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Bad experience with kids ski school ( ESF) on a Clubmed holida

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
@peanuthead, yes, this indeed happens - but the OP's story is one of a school saying that they will do certain things and then failing so to do, and then behaving very aggressively. The expense of a skiing vacation and wasting valuable time on the snow means that the OP is absolutely right, in my view, to be very upset. And she also talks about the adverse impact on her son's skiing. A good school indeed moves children up and down, attending to the dynamic of each group, and whether the child is content with her/his peers in the group. I sit with Yves in the Swiss Mountain Sports office as he works through to late in the evening each day, adjusting all the next day's allocations and using the instructor reports and feedback to get children into the right group. All instructors report in at the end of the day with group evaluations. At lunchtime, Yves is on the hill doing immediate reallocations for the afternoon or reallocating during session if problems occur, including very tiny ones with separation anxiety.

This last one upsets me a lot if a school does nothing. At Christmas I saw a chain of 10 kids from ESS, with two crying loudly, obviously having a terrible time. Fine for five minutes, it happens. But I saw them a number of times over the morning, and the same children were very upset. Miserable experience for them. One was simply very cold, I think, looking at them. Not OK.

But back to your point PNH - a leading British youth coach (now based in Courchevel) told me over a coffee of one of his worst experiences with a parent, when he was coaching a British youth. The parent had very high aspirations for his offspring and they did a lot of domestic and Alpine training. He was placing second and first in many local competitions. The coach took him on and gave him really intensive training. And he is a internationally-recognised top coach, so grief he knows what he is talking about; he is a superb instructor. After many months, the parent enthusiastically asked for an evaluation. The coach was straightforward and sensitive, and said the gate times would place the boy in the top ten of British competition, but would be at the bottom of any international field. The father exploded. He withdrew the child from coaching immediately. A year later, the father appeared at an event and showed the coach the boys times - '...you were completely wrong about my child, look at how his times have improved....' all done very aggressively. He looked at the times. They would put the boy in the very bottom of the field in any international competition. All very sad for everyone. The coach was upset about it and it stuck with him.

In our own family, my son could easily compete and put in very high GS and SL placings. His facility on ice is stunning. Two national coaches (non-UK) took me aside and wanted him, at the age of 9. They had seen him on the hill and chased him and his instructor down. I discussed it with Yves and my partner, and we decided that being UK based meant a very different kind of commitment to the opportunities for training when one is Alpine based. We have had experience of friends' children in Olympic selection and know the issues and commitments. So I discussed it with Alex himself. I outlined what it would involve, and how injury could set everything back, and why and how he enjoyed skiing. He said 'no, I will carry on with what I do now, and will carry on with the coaching I get now'. And that's what he's done. He has continued to improve at an extraordinary pace, but without the pressures and problem of identity fixed in one thing. Parents who live their own expectations through their children can do a lot of damage - I have seen this many times, in skiing, in mountain-biking and other contexts.
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IMO. A skiing holiday, should be a holiday. This means, especially for kids, ski school should not feel like Conscription, Borstal or a Boot Camp.

Of course the safety of the kids should be a major priority (along with the aligning of standards), but how you go about this is key.

IME. Enjoyment is paramount to learning for a lot of kids. Remove that and misery often follows. The kids aren't being prepared for the national squad, they are there to enjoy the holiday, learn to ski in a friendly and understanding environment and give the parents some "Ski Time".
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
From experience, kids can indeed regress if placed in the wrong group, especially if you put them in a large group and they are stuck on a boring piste. Fortunately I also have experience with good instructors mending damage (especially returning the joy to skiing)
Club med groups seem to be even worse than regular ESF regarding group size even in low season, IME
ESF handled this case badly. Yes, they have a duty to ensure safety and the boy wasn't listening, but I'd venture a guess that the size of the group had something to do with how patient the instructor was. Also, clearly stating the reason for the change of groups and that the decision was final would have enabled the parents to make adjustments (private instruction, family skiing etc)/ It is supposed to be FUN, after all
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Maybe I'm a bit one-eyed about it, but I can't stand ESF.

An instructor shouting "Follow me", then skiing off doing immaculate turns, whilst oblivious to the ensuing carnage behind...

Maybe they are better now, but the arrogance of their approach has never left me.
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My kids had good and bad experiences with ESF. Some of the bad experiences were due to the children not the instructor. I don't think it is fair to tar them all with the same brush. They certainly didn't always have 'follow me' classes.
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No, not trying to tar them all...as with any school, there will be good and bad instructors/experiences. And, as you say, there will be lots of things affecting how sessions look and feel.

I'd just never look to book them for lessons for my offspring.

It's just a personal choice, but if you've received bad service/quality, you tend to look elsewhere in the future.
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@valais2, thank you very much again for your support. Just wanted to point out that my only aspiration for my son is to have fun skiing and keep developing his ability, so that we can all enjoy it as a nice family hobby. Not aiming for Olympic level anytime soon Wink So my upset is mainly that while he enjoyed the holiday as a whole ( being with his friends , kids club etc) , he was very demotivated in his ski lessons due to the situation described.. and I just hope it will not put him off skiing in the long run.
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@Bella2015 Clearly ESF did not communicate well with you. After starting in 1*, he struggled so was moved down a group, which makes sense. You then spoke to the head who agreed to move him back up, but I can't see how he was in a position to make that decision - he would first need to speak to the instructors who had seen him ski.

When your husband spoke to the 1* instructor you said "She also spoke about our child with such animosity that we were really taken aback." If that's the case, why would you want to move your child into her group? Surely he's better off with a friendly instructor, even if it's not the perfect group for his ability level.

I think you're putting too much weight into the group names. Whatever group he's in he'll be spending time on his skis learning what happens when he does different things. A lower group may focus on the basics, but that's still useful experience, and if he sticks with one instructor they will get to know him and can see what he needs to focus on.
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@thelem, good point that he was probably better off with a friendly instructor... even if he was stuck on nursery slopes for best part of the week.
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@Bella2015, ...I think you have exactly the right aspiration - an enjoyable vacation combined with development in skiing ability. Spot on.
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@Bella2015, Bella...I mentioned that I had sent your story to my friend Yves who runs Swiss Mountain Sports in Crans Montana - he was really bothered by your experience, and so has asked me to post this to you:

I had the opportunity to read the story of your bad experience in Tignes, and as a ski school director - Swiss Mountain Sports in Crans-Montana - I'm sorry for you, and especially for your children who will no doubt have looked forward to his holiday and skiing... for many weeks before your arrival on the mountain. I do not want to comment too much on what happened, but we know it to be a familiar problem in 'traditional' ski schools.

A school director or manager needs to find solutions, and with professional effort, we can achieve it, even in complex situations. These bad experiences go beyond country borders and touch Switzerland too - we see the same problems, often dividing 'traditional' schools and 'new' schools. Note that in Switzerland, all schools are private, and all are official, even if schools labeled 'ESS' (... traditional) try to communicate the opposite.

The problem very often comes from the fact that parents do not always realize what is happening on the slopes - having skied for the morning or afternoon, leaving their children in class, they have no direct experience of the quality of the instruction.


As Director, I take direct care of all elements of my school, by spending time on the mountain at the beginning of our classes - ensuring allocations are working, observing the groups - and spend much of the day on the mountain and on the phone at the same time, making sure that all groups are working well.

I often hope that the parents of the children of the classes of our competitors see what happens in our school... We know, by the way, that we get many clients who have a bad experience elsewhere and then see the difference in the way in which we run our school. Perhaps I regularly should go to thank our competitors for their approach to managing their courses and organization: they do our best marketing! Really. For those who have a bad experience with ESS or, as for you, ESF, I recommend you try these few 'new' schools which, very often, do excellent work and have a very different approach - far more client-centred, far more progressive in terms of models of instruction. You may pay a little more (... but not necessarily), but at the end of the week, your children will have skied more and certainly made real progress ... At the end of a few days' instruction, parents are often amazed at the progress made by their children, a product of the coaching and instructing models which we use. Without doubt, this is one of the key reasons that we record a customer loyalty rate above 75%. And when a problem arises - it happens - we always try to find a solution, and we would not, as happened to you, blame our customers. It is up to us, ski & snowboard school directors, to find a solution, not our customers!

We absolutely focus on the needs of clients - these are the objectives which drive what we do, nothing else ... we simply focus on the interest of each child and their technical skills. Really...it's obvious and simple...and we put in a lot of effort to make sure it happens.

Y. Caillet / Swiss Mountain Sports - www.sms04.ch
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@valais2, thank you. Your friend Yves and his school sound really great and seem to be doing something right by focusing on the most important thing (something that big schools maybe failing at)... really appreciate yours and his kind attention. Hopefully will get to meet him one day if we go to that area.
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
NickYoung wrote:
Maybe I'm a bit one-eyed about it, but I can't stand ESF.

An instructor shouting "Follow me", then skiing off doing immaculate turns, whilst oblivious to the ensuing carnage behind...

Maybe they are better now, but the arrogance of their approach has never left me.


This is my experience over 4-5 years of group lessons in the late 80s - early 90s. I also experienced that if they don't have at least 5(?) people in that level, they cancel that group and shift people up or down. It led to me being in an advanced group despite being a shaky intermediate, walking a long way around a mountain, being left behind as the main group turned a curve (so the least able in the group was left alone and out of sight - yeah, great leadership skills), eventually leading to a coulouir where we all jumped off. That was the idea anyway. And apparently it was pretty much the only way down. I was shaking with nerves so much that I vomited on the bus later.

Next year Canada; 8 levels, if no-one else turns up for the group you get one to one tuition, and patient and stepped drills, excercises, explanations. THAT's what I call teaching.

Not one cent more from me.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
It's funny how half the threads always turn into just bashing the French rather than an honest examination of what went wrong.

Clearly, as I've said, ESF techniques work well for millions of people. Almost every French person we know is more than happy with ESF, so the problem is cultural expectations and differences. Chalking your bad experiences up to an ESF instructor's "arrogance" is not particularly productive. ESF methods mirror (and are modeled on) many other aspects of French educational and work life.

As with most top-down institutions in French life, they do not adjust easily. As an American, do I wish the ESF were more touchy-feely? Yes. Can I honestly say their methods are wrong? No.

I won't argue that a private lesson taught by someone who is a native speaker of your mother tongue is probably the best way to learn to ski. If you can afford it, that is.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Having put two kids through ski school (not ESF) and watched the experience of others in our parties we have abandoned it and will only ever book private lessons in future. Both my kids felt that they spent a lot of time cold and bored and that certain kids monopolized the sessions they were in, always barging each other out of the way to ski behind the instructor to the exclusion of everyone else. This leaves the less bolshy kids at the back, up the slope and often fishing their colleagues out of the snow. Frankly I don't believe that big holiday class sizes allow the instructors to focus enough on each child and there is a massive trade off going on. It feels like babysitting on skis.

A week spent with us last year saw them come on leaps and bounds and the occasional private lesson to work on technique and get them off piste at some point means they are much more up for coming skiing with us now and aren't dreading class.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
@Spin Doctor, I've come to that conclusion, too. 2 hours of private lessons > 8 hours of group classes!

However, I can't deny that it was nice when our children were younger/less skilled to drop them off every morning for full day ESF classes so I could ski where and how I wanted.

They didn't know any different until this year when we did private lessons! Now, they have the skills to ski with me, so in the end it worked out.
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I have never had a bad Private Lesson with the ESF - it's just the way they handle (some?) Class Lessons....but it has been a long time since I used them, as I now try and use smaller Ski Schools.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Horse poop. If that's aimed at me, I am not bashing the French, I am bashing a consistently poor ethos of "teaching", which is much less teaching and much more "we'll give the clients a nice tour round the mountains for a week and occasionally give them an exercise to make them a bit better". My and others experience on multiple occasions. Last time I was in Canada and paid for a private lesson I got a French instructor. He was EXCELLENT. It is nothing to do with the mother tongue, nothing at all. In one of my daughter's group lessons in Andorra with a Brit instructor she made no technical progress over a week, even if she had fun - I was really disappointed. I've seen on this thread that some people have great experiences with ESF - good. I haven't and I vote with my money.

Teaching is a skill. I'm a martial arts instructor and I have learned and I have taught. I'm also a scientist and have made and watched academic presentations by senior professors at international conferences. I see the same; some people are brilliant at doing but are crap at teaching, they think just because they say something the student should automatically understand, but there is no effort to help them understand. I've seen native speakers who were rubbish and non-natives who were brilliant. One of my best aikido teachers was in Moscow, speaking only Russian; I understood little but the exercises were clear and logical enough to make me progress rapidly. My own students were paying peanuts but I made damn sure each one progressed as fast as possible to the level required, varying the exercise with each student accordingly to make sure they understood. What I didn't do was shout at them or just say "copy me" when clearly they couldn't work out how to.

I dispute "clearly ESF's techniques work well for millions of people". What is clear is that a wealthy, populous nation with the Alps inside its borders manages to produce world class skiers. As do the much smaller Swiss and Austrians with different teaching techniques. That's not causation, that's just a numbers game. My guess is the students who are selected for the elite are not given an instructor who just says "follow me" like the stupid tourists. I've worked for the EU for 20 years and have children in an international school and other colleagues with similar; we have long discussions about the differences in teaching styles, PISA ratings etc.

I am comfortable with my conclusions and I believe they are based on an honest examination of what went wrong.
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Orange200 wrote:
My guess is the students who are selected for the elite are not given an instructor who just says "follow me" like the stupid tourists.
I think the vast majority of those in the national squad (at any level) will be coached via their local ski race club, not via a normal ski school.
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@Orange200, Wasn't aimed at you specifically but at the posters whose implicit accusation is "those weird Frogs hate us and they are abusing our children."

My point about ESF's techniques working...is only to point out that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I don't think it's a "numbers game" -- are you implying that there are millions of other French skiers who gave up in disgust because the ESF mistreated them?

You are certainly entitled to your conclusions; I am not going to gainsay your experiences, and you have the right to spend your money as you see fit. Personally we have had excellent experiences with ESF group lessons getting our kids from ourson to bronze/gold levels with no hiccups, but if money was not an object, I would opt for private lessons, and possibly with an independent teacher, as they are more motivated to deliver better service -- you eat what you kill and all that....
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Mrs endo is booked into group lessons when we go to Whistler, beginner. They have a maximum of 4 students per instructor. Seems reasonable.
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I've only had one week's experience of Club Med lessons with ESF. From what I recall, the kids (then aged about 11 and 9, I guess) found the lessons tough, but their skiing came on well. Adults lessons with Betty were great. She really concentrated on technique, watched what we were doing and insisted that everyone took it in turns to go immediately after her for appropriate line/speed (I seemed to be tail-end Charlie a lot, picking up the fallers...)
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@endoman, Whistler lessons in max 4 groups at £40/hr are the same as I pay for private tuition in France!
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snowdave wrote:
@endoman, Whistler lessons in max 4 groups at £40/hr are the same as I pay for private tuition in France!


yep, very likely, there's no choice though! We have done the lift pass / lesson / rental combo which reduces costs a bit, and yuo get 3 days for the price of 2. So long as it means she's happy it's a cost worth paying.
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Pasigal wrote:
@Orange200, Wasn't aimed at you specifically but at the posters whose implicit accusation is "those weird Frogs hate us and they are abusing our children."


Ha! If I'd interpreted it in that way I would have been right behind you Very Happy
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@Bella2015, I know this won't help immediately but...
After two years of ski school with my children we changed to private tuition. To be fair the ski school was good, but the children felt they were held back and always waiting due to the rest of the class. I opted for them to continue only with private lessons, because they enjoyed the skiing, but were getting frustrated, and i really wanted to be sure that they were into skiing rather than just a holiday, whether that is the correct rational or not I don't care. So, one instructor for both children from morning until 3 pm (we would meet instructor and children for lunch), over four days. The speed of progress was amazing! And it still gave us 3 'til 4, and a little time at lunch, as well as the last two days. A lot of people can be concerned around the cost of private lesson, but look at it as an investment, and look at the results you get with the massively improved instructor:pupil ration. After 2 weeks private we reduced to 2 days for one year, an from then on they always skied with us (or maybe we ski with them). But they are both now very accomplished skiers, confident on anything, and we
as a family have benefited form so many great ski trips ....
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We had a bad experience with group lesson on our first family ski holiday. Not Ski Esprit fault but there was 2 very disruptive children including one who kept hitting my son (who just turned 6 then). I thought my son was exaggerating then but then went to observe a couple of times and saw the other kid kept hitting my son. That really put my son off group lesson. On our 2nd family ski holiday, he begged us for some private lessons. We bought him some as his birthday present. He really loved his private lessons and developed a love of skiing. We never looked back. It might be a bit more expensive but it was definitely worth it with him progressing so well and it also worked well for us as it means we could ski together as a family every afternoon.
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Couple of other points re kids lessons

Kids love making friends and friends they may be major determining factor in how much they enjoy lesson, rather than how their skiing has progressed!

Austria vs France

In ESF classes: 80% of kids are French speaking

In Austria: 40% are German speaking. English is the lingua Franca for the rest. This just makes it easier for English speaking kids

Austrian lessons incorporate hit chocolate stops, and lunch (with desert!). Is it surprising ice cream time with their new friends was some of our kids favourite part of ski lesson?

Our kids preferred Austria, but their skiing definitely progressed more in France
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You know it makes sense.
That should be hot chocolate. But maybe they have hit chocolate stops too
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Here are a couple of videos to backup @peanuthead points on Austrian ski schools. This is Serfaus where we’ve taken our children to for the last 3 years and they love it. Apparently they are the ww gold standard of ski schools. We have one Mini and one Super-Murmli. The videos are a accurate representation although what is missing are the half term crowds which doesn’t seem to interfere with the smallish class sizes of c. 8.


http://youtube.com/v/U99U9cwkQOA


http://youtube.com/v/vt1vxHyOEp0
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 Poster: A snowHead
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[quote="Bella2015"]@Levi215, private lesson would help to get the relevant coaching... as I think for a child who skied all over the resort a year before , to be stuck on nursery slopes for half of the week was a waste of time and money..

Depends what you're paying for i suppose? If you want relevant coaching pay for a private lesson anyway... sounds like discipline was the main reason for your guy not getting relevant coaching? i wouldn't want to manage a group of kids in a generally dangerous environment, regardless of how good they were...
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@Ozboy, @peanuthead, Austrian schools look great! Have not considered going there before. Any good at Christmas or only half term?
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@Levi215, appreciate your point but I think this is getting a bit repetitive...I am sure I have explained already in my previous posts.
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@Bella2015, not really sure what there is to explain... but regardless, hope your next ski trip is more enjoyable for all of you
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Bella2015, it’s available throughout the season.
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@Bella2015, I'm not saying Austria is better!! If your kids skiing progression is important this may be better served in France!
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@Bella2015, I'm not saying Austria is better!! If your kids skiing progression is important this may be better served in France!
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@peanuthead, thank you. progression is important but they should also enjoy...would like to go to Austria one day but we usually go for Christmas and not sure if Austria may be too risky in early season... regarding languages my kids actually can understand French pretty well and can even say a few words when pushed, but prefer English of course.
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@peanuthead, genuinely interested to know why you think kids might progress better in France (apologies if I’ve misread)?
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Having been educated in Europe and learned to ski the European way, I totally get the ESF way. The kids are there to do a job - learn to ski. The reward is that afterwards they can ski with us in the afternoon. Call my a tyrant - I don't really care - pleasure comes after hard graft. If my kids want to ski with us, given we are limited to 21 days a year, then they have to put the effort in. That means listening to what the instructors are saying and doing what they are told to the best of their ability. So far my daughter at the age of 7 is a bronze star, while my son at the age of 4 is on his 1st star, aiming to progress to his 2nd. They get everything they can have when it comes to skiing - all we ask in return is commitment. ESF Samoens have been brilliant so far, and the kids cannot wait to go back for more in February.

The way Club Med have handled it is not good though and I would be interested in the outcome of your complaint.

By the way - I skied Club Med in Chamonix back in Jan 2011. Half-jokingly I took the opportunity for some ski lessons since I had paid for them. That turned into the best week of skiing in my life. We did not get lessons - we got effectively a privately guided off-piste group for a week. Patrick, the ESF Instructor/Guide was also the President of the Club des Sports d'Argentière. I thought I knew Chamonix off-piste, but that was a real eye-opener. Some of the places we went to were pure magic, others were so well hidden that we had tons of pow to ourselves for the day. So it is not all bad with Club Med
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