Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Claudeen's Excellent Italian Adventure

The 1996 San Cassiano Sleep Over

Today, Claudeen Lyle owns and operates Ski Masters European Trips and her mother, Lenore Lyle, sometimes comes along as a guest. In 1996 the roles were reversed. When the ski group headed for Cortina Italy, Lenore was the leader and daughter Claudeen was a guest. Keeping track of Claudeen on that trip may be one of the reasons Lenore now has such silver hair.

Lenore had a reputation for running a “tight ship.” She took responsibility for her guests and did not rest well until they were all accounted for whether it was on the plane, a bus or tucked into bed at the hotel. So one evening when Claudeen called Lenore to report that she, and the three other guests who foolishly followed her, were stuck in a small mountain village, one can only imagine the gist of the conversation. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Those who’ve made one of the seven SME trips to the Italian Dolomites know that the highlight of the area is a trip around the Sella Ronda. The “Sella” is a giant butte that is ringed, at its base, by a series of small towns (Selva di, Val Gardena, Corvara, Canazei, Arabba) which, in turn, are linked together by an integrated lift system. The trip around covers about 25 miles and can be taken either clockwise or, as they say, anti-clockwise. To do the skiing, the views and the food justice the trips can easily take an entire day.

That was root of the problem. Claudeen, and her seven loyal followers, didn’t begin their circuit until noon.

The plan for the day was straight forward. A bus would pick up the skiers at their Cortina hotel and transport them about 18 miles to the top of a breathtaking pass, the 7000 foot Passo Di Falzarego. From there the skiers would board the tram to the top of the peak and begin an 11 mile journey down a magical valley to the small town of San Cassiano. While San Cassiano was not on the Sella Ronda, the lift network there connected to the Sella and the skiers would be free to explore parts of the Sella, returning to San Cassiano for a late afternoon bus pickup and ride back to Cortina.

Foolishly, as it turned out, my wife Kathy and I joined Claudeen, David, Marsha Hines, Sharon Harker, Tom McGrath and a fourth male (whose name I’ve forgotten) for the race down the mountain from Passo Di Falzarego. When we reached the Sella two decisions had to be made. Do we go left or right and, most importantly, do we try for the entire circuit even though it was well past noon. We chose left, or clockwise, and those familiar with Claudeen’s sense of adventure can guess the answer to the second question.

Soon we were flying across slopes and whisking through lift lines in our attempt to make the full circuit. There was no sympathy for laggards and, as one of the slowest in the group, I was confident I would be left behind if I faltered. A single potty break was allowed. We grabbed a quick snack at an outdoor bar and maintained our breakneck pace.

The uncontrollable element was the lift lines. They were long and slow. The current area guide indicates the lift rides take two hours, not including time in lines. In 1996 they took even longer as many of the high speed lifts hadn’t been installed. I can still recall the old single chair that took us at a painfully slow pace from the town of Val Gardena.

In the end, we failed. We coasted back into San Cassiano as they were shutting down the mountain, a full half hour after the bus had departed. I thought we had a problem. But for Claudeen it was just the start of another adventure. The group plan for the next day had included a bus from Cortina straight to Arabba, on the Sella, so that everyone would be able to spend the entire day going around the Sella Ronda.

“Why go back to Cortina,” Claudeen asked? “Why not just stay in San Cassiano and meet the group when they return tomorrow?”

The desire for clean clothes and fear of the tour director drew four of us onto a $60 taxi ride back to Cortina where we were greeted like long lost explorers.

Claudine, David, Marsha and Sharon elected to stay at a local pension and thus began part two of the days great adventure.

The good news was that there was a small restaurant at the pension and they didn’t seem to mind serving dinner to four Americans in long underwear and stocking feet. The bad news was that they didn’t accept credit cards forcing the intrepid travelers to pool their meager cash hoard, stretching it through cocktail hour, dinner, lodging and breakfast.

As a famous writer once said,” all’s well that ends well.”

The next day the “lost” skiers were reunited with the main body of tour and everyone successfully made the trek around the Sella Ronda.

No record exists of the discussion that Lenore, the trip leader, had with her errant daughter. We can only speculate. But we suspect that even Lenore would have to smile, knowing where Claudeen got her sense of adventure.

To paraphrase another unnamed writer, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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