Skiing is believing

I have now come to the conclusion that a 10-day ski-trip is very much the same as a 10-day beach holiday at say Scottburgh over the Christmas holidays, just colder. Its 10 days of real carefree childlike enjoyment in the way that you’ve last done when you were a kid with the energy of a kid and the honest enthusiasm for something new, like a kid. The refreshment of soft drinks has made way for something frostier though!

That’s what we did over Christmas 2011 and with some good Saffas friends joining us it was a great fun filled family outing where you have no commitments, no schedule, nothing to do other than to decide which slope will be tamed today and where will we get stuck for après-ski to mull over the adrenaline of the day, laugh at the expense of the ‘fallers’ of the day and sympathise, with the injuries.

Fortunately there weren’t any serious injuries, thus no real sympathy required!

In my book a proper holiday starts at home and not at the destination. This was no different and with the Moutons and a Verhoef visiting Köln for the first time, plus the need to stock up on some ski clothes the few days at our home was equally enjoyable. Our ski-trip therefor included three days of exploring- and shopping in Köln. We could boast off some of the Rhine scenery, some of the Weinacht-markets that are so abundant in Germany over the festive season and simply share some of the local bars and restaurants with our guests. We could also introduce them to the magnificent Köln Dom. Interesting little piece of trivia Dan shared with me is that his granddad bought a pocket knife outside this Kölner Dom on a visit there in 1952.

An added bonus, as if to really introduce the South Africans who departed SA in the height of summer was that that morning when we picked them up at Frankfurt Airport, it was snowing properly, even to the extent that driving was an adventurous new experience for me too. Point is a skiing holiday starting in falling snow when you step off the plane is just so much better than having to wait in the cold (pun intended) until you get to the mountains to see snow.

We were heading to La Plagne Montalbert in the French Alps as final destination with a packed VW Kombi and sedan Merc; 9 excited boertjies adamant to tame the ski slopes. It included the drive through some stunning Europe scenery starting off with meandering the Rhine Valley from Koblenz through scenic little towns such as Rhens, Boppard, Bad Salzig, St Goar, St Goarshausen, Lorelei, Oberwesel, Bacharach and exiting the valley at Bingerbruck after crossing the river twice by ferry. Heleen and I tend not to plan road trips in detail, which means no overnight accommodation was planned for as ‘you never know when something nice crosses you’re route’. This was the same on this trip and we decided to head for Lausanne in Switserland to bunk for the night. As it was already dark by the time we arrived and we planned hitting the road first thing in the morning, we didn’t particularly care about scenic accommodation. The kids held us ransom the next morning and we headed for MacDonalds in central Lausanne for breakfast before meandering around Lake Geneva, stopping for photos at the lake and listening to Chris de Burgh’s reference songs of the area, the war refugees and ‘saying goodbye to it all’.

Chocolate box picturesque, that’s so clichéd but its so real and accurate. This is Switzerland; Lake Geneva with its icy clear water and snow capped mountains surrounding it. Its also where so many things happened in history such as the unlikely couple of  ‘Oom’ Paul Kruger and Freddy Mercury sharing interest in Montreux and its just up the lake from where Asterix and Obelix kept a low profile in the Lakeside Hotel while hiding from Governor Curius Flavus while being not impressed with the local delicacy of cheese fondue.

(Paul Kruger spent his last days and past away in Clarence Switzerland, very far from his beloved South Africa. Freddy Mercury too had a soft spot for Montreux and spent lots of time with the other Queen members in their music studio in this town; there’s even a statue of him)

Country road in France

We also had a bit of ‘keeping a low profile’ to do as I forgot to pack the kids’ passports and didn’t want to land in a situation where we are confronted to show them while crossing into France; with the Swiss you’re never sure. Fortunately we have stayed in Genève in Daleen and Kevin’s house a few years ago and learned some of the back roads to sidestep officialdom. We circled the lake through Genève and the little town of Hermance and entered France on a stunning little country road from where we headed towards the absolute gem of Annecy


and then destination Montalbert. Annecy truly has a spectacular ‘la vieille ville’ (old town) and it being Christmas time, they too had their markets where we stocked up on the ‘vin chaud’ (gluhwein), homemade nougat, salami, cheese, baguette and obviously crepe (large pancake).

‘La Plagne was created in 1961, as with many resorts in the Alps, to save the valleys from becoming deserted. The agriculture and mining industries were in crisis, which led to young people leaving the valley in search of work. In 1960, four towns (Aime, Bellentre, Longefoy and Macôt) created an association to defend their interests, with an initiative of Dr. Borrionne, mayor of Aime. On 24 December 1961, La Plagne opened, with its two drag lifts and its four slopes.’ Montalbert is one of the mountain villages in this bigger La Plagne area and has access to more than 100 kilometres of ski slope. It’s a typical small ski resort town with a few restaurants, bars, delicatessens and one little supermarket. Accommodation is self catering chalets and we were right on the slope, which means you exit you’re chalet dressed in you’re ski-suit and boots and ski down to the ski-lift! No bus commuting or other tedious exercise to get into the fun and action, its right there on your doorstep.

I was very relieved when I realised skiing is like cycling, once you’ve reached OK levels of competency, you can ski. Our previous skiing exposure was Dec 2009 and we were al very comfortable to simply tie our boots and ski, not necessary for any lessons! Fitness and strength is another story, but ability to ski was there, immediately and this gave us all the confidence and ease to really enjoy the slopes. The two newbies as far as skiing goes, Jacques (6) and Dané (4) started in the ski-school but were quick learners. Jacques specifically was extremely quick and after one lesson hit the slopes with ease. By the end of the trip he was a real competent little skier, complete with little jumps, speed and jokes.

Had some serious snow while we were there

I have mentioned a ski holiday is the same as a December Scottburgh beach holiday. Its just so relaxing with a lazy breakfast, then skiing a few slopes, finding a pub or little eatery somewhere in the mountain, having a leisurely lunch with a beer or glass of wine and then an afternoon of further leisure skiing. The afternoons especially becomes such an enjoyable exercise because of that feeling when sunset creeps closer and you just don’t want this day and pleasures of the slopes to end; exactly as I remember those Scottburgh afternoons in the waves! Then its again hitting a bar for the après-ski (in Scottburgh is was the Wimpy, in Montalbert it was La Skanapia ) to close out the day, get some heat back into your frozen limbs and to decide what will happen for dinner. Every so often the hunger is so huge after the full day of skiing and cold that it became a case of ‘veni, vidi, velcro’ (We came, we saw and we stuck!) that the après-ski beer evolved into a full-blown dinner. Nothing wrong with that, because you are on such a relaxed, no appointments schedule.

We spent 10 days in this mode at Montalbert. I normally get itchy to drive around and see things after a few days but in these ten days we actually drove out to another town only once. It was a day of continuous snow falling that we simply wasn’t in the mood for getting ourselves soaked in temperatures under freezing point. Thus, heading for Macôt for lunch and testing our very expensive but compulsory snow chains was a good alternative.

It does snow in South Africa, and South Africans do rush off to Lesotho and other mountains when reports of snow come through. However, to experience, not see but experience, the Christmas snow of the Alps at least once in your life is really something worth planning for. It is just one of those ‘wow’ experiences that is never forgotten and that is worth the effort and cost. I can truly recommend it! Obviously adding to this ‘wow-ness’ is the experience of other languages, a bit of the culture and the cuisine! Our exposure on this trip was the French and enjoying culinary gems such as their salamis, baguettes, cheeses, pastas, wine and aperitifs, Hautes Savoie (remember the French pronunciations, in this case something like ‘Ô Sawua’ with Afrikaans in mind) herbs and Alpine specifics such as cheese fondue for some and a marmite ‘potjie’ (again pronunciation is important; ‘marmiet’ where the ‘r’ is not silent!) for others made me gain a few pounds in spite of the skiing exercise! Not even to mention the 1664 and/or Kronebourg beers, cappuccinos, crepes and other desserts to finish off the eating. We’ll cut down on another occasion.

Driving back to Köln I chose the highways through France (to skip the Swiss authorities and see some new scenery). We didn’t sleep over again and did the 1000 odd k’s in one day.

We had a stunning white Christmas and incredible two weeks thanx to the friends who added to this little Fench skiing sojourn by simply committing when they heard we’re relocating to Germany and then executing without hesitation, the Moutons and Annie Verhoef. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

‘Merci beaucoup mes amis’