The United States Ski Team straggled into the Holiday Inn here Thursday night, ordered a late meal - in English - and settled down after a tough day of training into what a relatively familiar surroundings for them.
Familiar surroundings, however - an American-style hotel, telephones that work, waiters who speak English - are not always easy to find on a World Cup ski circuit that spans three winter months, shuttling for the most part between a dozen Alpine villages in France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Germany.
Yet they are small but important factors affecting the life style and skiing fortunes of past, present and future United States ski teams, including the one that will compete in the World Alpine championships in this Bavarian village this weekend.
The Americans - perhaps more than anyone else among the major ski powers - are foreigners in the annual World Cup competitions that have been going on for the past 11 years.
"They are real pros, but they have very few home games," noted United States team doctor Robert Leach. Only two or three of the several dozen World Cup races each year are in the United States.
"They simply are not at home here," said veteran French skier. "The French, Swiss, Germans, Austrians; they all have the same kind of beds, roads, houses, cars, language.Even what they have for breakfast is pretty much the same.They feel okay anywhere here. Close to home. It's not the same for the Americans. It's like being in a submarine or up in a balloon."
"It's an age-old question," said Hank Tauber, director of the United States Alpine team.
"We've done extremely well in World Cup races in the United States but you can't dwell on it too much because 85 percent of the competition is away - 3,000 miles away across an ocean. So you can't run home to change clothes or do your laundry or visit your girl friend."
Tauber calls it "a little bit of a handicap because you have to find athletes able to cope with a tough and technical sport on foreign terrain that can adapt to an unfriendly environment."
It puts an extra burden on United States skiers - most of whom are in their early 20s "because to be good in the World Cup you've got to be good over three months and it's tough to go beyond a few weeks before you start missing the things from home."
"They miss the milkshakes, American television and its excellent sports coverage, and a telephone system that Americans take for granted because it is so easy at home to call 2,000 miles away but you can be just over the Italian border and can't call 10 miles here.
"We find after two or three years," Tauber said, "that the young racers either adapt to the life style or leave."
That life style is what skiers call, "The White Circus." It is perhaps 1,000 persons - skiers, managers, coaches and manufacturers' representatives - from a score of countries that typically spend two or three days at each race and training site then pack into vans and cars and drive four or five hours through the snow and mountains to the next site.
"We strive to create the American environment wherever we can," says Tauber, in preference to the charming yet claustrophic continental pensions.
"Still, the vagaries won't go away and you need to look for those uniquely talented ones who can also cope with the World Cup environment."
Sweden's amazing slalom champion, 21-year-old Ingemar Stenmark, is away from home about 98 percent of the time and is one of the "unique champions," Tauber said. He is also probably skiing's ultimate loner.
Phil Mahre, the 20-year-old American slalom specialist who is the class of the United States men's team and who Stenmark believes may be his most severe challenger, is one who Tauber feels may also be unique.
Mahre, who has consistently scored near the top through the circuit thus far, "doesn't particularly like it in Europe. But he accepts the idea that if you want to be the best in the world class you've got to adapt and that's why he's so outstanding. Some others haven't made that transition," Tauber said.
The American women's team, said Tauber, has a bevy of new, young performers who seem to "adapt well, eat the food and like the travel thus far."
The United States women are viewed as having more balanced talent than the men, with veteran Olympic bronze medalist Cindy Nelson, a top contender in the downhill and Becky Dorsey, Abbi Fisher and Christin Cooper all turning in good and consistent World Cup performances.
Still, the Americans have not been able to take a first in the major international champions in individual events and some Europeans also wonder whether the Americans are "hungry enough" or train hard enough.
Championship skiers are not national heroes in the United States as they are in Austria or France.
"The Europeans train on the glaciers in the summer and then go to the mountains in the fall. The Americans start so late and even go home for Christmas," said a Frenchman.
Europeans are amazed that Mahre does so well on what for them would be too little training and thus have great respect for his natural talents.
But the American skiers tend to view such talk as mostly European explanations. "I don't think training is a factor. It won't keep us from the top," Tauber said. "We're getting some fine athletes but just haven't had the large numbers. Mahre simply has a different training regime than anyone else. He's still experimenting."