Tag Archives: skiing

Puy Saint-Vincent: don’t tell everyone…

Skier on piste with Puy Saint-Vincent 1600 visible below
Even the highest pistes filter safely back onto sheltered tree-lined return runs.

Why do I love skiing in France – apart, obviously, from having some of the world’s greatest mountain terrain from which to choose? Well, after having visited around fifty French ski resorts (and counting) I’m still surprised at what I discover along the way. A couple of seasons ago we decided to head over to the Southern French Alps, to discover just what most mainstream skiers, who tend to set their sights rather further north, might be missing. Great snowfalls, clear blue skies and unpressured pistes were just some of the things which bowled us over and convinced us that we’d stumbled upon a huge but relatively undiscovered area which deserves to be much better known among leisure skiers.

Places like La Joue du Loup, Superdévoluy, Pra Loup, Foux d’Allos, Les Orres, Orcières, Vars, Risoul, Montgenèvre and Serre Chevalier all revealed to us their own distinct characters, and we’d still only scratched the surface. Obviously it’s just not possible to press on and do it all at once (but we can dream..) and in any case we try to maintain a balance in our resort review coverage. So our first trip of this season would take in just two ski visits in the Hautes-Alpes area: one involved returning to complete unfinished business in Serre Chevalier, and the other would take us to somewhere much smaller nearby, and which had so far eluded us.

The phrase “small is beautiful” could have been penned with Puy Saint-Vincent in mind. The original village, clinging to the sides of a deep valley, is nothing if not authentic, with centuries’-old chalets at every turn. Continue up to the ski villages at 1400, 1600 and 1800m altitude, however, and things begin to look more like a serious ski resort should. Even so, first impressions give little hint of the vertical drop on offer: 1350m or around 4430ft, much of it below the tree-line, where safe glade-skiing opportunities beckon among silent larch and pine forests.
True, the lower villages have much of their accommodation in large units, but in their respective settings they’re not unattractive. Skiers staying in the 1800 village, though, have not only chalet-style architecture but also the welcome bonus of ski-in/ski-out convenience.

We enjoyed our time here, as you’ll see just as soon as our full Resort Review goes live. For now, though, I’ll merely say that while big-league Serre Chevalier grabs all the media attention, its near-neighbour Puy Saint-Vincent quietly gets on with offering great, high-value skiing in a truly beautiful setting…

Our base in Puy Saint-Vincent 1800 was a cosy piste-side apartment in La Dame Blanche, for which we thank SARA and our friends at French Ski Specialists Ski Collection.

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.

Published today, on Amazon and Apple iBook Store: ski writing par excellence…

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

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.

Go Wild Music Festival 2nd-9th April 2011

Go Wild Music Festival, Portes du SoleilOffering something new and a bit different, the Portes du Soleil ski area are sticking their necks out and organising a free music festival. Yes, that’s 10 free concerts –  if you are in possession of a full Portes du Soleil lift pass. Oh yes, you’ll also need a mobile phone…

Unlike other festivals, the programme of concerts will not be released in advance. Festival-goers will receive an SMS alert with details of the location of the gig and the group of the day. All they need do is jump on their skis and head to that day’s venue!

Artists include well-known names in France including The BB Brunes, Guillaume Grand, Joyce Jonathan, Kezia Jones, Jamaica, Inna Modja, Joane Calice, and Madalena – a line-up that’s sure to provide some varied and exciting events. And the venues promise to be as exciting as the music with stunning mountain locations throughout the Portes du Soleil ski area.

In addition to the main headlining acts, Warner Music is selecting a number of bands to play après-ski sets in Portes du Soleil resorts every day of the festival. This is a great chance for new artists and bands to get a name for themselves.  At the end of the festival, the most popular band or artist will be named the Off Festival competition winner. So, to be part of this unique music event, all you have to do is visit the Go Wild Music Festival website and register your details. Then book your ski holiday anywhere in the Portes du Soleil ski area between the 2nd – 9th April 2011 making sure you purchase a full lift pass – your ticket to some fantastic live music in an unbeatable setting.

Mountains of things to do…

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….

Cross-Border Skiing from La Rosière

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.

Our thanks to La Rosière’s Office de Tourisme and to our friends at Ski Collection for organising our visit, including our stay at the excellent 4* Le Refuge. http://www.skicollection.co.uk/Ski/La-Rosiere.htm