Every ski area should have a medieval church
I’m surrounded by red wine, parmesan cheese, and just about all the other amenities that serious blogging requires.
As fantastic as my Olympic experience has been so far, I have to say that my break day put the rest to shame.
After renting a snowboard on Tuesday, and with a mission to avoid buses at all costs, I took the cable car down from San Sicario to Cesana, where I put my snowboard on while standing in a dirt lot and got on the lift that would eventually get me to the ski area of Claviere.
There are a series of ski areas all interconnected here – the whole system is called the Via Lattea (Milky Way), and it includes San Sicario (women’s speed ski venue), Sestriere (men’s alpine venue), Sauze d’Oulx (freestyle) and Claviere. Sestriere and San Sicario are entirely closed to the public until after the Games – Feb. 27.
The strange looks told me that snowboards are still a relatively new phenomenon around here – which the bindings on my rental board (the world’s first snowboard bindings), could attest too. The next lift I got on went over a forest covered in beautiful powder. There were a few tracks through it, which is all it took for me to know where my first run in three weeks would take me.
Even from the lift, I could see there were stumps and rocks poking out of the white, and while a solid foot and a half of snow had fallen, I certainly hadn’t forgotten what the base situation (brown) looked like around here two weeks ago.
Fundamentally, there are many wonderful things about skiing in Europe. I speak from two weeks of experience I had in another area in the French-Italian Alps. The first thing is that not many European skiers seem to cherish stashes of powder like we do. Even at 3 p.m. the day after a great snowfall, I found all sorts of barely tracked fresh snow (and happily avoided all of those obstacles). The other big thing is that at Alpen ski areas, one finds a bar at the top of every chairlift. A pack of raucous Europeans can be found standing at the bar at any time of day sipping hot mulled wine. Why American ski areas haven’t caught onto the beauty (not to mention obvious popularity) of this idea is beyond me.
As I made my way down to Claviere for lunch, I was met by the sight of a medieval stone church perched dead center at the base area. The Olympic flame burned in front of it. Surreal.
I met my friend Tony, who is staying in Claviere. We had lunch at small pizzeria owned by a family he had already befriended on many post-event visits.
The restaurant featured a dazzling machine containing two canisters of swirling chocolate ” one white and one brown ” but I was too full to indulge after a huge pizza .
Still hell-bent on bus avoidance, I took a sketchy-looking Cat walk that appeared to lead down the top of Claviere to Cesana. I was comforted when a pack of Brits showed up aimed in the same direction. I was the only one of our pack to leap into the woods at one point to cut off a switchback. Although there were no ropes and no fence, I suddenly shot passed a sign that read “valanga” (avalanche).
Fantastic. I was going to die in the woods at an obscure Italian resort and my rotting body would be found in spring and I would be lumped into the list of shameless snowboarders along with Lindsey Jacobellis.
Dodging all sorts of fallen trees and snow-covered humps, I suddenly dropped off a retaining wall made of individual stones – surely dating back a couple hundred years ” and back onto the road. I immediately thought of Kristina Koznick (who did the same thing two weeks ago and partially tore ligaments in her knee, but will still compete in slalom today). The Brits shot by me and I was on my way again.
After returning my board to the rental shop, I attempted to go through security at San Sicario, thinking I could pop into the press center and make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
I found the place half-demolished.
Monday’s super-G was the last event at this venue, and while it appeared to have taken the Italians eight years up to the very last minute to build the place, they had no problem tearing it down in a matter of hours.
Guess it’s going to get quieter than ever around here …
Did I mention how good the wine and cheese are?