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Guest: French Alps

looking down a ski slope at Les Portes du Soleil, Switzerland

Humbled in the French Alps:
Moguls that Mean Business

Story & Photos by Frank Mazer

Meet Our Guest Writer

the writer, Frank Mazer

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."

Frank Mazer has lived, worked, loved, lusted, and played in many parts of the world aside from his native California. These include: Norway, Peru, Oregon coast, England (near London), Switzerland, Mississippi, Venezuela and Germany. He has also studied in Innsbruck, Austria.

Throughout his journeys he has always kept a detailed journal. His sharp eye for observation and his keen wit combine with his knowledge of history, his joy for doing sports, and his pleasure in meeting people to bring about amusing, insightful and thought-provoking stories. Climbing "peaks" and tumbling into "valleys" have provided him with many life perspectives and lessons, as have his interactions with wonderful students and other people everywhere. He has had a love for writing ever since he first wrote a front page story about environmental protection for the UCLA Daily Bruin in 1968. He has been a teacher and coach since 1974, having coached numerous championship basketball teams, and finds his greatest joy in inspiring students to achieve more than they can imagine. He has also coached tennis, volleyball, and other sports, and has worked with professional basketball in England. He is currently writing and teaching in Europe and cherishes time with his family in the USA as often as possible.

y friend, Jean-Paul, is a snowboarding addict. He is an expert who spends 100 days a year on the slopes of the Alps. I am a pretty good skier who has spent about 20 days a year on the slopes for each of the past 30 years. My friend, however, sometimes becomes overly zealous and childlike in his approach to the slopes.

We are at Les Portes du Soleil in Switzerland, the largest ski resort in the world, according to Jean-Paul. Actually, it is many resorts all linked together. He is so eager to show me the grand dimensions of this place that he gets carried away. He has more faith in my expertise on the slopes than I do. Especially on day one of my current season back on the skis.

So he takes me from piste (ski run) to piste and quad lift to quad lift as we make our way across the mountains. I have no idea where we are or how to get back to the place at the bottom where the car is parked.

I look at the trail map. There are so many runs and symbols that it looks like the circuit board for the space shuttle. I stuff it back into my pocket. There is some good scenery to behold but nothing close to the spectacular scenery I have been swept away by at some other resorts in the Alps. We get to this nice ridge run with a good view and I am enjoying it. I am beginning to get my skiing legs back and feeling like I am ready for the next World Cup competition. It’s a great feeling. I am in the flow! I am gliding, I am...

Suddenly there he is, sitting on his snowboard off to my left, shouting frantically to me to stop and come onto this piste veering sharply to the left. I come over to him and point out that no one is going down this piste. He says this is a good reason to go there. I tell him it may mean the other people are smart. He insists he has been here before and we will have a grand time.

skiers at the Les Portes du Soleil

Down we go. Eight hundred meters and a right turn and I know we are in for serious zaniness. I am looking down a piste with not a soul on it. A seriously steep one. That is not the worry. There are moguls the size of tanks. Everywhere. As far as the eye can see for about a half mile. There is shade. Darkness. There is shining ice along the moguls. Everywhere. There are occasional rocks poking their heads through. There are numerous tops of tree branches reaching skyward a few feet out of the snow here and there. Can you say "In over your head?" Well, again, ours not to reason why. I tell myself there is no going back. Push to new barriers. Expand horizons. Be confident!

Confidence disappears in the first 30 meters of the descent. The moguls are bad enough, the ice makes them impossible. My friend Jean-Paul, expert snowboarder, is ahead of me and struggling mightily. I am lurching to and fro, reduced to trying to pick my way through as best I can. At first I am insane and confident and brave enough to think I can ski this. I zig and zag and attempt to look ahead for the future mogul turns. Problem is the ice and trees here and there have other plans.

I pick up too much speed as I get hurled downhill, lurching and leaping from mogul to valley to mogul to out of control to up on a mogul and scraping rock and spinning to a crash as my right ski gets caught on a branch and snags my right leg back uphill while my left leg is determined to attack downhill. Off comes the right ski and down I go on my back head first sliding down the steep slope. Sliding and sliding, remembering the rule of the slopes as it all happens in slow motion, to get my ski downhill and plant it to stop the slide. My fear is hitting the top of some rock sticking up. I slide onward. Then manage to slow and stop myself.

Jean-Paul is watching the spectacle from far down the valley, barely visible - a speck lying on his back where there is a brief leveling out about 800 meters distant. I look uphill. Lying on my back. My right ski is back up the hill, taunting me. Half of it sticks out over the top of a mogul about ten feet high. The sides of the mogul are chopped off like the sides of an ice cube. The ski sits there about 20 meters uphill from me. It marks the beginning of my backwards parade. It occurs to me that a task lies ahead of me. There is no one in sight coming down the hill to help. Few are dumb enough to attempt this piste.

I feel a growing rage at my friend who has reminded me that he often loses all sense of sanity and judgment when he gets on the slopes. I stand up. I look down at him, shaking my head. I begin to plant my left ski and my right boot and laboriously make my way inch by inch back up toward the taunting ski. My ski keeps slipping on the ice as I try to edge it on the steep slope. My boot has to be slammed into the ice and snow to gain any purchase. One step at a time I go toward the ski.

Twenty minutes later, and many deep breaths and bad words later, I am now standing beneath the ski. I cannot reach it. It sticks out above me about ten feet. Every effort to plant my foot and get up the side of the mogul has been defeated.

Here comes a skier from above. He is clearly an expert. Good enough to battle through the elements without defeat. He is kind enough to ski over, grin, reach down and hand me my ski. The look on his French face tells me he is thinking, "How stupid are you to be on this slope?"

Now I manage to overcome the struggle to get the ski back on my foot on the icy slope. 800 meters of treachery lie ahead before I get to the halfway mark down the slope. I determine to simply side slip slowly and cautiously rather than risk injury. This is easier thought than done.

Thirty minutes later, and many an out of control zoom from mogul to mogul, I am standing next to my friend. He is repeating these words, "Sorry, sorry, sorry, these conditions are terrible. Last time I was here it was different, sorry.” I appreciate his sentiment. My aching knees beg to offer him choice words. The thought we still must negotiate the rest of this piste humbles me into remaining silent.

Les Portes du Soleil is a large region of the Alps (Chablais Alps) encompassing thirteen resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland, popular for skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports. The region offers 650 km of marked pistes and about 201 lifts in total, spread over 14 valleys and about 400 square miles (1036 square km).

As with many other Alpine ski resorts, the lower slopes of the Portes du Soleil have their snow pack supplemented by snow-making canons to extend the ski-able season by keeping the lower slopes open during the warmer months.

A wide variety of accommodation for tourists exists in the Portes du Soleil region. From large ski-hotels to independently owned chalets, the wide variety of resorts offers something for all.

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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK

FEEDBACK FOR JULIO

The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.

Julio

* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!

Cheers

--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in responding...you had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy

FEEDBACK FOR NINO

I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA

FEEDBACK FOR RUSH & CHUCK

Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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