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Ski Blog

Tree Skiing In France

clock 15th May 2012 | comment3 Comments

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.



Club Med's New Milky Way

clock 16th April 2012 | comment1 Comments
Club Med have expanded in Italy once again with a charming new resort Club Med Pragelato Via Lattea [More]


Epic Conditions Across The Alps

clock 16th January 2012 | comment0 Comments
Is an epic winter on the cards? It's certainly looking that way! [More]


Val d'Anniviers — Keep It To Yourself

clock 13th December 2011 | comment0 Comments

Mid-December and it's the time of year where many of us pop out to the mountains before the season hits full swing, to meet new people, check out some new resorts and, of course, to get in the first tracks of the season. Most of us have been to visit resorts new to us as individuals, with staff heading out to the ever popular resorts in the Tarantaise and Austria, but I was lucky enough to go somewhere new for all of us... the only problem is I don't want to tell too many people about it.

Over the weekend, along with Jay from the sales team, I went out to Val d'Anniviers, to visit the resorts of Grimentz and Zinal and to take a look at the new properties we will be featuring and to see what the ski area had to offer. The two resorts offer around 50-60km of piste each and include the nearby resorts of St. Luc & Vercorin on the lift pass, offering an additional 120km of piste and making up a decent amount of skiing for a week's holiday. But that's not what about this ski area is about, yes there is 200km of skiing, and yes the inter resort buses are typically efficient, Grimentz and Zinal is more about the quiet pistes and easy access to countless off-piste adventures.

We arrived in Geneva on Friday night and enjoyed a relaxing, though busy, transfer to resort on the train. Being Swiss, the train was waiting for us when we arrived and even got to the destination on time, with minimal fuss — well, you can't imagine the Swiss letting any pesky leaves get in the way, can you! The drive up to resort was quick, though as the sun had gone down we missed the dramatic views. The valley rises up quite dramatically before getting into resort, as we climbed over 1,000m in altitude in around half an hour.

Chalet Edelweiss was both charming and relaxing, and our hosts Eric & Penny were fantastic. Penny had prepared a fantastic meal for us, while Eric showed off their stock of Scott skis and fitted everyone out with the latest kit, apart from me, as I was apparently their first ever snowboarding guest. The chalet is extremely welcoming, and being run by a mature couple means you felt more like guests in their home.

Eric and Penny are clearly huge ski enthusiasts, and were keen to share their knowledge of the local mountains and to talk about the regular weeks they organise where the guests can ski with a mountain guide every day. Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, they whisked us up to the lift station, and by 9:30 we were hitting the slopes for our first runs of the winter.

The resort may have been only half open, but within minutes you could sense the endless possibilities off off-piste riding. After a few runs to warm up, we headed up to the top of the Combe de Sorebois, where a huge bowl offering great back country skiing was shown to us. We hiked along the ridge for ten minutes and dropped into the first knee deep powder of the winter. We skied the area throughout they day, never tiring of what is a relatively small area, only dreaming of coming back later in the season, armed with a transceiver, a guide and some snowshoes.

That evening, after another fantastic meal in the chalet, we went for a short hike along the river basin in the valley, heading up passed the resort into the relative wilderness, where Eric lit a small fire and Penny produced some Vin Chaud to help keep us warm. It was a full moon and the views across to the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche were impressive. This was just one of the nice little touches that the couple offer their guests, should you chose to take it.

The following morning we took the short drive, around 15-20 minutes over to Grimentz, where our next host Will, would take over the reins. Will had collected us from the station in Sierre and had skied with us the day before, but we were now in his back garden. Grimentz had only opened for the season the day before, the cruisy blues and red runs, filled with rollers and corduroy were fantastic, though the off-piste looked pretty tracked out.

Again, after a hour of warming up and playing around in the sidecountry, we were taken on a short ten minute hike from the highest open lift. I say a short hike, for the skiers it was nice and easy, but for the token snowboarder, hiking in thigh deep snow, was hard work, but rewarding. We ended up in a huge, untracked bowl, with lovely rollers, and small trees to play with, followed by a little bit of tree skiing. The snow was knee deep throughout, and was one of the many hidden gems the region has to offer.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon we enjoyed the easily accessed off-the-beaten-track skiing with Will, Eric and Penny, and definitely got a feel for why the three of them had upped sticks and left London for a life on the slopes.

Later that afternoon we were in for another treat, when we checked into our accommodation for our final night, the gorgeous Chalet C by Chivoone, nicknamed Chalet CBC, much to the owner's dismay. The views from the balcony, all across the valley were truly stunning, as was the chalet itself. The master bedroom boasted a huge standing bath in the middle of the room, offering the same fab views. The terrace has a hot tub, and for those looking to cater for themselves, a kitchen to die for.

After settling in we visited the many high-end chalets on offer, before checking out the charming, and superbly named, Chalet la Legende. This chalet sits in the centre of the old town, filled with typical Swiss charm. After our tour of the accommodation, we left the chalet, expecting a short walk to the restaurant booked for the evening, only to be taken into the little cave, underneath the property, where we were treated to a glass of wine, in charming surroundings — for guests staying here Will can arrange for Raclette and wine to be served here, though unfortunately you don't get to indulge in the owner's wine collection.

We ended the evening with a trip to Le Mélèze, one of the many quaint restaurants offering typical mountain cuisine, where we were in for another treat. Our table essentially had a barbeque built into it, with hot coals and a grill over the top, and after a starter of salad, we where given a bowl of meat to cook for ourselves. We were treated to veal, veal sausage, merguez, beef and bacon — what else do you need after a day of deep powder and good wine!

This trip took me to an undiscovered corner of Switzerland, the valley offers views of the nearby Crans Montana, and is across a ridge from Zermatt along with bieng a short drive from Verbier, but has been left alone for years. The people we met moved there as it offers great skiing, incredible backcountry and no crowds. The only problem now, is I want people to go there and enjoy it for themselves, just not too many...



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