Italy - Santa Caterina Valfurva
5th April 2019 -
Day 0 – 11pm, Friday 5th April 2019
So after all those months of planning and preparation the wait is over and we find the Woody Ski Family starting to congregate around the coach outside school, hoodies on and bags laden with enough thermals to keep the population of Southern Antarctica warm throughout the coldest of spells.
As we drag the last of the pupils from the Three Pointers, fond farewells are mouthed through the windows as we all clunk-click into our bus seats.
Day 1 – Saturday 6th April 2019
5 past midnight, and after Trevor or was it Terry, our bus, sorry, our coach driver had laid down the law, we set off on our epic journey. The blow up neck pillows aided a couple of hours sleep for most of us before we were rudely awakened by the bright lights of Luton Airport and instructed to put the curtains back to where we had found them.
Luton Airport, not a lot to write home about to be honest, but we glided smoothly through check in and security before having ample time to eat some over-priced average food and take our rightful seats on the EasyJet flight.
It was all becoming too easy and boring to be honest. Where were the dangerous luggage items, last minute check-ins and dashes across the tarmac that we had begun to love from previous years...worry ye not…Italian passport control saved us from an incident free trip.
To say the Italian Carabinieri had one of our adult leaders laid prone on the floor covered by his revolver might be a slight over dramatisation, but never the less it looked like oversight of passing over his new passport details to the travel company might mean him being taken away as an illegal alien ….maybe the Stoneham mediation skills or the promise to “get it right next time” or simply the fact we were a harmless looking school party helped pacify the official and eventually we were allowed to go on our merry way.
Onto another coach, no missing bags or kids (big or small), and off towards the mountains. After a leisurely lunch stop and over 3 hours of straight Italian roads we stared our climb up to Santa Caterina. Encouraged by the singing from the back seat we made our final valley ascent surrounded by a beautiful white landscape…3pm and we are at the Hotel Milano, still yellow on the outside, but enchantingly welcoming on the inside.
At the door we are met by John…not the real John, but Fake John….our guide for the week. Bags dropped off at the hotel, we took the opportunity to nip down to the ski rental shop to get booted and suited. Oh that beautiful sweet smell as we entered through the door, a subtle mix of foot odour, damp snow and board wax, a sure sign we are on a ski holiday and back in Santa Caterina.
Back to the hotel for our first delights of the restaurant’s 4 course meal. A mixed salad starter, pasta, a great tasting pork dish and an ice cream. Filling. After what seemed a forever day, we made our way up to our allocated rooms and crashed……
Day 2 – Sunday 7th April 2019
So on the itinerary, today is down as a quiet day of rest…so in true Woody style we do exactly the opposite. Having dispensed with the burden of equipment fitting already we instead go for a trek in the snow through the woods in the valley beyond the village. After about ¼ mile we spot a playground just off the track and head across only to find the snow is nearly a metre deep and the kids start disappearing up to their waist!!
After much hilarity we struggled on and around the playground area we decide that this would be a perfect spot to hold a snow sculpture competition…from an Easter bunny, to a turtle, and an igloo to a mermaid, the skill and imagination of the kids is amazing. For some reason Mr Stoneham decided to take on all the kids at a snowball fight on his own, needless to say he and lost J, so jubilantly they headed back to the hotel for lunch. Pasta followed by another lovely variation of pork prepared us nicely for the afternoon’s activity….
…2pm and onto a bus into Bormio, and kindly dropped off at the door of the local ice rink. Skates on, penguins on the ice, and the kids all clinging to the edge…but not for long as they find their balance and start speedy around the ice. Skates off, and a short walk into town so we can start a desperate race against time to grab a hot chocolate crepe before heading back up the mountain.
Tea, and we are all prepared for yet another meal of pasta followed by pork, although it was breaded this time, delicious.
A quick change into our wet gear (plus helmets) and we walk over to the bottom of the resort’s slopes for an hour of tobogganing under the floodlights. Long distance records were broken and safety barriers were tested…and that was just by the big kids!! To finish off the evening we had pizzas under the stars. Happy but shattered, we all went back to the hotel to do some much needed pillow hugging before the BIG day tomorrow…
Day 3 – Monday 8th April 2019
…and now for the business end of the holiday…of course some of the party are old hands at this skiing lark but even they set off to the slopes with mixed feelings of somewhere between dread and excitement. Into the ski shop and on with the gear, then a quick photo shoot with their ski pass before venturing onto the fresh white stuff to be assessed. As they gently ski back about 100m to the bottom it is obvious that the kids are all vying for the highest group possible yet some of the big kids are trying to be put in the lowest group possible!!
All sorted, the 3 groups splinter off, with the beginners on the nursey slope and the other 2 groups onto the cable car for the first time.
After some intense morning’s lessons, we all hurried back to the hotel for lunch, yes you guessed it, pasta followed by yet another variety of pork, lovely. Kit on and back to find our instructors, who have been impressed by the quality of the skiing ability across the groups, so much so, that the beginners are taken up the mountain as well…a first in the history of the Woody ski trips, I believe.
Happy, happy faces arrive off the slopes to have an ice cream before it is back to the hotel for tea, pasta followed by…hang on, one of the kids shouts “I think it’s pizza”, oh how wrong they are…yes pork again, thinly sliced, with a tomato sauce on top and some olives, very cleverly disguised as pizza!! As we devour yet another great meal, the buzz of slope stories is an indicator of what a great time we all had today.
But we are not finished yet, despite some wearing legs and aching muscles we all glammed ourselves up and by 8pm we are in a local karaoke bar singing at the top of our voices. Hit after hit were blasted out, including Dancing Queen, Shotgun, Bohemian Rhapsody and that one from Frozen that I won’t admit to knowing the name of. We even had a Boys v Girls sing off (that the boys won of course).
Back home (as the hotel now feels like) and up to our rooms for a much deserved sleep.
Day 4 – Tuesday 9th April 2019
Apparently necessity is the mother of invention, and here is a perfect example…we are in a 3* ski hotel, which if you ever have had the pleasure of skiing you will know tends to be basic, so it was no surprise to hear that there was a small leak in a pipe in one of the room’s showers. Unfortunately, it was dripping and the shower cubicle was amplifying the noise, to the point where it was keeping the room occupants awake…so thinking on their feet, they tied 3 towels together, attached them to the pipe and allowed the water to run down to the basin below…bliss. Well until about 3am when the weight of the sodden towels pulled them loose from the knot at the top and they crashed down to the ground with a massive bang…causing the sleeping occupants to awake believing they were now under attack!!
The drip was fixed during the day.
Anyway, back to the skiing…quite literally…normally the breakfast mood on the second day on the slopes is a good indicator of how the first day went, well everyone was down promptly, ate quickly and before we knew it we were in the queue for the ski lift earlier than ever before…keen? You bet.
A smattering of snow overnight continued through the morning, getting heavier as lunch approached but visibility remained adequate for the group to continue improving their skills on the slopes. A break for lunch, pasta and wait for it...a buffet that including platters of sliced sausages and chips…the kids actually cheered!!
Not only a break from pork but a break in the weather saw the sun come out for the afternoon. The kids all continue to progress and the falls become fewer and fewer, although the button lift is still a challenge.
Tea…and the pasta is followed by chicken and chips…we now believe we have actually eaten all the pork in the whole region, although this is followed by what can be best described a poor imitation of a 1970’s flat retro arctic roll. The evening is a relatively quiet affair with board games and the inevitable annual showing of Cool Runnings.
Day 5 – Wednesday 10th April 2019
Groundhog day…up at 7am, breakfast 7.30am to 8 am, ready to leave the hotel at 8.15am, kitted up and in the queue by 8.45am, lessons started at 9am…the whole operation runs like clockwork, great for the teachers, but providing absolutely no material for my blogs.
Therefore, a small interlude…the hotel:
As I have already mentioned it is a typical 3* ski hotel, the fittings are limited but functional, the facilities are limited but adequate and the food is limited but edible. But after 3 years what we have just found out is that it is actually owned by the Catholic church next door, which might explain the answer to the question: “How many Italians does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: 3 + a Priest, one to do the work, one to hold the ladder, one to look miserable and the Priest to administer the last rites if it all goes horribly wrong!!
This also explains the totally new set of staff each year. This year’s group consisting of the guy in reception with the strange taste in shirts, his wife who only ever appeared when there were no guests about, the grandmother who doubled as the door security, the chef on vacation from his pig farm, and our 2 waiters, Ivano and Ivan, with the latter doing a great impression of Manuel from Fawlty Towers…”Shut Up”!!
Sorry I digress, back to the trip…with another fresh fall of snow overnight but clearing skies, the scene around us is beautiful, and the snow is the some of the best we have ever had on the Woody trip. The top group, “The Acrobats” are now flying down black runs, whilst the other 2 groups are steadily climbing higher and higher up the mountain. The mountain weather is unpredictable, with more snow falls as the morning lessons finish.
A buffet lunch with more sausage (hooray), and then back up the slopes with clearing skies, but the new snow has caused the slopes to speed up…great for the daring, and just more snowploughing for the cautious skiers.
Tea is pasta, of course, followed by burger and chips.
The evening see Mrs Stoneham hold a team quiz. The kids are split into 4 teams whilst the big kids form their own splinter team. A picture sheet is followed by a music round (all those hours of letting the kids have Capital on in the car didn’t help the big kids!!) and then a name 7 things round…to finish each team has to devise a handshake and chant. The effort and competitiveness is astounding. With the big kids being disqualified for being too old to matter, the result is tight with only 1 point between first and last, but there is a clear winner…Team Tinkle. Well done everyone.
Day 6 – Thursday 11th April 2019
Race Day…yes all the kids get to do a downhill slalom race today, all officially timed, with a commentator blasting some hilarious pronunciations of our group’s names across the slopes, starting with WOOD LEZ FORD SCHOOOOOL, although he really didn’t have a clue what to say when he got to Niamh (having said that I’m not sure I would!!) and thankfully the misprint Finaly was not a premonition of a last place for him.
The competitiveness shown last night spilt out onto the slalom course, with one eye on the clock, child after child sped down the slope, weaving round the flags, poles tucked under arms, all looking like pros…the instructors looking on, proud of the massive improvements the kids had all made over the last 3 days. We had only one faller out of all the kids, and even then she picked herself up, dusted off the snow and finished the course with her head held high, still a winner.
With the racing over and the results logged for the presentation later, back to the slopes for some more skiing, another buffet lunch down at the hotel before a last hour on the slopes. As the presentation was to be held in the very exclusive 5* Sunny Valley Hotel up at 2700m, the final lessons saw even the lower group skiing at the very top of the mountain… absolutely spectacular.
Now for the reward ceremony, with the instructor handing out the ski badges and cards reflecting the level everyone had achieved we then waited with bated breath as the results were announced in reverse order…everyone could be proud of their times, but the winners were Riley for the lower group, Ella for the intermediates and Amelia for the Acrobats.
Our last tea is pasta, of course, followed by chicken…would happened to all that lovely pork?
One last evening of fun, with the 3 bean bag game, an egg and spoon race that led to a cream egg each and then the awarding of ski names to all...what is wrong with having 2 laptops on a ski trip?
Day 7 – Friday 12th April 2019
Home James, or whatever the coach driver’s name was. For the first time the intensity of the week’s activities started to show collectively and the coach trip down the mountain was a somewhat subdued affair…but after the stop at our regular service station, which to be fair is a gross understatement to what is an excellent little restaurant that produces gorgeous fresh pizza, the mood picked up and the buzz of the coach returned to normal.
Having skirted around Lake Como we arrived at Milan airport in plenty of time to avoid a re-occurrence of last year’s “Airport Dash” that saw us almost chasing the plane down the runway. Security checks weeded out the inevitable bottle of water in a rucksack…”who put that there?”…but apart from that, it was once again a smooth passage onto the plane.
Luton Airport’s appeal had not grown in a week but once again we were blessed with a dull transit through to gate N at the bus station, where Trevor or was it Terry, had told us to wait. Unfortunately, he had not given the same instruction to the new driver who was sat around the corner at gate F wondering where the hell we had got to!! Eventually after several frantic mobile calls we were united (apparently there is only one United, I will let you argue which one it is) and heading back up the M1.
Arriving an hour earlier back at school was a welcome relief for all concerned, especially for Eve who was due to get on another coach at 2am to fly off on another week’s trip, oh to be young and have that energy. All the kids were handed back safe and sound if not a little jaded and the big kids smiled, happy to have been part of yet another wonderfully successful Woody Ski Trip.
Just a small reminder to all that the big kids who do go on these trips it is their holiday as well, so a massive thank you to all of them for giving up their time, plus a special thanks to Mr Stoneham, the architect of it all, without whom none of this would be possible.
This is a view of the ski runs in Santa Caterina Valfura.