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Zermatt, Switzerland and Milan, Italy

Date: Jan 29-Feb 9, 2016
Trip Leaders: Steven Krapes and Dennis McCann
Trip Assistants:
Alex Karger and Eric Oberer

(Most pictures are clickable for high-res images)

This trip was the most popular airline trip ever offered by the Holmdel Ski Club. On opening day of registration the Club received over 70 requests for our 42-seat trip. A 10-day trip to Zermatt/Milan for $2125 proved to be very appealing. Our tour operator was able to expand the size of our reservation to 88 people but with the downside of having two airlines with different schedules and two hotels in each destination - not ideal but better than disappointing the 46 people who otherwise would not have been able to attend the trip. The transportation logistics worked out well. All flights and transportation were on time, no luggage was lost or delayed and no one sustained any serious injuries.


 

Our "planes, trains, and automobiles" trip began with two Friday evening flights out of JFK with the usual available bus pickup from Piscataway NJ. We had direct flights to Milan's Malpensa airport, which is a very nice and well-laid out airport.  We were through immigration, luggage pickup, and customs within 30 minutes. Our two bus pickups in Milan from iCareLimo.it awaited us and we began the 3.5 hour trip to Tasch. We drove by one of the Northern Italian large lakes (Lago Maggiore) with spectacular views of vacation homes dotting the countryside.  We didn't see much snow, even as we passed the Rothwald ski area near the Simplon Pass, with its amazingly tall bridge poking up from the valley. The Zermatt area had not seen any new snowfall in several weeks before our arrival, but we were confident that our snow dances would prove effective. We reached the Tasch train station for our train shuttle to Zermatt. Gas-powered vehicles are not permitted in Zermatt, thus the train. A quick 15 minute ride and we were in the colorful town of Zermatt. The 49 people staying at the Hotel Perren walked downhill with their luggage - no problem. The 39 people at the Hotel Astoria had a longer walk so the hotel provided a luggage pickup. Most people then set out to pick-up their discount reserved rental skis at the nearby Slalom Sport shop. Dinner at our hotels followed and then jet lag hit most of us as we barely could finish dinner with open eyes.


Saturday night proved to be full of Zermatt's legendary inebriated partygoers who were heard by many of the people staying at the Hotel Astoria. An adjacent nightclub, the Papperla Pub, was active until the wee hours of the morning with steady thumping drumbeats and wailing guitars, plus the frequent howling by drunken patrons who streamed out onto the surrounding streets. 

Our first ski day began Sunday morning with low clouds and poor visibility, but with fairly warm weather. We were advised to stay on groomed runs since off-piste was crusty and crunchy. Staying lower on the mountains avoided the cloudy visibility issues. Given the jet lag, we were all tired so it was good to explore the bars and restaurants on the mountain and sample the local beers.  Since we all had a large breakfast, it seemed appropriate to limit our lunch to various liquids. There were even champagne bars scattered about the trails. Monday morning greeted us with a picture perfect bluebird ski day. Temps in the upper 20's and bright sunshine. We had a few inches of snow the night before that settled peacefully on the manicured groomed trails.

Cameras and phones were heavily used to snap hundreds of photos of the Matterhorn.  There is a tradition of taking a beer selfie against the Matterhorn, so we had to oblige. Tuesday was yet another bluebird day so many people made the trek to the Italian ski village of Cervinia. The journey first included a tram ride up to the Klein Matterhorn, the area's tallest lift at 12,746'.  You felt like you were on top of the world as you saw the Alps around you. Carved into the glacier inside the top of the tram is an ice museum, called "Glacier Paradise".  The walls and floors are all ice, with various carvings scattered about.
 

Cervinia is a glorious ski area, if the conditions are right. It faces the warm south sun and it is meticulously groomed from top to bottom. The wide slopes made for exciting high speed cruising. The snow was soft; There was no ice; The ski was clear; The sun was warm; Everyone screamed with excitement. Restaurants and pubs dotted the ski area. I heard exclaimed, "This is the best lasagna I've ever had!" Of course, we were in Italy. In addition to wine, a local favorite drink was gluhwein - a warm red spiced wine. Sitting outside one of the pubs, we were all mesmerized by the tranquility and beauty of the pub we had chosen. This was not a typical USA slopeside eatery with hundreds of people pushing each other for a $12 burger and fries. We were at peace, drinking the local brew, and extolling how fortunate we all were for being able to experience this area.

Wednesday was one of those ski days that challenges even the most hardy skier. Some folks opted for snowshoeing. Clouds dropped down and skiing became very opportunistic as the skies cleared, then got socked in, cleared, again and again. Some incredible skiing was mixed with moments of fear as the visibility dropped to less than 20 feet. Ah - the perfect time to hit the pubs high atop the mountains and experience local fare and brews. After lunch (well, a midday excuse for soup and beer) we saw it started snowing again - yeah, but we noticed the snow was falling sideways. Our waitress leaned over to us and said, "Take the tram down.  It's not safe." Who are we to question advice from a local. One fun event we had that day was taking the Sunnegga funicular. It is like any standard funicular (an inclined railway) but this one rides inside a tunnel carved out from the bedrock, and the incline is quite steep. On the downward journey we rode in the uppermost car so we could see the top station disappear as we fell gracefully into the hole below us. The speed was impressive - it was like a ride at an amusement park.

Thursday was another bluebird ski day - boy were we lucky this week. Hardly anyone complained about the lack of powder even though tomorrow would be our last day skiing in Zermatt.  But wait - a new weather forecast emerged. Thursday afternoon saw the clouds move in and during the night it dumped. Groups of us took to the streets to see Zermatt's main shopping/nightlife street (Bahnhofstrasse) in all its wintery splendor.  By Friday morning, the town received 10" but the mountains got more, in some areas a lot more. Knee-deep to crotch-deep light fluffy off-piste powder was not uncommon. It's a good thing that the Slalom Sport rental shop provided us with mid-fat skis to handle all that powder. The lifts did not open until around 9:45am (see picture of some members anxiously waiting for the lift to open at the top of the Sunnegga funicular) but all that anxiety was quickly erased as we saw our skis disappear in the fluff. Screams of "Again, Again" abounded even as our quads ached.

Saturday morning began with our standard buffet breakfast. The breakfasts and dinners at both the Astoria and Perren were good quality meals; hearty and tasty. Everyone gorged on the wonderful fresh baked breads. The hotels transported our luggage to the train station and we began our 4 hour trip to Milan. 61 of us stayed at the Milan Garibaldi and 27 stayed at the Sempione. Both hotels were close to tram stops to the major city attractions, or within walking distance for active people. The Sempione was in a quieter part of the city than the Garibaldi but other than the occasional ambulance siren or tram brake squeal, the Garibaldi proved to be satisfactory for the group.

Milan is a very large city with lots of history and a keen sense of fashion. Many locals were dressed exquisitely in designer clothing - anyone wearing white sneakers was clearly a tourist. The main tourist area is around the Duomo, with many shops and restaurants.  There are also several museums, including the impressive "Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci", a science museum that rivals the Smithsonian in Washington.  Another don't miss site was the Sforza Castle - a huge fortress that now houses art, historical items, and music antiquities. Many members got tickets to see the Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" mural at the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. There was tight security to get into the Duomo. Many solders with automatic weapons guarded the doors and each visitor was checked for metal. The lines for entry were long so we wandered around.  We found that most restaurants outside the tourist areas did not serve meals until after 7:30pm, however those restaurants around the Duomo served all day long. It was interesting to see the barkers outside the restaurants who tried to get you interested in their menu - clearly lots of competition for diners.  By chance we stumbled upon "Il Kaimano" in the Brera area just north of the Duomo. A classic local bistro serving authentic Italian fare. Reasonably priced, great food/wine, and a friendly/gregarious staff.  So nice that we went back for dinner the next day. Pizza, seafood, veal cutlet and many liters of house wine. This bistro helped make Milan a memorable visit, even with the all-day rain on Sunday. A large group of members attended the Rigoletto Opera performance at the La Scala theater.  It was the quintessential high-end opera experience. How those members managed to pack formal suits and gowns amongst their ski gear will remain a mystery to the rest of us. 

Monday in Milan was a clear day and with most of the museums closed, our members scattered to explore other attractions. A large group took the train to Venice and St Marks Square.  Another group went to Modena/Maranello to visit the Ferrari museum and to take a tour of the the Ferrari factory and its on premise race track. Unfortunately, the "look but don't touch" security guards were everywhere. While we did not expect prices on the various car models, we were surprised that even in the obligatory gift shop stroll at the end of the tour, most items were not labeled with a price. As goes the adage, "If you have to ask...."

The trip home on Tuesday was uneventful. A few weather delays but everyone got home safe and tired from 11 days of exercise and adventure. During our JFK immigration and customs process, it became obvious that those people who were members of the U.S Customs Global Entry program whisked by in just a few minutes, while other people stood in a 20 minute line.

Steve, Dennis, Alex, and Eric would like to thank everyone for being such a great group and making it a memorable trip for all.  The abundance of smiling and laughter by everyone on the trip was reassuring that the Club had yet another spectacular adventure

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