The letter from Inglewood was blunt. Lori Mendel needed advice. Where was the best place in France to ski for (1) powder, (2) good, cheap accommodations and (3) single men over 45?
She ended warily and clinched my attention: "Is any of the above possible?"
Possible, Lori? Just ask the French Government Tourist Office, (213) 271-6665, about that certain magic of an oo-la-la Alpine glow. Last I heard, one marriage and two live-ins have resulted from small groups of U.S. ski writers they sent over to report on the motherland.
For starters, fabulous powder (that hasn't been skied off by afternoon) is expected if you head to high-altitude resorts such as Chamonix and Val d'Isere. You've read the tale of dollars in Europe. Superb accommodations in France are cheap again this winter.
Figure from about $1,116 to $2,000 for seven nights in a room to yourself at any of the major resorts, including air fare from Los Angeles, breakfast, taxes and transfers. Lift tickets will cost about $70; a two-star dinner with excellent wines is about $30.
Companies that really know their details include Jet Vacations in New York (800) 223-5450--it sells Air France's ski charters; Ed Maurer of Powder Ski Adventures in Costa Mesa (800) 824-9216; Encore Tours in Miami (800) 327-3615.
That brings us to the crux of your question, Lori, namely where to find available men over 45, which is, as we all know, a challenge in any culture.
A Ready Answer
I posed your problem to a long-divorced, Dick Tracy-jawed 51-year-old Francophile, a contributing editor of Ski magazine with considerable charm.
"Courchevel," he said at once. Why? "It's the yea-yea resort of France." Isn't that silly? If you wanted yea-yea, you could roller-skate on the boardwalk and save your money.
And listen to the upshot of the story. This eligible bachelor spent last winter in Chamonix, which shows you that good men are quite stupid about being found.
The stupendous resorts, the biggest ski areas in the world where you'll find the equivalent of five Grand Tetons with twice the vertical drop are Courchevel, Chamonix and Val d'Isere, and that's where the men gather. The uncrowded slopes are dotted with Americans, Brits, Swedes by the charter planeload, Aussies, anyone who wants the best skiing in the world.
The Elite French
If you prefer adventuring, which I do, Megeve about 30 minutes from Chamonix is where the elite French gather; La Clusaz has a special appeal sitting above Annecy, the Venice of France, and I have danced all night with wild French Canadians at Les Arcs. Just avoid the areas near Grenoble--too many university students. You did specify over 45, didn't you?
But wait, Lori, don't reach for the telephone yet. Location is not always the key element in stacking the male-female ratio in your favor. Big places mean big loneliness if you don't plan carefully. No matter how powdery the snow, French or otherwise, nights alone can be worse than at home.
I am 42, single, and my friends credit me with great courage, because I skied every area in the Andes by myself. It wasn't that brave, to tell you the truth. The areas are all small (read "intimate"), and I arrived with connections to the Club Andino, the Southern Hemisphere's Sierra Club.
Pleasure of Her Company
Which is, more or less, how I ended in Tierra del Fuego one evening with five Argentine Air Force pilots begging me to draw lots to see who could take me out for dinner and dancing while I argued for safety in numbers . . . never mind.
I am shy to be alone in big areas, aren't we all? Walk into a bar or a disco by myself and pretend to be confident? Forget it, not me. I hide in my room and read, unless I'm in a small setting or with a group.
I've had exceptional luck with various kinds of groups, but they haven't been ordinary assemblages. Lori, that's the key to finding an interesting man. The trick is going where they are and the competition isn't.
Good Intermediate Skier
Are you a good intermediate skier? Do you have some guts? Prepare yourself for the delicious luxury of being the one (or possibly one of two or three) woman traveling with 9 or 10 men ages 30-61. To wit:
Les Arcs has an unmatched seven-day altitude skiing program of "hard skiing (24,000 feet of vertical descent during the day) and conviviality at night." What keeps other American women away? They are afraid that they might have to learn to ski the 60-degree steeps. You don't, if you don't want to.
For Les Arcs details, contact Travel Unlimited, Box 309, Mountain Road, Stowe, Vt. 05672, phone (802) 253-8576. The package includes seven nights in an apartment (where you can make your own breakfast), lift passes, ski guide, lunches and dinners. The cost is $580 per person, double occupancy, high season (Jan. 31 through April) $595. The single supplements are $85 and $125.