Thursday, March 24, 2011

Goodbye to Courchevel; The Group Departs

Thursday, the last day in Courchevel, was a perfect day for skiing, sailing or doing whatever. 
Carrie, the catering manager!

The biggest event of the day was the result of Carrie McCabe’s initiative. Wednesday, while skiing at Val Thorens, Carrie found a hillside restaurant she thought would be ideal for a last ski day gathering. She and Vicki took a late run up and made a Thursday lunch reservation for 25. Wednesday, at dinner, she provided a map and informed everyone the place was available. Anybody and everybody was invited.

Val Thorens is the furthest valley from Courchevel. Just getting there can take several hours of lifts and skiing. Despite the distance, 24 Ski Masters converged and had a wonderful last lunch among friends surrounded by some of the finest ski slopes in Europe.

A special thanks to Carrie for conceiving the event. It wouldn’t have happened without her.

Those that chose not to make the Val Thorens trek found plenty to do closer to home.

Tom McGrath, showing no signs of memory loss (at least no more than normal) accompanied his roommate, Judy Wood, up the mountain for her parasail ride. She reports it was exhilarating.

Some skied the Courchevel area. Some stayed near the hotel, taking it easier the last day in town.
Claudeen, our leader, took the day off to fight off persistent cold symptoms that have slowed her for several days.

As the day ended the packing ritual began. Skis and boots were dried and packed. Many were scratching their heads trying to figure out how they got everything in their suitcases in the first place. But, by 9:00 Friday morning all will be tucked beneath the bus and we will be on our way to Annecy, the first step on our way home or other destinations.

Once again SMEuro has put together a fabulous trip with interesting and active people. Plans are underway for the 2012 trip. If you are interested drop Claudeen a note at . Don’t delay; the trips fill up fast.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tidbits from Courchevel

When the ski group gathers stories come out. Here are a few from our stay in Courchevel.

Flag of Savoie

The Wayward Bus: We arrived in Courchevel on our 45 foot bus pulling a 20 luggage trailer well after dark on Saturday last. We wound through several villages before arriving at Courchevel 1850, our destination. The bus continued through the village, winding up switchbacks that grew narrower and narrower as we climbed. Finally, in a residential area with cars parked on both sides and no room to pass our bus on either side, the driver stopped. We were lost.

Claudeen called the hotel and the manager agreed to come and guide us on a proper course. But we still had the problem of extricating ourselves from the one we were on. Our Italian driver was amazing. He backed the bus and trailer down the narrow road to the first curve where he found a narrow slot between parked cars and buildings where he could back the trailer and gain just enough room to make a turn around.

Flag of Denmark

Ed’s Danish Restaurant: Ed Meyer, of Danish extraction, was delighted to see a hill side restaurant festooned with Danish flags. The next day he made a special effort to find the place for lunch. They clomped in and were disappointed to see the Danish theme was not repeated on the interior. Instead it offered the ambiance of a Summit West snack bar at Snoqualmie Pass.

Ed, in his best French, inquired about the Danish flags to an incredulous staff. After much gesturing he learned the truth. His “Danish” flags were actually flags of the Province of Savoie, home to Courchevel, not Denmark.

Tom’s Lost Afternoon: Wednesday afternoon Bob and Paul thought they’d lost Tom McGrath when he failed to arrive at the bottom of a run. But, after a wait, Tom came coasting in with a snow encrusted helmet and no recollection of where he’d been. On the chair Bob did the “what is my name, what day is this, how many fingers am I holding up” test which Tom failed. He knew Bob but little else.

From his manner and condition they concluded Tom had left his short term memory in a snow bank on the hill. A visit with ski patrol and trip to a clinic later Tom recovered his sense of self and humor but it is clear he took a serious whack to the noggin.

As the evening progressed he grew so tired of the “how many fingers am I holding up” question that he began responding with a hand gesture of his own!

We can expect to see him in a helmet manufacturer testimonial ad at some time in the future.

The Runaway Ski: Ski brakes are a wonderful invention, when they work. Wednesday Ralph Bladt exited a gondola station and dropped his rented ski to the ground. Off popped one brake and off went the ski with Doug Stevenson in hot pursuit. But a ski without a brake can really move. Doug, who everyone must have thought was a deranged American, was shouting a warning as he vainly tried to catch the accelerating missile. In the U.S.A. Doug would have been joined by a dozen personal injury lawyers looking for business but here he was on his own.

Finally, with great relief, he came over a slight rise and found the ski captured by a ski school instructor. There were lots of near miss' but no injuries. I suspect Ralph had an interesting conversation with the ski shop.

DiAnne the Shopping Guide: DiAnne McDonald, a non skier, has the villages of Courchevel figured out. If she spoke more languages she could easily hire out as a guide. The villages, linked by lifts, paths and shuttle buses can be a bit confusing but she has left and returned each day successfully, an amazing feat considering the scope of this place.

The Golden Cup of Coffee: Things are not cheap in Courchevel. Hillside food is about twice the price of our Corvara experience. In recent days our lunches have varied from 17 to 30 Euros per person. But even that experience didn’t prepare Lorrie Meyer for her cup of coffee.

On a day off skiing she visited the lovely hotel just upslope from ours for a cup of coffee. She was presented with the coffee, a small plate of chocolates and a bill for 23 Euros. It makes Starbucks look like a bargain. (But the chocolates were reportedly good!)

A Typical Day at Courchevel

After four days of near perfect skiing at Courchevel a lazy routine has developed.
The skis ready for the skiers.

Most wander down to breakfast between 7:30 and 8:30 to a typical European buffet. Cereals, fruits, pastries, meats and cheeses are available along with liters of coffee and hot water. Breakfast involves lots of “where are you skiing/shopping” and “what time do you want to meet” and “who are you skiing/shopping with” talk as plans are made for the day. 

The view from the morning gondola.

When you arrive at the ski room you find that your skis are already set outside with lower room numbers on the left and higher on the right. It is easy to get spoiled! The boots, dried overnight on a very classy shelf unit, are also arranged by room number though you have to retrieve them yourself. Oh such an inconvenience!

Robin, Gretchen and the Masts

Do we go left or right....?

Three liters of ...?

Most groups form up and depart before 9:30 by skiing down the nearby path to the main village, Courchevel 1850. (There are several Courchevel villages referred to by their elevation; 1450, 1650, etc. Ours is the highest at 1850 meters.) There are three gondolas to choose from in the village that whisk the skiers onto the slope.It is a big place so, depending on the directional abilities of your travel mates, frequent map checks are called for to move your group around the mountain seeking the best snow and lunch spot.

Lunch is usually a highlight since the restaurants are so nice. Each has a unique menu and personality so each day is a surprise and adventure.

Between lunch and five o’clock groups make their way back to the hotel with tales of great skiing and eating.

Lunch on the hill.

Five to seven is clean up and cocktail time. Some gather in the hotel bar around 7:00 to review the days events. Dinner is served at 7:30 in the main dining room. Unlike Italy, where we had three choices for dinner each night, we are served a set menu that seems to satisfy most. If you don’t like a course you can skip it and most likely will not starve. There is plenty of food and a generous dessert buffet to fill any menu gaps.

Then it is off to bed to prepare for the next day.

The weather remains bluebird and, though it results in a few hard spots in the morning and soft ones in the afternoon, no one wants to trade this for the “ski in the fog” experience we had in Italy.

One more day in heaven and then we head for home.

Foushees at the pre dinner cocktail hour.

Dinner in Courchevel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The “M” Party; Creative Skiers Come Out

SM Euro travelers will grab any excuse for a party. In the past there have been Mexican, Hawaiian and the letter “H” themed parties. For 2011 the theme was the letter “M.” Some costumes were simple and some complex and the range of themes was impressive. Here is what the French hotel staff saw on Tuesday evening. (Apologies to those I’ve overlooked.)
Ann the Mime and grand champion

• Robin, Gretchen and Vicki; an M & M candy theme.
• Steve and Kathy; Harley motorcycle theme (with the assistance of absent Mo and Bob Dixey.)
• Jana (Minnie), Carrie (Annette) and Bob (Bobby); a Mickey Mouse Club theme.
• Kim; Merlin the Magician
• Paul and Ellen; Mardi Gras
• Carol Mast; Macaroni Madonna
• Bob and DiAnne McDonald; A “McDonalds” theme of course
• Greg, Lorrie, Ed and Ralph; A Mexican…
The candy triplets
• Val (Mimosa), Kristen (Manhattan) and Carol Powis (Margarita); Dressed as cocktails
• Claudeen; A musical theme
• Jim; Mummy
• Linda and Todd; I have no idea but they were great costumes.
• Jeff; Moustache
• Marcie; Wrapped herself in Maps
• Ann; A Mime 
Mullet and Merlin

• Toby; A Mullet
• Lyndsay; Martha Stewart and Doug; A Mustard theme

Carol, Carol and Kathy

The female finalists

Linda as a ....

Jeff and Jana

The McDonald's "Lovin it"

Jim and Claudeen
How’s that for a range of themes? The pictures say it all (click on the pic to enlarge.)

Oh, by the way, the sun was out and it was another fabulous day on the slopes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hotels; Venice, Corvara and Courchevel

A Word About the 2011 Trip Hotels:

Hotel Bonvecchiati, in Venice and the Posta Zirm Hotel in Corvara are four star in every way. But unlike modern hotels in the U.S. you won’t find long corridors lined with look-alike rooms.
The Bonecchiati hotel is well located about equal distance from the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, two of the must see and most photographed sites in Venice.

The Bonecchiati is tucked in an old building if indeterminate age. It may even be part of several buildings. The two cozy elevators take you to floors that wander off in different directions to rooms of various shapes and sizes. With canals on two sides and ancient roof tops surrounding in other directions the view from each room is different.
The rooms themselves are comfortable and fitted with all the features you would expect from a four star hotel. My only complaint concerned the scale in the bathroom. Why put a visitor in a city where there is a restaurant or bar every 100 meters to tempt you and then put a scale in the bathroom….most inconsiderate.

Corvara’s Posta Zirm Hotel is now run by fourth generation management. A blend of Austrian and Italian tastes (It is not far from the border) it has both a new and old wing that dates back to 1808. Within each there are a variety of room styles and most seem quite large by any standard. Ours is like two rooms were combined resulting in a sleeping room and separate sitting/eating area complete with refrig and table. The ski room is a mere 50 meters from a gondola.

The staff in both hotels have been four star.

Our Courchevel hotel, Les Ducs de Savoie, is a three star with a ski in-ski out location. The rooms are generally a bit smaller than Corvara, which takes some adjustment. The staff, particularly in the hotel ski shop, has been most friendly. The statuesque bartender would be the one exception. She has what could be described as “an attitude.”

The French hotel beds are always a surprise/disappointment. In a country acclaimed for its lovers you would expect lusty, inviting beds. In Italy we had lovely beds with deliciously fluffy down comforters. Here, and in other French hotels we have visited, we have drab colored heavy wool blankets. They simply do not inspire “le passion.”

The quality and variety found in European hotels is one of the attractions that contribute the sense of adventure you can enjoy skiing abroad.

Courchevel Monday; More Sun and More Smiles

John enjoying his first aid.
 The group was back on the hill Monday to revisit good places from Sunday and explore new pistes. No one was disappointed.

John Powis was the only casualty of the day. When he moved to the edge of a cat track, yielding to a passing skier, he went off the edge doing a nasty face plant that required five stitches below the eye. A lovely ski patrol women provided initial treatment on the hill and the village clinic stitched him up. For the record, his wife, Carol, was not the cause of the incident!

His ski mates, the Masts and Dennis,' enjoyed a lazy coffee near the clinic while he was treated and then everyone returned to the slopes.

Courchevel is a big place; lots of vertical and lots of runs. We have encountered everything from firm faces to afternoon slush but, particularly after the limited visibility in Corvara, there have been no complaints.
You can click on the photos to enlarge.

The Hotel Les Ducs De Savoie is a ski in, ski out facility with a convenient gondola link to the nearby village.

Life is bon!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Courchevel; First Day Smiles

Courchevel is a part of a huge ski area known as “Les 3 Vallees” or the three valleys. Courchevel, Maribel and Val Thorens are the main areas, setting in adjoining valleys and connected by an integrated lift system. It would be a challenge to navigate its expanse in the fog or clouds. Fortunately that was not an issue as the sun splashed its rays over all the valleys on Sunday.
Though the group arrived Saturday after a 13 hour bus ride most were ready to explore the new resort early on Sunday morning. Several groups hired ski instructors to guide them over the resort the first day. The instructors knew the best slopes and routes and most made it to all three valleys. Others chose to explore on their own.

 As the happy skiers straggled home after an exceptional day smiles were much in evidence. If the current weather continues the blog reports will be simple; went skiing, found a great place for lunch and returned home. If so, no one will complain.

A Word About Conversions: When you travel in Europe you need to adjust your thinking on currency, distance and other metrics. For example:
• Dollars become Euros
• Feet becomes meters
• Gallons become liters

Paul Luczak suggested that we should also adjust for Italian time. We were told by the Italian bus company that it would take ten hours to drive from Corvara, Italy to Courchevel, France. It took 13 long hours. So we conclude that you must multiply normal time by 1.3 to get Italian travel time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Courchevel + Sun + Snow = Great Skiing

Sunday sunrise from Courchevel Hotel
Sun is out. Ski is clear. Snow is fresh. More later....

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Clouds Parted, The Sun Shown.

 The Friday weather made up for all the whiteout days. You could see, you could ski and it was wonderful. Large contingent headed for 2100 meter high Passo Falzarego, which is the start of an 11 mile, must ski adventure. At the top we were greeted by a bit of wind and an occasional blast of blowing snow but the scenery and skiing made up for it. (Some also discovered hot chocolate with rum on the way down!) The trip was capped by the horse drawn rope tow at the bottom.

A wonderful finish to a good week in Corvara. Now it’s time to pack and move on to France.

Sadly we also bid farewell to Carrie and Jud Heugel and Morgan Stabler, who could only stay for one week, and Robert Halvorsen, who injured his knee in a Friday accident. While we head to France they will go toward Venice and on home.

Robert was our current spoon holder for some Thursday incident involving missing clothing on the hill. The spoon was passed on to Jean Christ for her exemplary performance caring for Robert following his accident. She is a worthy recipient.

Coming Down from the PASSO
The Jewett Family

A Refreshment Stop

The Horse Drawn Rope Tow

St. Patricks Day Party; The Tradition Continues in 2011

The traditional Ski Masters St Patricks day party was hosted by Carrie McCabe, Bob Gage and Tom McGrath in a private room generously provided by the hotel. Good drink, good food and good conversation prevailed. The pictures say it all. (click on photos to enlarge.)

Hosts McGrath and Gage

Host McCabe