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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.
A new, regular feature from our in-house games master, Gale Van Rye, who talks about memorable skiing and winter sports games. This week: 1080 Snowboarding (N64, 1998).
In 1998, the PlayStation and N64 were just hitting their stride. Games weren't just developed by a nerd alone in a bedroom anymore, instead they were made by big groups of nerds — in actual offices. And it wasn't just nerds playing the games either, but also normal human beings.
The PlayStation already boasted Cool Boarders by this point, the first half-playable, full-3D snowboarding game. However, a rushed development cycle to release before the winter meant although an impressive start, it suffered from a lot of gameplay frustrations. Enter Nintendo, struggling to bring in third party developers and needing to fill the winter sports gap for the N64, they decided to make 1080 themselves.
Nintendo were known for cutesy classics, not beautifully-rendered, realistic, extreme sports games with heavy soundtracks. Yet, 1080 stood over its peers for the entire remainder of its generation.
You remember the details — your baggy hoodie rippling in the wind, stretching out your hand to balance on the ice patch whilst the orange sun sets behind the looming peak in the distance. Nintendo paid attention to the feel and it paid off.
1080 was tough — there's no question about that — landing a trick took practice, whilst falls and crashes were punishing. Yet, the game was rewarding after you mounted the steep learning curve. As you got better, the carving felt better. Finding the best shortcut downhill, then pulling off a stalefish 1080 on the final jump and landing with perfection was well worth the blistered thumbs.
Backed by Tommy Hilfiger and Lamar in-game gear, Nintendo released 1080 Snowboarding in 1998 to consistently high critical acclaim. It became the benchmark for snowboarding games thereafter and whilst snowboarding games went on to become much prettier and much more successful, the right balance of controls and skill hasn't quite ever been matched.
According to Wikipedia: "La Niña is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Niño as part of the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern. During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C. In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least 5 months of La Niña conditions."
This translates in huge amounts of snow in North America, which last year saw many west coast Canadian and US resorts break records in terms of snowfall and powder days. So if La Niña is coming, where am I going to ski this year?
Whistler — It's Got It All
When it comes to riding powder Whistler has it all, from tree-lined skiing and deep powder-filled bowls, to a resort that offers everything you need and want on a holiday. The resort has been synonymous with powder riding and is generally considered one of the top, if not the number one, ski resort and when your locals include the likes of Devun Walsh, you can see why.
Last year was Whistler's third snowiest season ever and if the early winter signs are the same, then it will be another amazing year to enjoy British Columbia's world famous resort. If you do head out there is a local guide, only available in the resort's shops, that will let you in on the locals' secret powder stashes, and don't worry, they are usually in-bounds.
For many Whistler is the ultimate resort, it takes Val d'Isere, adds more powder, deeper bowls, more tree-lined skiing and replaces the French skiers with Americans, well, nowhere's perfect...
Revelstoke — Scare Your Pants Off
Revelstoke is one of the youngest resorts you will come across, though due to its unique set-up, it is becoming increasingly popular. Another British Columbian gem, Revelstoke's claim is that it is the only resort that offers piste skiing, cat-skiing and heli-skiing under one umbrella.
This is the kind of resort where you wake up in the morning and decide what to do, from hitting the resort's slopes to spending a day cat-skiing, as long as you get to the guides before everyone else! The resort oozes the charm of an old gold rush town, and until recently it remained a small resort filled with locals and wild-life. Don't expect über luxury five star hotels, though do expect cold beer, spicy chicken wings and stories of fresh tracks days after the last snowfall.
Beaver Creek — Luxury
Now this is where you will find five star luxury and powder skiing, perfectly placed together. Beaver Creek is known for its perfect corduroy pistes, luxury accommodation and elegant surroundings. On top of that, the Epic Pass (the resort's multi-resort lift pass) gives you access to the nearby resorts of Vail and Breckenridge, so you can follow the snow throughout your stay.
With La Niña hopefully dumping metres of fluffy, white, Colorado powder, Beaver Creek is the resort for the luxury option. The hotels, guides, ski instructors and even ski shops are renowned for offering the best you'll find in Colorado (just don't tell Vail I said that). Beaver is where wealthy Americans, movie stars and those looking for state-side luxury head year-after-year, so with metres of snow on offer, where better to enjoy a spa treatment or glass of fizz after being chest deep in the white stuff.
Breckenridge — Family
Breckenridge is another of Colorado's Epic resorts, though the mountain here is immense and offers more than enough to keep you going for a week. With ten peaks, creatively named peak 1 to peak 10, the huge snowparks, its back bowls and its welcoming atmosphere, Breckenridge is a cracking all round resort to enjoy Mother Nature's finest snow.
Breck, as it's known in the US, offers a great variety in accommodation, from budget through to five star and with the mountain offering such diverse skiing, it is a fantastic resort for a family powder adventure. The resort has a laid back feel, probably due to its close ties to freestyle and freeriding locals, has great facilities and is the highest in the US. So if you need a resort where you can hike the back bowls, send the kids to the snowparks, or enjoy a romantic lunch with the Misses, all in the same holiday, Breckenridge is where to head.
Heavenly — Sun-Filled Powder Days
California and snow are not two words you tend to associate with one another, but the Lake Tahoe area has some of the finest powder and most stunning resorts you can find. Heavenly is the king of the lake, with a huge ski area and a resort that crosses the state lines into Nevada — perfect if you fancy a flutter in the casino.
Due to its closer proximity to the West Coast and the huge lake, that is Lake Tahoe, Heavenly boasts superb snow records and with a La Niña coming, it will no doubt offer some of the best skiing and riding you will find this winter. Add in some Californian sunshine (between snow storms, of course), the stunning back-drop of the lake and the chance to ski the local resorts of Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Kirkwood, and you've got more variety in terrain then you can manage in one trip.
Hopefully this year's La Niña will share the love with Europe, but if it doesn't it will be worth saving up the extra to ski in North America this winter. From intermediate skiers, to park rats and powder hounds, you'll be glad of the 8+hr flight home, just to put your feet up. Take your friends, your wife or the family, it doesn't matter who you ski with, there is a resort out there perfect for you and hopefully just waiting for you to make some first tracks in its fresh snow...
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