Tag Archives: ski resort

Skiing another side of Serre Chevalier…

Skier on piste above mountain backdrop
The Parc National des Ecrins creates a dramatic backdrop to skiing in Serre Chevalier.

If you’ve seen our Resort Review of Serre Chevalier then you’ll know that although the stats, etc., are all there, my first visit (a great Press Trip kindly hosted by British ski operator Erna Low) had only allowed time to discover part of this vast ski area near Briançon, in the Hautes-Alpes. But I’d already seen more than enough to want to get back as soon as possible and see just what else I’d missed.

It took awhile, but a few days ago we finally drove cautiously over the windswept Col du Lauteret (freshly reopened after the huge snowfalls which had swept in during our stay in l’Alpe d’Huez) and dropped down through le Monêtier-les-Bains to the village of Chantemerle.

I’ll recount the story in more detail in our forthcoming update of the Review on mountainpassions.com , but I can tell you that we’re more than glad we came. Snow conditions had held up well, thanks to low temperatures, as we joined both new arrivals and locals alike and headed up the mountain for our own Ski Sunday. Nothing compares to being there, with the wind in your hair and the skis running smoothly beneath your feet.

Our plan was simple: head up above Chantemerle and work our way westwards across to the sector above Briançon. Getting around proved equally straightforward, thanks to clear new signage and a capable modern lift system. There’s even a smartphone app (for both iOS and Android, for once) to help you find your way, map your progress and more besides.

As it turned out, our route would be influenced by the steadily-strengthening winds blowing in from the southeast (Provence and le Mistral are not far away) which discouraged us from hanging around on higher, more exposed sections – just long enough to shoot some images of the literally breathtaking panoramas spread enticingly before us. So, while the weather held we took a bracing plunge down to join Le Chemin, a Green-graded cruise (one of the best scenic runs we can recall) all the way round to the Prorel gondola lift which hauls skiers smoothly up from one of our favourite French towns. So before heading back up and working our way back to Chantemerle we enjoyed the perfect overview during a relaxed lunch from the sun terrace of the Pré Loup restaurant, right beside the lift mid-station.

Our base in Chantemerle was a spacious 4* apartment in the Résidence L‘Adret, for which we thank our good friends at Ski Specialists Peak Retreats.

Epic snowfalls in l’Alpe d’Huez

View of exterior after heavy overnight snowfalls
The accumulations of twenty-four hours' snowfalls make the Cristal de l'Alpe an even more handsome addition to the heart of l'Alpe d'Huez.

If anyone tries to tell you that this season’s snowfalls in the French Alps are less than gratifying just point them at the live images from the various webcams dotted around les Grandes-Rousses (Isère). In fact, conditions were already good when arrived in the major-league ski station of l’Alpe d’Huez to fulfil an invitation to join the press launch of MGM Constructeur’s latest creation: the Cristal de l’Alpe. Both the elegant new self-catering apartment development and its high-altitude setting looked a picture beneath the kind of cloudless skies which tell skiing photographers to make the most of conditions while they can.

So it was that we climbed aboard the cable-car and headed up to the windswept summit of the Pic Blanc to take in the surroundings from a heady 3320m. The Pic also provided us and a steady stream of other like-minded skiers with the launch-point for a truly unforgettable run on the legendary Sarenne piste. Sixteen km and almost 2,000m of vertical drop later, we cruised through the Gorges de la Sarenne with a sense of considerable  achievement. I’ll describe the adventure in more detail in due course, but in the meantime I can look at the images we shot along the way, in perfect conditions, to confirm that we really did do it.

Why? Because the following day things changed dramatically, as a weather front moved in, bringing with it heavy and sustained snowfalls for the next twenty-four hours or so. Needless to say, Sarenne closed while the grooming crews prioritised the more-frequented terrain closer to the village. So, a classic case of ‘use it before you lose it…’

Oz-en-Oisans: a heart of pure snow…

You can walk peacefully or even ski through the car-free heart of Oz-en-Oisans.

There’s something very special about ski resorts through which you can ski, rather than drive. In Oz cars are parked discretely out of sight, leaving the the village blissfully uncluttered and free to do what it does best: look good and provide a very pleasant base for skiers keen to explore the huge ski area around l’Alpe d’Huez.

It owes much of its attractive appearance to the fact that it developed after the initial wave of purpose-built ski village construction, which means, among other things, that the scale of chalet-style apartment accommodation is reassuringly human. Then there’s the odd colourful touch here and there, creating an ambiance which puts us in mind of better-looking Canadian resorts like Tremblant or Sun Peaks. The similarities are reinforced by plentiful tree-planting on the surrounding mountainsides.

Which brings us to the skiing. A couple of small draglifts serve one of the safest and most centrally-located debutante areas we’ve seen, but heading up the mountain is a civilized affair, with a choice of two high-capacity gondola lifts. Whichever one you choose, the ride will be steep and the views satisfyingly dramatic. When you finally emerge the possibilities in this huge ski area are near-limitless, despite which getting around is refreshingly straightforward (you’ll struggle to get lost here).

Which isn’t to say that the local runs aren’t well worth exploring. When you do you’ll find the Blue- or Red-graded return plunges back to the village stimulating, with a few steeps here and there if you want them (we did, and had a great time powering our way down determinedly). And since the valley is deep the morning and afternoon shade helps preserve the snow cover and quality.

Downsides? None. really, unless you’re a party animal (in which case you’ll already be in ‘Alpe d’Huez), apart from a puzzling lack of free wifi access points in the bars (even the Tourist Office network carries a charge). All in all, a solid choice for family skiers.

We stayed in a self-catering apartment at the Chalet des Neiges – our  thanks to our good friends at award-winning ski operator Peak Retreats: www.peakretreats.co.uk

Grand Massif, French Alps

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Grand Massif, French Alps, a set on Flickr.

Here are a selection of images taken over several visits to the Grand Massif ski area in the Northern French Alps. You can find our full resort reviews by following these links to Samoëns, Les Carroz, and Flaine.

All images © Roger Moss, MountainPassions.com

Serre Chevalier in Pictures

MountainPassions brings you a selection of winter images from the Serre Chevalier ski resort in the Hautes-Alpes. Just click on any image to view the gallery. For a full and independent resort review visit our website.

Ski resort smartphone apps take off…

The apps market for activities and sports has seen a phenomenal rate of growth in the past year. With around 31% of the UK population now owning a smartphone (Ipsos MediaCT Technology Tracker), and a massive 60.8 million subscribers in the EU-5 (UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) – a rise of 41% between 2009 and 2010 (comScore, June 2010), it’s no surprise that mobile services are becoming so popular.

Meribel iPhone app piste map Already, there’s hardly a ski area in the French Alps not covered by a smartphone app. The apps have a range of services for skiers including resort and weather information, livecams, events and entertainment information – and for those with GPS, a useful tool to record your personal skiing statistics. And the apps aren’t just for the winter. Montgenèvre has introduced summer activities to theirs, which is useful for summer visitors,  particularly cyclists.

So what, you might wonder, has spurred such a remarkably speedy emergence of the resort app? Well, alongside local investment there’s European money available, which aims to help create mobile applications and useful services for European citizens, as well as tourists visiting the EU. Access to subsidies (up to 45%) for research, development and innovation through the Proxima Mobile European scheme has not gone unnoticed by European ski resorts. And since the services must be accessible to everyone, the apps remain free of charge. Albertville-based company Lumiplan Montagne has quickly dominated the  mobile scene by developing a ski resort app formula now familiar to keen skiers and industry watchers. Meribel iPhone app menuThe company is also responsible for the innovation of further real-time technologies on the slopes, including the latest generation of  livecams, dynamic piste plans and scrolling information at ski-lift loading areas. Rivals in the ski resort app market include Infomedia Services, who produce popular apps for Skinets.com, delivering an independent information resource for 13 of the largest Alpine resorts and retailing at less than 1 Euro per app.

Clearly, the developments won’t stop there – and with a youthful demographic among smartphone users, the real winners in the marketplace look like being skiing and winter sports themselves. Which begs the question: will mountain areas be able to capitalize on the technology to entice more summer visitors? Our bet is that they will – with walkers, cyclists and mountain-bikers squarely in their sights. In fact, the apps are already out there…