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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 Valmorel, the latest ski offering from Club Med, was opened in December 2011 and has proved to be a welcome addition to the all-inclusive specialists programme. The hotel has gone down well with families, especially with beginner to intermediate skiers.
With this is mind one of Iglu's longest serving members took her family to check out the resort over Easter, coming back with a glowing report on the new resort. Here's what she had to say about Club Med Valmorel
Club Med Valmorel:
We all know that Club Med is good for families, but Valmorel is superb. As a brand new resort they have designed it with families and children of all ages in mind. Babies, toddlers, older children and teenagers have all been thoughtfully considered. There are a large number of interconnecting rooms, the location is a perfect ski in, ski out (even in mid-April), and the childcare staff were brilliant.
The snowgarden, where the younger children and beginners have their lessons is at the heart of the resort, right outside the Petit Club & Mini Club, and has two magic carpets. It can be viewed from one side of the bar terrace and is overlooked by some of the rooms making it easy for you to see what the little ones are up to, without them seeing you! Our boys really enjoyed their lessons, there was a good mix of nationalities in their groups and the ESF instructors spoke good English.
There is the usual fantastic selection of family-friendly entertainment; parties, themed days, shows, activities, a soft-play room for toddlers and hang-out area for teenagers. The pool is a good size and is well used, late in the afternoon it fills up with families but is generally quiet during the day. The in-house entertainment system in the rooms had a great selection of recent animated films — perfect for a bit of downtime before dinner.
A nice touch was that they did some GoPro filming of the some of the children in their lessons on the mountain. The film was then played on the screens in the bar, which is great to see as you often have no idea how they are getting on or what they have been up to. Also, on request they copied it onto a memory stick (available in the shop) for you to keep.
For non-skiers there is a good gym and a fitness programme throughout the day, the fitness programme has some early and late classes if you are really keen and want to combine it with skiing as well! There were quite a few non-skiers using the gym, pool and Spa. The pool area also has a steam room and outdoor hot tub over looking the slopes.
Club Med's restaurants can really differ from resort to resort, and Club Med Valmorel certainly doesn't let itself down. There was a great selection of food throughout the week, highlights being the raclette lunches, oysters and steak tartare, there are plenty of tables of all sizes and the choice of dining areas offers a nice bit of variety.
The Valmorel Ski Area:
The ski area may not be the largest, but is more than enough for a week on the slopes. There were lots of families out skiing together, for which the slopes were ideal and there was a notable lack of people hooning down the slopes at speed.
Valmorel offers predominantly blues and a few red runs so it is perfect for children progressing their skiing, as well as adults who enjoy intermediate skiing. A real bonus was that the slopes were virtually empty and we didn't encounter any lift queues all week - even during the school holidays!
Club Med Valmorel comes highly recommended.
April may be the end of the season to most, but for Iglu it's a chance for most of the team to enjoy some hard earned slope time, even if it was the third or fourth trip of the season for some of them! AJ, our fearless Head of Sales, takes you through what the guys got up to last week in the snow.
I love April Skiing!
Spring snow madness hit the mountains yet again this season. Reports of the death of the season of 2011/12 after the warmth of March were greatly exaggerated. As usual there is more snow falling in April than March and we love it. This would be the fifth year straight that my ski week in April has been better than my week in March.
Chamonix on arrival.
Iglu had big end of season parties in three resorts for Easter last week.
My team were in Chamonix, the legendary home of Alpinism. There’s no better way to start a holiday then to have snow hitting your ChamExpress transfer vehicle on the way from the airport. We knew that meant powder from the very first day of skiing and despite the mind numbing tiredness that comes with a 4am start, we were grinning.
Monday was sunny, powdery and perfect as we hit the top of Grand Montets, in Argentière, for thigh-burning long powder runs. Tuesday was good but it was getting leg wearyingly slushy down lower. Good thing then that it puked down on Tuesday night, with around 25cm of fresh falling. It also got a little colder and the snow held for the next two days when we explored the Brévent/Flégère areas.
Top of the Grand Montets.
There was one final treat left though — Thursday night brought another big fluffy dump and Friday was the best day of the week. The sun peaked out and there was 25cm of powder all the way to the valley floor so we got to hit the trees of the Grand Montets. We did some GoPro filming and I hadn’t realised just how big my smile is when I’m bouncing in powder. My scurrilous ski buddies called it my pow-pout but I’ll take that kind of ribbing if I’m doing deep and steep powder tree runs, on Friday the 13th April 2012!
Iglu had another crew in St Anton for the week. Here’s a quote from JT on 12th April: Having an amazing time here, it's dumping down with snow at the moment, so tomorrow is gonna be insanely epic. Can we move Iglu to St Anton please? Ha ha.
Chamonix after some fresh snow.
And the response from Christian and the crazy crew in Les Deux Alpes was pretty similar: Same in Deux Alpes... had a solid thirty or more up high, fifty in the wind blown. Great end season conditions... love from Les Airelles!
The snow is still falling and we have reports coming in from Chamonix today that the higher areas are still pow-ticularly good.
See you on the slopes in April next year. AJ.
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