“Why haven’t we been here before...?” I have a feeling we won’t be the only ones asking themselves just that question as they begin to look around and get their bearings in this relatively little-known corner of the French Alps. It also occurs to me that if any ski resort Directors out there are searching for inspiration as to how best to create a great first impression, they could do a lot worse than look right here.
How does ample free underground car parking for visitors sound? Pretty good, to anyone who has had no choice but to fork out for the exorbitant parking fees often charged elsewhere – we know exactly who does this, and so do you.
Okay, how about discretely-sited escalators to get between different levels in the resort? After all, if you’re in a ski resort then there’s a good chance that you’ll be clumping around in ski-boots, wouldn’t you think? An escalator or two makes life off the snow a whole lot more bearable. Touches like these tell you that the commune of Vaujany not only understands the needs of its visitors but has catered for them. That’s what I call a welcome – the kind you’ll appreciate during every day of your stay here, and which is likely to draw you back again for more.
So, what about the skiing? Speedy access to the near-endless terrain of Alpe d’Huez is a tempting prospect, but until we came we, like everyone else, imagined that to ski here meant taking a giant cable-car up and down the mountain. In fact, that’s only partly true; right now good skiers can ski back down again on a Black-graded piste, and soon there will be a less-challenging descent for intermediates, too. And there’s already plenty of skiing for all levels closer at hand in the Montfrais area (which for some reason is regarded locally as being a beginner area). And all you need to do is hop aboard a high-speed gondola lift which even has a mid-station to pick up those who want to ski back down on Vaujaniate – a beautiful larch-lined cruising piste.
Sadly we’ve now moved on, particularly so as it meant leaving the 5* comforts of our apartment at the Grenier de Germain – heartfelt thanks to our good friends at award-winning ski operator Peak Retreats: www.peakretreats.co.uk
On the upside, our transfer this morning took us just along the valley to Oz-en-Oisans, where first impressions are encouraging, to say the least…
Today sees the publication of Skiing The Edge, a compilation of what Editor Jules Older describes as the work of: ‘great writers, not just great ski writers, and they’re at the top of their game…”
As Editor of MountainPassions.com I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute a chapter. Not being, if I can help it, a near-to-death skier, I hesitated initially, unsure of precisely what I could bring to an exacting brief. And then I recalled an experience which happened to me years ago, while en-route to an appointment with fate in Québec. Or, more precisely, a few days spent learning to ski from zero.
I’ll spare you the details (I know, I’m such a tease), except to report that along the way things didn’t turn out quite as planned. To say the least. Despite which, the trip was a turning-point – once I’d learnt to turn – in my life, for I did indeed become a skier. And at last I’m coming clean about how I very nearly didn’t.
In the book you’ll also share other people’s life-changing moments, whether humorous, humiliating, heart-stopping or bordering on the holy. In short, it’s a great read…
Skiing The Edge is available from Apple iBook Store and Amazon
Ski resorts are finding more and more ways to attract and entertain visitors and this year we’re seeing plenty of new ideas. We recently tried the hugely entertaining Mountain Twister at Les Saisies – a 750 m roller coaster style luge descent suspended high above the mountainside (there’s another called the Monty Express at Montgenèvre which runs for 1400 m). For budding freestylers, there are several new Big Air Bags providing a much-needed soft landing to even the most timid beginner, as at Piau Engaly in the Hautes-Pyrénées. Here they also entertain people at the end of the season with a water splash where it’s best not to stand too close as even the audience ends up getting wet. Among the host of other unusual activities we’ve tried are ski-joering, snow-shoeing, snow-kiting, dog-sledding, and some we haven’t yet plucked up the courage to try such as parascending, speed-riding (Valfréjus), a Tyroléan cable (Orcières), ice-diving (Tignes, Piau Engaly), or ice-driving (Serre Chevalier, Val Thorens). Orcières is a great family resort where you can not only try ice-diving, but you can even spend a night in their igloo village or experience the thrill of dog-sledding. Visit Undiscovered Alps, specialists in multi-activity holidays which can be tailor-made to your requirements.
What’s also become apparent is a growing number of festivals. After Méribel’s hosting of the popular Altitude Comedy Festival, the show moves to a different ski resort each year, while Méribel’s attentions turn to music with its Little World Festival starring well-known international acts and staging over 40 gigs throughout the week. After several successful years the Rock the Pistes music festival in the Portes du Soleil area, has become established taking place in March each year.
While temperatures are thankfully dropping again, the action’s hotting up in the mountains….
The fine weather has followed us to La Rosière, whose snow cover remains surprisingly good despite the long period since the most recent falls. It’s just as well, since we headed off yesterday in high spirits to ski over the Franco-Italian border to La Thuile.
Our previous attempt had been thwarted by mist and high winds, not a happy combination. This time, though, we accomplished all we’d set out to do and more, including a pause for lunch at Lo Riondet, in every sense the definitive Italian mountain restaurant. In summer it’s beside the road over the Petit Saint-Bernard Pass, but in winter the road is transformed into a long, sweeping cruise for skiers heading to La Thuile and the Aosta Valley.
Not that we took it easy all the time, you understand. La Thuile isn’t exactly novice territory, and we dropped in via a steep Black piste and a couple of entertaining Reds which took us through pine forest.
We had a fantastic day, skiing much of the area’s varied piste network, all of which is set among the most dramatic mountain scenery we could wish for. The adventure finally concluded with a glorious run back to France against a lazy, sinking sun.
Once back in La Rosière we knew exactly why this place is so popular with British visitors – and many other nationalities, it seems. And we’ll see a little more of it today, just in case there’s anything essential we missed first time around.
Maybe like us you know the name, but little else about this great ski area in the Maurienne Valley of the French Alps. Well, our knowledge has just expanded considerably, after we spent a day skiing around the varied slopes we’d been itching to try for some time now.
Brilliant sunshine (and a shiny new high-speed gondola lift) minimised the effects of the early morning bitter cold, as we climbed from the village to the Plateau d’Arrondaz. Even before we emerged we knew that we’d found another great snow-magnet, and one which can hang onto what it receives until the next falls.
It didn’t stop there. An onward chairlift haul to the Punta Bagna (2737m) rewarded us with a vast snowy panorama of the surrounding mountains, both French and Italian. If the long-term plan to link to Bardonnechia ever comes to fruition Valfréjus is certain to be one place we’ll all be doing much more than merely hearing about.
As it is, the 65km or so of groomed terrain are varied enough to keep us entertained, and on our toes too – there are some longish steeps to go with the expected Red and Blue-graded cruises. Add a nicely planned (and maintained) village and you see why we’ve come here specifically to add Valfréjus to our expanding list of Independent Resort Reviews.
Next stop: La Rosière – and another foray into Italy.
Today we drove down to Orelle in the Maurienne Valley and took the long ride skywards on the Trois-Vallées Express gondola lift. Around fifteen amazing minutes later we stepped out onto soft powder snow and knew that this was going to be quite a day. And it was; a simple onward chairlift ride took us to an unforgettable overview of Val Thorens.
The sky was steely blue and the quality of the snow beneath our skis confirmed that we had indeed landed in Europe’s highest ski area. For the next few hours we toured the highest peaks, skied some epic descents and found time to enjoy our best-ever on-mountain meal in La Fruiterie.
Working our way back towards our starting point offered an opportunity to ride the Cime de Caron téléphépherique, still the world’s biggest and highest cable-car. From the summit we gazed, awe-struck at our surroundings before blasting down the Black-graded Combe de Rosaël piste. At the bottom, feeling elated at having accomplished this testing descent, we took just one more chairlift ride to ski some of Orelle’s own excellent terrain, before boarding the gondola back down to Orelle. You wouldn’t believe half of what we saw and did, so we’ll be supplying photos – stay tuned…
In case anyone is wondering where all the snow is in the Alps, I can tell you that a major chunk of it is currently lying in Montgenèvre and across the Italian border in the Via Lattea.
We’re primarily here to discover the brand new Chalet des Dolines 4* Résidence in Montgenèvre, as part of a press visit hosted by MGM Constructeur, whose latest creation raises the bar still higher for accommodation in the French Alps.
The skiing is likewise superb. Montgenèvre, had already become our favourite ski area, and today we finally got the chance to ski across the border beyond Clavière, Cesana and Sansicario to reach Sestrière and Sauze d’Oulx. Doing so in the company of Antoine Deneriaz (Men’s Downhill Gold Medallist at the Turin Olympics) was an inspiring, if humbling experience.
Maybe that’s why we covered more distance then we’ve ever packed into a single day’s skiing. Anywhere. The snow, although hard in more exposed areas, was both plentiful and, well… quite beautiful, really. See above.
Tomorrow we do more skiing around Montgenèvre, before departing for Orelle, where we’ll be testing the back-door gondola access to Val Thorens.