Monday, 29 October 2012

saas fee

The kids just finished "half term", a week long holiday that gives everyone a break just when they are all getting settled into the routine of being back at school!   

Driven partly by knowing this is our last go-around living here in Switzerland, but also by our love of all things skiing, Jeff and I decided to take the kids to Saas Fee.  Quite quickly, our family getaway evolved into a larger trip that included Jeff, myself, Katja (a phenomenal ski coach) and a total of 11 kids whose skiing keenness matched our own.  

the group gathers in Saanen

Saas Fee is a vehicle-free village.  We arrived at the village parking lot, left our vehicle and loaded up all our gear into an "elektro" (kind of a cross between an electric golf cart and a small pick up truck or van).  The kids and I wandered through the village to the Hotel Mistral where we were staying.

jeff rides the elektro, loaded up with all our gear

The first morning, we were all a little jumbled.  Sweaty and awkward, we juggled our equipment for the first time in months.  Most of us wore our shoes and carried our boots.  Rookie mistake.  Not only did we have backpacks to carry, but also skis, poles and then heavy boots dangling over our shoulders, whacking everyone around us and sliding to the ground every few minutes.  We staggered our way through two gondolas and then a metro (funicular) - a 45 minute ride that took us from 1800m in the village up to the "top top" where the glacier sits at 3500m.  

lining up for the first gondola

At the top and once we got on our skis, we all felt more "at home" and we were off...

It was quite the scene up there.  Among others, the Swiss, Canadian, French, Spanish, Finnish + Russian teams were training GS, slalom, ski cross, freestyle, boarder cross and even the Canadian para-alpine skiers were there.  Everyone's heads were on swivels, trying to take it all in (even me, I have to admit).   Hard not to be impressed and inspired by the talent and hard work of all those athletes gathered on a single glacier where you could see almost everyone from any vantage point.  Graydon carried a Sharpie in his pocket all week, asking who was who, darting off in search of autographs.  A little shy at first, he made me come with him to say hello to some of the Canadian coaches.  It's always a comfort to connect with people from "back home" and see the red maple leaf.  
Over the four days, we skied hard, did dryland training, tuned our skis, had meetings, explored the village, ate great meals, laughed and enjoyed each others' company, both on and off the glacier.   

Back in Saanen, we were welcomed by snow flurries, turning our vibrant green valley into a winter scene.  Perfect timing.  Our local glacier opens back up this weekend and now, we are ready for the ski season...

Some other pics from the trip...

the village of saas fee

watching the ski cross athletes on their track

the end of a long training day...

swiss speed team technician hard at work in our hotel

esmée eats her lunch in between training runs

Thursday, 11 October 2012

les champignons

On our property in Terra Cotta, there was a circle of mushrooms that grew on our front lawn.  One day, a friendly neighbour stopped by to let us know that they were safe to eat, delicious in fact.  "Thanks very much" we said with polite smiles on our faces, but we didn't cut, cook or eat them.  A week later, I found a mushroom field guide in our mailbox.  Our neighbour had placed post-it notes on the pages indicating the species of mushrooms that we had on our lawn.  Proof of their safety and his helpful advice.  Still we didn't touch them...

When Graydon's teacher asked me if I'd like to come on a mushroom picking trip with his class, I jumped at the opportunity.  Much to the mortification of my children standing beside us, we joked about going on a magic mushroom trip.  We laughed, because of course we were hilarious.  They rolled their eyes and muttered "so embarrassing."  

The truth is that I am intrigued by wild mushrooms, where and how they grow, but mostly how to know which are safe and which are not.  Mushroom aficionados in Ontario are very secretive about their picking spots and they sneak around the countryside loading up their baskets.  I asked a friend once if she'd take me with her to pick Morels and she looked at me, eyes wide, amazed that I'd be so bold to ask.   

While I was being offered a guided exploration, I found that mushroom picking is just as covert here in Switzerland.  Our local expert Sebastien made cracks about blindfolding the adults on the trip as we drove to his favourite picking place.  Not that blindfolds were necessary.  I don't think I'd ever find my way back despite my best attempts to memorise our route - up a road, a sharp right at a barn, past another barn, through a field and up into a small clearing in the woods.  Oh, and there were a river and mountains nearby.  

We had a discussion about mushroom safety and Sebastien was adamant that no one touch or pick anything without his approval.  This was done in a combination of French and English (curriculum multi-tasking) to ensure that everyone knew the rules.  He had made a Dossier Champignons for each of us with illustrations, diagrams, classifications and at the end, a recipe for omelette aux champignons. This was my kind of field trip!

Ms Anne Marie + Sebastien show the parts of the mushroom

Armed with our baskets, bags and dossiers, we followed Sebastien up into the forest.  While there were lots of trees, it felt more like a forest of moss - under foot, the floor was carpeted in both brilliant and drab shades of green and the moss dripped from the trees above.  I am sure that this forest is home to fairies and it was magically quiet.  Quiet, at least, until the first kid spotted a mushroom and then another and another... "M. Sebastien, is this one", "over here, can you look at this?", "can I pick this one?" And so it went, all of us caught up in the fervor of finding the right mushrooms.  My own hopes pinned on the possibility of une omelette aux champignons for dinner.

off we went into the fairy + mushroom forest

We were looking for Chanterelles and another variety called Laccaire Amethyste.  At first, I had a hard time spotting either and was getting rather annoyed by all the twerps who couldn't help but show off how many they had picked.  Even Graydon got a head start after finding a huge patch of Chanterelles when he wandered a few meters away from the pack.  I tried to suppress my competitive spirit and reasoned that, at least his spoils would count towards our family dinner.  Once I found my first few, however, my eyes were able to pick out the purples and oranges in the moss and I became a little obsessed.  Unlike some of the other parents and teachers, I did not offer my findings to any of the kids - I had a family of five to feed after all!

my haul of chanterelles + amethystes

It was a fantastic afternoon.  Who doesn't love a "field trip", especially one that brings all kinds of interesting learning and fun together?  And after combining our efforts, Graydon and I made dinner that night.  Et voila.....