Club Med Val d'Isere
Jan 28-Feb 6, 2017
Most of the group took the Club's bus from Piscataway to JFK on Saturday afternoon for our overnight flight to Geneva on Swiss air. JFK was empty as the 34 checked in at 5pm – much more enjoyable than last year’s crowded Friday night European departure with Friday evening NYC rush hour traffic. When we arrived in Geneva at 9:30am Sunday morning, six more Club members met us and the 40 of us proceeded to our motor coach for the 3 hour drive via windy roads and rotaries through many small French towns to the mountain village of Val d’Isere.
When we arrived at Club Med, we were greeted by Marco (manager) and his “GO” team. We were escorted to their theater, where we each received a mimosa drink and were told about the logistics for the first few hours. We each received a packet with our lift ticket and room key (if the room was ready). Several of us chose to purchase the optional mountain rescue insurance for about $20, available from the front desk. During the theater reception, the GO team offloaded our bags from the bus and placed outside our rooms (fortunately, everyone adhered to the Club policy of putting our colorful Club luggage tags on all their bags so that the “GO” team could determine which bag went to which room.) Since we arrived at Club Med at 1:30pm, many of our rooms were not yet ready but the bar was open so time went quickly. We also used the wait time to unload our ski boots and skis into our per-room lockable ski locker, which was big enough for 3 pair of boots (with integrated air blower boot dryer) and skis. Some people rented skis at Snowberry and were happy with their equipment and the rental process.
There was a Club Med orientation at 7pm where we were told what to expect during the week. Given that most of the announcers were French people trying to speak English, it was frequently difficult to understand the message. Many members found it easier to use the Club Med app on their smart phones to see the daily schedule. There was a novel concept that for each dinner there was a different dress attire, such as Elegant night, blue/white shirt night, gown night, etc. Very few of us had the appropriate attire but the Club Med staff didn’t care.
On Sunday night we were asked to sign up for a particular ski lesson level based on a one-sentence description of the level. Most people found this a challenging decision based on insufficient information. With the benefit of looking back on the week, the ambiguous level 3 and 4 levels were as follows: Level 4 – super fast off-piste chute double black diamond experts (nobody in our club went on this level); Level 3A – fast on/off piste black diamond guiding with no instruction (4 Club members were at this level); Level 3B – a wide variety of intermediate blue to advanced black skiers wanting instruction (about 25 members were in this level). Since there were so many people in level 3B, the instructors split the group into 3 sub-levels (instruction for intermediate, moderate-speed blue skiers who can do linked parallel turns; guiding with minimal instruction for advanced moderate-speed skiers; intense instruction for advanced fast-speed skiers who wanted to hone their skills on steep or fast terrain). People could move up/down levels based on instructor recommendation.
Dinner began at 7pm. The food choice and quality was phenomenal. The buffet was not just a few entrees; there were many choices from different food groups. There was a carved meat area, fish, Italian pasta, burgers, grilled chicken/pork-chops, pizza, soups, veggies, salmon, cheeses, salads, cured meats (prosciutto, ham, etc), fresh bread, a huge assortment of desserts, gelato, etc. There was also a frequent assortment of non-traditional (well, to an American) buffet protein such as sweetbreads, liver, oysters, pork pate, ultra-rare meats, and baby octopus. Beer and wine (table red, rose, and white) were available at lunch and dinner. The wines were of low quality but were drinkable, especially given they were free and you could simply ask for a whole bottle, which encouraged us to drink a lot. By the 2nd bottle nobody cared about the quality. Premium wines were available but they were expensive, about $50-$100 a bottle. For dinner, Club Med reserved a section of the restaurant's tables for our club. However, if an entire table was not occupied by 8:30pm, the "Reserved" table sign was removed so that other guests could sit. There were times that all the other seats in the buffet restaurant were filled so out of courtesy, we removed some of the "Reserved" signs when we knew that many folks had gone to the fondue restaurant instead of the buffet.
Monday morning began with an expansive breakfast buffet, which was similar for each day of our stay. There were crepes (thin pancakes), oatmeal, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, custom omelets, cereal, breads, croissants , cheese, assorted fish, fruit, juice, and yoghurt. Plus the popular espresso+ coffee machines that made café au late, cappuccino, etc. We all remarked at how good the coffee mixtures were. The coffee+ machines were also in the lobby for 24 hour service, along with soda and tea. This helped for Monday morning when many of us were awake at 5am due to the 6-hour time change, waiting in the lobby/bar area for the 7:30am breakfast to open.
At 9am we put on our loafers and ski clothing in our room and went to our ski lockers to don our boots and skis. We walked out the door onto the snow and grouped together with our level. GO team ladies in bathrobes handed us champagne, which some of us thought was an odd thing to do before going for a day of skiing, but hey - we're in France. Since there were many people in the 3B level, the instructors took us on a warm up run since for many of us, this was the first time skiing this year. After a few runs, the instructors had us ski a 50-yard run, one at a time, to see our individual ability and to segregate us into the 3 sub-levels, as described above. Each group went off on their own and stayed with that instructor through Friday. Note that the Club Med “tips included” policy does not apply to the ski instructors since most of them are independent contractors. The customary tip was 20 euro per person, although some of us tipped more for exceptional instructors. Some instructors took their group to bars and restaurants so as to experience the European way of skiing between towns and enjoying their fare.
noon, the instructors brought each group back to Club Med for a 2-hour
lunch. While that seems like a long time, we all enjoyed the chance to
have a relaxing lunch. Everyone put their coats/boots into their ski
lockers, got on their loafers/sneakers, and went to our bountiful lunch
buffet. We all ate to excess, plus there was beer (pour your own tap)
and wine (ask your waiter). There was time to go back to your room and
relax before going back to the ski lockers for the 2pm afternoon lesson.
On Friday, our instructor took us to
Le Panoramic, an amazing game restaurant by the Grande Motte glacier
at the top of the Funicular.
At around 4:30 the instructors brought you back to Club Med. Inside the lobby there was an après ski event with fruity drinks, pastries, etc. After taking our showers, many people gathered at the bar area for more drinks, mojitos, port, brandy, beer, etc. At 6:30pm more elaborate snacks came out, as if the 4:30 snacks and 7pm start for dinner was not sufficient to fatten us up. A band entertained us and dancing was encouraged. Dinner had a different menu each night. Great food with a wide variety of choices – what more can I say. At 9:30pm there was nightly entertainment put on by the GO team. Okay, these folks are not going to get an audition for Broadway but they really tried to entertain us. Having between 3 and 5 drinks beforehand greatly enhanced our appreciation of their efforts.
And yes, the rumors are true. The trip leader got conscripted into an on-stage performance, complete with tutu and wig – anything to please the Club’s trip participants.
through Friday was a repeat of Monday. We skied a lot of terrain – 100
miles according to our GPS watch. Saturday was similar but you skied on
your own with no instructors. Several of us spent our spare time
touring the shops of downtown Val d'Isere - a small town dedicated to
the needs of skiers and vacationers, such as an ice carving event.
Val d’Isere ski area is vast and it is easy to get confused about your
location. Signage is minimal and points to which town is in your general
ski direction. Piste difficulty ratings (e.g., blue, red, black) can
change in the middle of a run so you had to check the trail map to avoid
Flat-light conditions were common during cloudy days so be sure to bring your yellow lenses. You had to be careful of flat-light, especially on the dreaded Santons run, aka “The Gunbarrel”, the "easy way" back to the Club Med area from the Rocher De Bellevarde area. It is marked a Blue (easy) run but it’s a narrow V-shaped treeless gully run between two tall mountains, so it’s always in the shade, so all skiers are all funneled into the bottom of the V where you can’t see the snow conditions. It is skiing by Braille – your eyes are useless. Personally, I thought the "Face de Bellevarde" black run was a less risky way home from the Bellevarde area. Even though it was steeper, you could see where you were going.
Sunday morning was the departure day for most Club Med guests, so the lobby was filled with luggage going to different places. It was again imperative that each of our member’s bags had our colorful luggage tags so that we could differentiate our bags from others. We did have a situation where a non-HSC person tried to load their untagged bags onto our private HSC bus. Luckily, the lack of our colorful tag on that bag caused the trip leaders to halt that bag from being loaded onto our bus.
We departed Club Med for the Hotel Splendid in Annecy. Old-town Annecy contains many restaurants and shops along its canals. It is a wonderful place to spend a day and is much closer to Geneva airport (75 minutes away in weekday commuter traffic) than Val d’Isere (3 hours on a clear day, but who knows when it’s snowing). Unfortunately it rained in Annecy during our entire visit, but that did not thwart people from walking around town and enjoying the sights and bistros.Our Monday morning flight from Geneva to JFK went smoothly. We were the only flight landing at 2:30p at JFK Terminal 4 so immigration, baggage, and customs went quickly. By 3:15pm we were walking to the charter bus area for our ride home to Piscataway. A good time was had by all, including the wonderfully happy trip participant below – time to plan our Club's next awesome trip.
THANK YOU FROM YOUR TRIP LEADERS - STEVE & ALEX
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