Club Holiday to Verbier, 23rd to 30th January 1999

by Lindsay Harford and Helen Richardson.

"Manchester Ski Club skiers seldom travel singly".

Convivial chatter and animated anticipation abounded as almost forty Club members met early on Saturday, appreciative of the extra hour's sleep allowed us by Paul's inspired pre-booking of aircraft seats! Our flight arrived at Geneva almost on time, despite fog, which only a few years previously and but for computerised automatic landing control systems would have left us circling, or even waiting back at Manchester Ringway. Although delays followed, as first an item of luggage failed to materialise, and then the coach turned out to be something of a 'charabanc' - with a 'hold' much too small for all the luggage and skis, so that some was piled precariously against its emergency exit door, whilst more had to be transferred to another coach and travelled separately, smiles were swiftly restored as we arrived mid-afternoon in Verbier to sunshine and blue skies.
any quickly donned their skis and headed off to test the pistes.

Any morning after that, an eagle eyed traveller in the gondola taking skiers from Medran lift station to Les Ruinettes could see an intriguing sight - members of the Ski Club in small groups forming and reforming before setting off for the day's challenges! By late afternoon the same groups could be found in 'le Vieux Verbier' enjoying a well-earned vin chaud, and later still relaxing over "Happy Hour" at the Hacienda. Each group rapidly developed its own identity, and you might like to speculate on the composition of each team.

The A team: Members travelled vast distances in all weathers. Always ambitious, they advanced down black runs, yet spent long periods huddled over piste maps arguing about the most arduous routes. Amoeba-like, this group varied in size from day to day with a central core augmented at times by members of the B team. Bold and brave, this team blended a boisterous approach to the terrain with a concern to improve their skiing techniques. Bumps and moguls held no terror for this team, unlike members of the C team. Calm, consistent and co-operative, this team showed a more considered attitude. When blizzards came down, whilst cruising across to les Attelas, this team chose to show its courage at Carrefour, where they met the D team. This self-styled dream team were undaunted by snow or storm. Up early and returning late, this team was daring, determined, and included one member whose name starts with D and another who demonstrated a dashing line in skiwear.

For our first few days we revelled in brilliant blue sky weather, with good crisp snow on mostly well covered upper pistes. Joined by four more Club members who had travelled on the Sunday and were staying at another hotel, we headed off in all directions, to places such as Mont Fort, La Chaux, La Siviez, Thyon and Traconet, unexpectedly meeting at mountain restaurants for frequent refreshments. Although some south facing lower runs were closed, we didn't feel restricted, as there was plenty of good skiing higher and on north facing slopes. Whilst the more adventurous and experienced skied to Thyon, via the off-piste itinerary route, which includes a steep 'black' mogul field, others took advantage of the recently upgraded gondola and series of chair lifts to access this remote ski area, which features the Olympic ski run 'les Ours' and stunningly spectacular views of the distant Matterhorn and Monta Rosa range from the Thyon restaurants.

Heavy snowfalls from Tuesday night onwards increasingly restricted access, as the itinerary routes to Tortin and lift system beyond were closed from Verbier, and even local ski buses stopped running for a while. Skiing now centred on Savoleyres and les Ruinettes, whilst those in the know visited Bruson. Powder skiing practise was significantly enhanced by an impromptu 'ski powder' school. As snow dumping continued but was less powdery, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish piste from off-piste. Local shops offered an alternative to skiing - the supermarket enjoyed an especially brisk trade in wine. Indeed, a few of us exchanged skis for swim wear and visited the excellent swimming pool, with its jacuzzi and very reasonably priced cafe-restaurant.

The 'Hotel Rhodania' proved a good choice. Its central location gave rapid access to ski buses and apres-ski; a spacious lounge bar and reception area gave plenty of opportunity to swap ski-stories, and the friendly and helpful staff were an added bonus.

As with any ski holiday, there were the usual handful of accidents (fortunately none serious), and delays (already almost an hour late for departure due to Geneva Airport's woefully inadequate bus-to-plane facility, we finally nearly lost our takeoff slot as the cabin crew battled to close an 'iced up' door), but we arrived back safely, with everyone agreeing that this was a great holiday, and one we would certainly remember. "Many thanks again to you, Paul, for organising this Club holiday".


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