Sciences of travel

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Alpine Skiing

La Thuile: The Best Skiing in both France and Italy

Contrary to popular belief, ski instructing is not an easy job. Its fun but not necessarily easy. First of all, you’re in charge of ten skiers whose aptitudes are unknown to you. There’s one general rule concerning their abilities: if they say they are advanced they’re usually intermediates; if they say they’re intermediate they’re usually beginners; and if they say they are beginners they usually have never put on a pair of skis in their life.  Over the next four hours you spend about an hour-and-a-half standing around: someone has lost a glove, someone needs the toilet, someone has the giggles and can’t go on, etc. At the end of the afternoon you have about one hour to ski on your own – which isn’t a lot if the lift lines are miles long. You grab the last cable car to town just in time to get in a happy-hour beer – and that slides you into a coma. You trudge off to the hotel for a quick shower, dinner and a nice book before passing out like a toddler on a road trip. If you’re younger than 27 of course you’ll go out, get wrecked, and pay the price the next day. But hey, that’s your business. I like to sleep at night since I know I have to do the same thing all over the next day.

The busy week is the reason why we ski on Sunday. Sunday is the official day off and no matter how shattered legs and minds can be from the prior week, we rally to wake up early, get the boots on and spend a day skiing – preferably at another resort. So Kenny, Steve and I went to La Thuile: 30 minutes from Courmayeur by bus where the skiing was top-notch. Situated along the French-Italian border in the Aosta Valley, it is a huge resort connected to La Rosière on the French side (just above Bourg St. Maurice on the South-facing side of the mountain). What does this mean? It means 150km of piste as well as some of the most spectacular off-piste in the Aosta Valley (in my humble opinion). You can get a ski pass for both sides (read: the whole mountain) but keep an eye on the weather: at 2650m the top of the Piccolo San Bernard has been known to host zero visibility conditions,  strong winds and winter storms. In the summertime you can cross the Petit St. Bernard with hundreds of cyclists looking to imitate the Tour de France racers (the “Grande Boucle” came though last year touching the Grand St. Bernard on the other side of the valley and then the Petit St. Bernard all in one day). Regardless of the season the Piccolo San Bernardo is a great place to hang out for outdoor fun.

Getting to La Thuile is easy: there are numerous buses from Courmayeur and Aosta that go directly up to the ski station or drop you off in Pré St. Didier from where you can take a second bus up the mountain. I would link in the schedules here but SAVDA (public bus system) hasn’t updated them online. The buses run about 30-45 minutes apart. Just don’t travel on Sundays or around lunch time – you may get stuck for a few hours.

When in Pré St. Didier stop by the Tennis Bar (owned by Stefano Amatori). You’ll find it chock full of skiers enjoying an après-ski afternoon/evening/late night and Stefano plays some of the greatest music including Warren Zevon, Boston, and Blue Oyster Cult (well I think it’s great). The Tennis Bar is a good time if you’re on your way out of – or into – La Thuile. We were able to stop there on the last night of our stay in Courmayeur. The video below documents our “fun-day” of skiing without students in La Thuile. It’s nothing more than a neat little film and a good memory I shared with some excellent friends. I hope you enjoy it.

Come to Courmayeur

MonteBianco2-300x225This is Courmayeur http://www.courmayeur-montblanc.com/en/: the Italian equivalent to Chamonix, but a little more real. It is the last village in Italy before the Mont Blanc tunnel and driving underneath the legendary mountain of the same name. The mountain itself (4810m) is the largest in Western Europe and when approaching it from either side, it’s immensity is breath-taking. I have come through the tunnel over 100 times in the past four years and I slow down to appreciate its beauty during sunny and cloudy skies. As a result of its remoteness, the countryside is stunning yet internet connections are few and far between (apologies for this late post). I have been ski instructing for the past few days in Courmayeur and have been able to get to an Internet café once every two nights or so (sometimes the grolla gets in the way). Since the resort is one of the most popular ski destinations with Italians, it also has its share of high prices. But if you know where to go – and where not to go – you can avoid the trouble spots and enjoy an exceptional ski vacation under the shadow of this majestic mountain. For example, the Bar delle Guide in the village is worth avoiding (yet I’d suggest using it for the Internet). The drinks are expensive yet the couches and exposed wood make it a nice area to sit back and answer emails or start tweeting. After eleven o’clock the music gets louder and the tourists start laughing loudly in their native tongue. On the other side of the town (via Roma) you’ll find Bar Roma and they have an interesting twist on the après-ski activity: they serve delicious hors d’oeuvres and you can relax on comfortable sofas near a fire in the entrance way. Its not a loud ski bar, but a calm place to enjoy a glass of local Petit Rouge, Torrete or even Morellino di Scanscano (my favorite) for a few euros with all the appetizers you can eat (from oven roasted potatoes to cold pasta salad to vegetable frittata). When on the hill, make sure to grab the pizza from Il Cantuccio at the top of the Checrouit gondola – large slices covered with cheese certain to appease any mountain appetite. But be careful during the weekends: that’s when the Italians hit the slopes and the lines to the register are infinite. Towards the end of the day, grab a vin chaud – hot spiced wine – from the Bar du Soleil in Plan Checrouit. They make the best on the mountain. There is no pretense along the Courmayeur slopes. In fact, you’ll find that the ski area is often less expensive than the town itself (that’s mainly because most people come here to be seen but don’t actually ski). So go hit the slopes, and leave the beautiful people in the town for your evening people watching events.

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