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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, the popular all-inclusive ski specialists are returning to the Milky Way for 2012/13. Club Med Pragelato will be their first hotel in the Milky Way for two years after they relinquished their Sestriere property two years ago.
Pragelato may not seem as obvious a resort to enjoy the delightful 400km of skiing the Milky Way, or Via Lattea in Italian, offers, but when you see the resort you'll quickly see why Club Med have taken residence there.
Club Med Pragelato Via Lattea
The resort of Pragelato was built for the 2006 Winter Olympic games in Turin, with the job of hosting the ski jump and the cross country skiing. After the Olympics left the village, the Milky Way was left with a charming, purpose build resort surrounded by trees and in a naturally preserved site — note to the French, it is possibly to built charming resorts, they don't have to look like Val Thorens!
The Club Med hotel is more akin to their summer programme then their winter offerings, with the resort being built in the style of a chalet-filled village, as opposed to one or two large hotels. The complex was previously managed by another company, but Club Med have taken over and are currently redecorating and upgrading the resort to bring it up to their 4* standards.
This resort looks like it could be the ideal hotel for a romantic getaway, a family ski trip, or hitting up the Milky Way in style with some friends, for a chilled, yet awesome holiday. Club Med Pragelato will boast three restaurants, including La Trattoria — serving up local Italian cuisine — La Taverna— with its Savoyard fare and charm — and the hotel's main restaurant — boasting the usual array of fab food available in Club Med's renowned buffet.
For lunches there are also three mountain restaurants to visit, meaning you can take advantage of the huge ski area, yet still enjoy Club Med's hospitality. Chalet Mollino over in Sauze d'Oulx is exclusively for Club Med guests and can seat up to 300 during peak season, which is amazing considering the resort only has 234 rooms! If you are skiing a little further afield, or prefer more intimate lunches there is a restaurant seating around 30-50 people in Sansicario and another similar sized restaurant across the border into the French resort of Montgenèvre.
The hotel also boasts a decent modern spa, which is one of the very few additional costs, along with a couple of bars — including a chilled out lounge bar if you don't fancy the French entertainment.
The Milky Way
The Milky Way, or Via Lattea, is one of the most underrated ski areas in the Alps. The huge area boasts a whopping 400km of skiing across two countries, with the majority of easily accessed slopes being in Italy, with the French resorts of Claviere and Montgenèvre a few lifts and a morning of skiing away.
Cruisy blues and confidence building reds are the order of the day, with the most difficult skiing being at the top of Sestriere and over in Montgenèvre. There is tree-lined skiing everywhere, which both helps keep the snow in great condition and offers protection on white-out days, making for great all round skiing. There are a few snowparks and a border cross, if you are that way inclined too.
If you fancy skiing Claviere and Montgenèvre from the Club Med Pragelato, then it's a full day out on the mountain, hence the restaurant. It will take a good hour and a half to two hours each way for a good level skier, so make sure you leave early to make the most of it and give yourself enough time to get back! There is also night skiing in Sestriere to enjoy, with Club Med offering buses from the hotel to the slopes on the relevant evenings.
Click to see full screen map.
Sestriere's longest piste: 9km Sauze d'Oulx's longest piste: 5km Montgenèvre's longest piste: 7km Claviere's longest piste: 6km
All-in-all the Milky Way is a fantastic intermediate resort, a great place to build confidence, enjoy a few cruisy runs on the mountain and to enjoy some Italian sunshine and great mountain food. My idea of heaven! The hotel is the best value 4* resort in the Club Med brochure and with its brand new facilities and tree-lined mountain charm it will be popular with couples, families and relaxed skiers alike, looking for affordable luxury and not a typical French resort.
In case you haven't seen the news, read the papers of been on any snowsports related websites, the Alps have been under a constant blanket of snow for the last few weeks. After a week or so of sunshine, the snow is gearing up for another go. However you look at it, this season's conditions are pretty epic!
The start of the season was beginning to look slow until mid-December, where dump after dump arrived across the Alps, turning green landscapes into glistening, white mountains just in time for the Christmas holidays. But the snow didn't let up there, with more falling into the new year and only subsiding around 10 days ago.
The huge amounts of snowfall led to resorts being cut off from the outside world over night due to road and rail closures, mostly in case of avalanche, though one or two roads did need clearing in the morning. Val d'Isere, Tignes and Val Thorens were the first resorts, then Zermatt and St. Anton, and finally, Ischgl — where the road was closed off for three days while all danger was removed by the authorities.
What we have been left with is some amazing piste skiing and huge snow depths. The off-piste is a little more tetchy, as the snow settles a stable base is beginning to form, but with a crust appearing any fresh snow could lead to slides quite quickly. Essentially we need the crusty layer to melt or slide before this weekend's snow arrives.
On top of the amazing snow on offer, it looks like we have another 4 days of snow due to arrive in the Alps this Thursday, with an estimated 50cm of snow on offer, if not more. If the snow keeps coming and the temperatures stay low, we could be looking at the best season this century and maybe even rival the amazing winter of '99.
As it stands our snow reports data is showing a story of amazing conditions. The numbers may have dropped as the snow packs down, but with figures that show 460cm of snow in St. Anton, 300cm in La Plagne, 205cm in Tignes, Meribel and Courchevel, the pistes are in great condition. If you look at the snow history over the past five years, the current conditions are blowing everything out of the water.
Val d'Isere's snow history show 171cm in January 2009, as the previous best compared with the current snow depths of 205cm, having seen 375cm fall this season.
St. Anton's snow history shows their deepest snow as 235cm, compared to the current 460cm on the upper slopes.
Ischgl's snow history shows a similar story, with 200cm of snow on the slopes, having seen 275cm of snow this season, compared with previous high of 147cm in January 2008.
I could go on and on and on, looking at the incredible conditions in Les Arcs, La Rosiere and Avoriaz, the amazing snow in Wengen, Crans Montana and Verbier. But I'd begin to bore you.
As more snow is on its way, all I can say is this year looks to be the best since I discovered skiing and snowboard 10 years ago. Holiday prices are low, snow is high and more powder is on its way. Today is supposedly the most depressing of the year, but with the mountains looking incredible and holidays affordable, it's anything but depressing to us!
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