they made the trip, it was lousy. Typical Ski Masters travelers; there are no challenges they will not tackle. It turns out that even those skiing with guides made the run which suggests that it was not all that out of the ordinary.

The long run still was not very good.

Now for Monday skiing.

The first day the area seemed pretty big. Today, as we explored more areas, we began to discover just how big it is. Just when you think you’ve found all the good runs another one turns up. Areas we thought were too low to ski still had good snow on some faces. This is a big area and good snow can be found in the most unexpected places.

There are also some challenging areas. Round a bend at the wrong time of day and you may find yourself facing a sea of slushy piles. But they are forgiving and, other than being a bit tiring at the end of the day, you can make your way through them and likely will find firm snow around the next bend.

The on-slope food has consistently met with acclaim and this group has high standards. The first night our ski school representative suggested four restaurants in particular. I have sampled two of them and heard outstanding reports on the other two. The only complaint I’ve heard is that we can only squeeze in one lunch stop per day.

The Hotel
We were spoiled by the outstanding hotel in Wengen. The Pic Blanc is good but not quite at the same level. The dinners have been superb but the breakfast arrangement has been a notch below Wengen.

One difference in the hotels can be found in the closets. Yes, it sounds petty but hear me out. In Wengen we had lots of hangers; the kind you have at home that hook over the clothes rod. They trusted us not to steal them.

Here in Alpe d’Heuz they took their closet design from the Motel 6 chain where they assume all the guests will steal hangers. We have hangers with the little straight ends that slip into plastic holders that are affixed to the rod. The problem is that the plastic parts are so worn that the hangers keep slipping out and falling to the floor. You try again and think you have found a secure match and then, before you can cross the room, the hanger slips out and the clothes fall to the floor. Now, to be fair, not every hanger suffers from this defect but enough do that I’ve found it easier to toss the clothes directly to the floor and save the trouble of hanging them.

From conversations with the group the problem is widespread. Ah, the things one remembers about the trips.

The Sunday spoon went to Steve Sanford for tossing his ski pole from the viewing platform at the highest point at the resort, the top of Pic Blanc. Now, in fairness, Steve would argue that the wind actually was responsible for the pole slipping under the rail and there may be some truth to that. But the spoon is not about fairness and Tom Naden was pleased to pass it on.

To compound the problem the pole could only be reached via a very precarious route. His wife, Lin, was unable to watch his trek across a slippery ice face to retrieve the pole. But pole and Steve were recovered and both joined the spoon for a nice evening in Alpe d’Heuz.

SPOON REPORT for last Monday, March 16 and left off of the original posting.
The Saturday spoon was presented to Eva Sabo for confusing cattle feed for snowballs. It may have been unfair to pick on a newcomer but it was Claudine’s choice and bus days are usually slow days anyway.

Eva was able to pass the spoon on immediately to the Sunday recipient, long time SM Euro traveler, Kim Kaiser. Kim the commercial pilot who packs bags and travels many times a month. Kim who has been on the trip 12 times. Kim, who normally has his act together. Kim came to Europe without his ski clothes.

He knows exactly where they are; stacked in the back bedroom ready to be packed. But they weren’t. And Kim received the spoon.

Pam and Kim actually arrived in Europe a few days before the group and were tucked in bed in Zurich when Kim woke up with one of those “Oh S***” moments. So the next day they were able to round up some fashionable gear so he wouldn’t have to make his purchases at the ski resort.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Arrival at Alpe d'Heuz

Sunday, March 22, 2009

We made it! After a train ride down the hill from Wengen, a six hour bus ride (that included a lunch break at a Swiss Burger King) we made our way up the 21 hair pin turns from the valley to Alpe d’Heuz, high in the French mountains near Grenoble. (This is a stop on the Tour d’France though none of us elected to come up on a bike.)

Alpe D’Heuz is a stark contrast to Wengen. While Wengen was a charming old mountain village this place is slick and contemporary. It sits on a treeless hillside, climbing up the hill to create a triangular shaped village with lots of little French cars driven by weekenders eager to enjoy the last snow of the season.

Ski lifts of every type seem to sprout from the village in all directions. I don’t know the area size but it is big. They claim 118 runs and, though some of the lower ones might be closed, there are still lots to chose from. Lifts crawl up sun drenched slopes and there are several snow covered peaks competing for skier attention.

After lunch, the 12 of us that ran into each other on the hill, decided to tackle Pic Blanc, at 3300 meters the highest point in the resort. From there the choice was the Serenne run, the longest in the resort that would take us down to about 1800 meters, or take the tram back down. Six chose wisely and returned to the tram (Lin Sanford, Vicki Geist, Sue and Rich Smith, Mo O’Neil, Lorrie Meyer). The other six (Steve Sanford, Larry Geist, Bob Dixey, Ed Meyer, Kathy and Steve Dennis) decided to try the Serenne “because it was there.” Bad Choice.

The top was a narrow, icy chute with protruding rocks to keep you on alert. The next section was loose snow with rocks scattered about. Then there was a wonderful section of very wonderful skiing. However, the lower half of the run could be characterized as rock strewn slush; lots of work, hard on skis and not so fun. But the intrepid group made is down and will not return. We later learned that John Powis made the same mistake and we will likely hear of others as the evening progresses.

Some in the group availed themselves of guides for the first day so will likely have better news to report.

The bottom line is that the resort offers lots of skiing and there is still a good base to work with.

Oh, by the way, the weather is clear and sunny again. Our luck is holding.

It has been a quiet time for the spoon. Tom Naden received it on Friday for his restaurant antics and passed it on to the Turnovskys who he blames for the whole mess in the first place. Now, by agreement with the Turnovskys Tom is back in possession and looking forward to a Sunday night presentation.

While the past few days have been low on spoonable events early reports suggest that today, Sunday, was bountiful. Time will tell.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wengen Week Ends

Friday, March 20th

The week flew by like a comet and the normal end of week Ski Masters notice appeared on the hotel front door Thursday evening. Saturday wake up call will be at…; Luggage outside your door at…; Bus leaves at ….

While we are bidding Wengen adieu on Saturday we will be greeting Alpe d’Heuz with gusto; a new area and new adventures.

Friday did not start out with promise. The temperature had dropped into the mid 20’s and clouds were peeking over the tops of the mountains. But the zip line at First was calling and about 20 of the hardy bundled up and headed out. Lin Sanford and Vicky Geist were game to try the zip as well, even though they were not skiing. So while the skiers made their way up and down hills to First the two intrepid ladies rode one tram, two gondolas and a bus to meet the group at the top of the zip.

While the skies cleared and the sking was surprisingly good, the winds were too high for the zip to operate so no one was able to share Claudine’s, Kim’s and Robb’s Wednesday experience.
The Wednesday Zip Liners

Those that skied stretched the day to the limit and many didn’t make it back to the ski room until nearly 5:00.

Wengen has exceeded all expectations. The weather, skiing and food have been fantastic and some of the veterans believe this may be the best overall Wengen visit in SM Euro history. Suffice the group has made the most of the area.

Since Saturday will be a travel day the blogger may have to take a day off. It is about a six hour drive to the next resort and most bus days are pretty low key events.

It should be noted that after six days Claudine has not received the spoon. Ron and Lenore rarely made it that long. The trip leader is in the limelight and just has too many opportunities to commit spoonable offenses. However, efficient Claudine has performed with flawless perfection and/or she hasn’t been caught.

Instead the Thursday spoon went to four trip veteran Tom Naden. There was some question whether Tom or Stephen and Michelle Turnosvsky should have received the spoon but the decision of Eva was final and Tom got the big woody.

As the story was told, Tom and the Turnosvskys stopped for lunch at a hillside cafĂ© that was divided into two areas. The restaurant offered table service while the other clearly marked room was self serve with a cafeteria line. The three wandered into the restaurant, dropped their coats, hats and gloves and announced to the 12 other group members, who were already eating in the restaurant, that they were going next door to purchase lunch. They were advised, in a supportive and friendly manner by the Sanford’s, that self serve meals were not allowed in the restaurant. Despite the warning they made their purchases and marched back to the restaurant, where their more refined fellow travelers were dining.

They had barely entered the room when they were confronted by a determined Swiss waitress who turned them and their self serve meals around and sent them off to the other room. With humility they obeyed, returning later to recover their ski gear.

Somehow that story made it to Eva’s ears and the rest is history.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Clouds (gasp!) Come to Wengen

Thursday, March 19

Yes, it’s true; the three day run of sun came to an end on Thursday. While not heavy Pacific Northwest clouds, they were adequate to block most of the sun and create occasional flat light conditions. More challenging they left the snow hard packed in many areas and only the lower mountain softened. But we should complain?

The group has a wonderful spirit and attacked the slopes with cautious vigor. During the afternoon adult beverage call some did switch from cold drinks to hot to deal with the lingering chill in the air.

It was not a big day for group news. Most of the skiers were on the slope; many after a day off on Wednesday. Some of the non-skiers took the train to a delightful rail side restaurant on the hill where they met with a contingent of skiers. That way everyone could enjoy the hill, despite the light clouds. (To be fair, there were times when one could see a faint shadow while skiing.)

On past trips Hawaiian or Mexican themed parties have been held creating memorable scenes in the hotels. This year the theme was “Swiss.” It was perhaps a bit tamer than past years but a good time was had by all and, once again, the Mo and Bob opened up their extra large room for the party.

The Swiss Party: Bob Dixey, Rich Smith, Larry Geist, Tom Naden, Stephen Turnovsky

Ron and Lenore’s ears must have been ringing as trip veterans recounted memories of past trips with the Lyle clan. Some recall their first Jaeger tea with Ron in Austria. Others remember the time Lenore encouraged a hillside bar in Cortina to reopen at the end of the day so she could introduce her 12 followers to grappa, an Italian specialty. As a result of the stop her group nearly missed the last tram down from the slopes. Ah, the memories.

Which leads to the Question:

I’m often asked, why do you go to Europe? Isn’t the skiing just as good or better in the U.S.?

In my opinion the skiing and much of the scenery in the U.S. is superior to Europe. But that misses the point.

Europe offers skiing, scenery and much more. It is a chance to travel with a wonderful group of people who share a common interest. You are exposed to people, languages, customs and food you would never see at Seattle Ridge in Sun Valley. Maybe it’s that indescribable thing, atmosphere.

Today I rode the chair with Swiss, British and Dutch skiers. We managed to converse! I had a Swiss dish at lunch that I can’t get in Utah. Every restaurant on the hill is a bit different.

And, oh by the way, the skiing is pretty good too. Where in the U.S. do you take a train to the slope? When was the last time you rode a funicular in the Rockies?

In a way, comparing U.S. skiing to European skiing is not a fair exercise. If you just want to ski, stay home. If you want to immerse yourself in a different culture, come to Europe and ski.

I hope I answered the question, why ski in Europe.

Early in the trip it appeared this would be a spoon rich environment. Not so. This group is careful and competent.

There were a few minor T-bar incidents; nothing major. Ed Meyer was assaulted by an aggressive soap dispenser and nearly missed a train trying to wash it off in a sink with but a trickle of water.

But the prize went to Eva Sabo. On Wednesday Eva joined a group headed for the “Top of Europe.” When they arrived at the train station, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, she found she had forgotten her lift pass, which gives free access to most trains. Not wanting to be left behind she purchased a single ride ticket. That oversight alone might have been spoonable.

But when she arrived at the second train to the Top of Europe she received the real shock. If you had a lift pass, the second train was about 50 francs. If you didn’t have a pass the ticket cost 149 francs. It was a costly lesson but it kept her with her friends and earned her the spoon from John Powis who was anxious to pass it on.

Perhaps Thursdays skiing will provide more material.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lazy Day in Wengen

Wednesday, March 18th

The weather was a repeat; what more can one say. Sunny, warm and spectacular.

After two days of trying to do it all the group tempo eased back a bit. One contingent left their ski gear behind and made a day of traveling to the “Top of Europe,” the Jungfraujoch. With two train rides each way, gawking time at the top, lunch at a hillside restaurant on the way back and a stop at a bar in town it was late afternoon before they returned to the hotel.

A second cluster visited the First area and found wonderful snow and an additional way to risk their lives; a zip line. Of course Claudine, Robb and Kim had to try it figuring if anyone could engineer a zip line it would be the Swiss. Kim’s video of the trip will tell it all.

Others took the day off, skied short days or found other ways to soak up the ambiance of Wengen.

The Beausite Park Hotel has been the SM Euro hotel of choice for most of its past Wengen visits. Situated on one of the highest points in the village most rooms enjoy a postcard southerly view down over the village and to the looming mountains beyond. Both the view and the hike up to the hotel take your breath away.

Photo by Larry Geist

While the hotel dates back to the early part of the last century, the rooms and public spaces have been updated and are truly “4 star.” Small rooms, typical of older hotels, have been combined to create spacious suites on the view side.

It is a bit of a climb from the train station to the hotel but the hotel will send a cart down to pick up weary skiers if necessary. The food and service maintain the 4 star rating. On Tuesday evening a seafood buffet was offered as an appetizer but could have doubled as the main course.

All in all, the hotel is proving to be a fine home for SM Euro travelers.

Poor John Powis. He has the spoon for a second day, being unable to find a recipient in the group. Passing it on may prove to be a problem.
First, with only 33 travelers, there are fewer candidates than with a larger group and
This is a pretty competent group. Except for forgetting to pack properly, the group has proven to be skilled at map reading and following directions. Steve Sanford has not left his wife at any rail stations, Bob Dixey has not made any offending remarks to German skiers and Sylvie OKeefe has behaved herself in the bar.
Finally, there is some suspicion that friends are covering up mistakes made by friends; truly shameful behavior.
So John has the spoon for a second day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Off to Murren, Tuesday

Tuesday, March 17th

Another glorious day in Switzerland.

Before I report on the days events I need to explain the lay of the land for those who have not been to Wengen.

To reach Wengen you drive up a narrow valley to the town of Lauterbrunnen. Vertical rock faces rise on each side of the town. On the top of the left face lies the town of Wengen. On the top of the right lies Murren. To reach Wengen you board a cog railway that winds up the steep slope on a 15 minute ride to Wengen. To reach Murren you take a tram from town to the top of the ridge and then switch to a cog railway for the ride to Murren.

From the Wengen side you can reach two main ski areas; Kleine Scheidegg-Mannlichen (which I will call the Wengen area) and, further away, across another valley, Grindelwald-First (which I will call the First area.) To access these areas one takes a large tram from near our hotel. This area is also home to the 13,000 foot Eiger and the highest train in Europe.

On the Murren side you can reach the Murren-Schilthorn area (which I will call the Murren area.) The top of the Schilthorn was the set for an early James Bond film, His Majesty’s Secret Service.

Do you have it figured out now? If not, I suggest you try Mapquest or Google Earth.

The reason I give you this geography lesson is so you can appreciate the trek most of the group went on today to ski the Murren side; cog to Lauterbrunnen, tram to the top of the ridge and cog toward Murren then trams and chairs up the mountain. The first two hours were more of a hike than a ski run but the scenery is sensational and worth the long series of trains and trams.

The snow was a mix of good groom and mashed potatoes (on the sunny faces.) At mid mountain the temperature was 6 degrees centigrade. You scientific types can convert that to Fahrenheit. Suffice to say it was warm and wonderful and most dressed down from Monday.

It was such a great adventure that it was nearly 5:00 PM before the last five wandered back to the hotel. (Gretchen and Robin Callan, Ed Meyer, Steve Sanford and Kim Kaiser)

Dick and Kay Krutch and Pam Kaiser, who are all on injured reserve, took advantage of the weather and rode the tram to the ridge/restaurant above town for a scenic lunch. With binoculars they might have seen the larger group across the valley.

Day two was a success.

The St. Patrick’s day party has been a trip tradition for many years, sustained and promoted by Jay Kane and Tom McGrath, our perennial Sons of the Irish. They, in turn, corralled every other group member with a hint of Irish blood and threw parties that are likely legends with housekeeping staffs across Europe.

This year our Irish anchors were absent so Bob Dixey and Mo O’Neil stepped up to host the big event. Lin Sanford pitched in with green ribbons for all and, in the end, a party worthy of old St Patrick was held.

Kim, the winner for forgetting his ski clothes, made some interesting discoveries while searching out spoon recipients. It seems that this is a forgetful group. Mark Mathews left his boot bag, complete with boots, at home. We wonder if he even noticed how light his luggage was. And Stephen and Michelle Turnosvsky left home without their poles.

But it was John Powis that took the spoon. It seems that John slipped away from dinner Sunday evening and returned to his room to deal with some personal matters. He opened his door and put his card key in the little slot that turns on the room lights. The lights came on. Then, fearing he would forget his card key, he removed the key and went into the bathroom to attend to matters.

John didn’t realize that, once the card key was removed, the lights would go out after a short delay. For John that moment came at an inopportune time. Suddenly he found himself in a bathroom that “was darker than the inside of a goat.” He put things away and began groping for a way out. The first handle he turned was the shower faucet which produced predictable results.

Eventually he made his way out and back to the dinner table where he made his second mistake of the evening. He mentioned the incident within earshot of someone with loose lips. John now wears the spoon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday, March 16th

Greetings from Wengen.

Sunday evening went off like a normal first evening in a resort; luggage emptied, a quick nap, welcome reception by the hotel, a briefing from the local ski school on weather, snow conditions and lift tickets. Then it was off to dinner and the introduction of the spoon. More on that later.

The hotel owner greeted the group and commented on how much he enjoyed dealing with Ron and Lenore over the past years. And yes, there are lots of “remember when Ron or Lenore did this or that on a past trip” discussions. So their spirit is in Wengen and Claudine is carrying the torch in grand style.

Then came Monday morning, the first day on the slopes. I thought of trying to describe the day in three languages but decided to let the pictures tell it all.

Yes it was fantastic; warm, sunny and lots of snow. Forecast is for more of the same. As a good omen the Geist’s missing skis arrived in the hotel lobby at 8:00 am, just in time for skiing. What could be better?

So the first day is fading fast and no injuries have been reported. Most groups skied the Mannlichen area, just above the hotel. Tomorrow a new area awaits.

The Saturday spoon was presented to Eva Sabo for confusing cattle feed for snowballs. It may have been unfair to pick on a newcomer but it was Claudine’s choice and bus days are usually slow days anyway.

Eva was able to pass the spoon on immediately to the Sunday recipient, long time SM Euro traveler, Kim Kaiser. Kim the commercial pilot who packs bags and travels many times a month. Kim who has been on the trip 12 times. Kim, who normally has his act together. Kim came to Europe without his ski clothes.

He knows exactly where they are; stacked in the back bedroom ready to be packed. But they weren’t. And Kim received the spoon.

Pam and Kim actually arrived in Europe a few days before the group and were tucked in bed in Zurich when Kim woke up with one of those “Oh S***” moments. So the next day they were able to round up some fashionable gear so he wouldn’t have to make his purchases at the ski resort.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wengen Group Arrives, Sunday March 15

Sunday, March 15

The 2009 Ski Masters Euro group has arrived and settled into snowy Wengen. The group is jelling and acts as if they’ve been together forever. In fact, of the 33 travelers only three are SM Euro rookies.

As for the trip over, it can be considered a success in that 31 of 33 people arrived as planned. And, of the 31 that arrived, only one bag was missing. Robin Callan, the victim, hopes it will be found and make its way to Wengen but….

As for the missing couple, the Geists, their final arrival was a tale of intrigue and adventure involving, as they said it, planes, trains and automobiles. British Air canceled their flight which forced a late arrival. The bus was long gone when they arrived in Zurich so they schlepped their bags down to the train station at the airport and grabbed the last train to Lucerne. Once there it was a short taxi ride to the group hotel where they arrived at 10:30, only three hours behind the bus.

Their quick trip was abetted by the fact that, thanks to British Air, they didn’t have to carry their skis. They have yet to arrive.

The first dinner was “spoon free” as the infamous spoon had not yet been unpacked. But, judging from conduct witnessed the first day, spoon worth candidates should not be in short supply.

Rooky Eva Sabo, for example, was impressed by the giant snowballs stacked beside some of the barns until Claudine explained that they were actually plastic covered rolls of cattle feed or silage.

Tom Naden, a trip veteran, made a spoonish confession at the inaugural dinner. On his last trip to Wengen, clad only in his underwear, he had stepped onto his 5th floor balcony to enjoy the view. To his dismay, a breeze slammed the door behind leaving him stranded in a chilly and awkward position. Risking a tragic fall (as he describes it) he went over the rail, around the partition to the neighboring deck and snuck through that room to the hallway and back to his room. His adventure went undiscovered and thus unspooned on that trip. But his conscience, and a belief that there is a statute of limitation on spoon stories, compelled him to tell the story to us. With his conscience clear he is now ready to be spooned in 09.

So, now it’s on to our first Wengen dinner and then, tomorrow, on to the ski slopes. Both weather and snow look promising.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wengen Awaits; Ski Masters Departs for Switzerland Ski Country

It won’t be long now. In less than two weeks the 2009 Ski Masters group will lift off for the annual ski adventure. As of March 4th there was snow in the forecast for the Wengen area, the first stop for 2009. The beautiful Beausite Park Hotel awaits our arrival.

Those that cannot make the trip this year are invited to visit this blog on a regular basis and read reports from the “field!” As the resident blogger I will do my best to file frequent reports allowing you to enjoy the trip vicariously. It won’t be as much fun for you but you won’t gain as much weight from the fine food and drink.
So, it’s off to Europe and away from the daily reminders of the latest Dow Jones figures.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Claudeen Lyle; Leading Ski Masters to Wengen and Alpe d'Heuz

Continuing the legacy of her predecessors, Ron and Lenore Lyle, Claudeen Lyle's European ski trips take guests to some of the finest European ski resorts in a seamlessly executed program that maximized the visitor experience.

How does she do it? First, she is a natural leader, giving clear direction and insuring that all the important details are taken care of before the trip begins.

Second, she is a fabulous skier who can help the guest find the right slopes for their level of experience.

Third, she uses her vast knowledge of European cuisine to steer the guest to the finest hill side dining establishments.

Fourth, with a concern for safety and comfort of guests she strives to bring home as many guests as she takes on the trip, however she gets them to the plane.

And finally, she is a consummate professional.

The 2009 trip to Wengen and Alpe d'Heuz promises to be another wonderful experience. Interested? Contact Claudeen at

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alpe d'Huez France; Second Stop in 2009

After 25 years of European ski trips you would think Ski Masters would run out of new places to go. Not so. For 2009 Claudeen Lyle has added Alpe d'Huez to the itinerary. I can't pronounce it but it sounds like a wonderful area. Here is the scoop on the place, compiled from web sources:

Alpe d'Huez is often overlooked when people think about French resorts, which is a shame as it has all the attractions of doorstep skiing in modern apartments combined with a picturesque old town.

These two areas drift seamlessly into one another with lifts going up in a 360-degree pattern, while a clanking people mover, like a string of dustbins dangling from a wire, connects through the middle.

Alpe d'Huez sits at the top of the most famous stretch of road in the Tour de France, 21 hairpin bends over 14km (9 miles) at a height which tends to counter the effects of the south-facing slopes.

The 245km (152 miles) of runs go up to a glacier and down to a couple of old villages, with much in between for everyone from ski-together families to experts.

Mountain facts
· Resort elevation: 1,860m (6,100ft).
· Top elevation: 3,320m (10,890ft).
· Base elevation: 1,120m (3,670ft).
· Number of lifts: 84.
· Number of runs: 123.
· Average annual snowfall: 7.6m (26ft).

Where in the world?
Alpe d'Huez is situated in the Grandes Rousses mountains in the French Alps, high above the Oisans Valley.
Hit the slopes
The main slopes run in a long line across the resort, the bottom runs ideal for beginners. But go higher and you can find far more - the Sarenne run from the top of the glacier, at 16km (10 miles) the longest black run in Europe, or the off-piste terrain from the glacier which funnels through the legendary Tunnel on to the front face and more steep powder.

Intermediates can cruise for miles, taking long sweeping runs down to the villages of Vaujany, Oz and others. Even only moderate skiers can take the gondolas which criss-cross the slopes, leading to a feeling of achievement. The Signal and Signal de l'Homme areas, almost self-contained, are good for family excursions.

The lift pass also includes skiing in Les Deux Alpes and Serre Chevalier, trips frequently arranged by package tour reps.

Beyond the slopes
Your lift pass also includes entry to the magnificent outdoor swimming pool and Olympic-size skating rink, as well as the exceptional sports centre with indoor and outdoor pools, tennis, squash, climbing wall, golf range and more. You can parapente (parachute off the mountain with an instructor), and try ice driving along with more usual pursuits such as tobogganing.
Resort Facts
Green Runs (Beginner): 31%
Resort Height (m): 1860m
Blue Runs (Easy): 26%
Total Piste: 245 km
Red Runs (Medium): 28%
Lifts: 84
Black Runs (Hard): 14%
Ski Pass (approx.): 192 Euro

Tennis, Squash, Gym, Aerobics, Swimming, Shooting Range, Climbing Wall, Concerts, Cinemas, Library, Museum
Ice Rink, Curling, Walking Paths (cleared), Tobogganing, Snow-shoeing, Microlight Flights, Sightseeing Flights, Ice Cave, Off-Road Vehicle Tours, Hang-Gliding, Paragliding, Ice Driving School, Snowmobiles, Quad-Bikes

About the Resort
"Alpe d'Huez has been growing, since 1936, at 1869 meters above sea level Grandes Rousses massif south face. The Pic Blanc, reaching 3330 meters at it highest point, offer an impressive and reviving panorama, ranked 3 stars in Guide Michelin.
At 1 hour from Grenoble, and only 4 hours from Paris or Geneva, Alpe d'Huez is a multiple activities area to share between family and friends.
In addition to its sportshop, ready-to-wear shops, grocery stores, bars and restaurants proposing, for some, Oisans specialities : crozets, farcis, ganafles, gratin dauphinois, triees, caillettes, and more, Alpe d'Huez has equipped itself with structures completing the site and giving to holidaymaker indoor or outdoor, sport or cultural activities.
For the day after you have finished skiing there are a number of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained throughout the night whatever your taste in cuisine or night life!" - Alpe d'Huez

For snow report, click here.