After months of sheltering in place, we started to have family gatherings with only Julie and Albert over the past few weeks. We’re deep into an already short summer, so we decided to break the seal on a vacation together, as things are both opening up and looking a little dicey. Amy and Mike’s family also joined us, which was great because we’re already indirectly part of the same group.
It took us 8 years to use a wedding gift and visit the Carneros Resort. At the time, it was one of my favorite vacations ever, despite me not really being that interested in visiting wine country. After that trip, my dream was to visit once a quarter. Seven years later and we have been back zero times, until this past weekend.
We were all navigating our new normal for seeing friends and vacationing while COVID-19 continues to spread. Most people at home and at the resort abided by wearing masks and/or remaining socially distant. The kids appeared to be a lot more vigilant about it, especially while eating. We all did our best.
This was everyone else’s first time at the resort. Theo continues to prove his worth, necessitating their clan to get a house on property. I didn’t even know they had them, but it was spectacular. It was a tight fit in our little cottage last time when Lucas and Olivia were 4 and 6. It was an even tighter fit now and somehow Lucas still ended up in our bed.
The dining situation was just opening up, so Grace brought up food and supplies to cook dinner for a couple nights, which was fine by everyone. Amy and Mike had a couple adjoining cottages, which was perfect for s’mores in their patio each night. Each morning we did our own thing for breakfast, which was usually carry out from Boon Fly.
On Friday, we borrowed bikes from the resort for a short ride through wine country. Lucas coincidentally had the same exact bike on which he learned to ride two-wheels. He’s on his third Cleary bike, which is a local brand and super awesome. The only bad thing was that it has no gears, which made the hills a challenge. It was kind of hard to complain though as Theo didn’t have any gears either, plus he was riding with a broken arm in a cast. Everyone made it.
Following lunch, we braved the family pool, thinking it would be nap time for at least some of the kids. it was pretty manageable and everyone did their best to remain socially distant. Julie is the mayor of everywhere she goes and the Carneros pool was no exception. She knew everyone there. Grace cooked dinner again at home, which was followed by more s’mores. We had a solid routine.
Saturday’s morning activity was a hike at Bartholomew Park. It was a decent hike with enough elevation to make it challenging and also offer beautiful vistas as the reward. Different parts of the group bit off what they wanted. The dads went to the top. Everyone earned a cool dip in the pool later that afternoon.
It was the 4th of July and Grace managed to get us a reservation at Farm. Our group was so big that they gave us a private room, which opened to the outside and made it al fresco – it was perfect. This was pretty much the first time dining out for everyone in months, which made it that much more appreciated and enjoyable. We hung out again after dinner, but everyone (parents included) were wiped out from all the activity. I don’t think anyone missed it, but we didn’t see any fireworks.
Same as last trip, I woke up before dawn on the last day to take some pictures of the sunrise. The full moon was also setting. I always forget that it takes a little longer for the sun to peak over the hills, so I ended up standing out there for an hour. It was worth it for some quiet time, though I did go back to bed for a bit.
For a lot of reasons, this was a memorable and well-deserved break from life at home (and in home). It was special to be there with our family BFFs (and extended family). We’re just practicing for the commune and scoped out some property to start building.
I’ll say it again that this is a very special place and I’m ready to go back for Labor Day. Even if it ends up being another 7 years, that would be fortunate enough. Stay safe, everyone.
During last year’s West Bloomfield ski trip to Whistler, we discussed doing something more adventurous in 2020 as we are all turning 50 years old (50!). We discussed somewhere in the Alps. I’ve been wanting to ski in Japan, too, but haven’t yet made it happen. As the plans were coming together, the best week for some of the group just happened to be right after the kids’ ski week, which was still a priority for me. Therefore, I told them to just go ahead and plan without me.
After seeing Nick over the holidays, we discussed the trip and inquired with the rest of the team about the details. Grace was super cool with me going. I even talked to my team about my reservations about being gone so long and they encouraged me to press the “F***-it button.” Once I confirmed with the powers that be, Nick and I both made our arrangements to join the trip.
The group had been discussing various itineraries in Europe and had settled on skiing in Austria in St. Anton am Arlberg. There was some consideration for adding another location, but thankfully we avoided a lot of additional logistics by sticking to one spot. Most of the group arrived just before Nick and I met up at the Zürich airport. We were like lost kids once we got to the Zürich Main Station. We had just missed the earlier train by a few minutes, which was fine because it took us about an hour to figure out where to get our tickets (mobile app) and the proper platform, which was more elusive than getting to Hogwarts on 9 3/4.
Once aboard, we settled in for our 2h 20m train ride to St. Anton. It was a shame that it was dark out and that we couldn’t see any of the Swiss and Austrian country-side. Unbeknownst to us, we also passed through Lichtenstein. Even though the walk from the train station to the hotel was short, it was still a huge pain in the ass with us each carrying skis, boots, gear, etc. At the hotel, Mike, Steve, Scott and Herb were already waiting for us. The 25th was Mike’s actual 50th birthday, but we arrived a little too late to celebrate properly.
Every morning, we were treated to a beautiful Tyrolean breakfast at the hotel. It had apparently not snowed for 5-6 weeks, but we were lucky that it just started snowing as we headed out to ski. The weather was so severe that the lifts to the other areas of the mountain were closed. This region is unique in that about 6 different towns/ski areas are all interconnected by trails and lifts, making it one of the top five largest in the world. We were, however, land-locked in St. Anton for a couple days, which mean there were a lot of people to dodge and sometimes long lift lines. I will say that one of the downsides of skiing there is the chaos on the gondola and lift lines. There is just one big crowd that inches their way towards the front, which leads to sharp elbows and an un-relaxed experience.
On the first day, we got caught in a white-out high up on one of the mountains. It would be exaggerating to say zero-visibility, but it was really more like 10 feet. I’ve never experienced anything like it. We got separated and I was just trying to make my way down as fast as possible, which wasn’t very fast. There are signs to mark the trail, presumably for this very situation, but even those were hard to find. At one point, the snow was moving past me so quickly that I thought I was moving backwards, which was completely disorienting. I had no idea where to go or where I was. Thankfully, the group was able to rendezvous lower on the mountain. The rest of group had rescued a young woman who was separated from her family and asked to ski with them. Just 100 yards from a lodge in which we took shelter, we got separated again from Mike and Steve who completely missed it.
Day two was less treacherous. We had lunch on the mountain at a place recommended to us and it was excellent. Even by this time, however, I realized how heavy the food was in Austria, and I couldn’t take another schnitzel, gröstl, burger or frite. I had to opt for a salad for dinner at Fuhrmann-Stube, one of the best restaurants in town.
On the evening before our third day of skiing, it snowed about 11 inches. After skiing another morning in St. Anton, Mike was very curious to try Rendl, the area on the other side of the train tracks. I’m thankful for his persistence because as we headed over there, the skies opened up for a bluebird, knee-deep powder day with the most spectacular scenery. It really can’t be described, but from top of every lift, there was a different breathtaking view and vantage. I was in awe all week.
On the fourth day, we decided to explore more of St. Anton and beyond. We went much higher up on the Valluga lift. Scott has a healthy survival instinct, so he didn’t go, but the reality was he could have easily skied down from there. Once again, there were amazing new views. We skied all the way to Lech, Stuben, and finally down to St. Christophe. Our terrible lunch that day was made up by the best meal of the week at Hazienda. I’ll be honest that I didn’t find the people to be the most hospitable and friendly in town, but our servers at Hazienda couldn’t have been more kind and gracious. I also had one of the best “sandwiches” (beef tenderloin club) of my life.
On day five, it snowed again overnight. Herb headed home after breakfast. It didn’t seem like as much snow, but we went back over to Rendl. We had the most amazing groomer run of the week until we skied into a cloud and low visibility. We decided to head up to the top (Scott excepted), and found blue skies and deep powder. I had one of my best powder runs of my life. I’m not going to lie. It was scary to get over to the fresh snow as there are exposed rocks everywhere off-piste. I had a slight code-brown staring down from the narrow traverse down the steep hill to rocks below. Once we were in the clear, Steve took a little tumble and while we waited for him, I noticed a small avalanche had happened right above his friend, Ramin, who was right above me. I thought it best not to wait and took the ride of my life (thanks for the video, Mike!).
As it warmed up, the snow became a little mashed potatoes and sticky even on-piste. We called it a day a little early to avoid injury and get ready to pack and head out. Our train was surprisingly delayed to get back to Zürich. Despite researching a nice dinner for us in Zürich, it turned out to be better that we didn’t and we ended up just having dinner at our hotel. I headed out by myself for a few minutes before to take some pictures. We also went for a short walk together afterwards and then watched the end of a terrible Michigan game. Spartan-helmet-wearing Nick couldn’t bare to watch for other reasons.
We didn’t have much time on our last morning together. Nick headed out early after breakfast. Steve, Scott, Mike and I took a short walk near our hotel. Steve was staying an extra night and the rest of us took a car to the airport (which was great because I was tired of schlepping all of my gear). The silver lining of being delayed a few hours at the airport was that I was able to process all my photos. Sorry, but I chose the best 143 of them.
This was no doubt our best trip ever. That said, not all of the team could make it, for very good reasons. They were missed. We’re already planning for next year, and while it probably won’t be as epic, with this crew, it will be just as memorable and fun. Here’s to the next 50!
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This crew goes back to Kindergarten/elementary school. We’ve been doing this ski trip for a long time. This year, our birthdays end in a zero, so we leveled up to Austria. It’s been snowing for two days straight and now it’s a bluebird day. I’ve skied a lot, but this is one of the best days ever on any mountain and it’s especially awesome to be here with these guys.