However much we all talk about trying somewhere new — skiing in North America or joining the growing trend that is heading back to our former favourite skiing destination, Austria — most of us will go skiing in France next year. Whether it's the cheap flights, the large selection of chalets, or maybe we just love to visit our neighbours, for some reason we can't help but go back.
So, if we are going to ski in France next season — which nearly a million of us will be — what should we do while we are there? Cruising motorway pistes and heading to snowsure glacial resorts is the norm, but surely there is more to France than that?
Those who ski in North America will tell you that tree-lined skiing is one of the best ways to spend a day on the mountain; they will also tell you tree skiing in France is terrible. Well, they'd be wrong — about the skiing in France bit. Though France doesn't boast gigantic trees and a lot of the skiing is above the tree-line, there are some fantastic spots for tree skiing to be enjoyed — you just have to know where to look.
Tree skiing is great for a whole variety of reasons, but on white-out days, when many people are rolling around on the piste or sat in their chalets, it comes into its own. The trees break up the snow and offer definition, meaning you can see where you are going. They offer protection from the elements while holding the snow — which also means you can find powder stashes days after a dump, if you know where to look.
Tree-lined skiing is also accessible for skiers of all levels. For beginners and more casual skiers there are resort like Les Gets and Serre Chevalier, which offer tree-lined piste skiing, and for the hardened skier there are plenty of resorts offering some great off-the-beaten-track tree-lined back country skiing.
So, with the office filled with dedicated skiers, where do the Iglu ski specialists recommend for the best tree skiing in France?
Easy peasy, Lindaret Treesy — Portes du Soleil:
Anyone ‘in the know’ skiing the Portes du Soleil starts their powder days at the Ardent Gondola. It’s about a 20 min bus schlep from Morzine, but the views along the way — where you see the ice divers in the frozen lake to your right, and then ice waterfalls on the left — more than make up for it. The Ardent gondola takes you to my favourite spot in all the area, the Lindaret plateau. If you are quick enough you can beat the masses heading over from Avoriaz by taking the Lindaret express quad for the best trees run in the northern French Alps. The area is so good that Burton put The Stash — a park built from natural features — right through the middle of it. The Stash alone is a great tree run, but it runs alongside the lift to make sure the park-rat posers get maximum exposure. That’s not the Iglu way. At the top of the quad, traverse high skiers left, go above and passed the big rocks as far as you dare before dropping into the steep, but well-spaced trees. It looks like a dead end from the top, which keeps the tentative away, but there’s lots of little glades to aim for when the trees get tight and some tasty drops for the well insured to have a go at.
AJ, Iglu's Head of Sales and self appointed ski guru.
Prodains Cable Car — Portes du Soleil:
An easy path followed by undulating pistes that looks innocent enough, before the drop to the right into a densely packed tree lined section underneath the cable car. Usually void of any other tracks bar four legged footprints, this section is as picturesque as it is challenging. No 50 metres are the same, some turns so tight a complete standstill is required, some drops so vertical it's like walking into an empty lift shaft. The gradient and ultra narrow gaps between the trees ensures turning at will mandatory. The only respite is the clearing at the end in front of the lift station and welcoming sight of the Hotel Les Lans.
Thomas Moulton, Iglu's actual ski guru.
Les Arcs' Ultimate Tree Run — Les Arcs 1600
Up the Mont Blanc two man chair then take the Deux Tetes Button lift. Head down (skiers' left) off the button below the Deux Tetes Rocks (a real Kodak moment) and enter the ultimate tree run. You end up on a cat track above and (skiers' right of 1600), on the edge of the ski area boundary. Nicely spaced trees, natural jibbing opportunities and only locals know about it. There is a pretty substantial cliff line half way down, so you need to pick route carefully.
Nick 'Action' Jackson, Iglu's Les Arcs expert.
Le Fornet Cable Car — Val d'Isere
There are a number of reasons why this is the best tree run in France, not only is it steep, but the hill is quiet and the trees are relatively spread out. Plus there's nothing too hard to knock you out. Obviously, if you're going off piste you'll need to be doing this with a guide or with someone who knows what they are doing, but the specific spot is called Le Lievre Blanc or the White Hare. It's been prone to avalanche in the past and the trees that were knocked down have regrown and are relatively young. Therefore there is plenty of space to get some rhythmic powder turns in, top to bottom in one hit... man up and give it a go!
Adrian 'Scotty' Scott, one of Iglu's former ski instructors.
The OK — Val d'Isere
Catch the first ascending Funival with resort personnel at 8.15 to the near empty Bellevarde. Gunning it over the rolling cruisers the Folie Douce rapidly comes into view. The little wall after the legendary restaurant is sufficiently steep to warrant a turn or two but still wide enough to allow any mistakes to go unpunished. This leads to the narrowing tree lined piste G and Raye. Landmarks go by in a blur including the Triffolet restaurant and terrace complete with the smell of 'steak frites' and busy with skiers who by now look as if they're going backwards. The compression three quarters of the way down keeps the mind focused followed by the moguls of decent size and gradient. With the sheltered light and clearly visible terrain, this section offers the most fun regardless of the weather. Cheers from skiers on the chairlift above a bonus, at the very least you'll finish this satisfying run eager for plenty more.
Thomas Moulton, one another of his favourite runs.
If cruising around gentle to intermediate pistes is more up your street, then head to Les Gets. Pretty much the entire area is filled with trees and winding slopes. There is a great loop I'd often do with my girlfriend while working in Morzine, you head up the Pleney, then take the Belvedere chair lift, from there you cruise down the Granges piste, at the bottom we'd take the Charniaz Express chair, then head down either the Fenerets of Amresalles pistes. You then head up the la Rosta chair, head right of the lifts, then drop back into the main bowl taking any line through the tress that takes your fancy. We'd then head to the Choucas piste and round to Nyon, but there are more little tree runs to play with, than I'd have time to describe.
Another favourite of mine — but one I've only ever done a couple of times — is from the top of Le Loze in between Courchevel and Meribel, back down to La Tania through the trees. For this run you head right off the Dou Des Lanches chairlift, then off piste along where the snow blast cannons are — this area is a route that definitely needs a transceiver and a local guide — from here you eventually hit the tree line, which follows the Folyeres piste into town. Following a village local through the trees will take you on a fun-filled schlep all the way back into La Tania.
Having given you a few gems to consider, it's clear to see there is plenty of tree skiing to play with in France, as we haven't even looked at Serre Chevalier, St. Foy, Risoul or the runs from Tignes down to Brevent. Tree-lined skiing in France may not be as obvious as across the pond in North America, but that's not the say there isn't some cracking skiing to enjoy on your yearly pilgrimage to Britain's favourite ski destination.
Half term has only just passed, Easter is yet to arrive and there is still around eight weeks of the season left to play with, yet next winter's school holidays are already a hot topic in the office. And with the amazing snow we've had this season, I can see why.
Christmas, New Year and February half term remain the three most popular weeks of the season to ski. Kids and teachers are off from school, New Year's week typically involves less holiday time off work, typically only using three days of holiday, and the snow is usually pretty good. The result — the best chalets and hotels in the most popular resorts are gone before the summer begins.
This season there was a small amount of nervousness as the early snow started to dry up, then from mid-December onwards the snow arrived in dump-after-dump, week-after-week. Christmas and New Year in the Alps was a romantic winter wonderland, with roof tops, trees and even street lights covered in a layer of snow. The slopes were deep in thick white snow, with so much falling, corduroy was impossible and powder skiing was plentiful.
Roll on a few weeks and to February. As snow continued to fall throughout January, with light snowfall in early Feb, skiers were happy to see the sunshine come out for half term. Over the last few years the slopes haven't been at their best in the school holidays, but with most resorts boasting upwards of two metres of snow on the upper slopes and with Siberian levels of cold arriving, the pistes were in perfect condition. Half term involved wrapping up warm, slapping on the sun block and cruising along perfect corduroy runs, followed by leisurely lunches on sun terraces (though preferably one's with heaters).
So, having enjoyed the peak weeks this season due to amazing conditions, from power turns to piste cruising, the skiing bug appears to be well and truly spreading again. It's like a healthy (apart from the cheese and wine), but expensive, pandemic.
Mid season usually marks the early releases of the following winter's prices, and this year is no different. The pre-brochure deals are already arriving on the site and, from someone who likes to book early, the deals on offer now are almost guaranteed to be the best price you will get a peak season holiday for. Once the brochures arrive after Easter the prices will rise, and though the summer offers are good, if you know exactly where you want to go and when to go, now really is the time to book for school holidays.
Every year, and this year has been no different, the peak and popular week enquiries start to gather pace once half term has passed. Every year the same story of people holding out for 'a better deal', either end up paying more, losing out on the property they want or having to compromise. Now, I'm not saying last minute deals aren't great, or that you won't find a fantastic holiday come September. But if you want the best chalets, or hotels, in the most popular resorts, get in early.
Also, in a financially aware climate, booking early has other benefits. You only have to pay a deposit — typically between £130pp and 25% of the total price — and then you have until 12 weeks before departure to pay the rest. So, if like me you work in a job for love as opposed to money, booking for New Year before the winter is out, means you have another 5/6 months to save up the rest of the holiday. For half term you have another 9 months to save. When booking a peak season, peak price holiday, the early savings and additional time to pay the bill offers you that extra piece of mind — which has to be a bonus!
With this in mind and properties opening up for next years bookings, here are a few snippets of what we have on offer for 2012/13 already.
Family Chalets: Family specialist chalets, offering in-house child care, dedicated kid's ski school and family-friendly meal times, sell out for peak dates so, so quickly. The large chalet hotels, such as the Ducs de Savoie and the Des Deux Domains, sell the best rooms before you know it, but the main problem is, the child care places are filled long before the summer holidays arrive. The smaller 8-10 person chalets also go quickly, as family groups looking for chalets that fit their needs and offer childcare don't waste their time booking. Just try and find a small chalet for Feb half term in, say, Meribel, with child care by mid-summer.
Luxury Chalets: Here's the serious stuff. Our selection of luxury chalets vary from 5* affordable luxury to a chalet that Roman Abrimovic once tried to buy and über luxury properties, with Michelin starred-style cuisine and champagne on tap. These chalets vary in price, but the one thing you can guarantee, the most luxurious, best located and most unique chalets go early.
Club Med: Club Med have become one of our most popular products over the past couple of years because of their fantastic value. Whether going away on a romantic skiing trip for two, with a group of friends or taking the extended family, they have properties to suit all. Also, when the price includes all of your meals, not just breakfast, cake and dinner, your weekly bar bill, your lift pass and ski school, you have to be on to a winner. To whet your appetite Club Med's 2013 ski deals already include a selection of their most popular hotels, offering fantastic pre-brochure prices (due to increase mid-March) as well as up to £180pp discount, including peak dates!
Oh, and one last thing, after a couple of years of juggling departure dates around the December holiday season, Christmas and New Year dates are back to normal. Which means weekend departures and getting home from a New Year ski holiday before the kids go back to school.
Over the past few seasons there have been some pretty high profile crashes in skiing. Chemmy Alcott is part way through her second season without racing after a crash, while Lynsey Vonn recently suffered concussion while racing. The Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel has also claimed several victims over the past four years, including Scott McCartney — who was kept in an induced coma to recover from his head injury.
With ski racers getting faster and faster the FIS have decided they need to improve safety in the sport and have teamed up with Italian company Dainese to create a ski racers airbag — yes, an airbag. The project is set to run until the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, and will hopefully be successful in delivering a safety system to reduce injuries for ski racers.
Dainese have already pioneered a similar airbag system that is used in motorcycle racing, hence why the FIS have turned to them. They also make a variety of helmets, back protectors and pads that mortal skiers and snowboards, like you and me, use everyday on the slopes. So these guys are pretty much the best bet to get this right.
Günther Hujara, FIS Chief Race Director for the men’s Alpine Skiing, said: "Thanks to the close cooperation with Dainese that began three years ago, we have already seen many improvements in the protection of ski racers. Our latest project, the development of an air bag system for Alpine Skiing, is the most extensive of all and relies on Dainese's long-term experience in motor racing."
He added: "Research and data collection are under way since last season, seeking to define the exact point at which the racer is no longer in control and a fall becomes inevitable. Whilst much data have already been gathered, further information is still needed. We look forward to continuing this excellent cooperation with Dainese into the future."
The biggest stumbling block so far has been timing when the airbag would be released. Due to people skiing in very different fashions — just watch Didier Cuche and Bode Miller take on the same run if you don't believe me — and also due to the variety of crashes that take place. On motorcycles, the airbag is set to deploy when the rider leaves the bike with a forward rotation, but that wouldn't work in skiing.
The project, known as D-air® Ski, is working with another study put together by the FIS, the FIS Injury Surveillance System (FIS ISS), to gather as much data as possible on crashes, to enable the best possible development. The FIS ISS is working with 16 World Cup athletes, including Aksel Lund Svindal and Kristian Ghedina — who are serving as athlete testimonials on the D-air® Ski project.
Aksel Lund Svindal stated: "I'm honoured to be part of this high-level project. Protection is extremely important for us athletes and the development of an air bag for ski racing can increase the level of our safety. I'm happy to give my contribution for the data collection and to transfer my feedback. I hope that very soon all my colleagues will be able to use this outstanding device."
With ski racers traveling at speeds of over 90 mph, with 96.6 mph the faster recorded in a race (Klaus Kroell, on the Lauberhorn course in Wengen, Switzerland), safety has to be of paramount importance. But will an airbag system work?
I'm all for the exploration of making the sport safer and helping to guard against injury prevention, but I'm struggling to see how this will work. Will they have to rely on the user to set off the bag, or will studying enough algorithms and skiing styles bring around the answer?
Also, what will the impact be on skiing? As I said, I am completely for improved safety across all sports, but the excitement comes from watching athletes push themselves to the ultimate level of their ability. Will skiers push themselves further, knowing there is less risk, or will safety take precedent over competition?
After the tragic loss of Sarah Burke and the dreadful crash that Kevin Pearce had two years ago, will these safety measures make their way over the the freestyle elements of skiing and snowboarding? Safety is on a lot of people's minds at the moment and it will be interesting to see the long term effects on the sport, as long as we don't lose the exciting characters, the adrenaline rush from watching or participating and athletes continuing to push the limits of the sports.
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