Main Club Holiday To Meribel 20 - 27 January 2001
By Greg Jackson
9.30am is a refreshingly civilised time to arrive at Manchester Airport for the 11.30am flight to Lyon. Most of us had woken up by then. The flight was uneventful and on time. Four of our party were on the following flight due to arrive half an hour later, which it did.
The coach driver at Lyon, obviously unprepared for the copious volume of equipment that a serious ski club deems necessary for a week's holiday, coped quite well at first, but as every seat had a body on it there weren't any available to stow the last of the luggage that definitely would not fit in the full length boot. After a bout of lower lip pouting and Gallic shrugs, he arranged for the rest of the luggage to follow on. Which it miraculously did. The 3-hour transfer seemed to take only 2, which, after the meal on the plane, wasn't nearly enough time to digest the emergency rations Sharpy recommended we bring and it was still light when we reached the chalet.
We were met by Ernie and Margery Di Rollo who, in their retirement, had turned into ski bums, had driven there and were following the snow in their camper until the end of February.
Chalet Parc Alpin was really a hotel, totally overrun by SCoM except for half a dozen Yorkshire lads who made up for their minority presence by being a bit rowdy. We never saw them at breakfast though. I think they were après-ski specialists.
Before dinner we were introduced to the staff. No ordinary chalet this. We had a manager, who was very businesslike and didn't smile much. An executive chef, Frankie, who looked like the Scottish equivalent of Oddjob from James Bond, small, well-muscled, with a belly on him that suggested that he ate girders for breakfast and demolished all the guests' leftovers after dinner. He had an assistant and an underwater ceramic technician (washer upper). Additionally, there were 3 chalet girls who made beds really badly, and 3 ski guides who had one of the easiest weeks of the season. Did they think we really needed help reading a piste map!
I think most of us found the 3-course dinner excellent and there was enough wine to quench even Nigel K's thirst. It just kept appearing.
Meribel itself looks like its been built from one huge tree. All the wooden clad buildings are exactly the same colour and shape. All the roof angles are the same, very tasteful, but a bit boring. Maybe the local building inspector supplies the varnish.
Being in the middle valley of the Trois, it is ideally situated for us to reach the other two quickly. Anyone who's stayed in Courchevel (in valley 1) knows that Val Thorens, or VT to those who can't pronounce it, is a bit of a slog. And when the Courchevel fur coat and poodle set are grass skiing then VT is the place to find snow. I believe it's the highest resort in Europe.
The amount and the range of skiing in the 3 valleys is awesome. There's more than a week's worth for even the "A" team. It really is a very large area.
To reach the piste from the chalet required a thigh-warming 10-minute route march up a slight incline, making the return journey almost pleasant. Then a short but frenetic boulevard race to the centre of Meribel soon got us to the lift system, where we could choose any of the three valleys to ski in.
One morning however we were thwarted in our attempts to get over the haute route into Courchevel by a raging fire that totally destroyed the restaurant on the top of Saulire, and consequently shut the second stage of the gondola that ran nearby. I suspect a disgruntled diner torched it because of its extortionate prices. It burned uncontrollably until little remained. It's difficult to squeeze a fire engine into a six-man gondola.
The weather throughout the week was mixed. So was the quality of the pistes. When we arrived the whole area badly needed some snow. It was warm and many pistes were rocky and grassy. It snowed on the second night and provided some nice powder the next day, as well as something for the piste bashers to bash onto the rocks, leaving the pistes much improved. There was a whiteout on Thursday afternoon, which left many of us struggling to get down to the resort. It was a matter of feeling the bumps under our skis, because we certainly couldn't see them. Enough snow dropped that evening to make Friday, our final skiing day, a great pleasure in the all-day sunshine, with fresh powder presenting some irresistible off-piste excursions. The best of the off-piste was probably experienced by Barry Lewis who at every opportunity took the "wrong side of the poles" route, where the terrain was much more interesting and the snow largely unspoilt. His toughest bit of off-piste though was when he attached himself securely to a chair lift by a rucksack buckle, which denied him the chance to get off, and so he continued on the return journey for a few metres. The lift attendant released him and pushed him back up the short but precarious slope by his buttocks. Barry smiled.
Early in the week we were all shocked to hear that Brenda Preston had suffered a seemingly innocuous fall involving a skier who fell in front of her, which resulted in a fractured humerus, but worse still a fractured pelvis. Help was quickly on hand and she was transferred to Moutiers hospital and then flown home. The SCoM rallied round like a close family, sorting out her luggage, and visiting her, smuggling in food to supplement the meagre hospital breakfasts. It's times like these that you really appreciate what an outstanding group of caring people the SCoM are. Stuart Thompson also suffered a chipped tibia but he was one of the walking wounded, although was not allowed on our flight and had to return via Luton!
Midweek, on the chalet staffs' night off, we all ate at a restaurant up the mountain, arranged of course by Sharpy who negotiated a deal with "Madame". It was mostly excellent food and wine and rather boisterous. Getting back to the chalet required either public transport (the Meribus), private transport (Frankie the Chef's minibus), or a precarious walk along a slushy road, which turned out not to be as precarious as the first shuttle trip down in Frankie's minibus, which confronted Nigel K. round a bend doing a jig in the middle of the road. Frankie later christened him "the dancing bea".
On the last night in the chalet the staff laid on a wonderful buffet dinner, and some entertainment, mostly starring Frankie in a series of sketches, one of which roped in Sharpy as a contestant in "who wants to be a millionaire". Sharpy obviously did. We had 2 birthdays that night - Dave Miller and Brian Winstanley, who both desperately tried to blow out the trick candles on their communal cake. The candles immediately relit. It would have taken the combined lungpower of the Halle brass section to permanently extinguish them. It was corny but very funny.
Saturday was the usual slog of getting home. Whilst we were waiting for our coach to turn up a gang of Snowtrain revellers arrived for their breakfast and their ski passes, eager to get some early skiing in. The trip home was smooth and uneventful. British Airways were on time and attentive, especially to me, who managed to throw my first full glass of orange juice over my lap. Countless napkins couldn't hide what looked like the result of an acute fear of flying.
But it was a very fine holiday. Well done again Sharpy. Can't wait for the next one.