Tuesday, March 23, 2010

European Hotels; Part of the Grand Adventure

Over the past 22 years this blogster has traveled to Europe 11 times with Ski Masters. I can’t recall how many times we’ve been asked, “why go over there? Is the skiing that much different than in the U.S?”

The simple answer is “no; the skiing is not different but the experience is quite different.” The SM Euro trips are about the ski areas, the group, the food, the language, the customs…. Traveling and skiing in Europe is just different and, as you might surmise from our 11 trips, we enjoy it.

Ron Lyle, the co-founder of SM Euro Trips, made the point again and again. If you want a U.S. travel experience, stay in the U. S. If you want something different, something more adventurous perhaps, come along and taste the European ski experience.

Nowhere are the differences more pronounced than in the hotel system. There are fewer chain hotels. Many are family owned. Room sizes vary from hotel to hotel and, at times, within the same hotel. I recall our room in St Moritz. It was the “brochure” room; big enough for a party with a view all the way to Italy. Others on the trip were in the “old” part with less space and no view. We did not bribe the trip leader. It was the luck of the room assignment.

From early reports the 2010 crew had a wonderful hotel week one and a less wonderful one week two. The week two rooms are smaller and the staff is, how shall I say, more Austrian!

It isn’t always the facilities that make or break a hotel experience in Europe or the U.S., for that matter. The staff makes a big difference. A few years ago we stayed at Le Post, in Covara Italy (also a destination hotel for the 2011 trip.) It was and is family owned, the staff was a delight and we couldn’t have had a better experience. I frankly don’t recall too much about the rooms….they were fine. The next week was in Verbier, Switzerland and things changed. The hotel was fine but the front desk and bar staff seemed to have their shorts in a knot. The staff took the delight out of an otherwise delightful hotel.

The setting also impacts the hotel atmosphere. In 2009 the group visited Wengen, one of our favorite areas. The town is so charming that it rubbed off on our family owned and equally charming hotel adding synergy to the whole Wengen visit. Because the hotel was older than most of the guests and had been modernized several times, no two rooms were the same which added to the sense of adventure.

The next week was at Alp d’Huez, in a contemporary hotel in a contemporary ski town with a wonderful lift system and skiing. The rooms were pretty consistent and the service more than adequate. But the place couldn’t avoid comparison with the family run hotel in the village of Wengen.

So what’s the point? The point is that each trip and hotel experience creates myth and memories for the SM Euro travelers. If all the hotels in Europe were Hiltons then what would be the point in traveling nine hours to ski. But the hotels, food, staff and the whole experience is what makes the SM Euro trips what they are.

And I think we are signed up for 2011!

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