Tag Archives: france

The Integral Haute Route – France Switzerland

Two years ago, Tim Davies and I started the standard Haute Route (a high Alpine ski tour linking Chamonix and Zermatt) with Andy Cowan who 2 days in had to pull out due to injury. We managed to get as far as the Valsorey Hut where Tim developed appendicitis and had to be air lifted by helicopter and have an emergency operation; which left me on my own and having to ski back down over the glacier and crevasses by myself, which was quite interesting. The following year we did a few routes around the Imperial Haute Route but always planned to come back and have a go at the Imperial Haute Route proper.

Imperial Haute Route (Grand Lui Variation)

So after saying good-bye to the Oakham Lower School ski trip I met up with Tim and started to sort kit, huts, transport, etc. Our weather forecast for the week ahead was good and so two old men set out on a journey from Chamonix to Zermatt via La Fouly. The Integral Haute Route is two days longer than the standard routes, has more high gain and loss, and does not require you to book a taxi so is more of a pure journey.

We knew that the start was going to be a bit of a ‘bun fight’, as we had to do hand to hand combat with the queues at the Grand Montets Cable-Car Station. This is always a bottleneck and means a slow start wedged in with huge crowds. Luckily, the cable-car was running smoothly and after a couple of hours, we found ourselves deposited at the top station ready to go! Avalanche transceivers checked and harnesses on we set off across the Argentiere Glacier towards the Col du Chardonnet (3323m). We travelled quite quickly deand managed to overtake many guided groups, which meant that when we arrived at the Col there were only a few people, and groups in front of us. As there was a fixed rope already in place and we were a small team, Tim managed to persuade the French to allow us to jump the que, which was a great result. Once down we set off for the Trient Hut, but first had a great view of our route for early the next day whilst having a late lunch. Climbing the Fenetre de Saliena (3261m) had us skiing down the Trient Glacier towards our evening stop. The hut is well positioned with great views and is a mix of old and new even if the guardian is a little less than welcoming.

skier climbing col
Steve climbs down the Col Fenetre de Saliena (3261m).

The standard route goes down to Champex where you get a bus or taxi to Bourg St. Pierre, however, we chose to ski over the Grand Lui to La Fouly which would mean we could ski/walk the whole route making it a little more challenging, purer and two day’s longer. We left the Trient and skied some excellent snow with no one else anywhere to be seen. It was great to be in these high mountains and have the place to ourselves. The Col de Saleina (3419m) was easy enough to get over and then followed some more fantastic snow, which started to change as we neared the valley to heavy slush, which made skiing a little more challenging. Scrabbling through some loose rocks and boulders gave access to the final stretch down to La Fouly and the Auberge des Glaciers. I had been through here a few years previously when doing the Tour De Mont Blanc with family and friends and remembered it as being very relaxing. The hotel was great and we had the dormitory to ourselves so we managed to spread out and sort kit. Being in a valley meant that the meal was exceptional in quality and value for money plus we had showers.

Day 3 was going to be quite a hard day but relatively short and would finish at the Plan de Jeu Hut which Tim assured me would be excellent, which it was. Walking along the road, we arrived at some steep verglas slopes with a huge amount of old avalanche debris that had to be picked though and we eventually passed the Lacs de Fenetre and climbed up to the Fenetre de Ferret were we saw our first people. The ski down to the road and on to the Great St Bernard Monastery was on exceptional snow and left both of us smiling from ear to ear as did the excellent coffee and cakes we devoured at the hospice. The Plan de Jeu is brilliant with smiling, happy/welcoming guardians, who love country & western music, great views and sound advice. Certainly worth a stop next year for a bit of day tour action with my wife. I might even try to get over later in the year for their beer festival! The beer, food and company made for a very memorable evening and again no one else was staying so we had the place to ourselves.

Travelling onwards to the Valsorey Hut (3037m) in wall to wall sunshine with 1600 metres of up and a good amount of downhill action was something I was looking forward to as it would take us to our high point of two years previous and mean we were well on our way. Once again the skiing was exceptional and certainly left us wanting more, however, the climb that followed from the valley floor to the hut was seriously hard in the full glare of the sun.

skier mountains
The Matterhorn dominates the skyline from the final Col de Valpelline (3568m), before skiing down the glacier to Zermatt.

The start of the day was a little on the messy side as I had a bad case of the squits; which is not good when you are climbing steep iced slopes of around 50 degrees with skis strapped to your back. The wind was quite strong which made everything that little more exciting especially going to the toilet! We had no issues route finding and the snow conditions continued to be great. When we arrived at the Chanrion Hut I found that several people had been hit with the same bug, one having to be air-lifted off and others turning back. It is amazing how something so simple as a stomach upset or a broken binding could put an end to an expedition.

The Chanrion Hut was much nicer, the guardian very welcoming and interested in our well-being which was nice. Following a relatively good night’s sleep, we faced another long day with lots of UP! Climbing the Pigne d’Arrolla (3796m) was cold and windy and seemed to go on forever. However, having recovered from my illness and in good weather we climbed the last few metres to the summit to take the obligatory photos before heading down to the Vignettes Hut, which would be our final hut of the trip. Now that all of the various Haute Routes variants had joined, the route was a mass of people and the hut was not much better although still very welcoming.

With the final day looming we got our heads down and in the morning managed to be the first party out of the hut and to the first Col. The weather was forecast to change with much colder weather on its way. The clouds rolled in to make route finding quite challenging at times but this never detracted from the enjoyment of completing this amazing journey across the high Alps. Our final ski descent from the final Col was hard with man-eating moguls made of solid ice spread around big crevasses on steep slopes. The leg in to Zermatt was slow, as the snow had turned to slush so our skis having little in the way of wax on them tended to stick.

bottle glass of beer
The Grand St Bernard Pass from the Plan de Jeu refuge. The beer was 8% and very welcome!

All in all this was a great seven-day tour with great company in amazing surroundings with some challenging descents and route finding. We had the mountains to ourselves until the Pigne d’Arolla where we joined the standard route. I would recommend the Integral Haute Route to anyone that wants a challenge. Our final photo’s where taken outside the Monta Rosa Hotel having skied into Zermatt then walked through the narrow streets towards the train station and our train back over the mountains to Chamonix looking forward to a good shower, meal and a few beers to celebrate.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Refuge de La Gramusset – France

With warm temperature and low snowfalls it hasn’t been the powder full winter we dreamt of but that doesn’t mean you can’t get out on the hill and have a great time. As Jeremy Jones said “if you need to have powder on the mountain to have fun then you are in the wrong sport”. So with that in mind we have been embracing the spring conditions and have been taking advantage of the low avalanche risk and pushing further into the backcountry than would usually be possible in January.

Refuges are one of the great traditions of the Alps and provide great opportunities to explore the mountains in winter. Usually allocated with a guardian to host walkers in the summer months and provide them with a warm meal and comfy bed; the winter experience is a bit more DIY. Usually only one room will be open with a log store, fire, gas stove and some blankets to keep the worst of winter away.

kettle on stove
Once the fire is lit and the refuge is heating up you must start to melt snow for water. With three of you this becomes a full-time job due to the small quantities of water that snow holds.

This week we planned to visit the Refuge Gramusset it sits at the north east end of the Aravis Chain and is located under the dominating Pont Percee peak. We started our tour below the tree line in the small hamlet of Troncs. The climb up is 1000m of vertical and the first 450m is a steep pitch up through the forest avoiding a large exposed cliff line over the ravine below. The forest trail had limited amounts of snow and we spent a fair bit of time trying to dodge tree roots and fallen branches. Once out of the forest and into the high alpine the conditions began to improve. The final 550m is a testing 40 degree slope all the way to the refuge. One of the most enjoyable aspects of ski touring is the continual puzzle of choosing the safest route up. This particular face had a variety of challenges with the constant steep gradient and multiple exposed cliff bands it was both a demanding and rewarding climb.

Having reached the Refuge just before sunset we had time to start cutting logs and getting the fire going before nightfall. Once the fire is lit and the refuge is heating up you must start to melt snow for water. With three of you this becomes a full-time job due to the small quantities of water that snow holds. Refuges tend not to have electricity and make for long evenings with the sun going down at 5.30 in winter and not showing itself till 7 in the morning. However this simple existence is the most magical part of the experience, how many opportunities in modern life provide you with such a chance to be in the present. Even one night living like this reaffirms the amount of distractions society has built for itself. It may not be everyone’s idea of a break but the simplicity of being in the mountains and providing for yourself is an incredible experience and offers true escapism.

stars at night in the mountains
Even one night living like this reaffirms the amount of distractions society has built for itself. It may not be everyone’s idea of a break but the simplicity of being in the mountains and providing for yourself is an incredible experience and offers true escapism.

Around 11pm the wind started to really pick up and the metal roof was chattering by this time you are torn between staying under your blankets or getting another log on the fire. You dose in and out of sleep for what seems like an eternity waiting for first light to have a glimpse at the conditions.

Unfortunately we woke to strong winds and the couloirs above the refuge looked ominous. We made the decision to head back down before conditions worsened. The ski down covered some great terrain however the snow wasn’t great with lots of exposed rocks. Sometimes things change in the mountain but you are always inspired by something when you venture into them. You make mental notes of possible lines to ski in the future or wonder what terrain lies over the next peak. It truly is never-ending and that is the greatest aspect of ski touring you are opening up opportunities for discovery all the time.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Les Arc 1800 Resort Review France

The Les Arc 1800 resort is located on the outer edge of the Vanoise National Park which forms part of the Italian border around 10-12 hours drive from Calais or a 3 hour transfer from Geneva Airport. The resort is linked with La Plagne and Peisey-Vallandry creating one of the largest skiing areas in the world called ‘Paradiski’ and boasts 425km of pistes; ranging from easy relaxing blues to challenging blacks.

panoramic view les arc
What a view! 425km of pistes; ranging from easy relaxing blues to challenging blacks.

Les Arc itself is made up of four smaller resorts Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000 with its claim to fame being the first resort of its type to open in Europe. I stayed in Arc 1800 picked for its location close to the Vanoise Express which is a huge 200 person cable car connecting Les Arc and La Plagne, in fact it’s one of the longest and fastest cable cars in the world!

Les Arc 1800

Built back in 1975 Arc 1800 is not only the largest resort but also the liveliest with lots of bars and restaurants, my favourite being ‘Barking Mad’ with its comfy outdoor seating and views out over the mountains with a pint of beer costing €5, the perfect location for a spot of après ski.

deck chairs on a mountain
Blue bird sky! Comfy outdoor seating and views out over the mountains with a pint of beer costing €5, the perfect location for a spot of après ski.

We stayed at L’Alliet in a self catered apartment located in the Charmettoger region of the town. This apartment is a little gem recently renovated in 2015 in true alpine style, what we loved was the flexibility of either cooking some homely food or dining out at the various restaurants found a short 5-10 minute walk away.

dinning table chairs in appartment
L’Alliet in a self catered apartment located in the Charmettoger region of the town.

In all there are five lifts out of Arc 1800 but by the best and easiest is the Transarc 1 which connects to the Transarc 2 at the mid station. Once at the top you have excellent access to a huge variety of newly groomed runs (if like us you got the first lifts up). The snow conditions were good throughout the week although some started to become icy leading back down to town at the end of the day, all in all the conditions were good despite the slow start to the season. And best of all we had blue bird days most of the time we were there, what more could you ask for!

One of my favourite runs would have to be the Grands Melezes which starts at the top of the Vagere chairlift, the run is both long and wide with the conditions being perfect allowing me to perform some large sweeping carving turns.

An adult lift pass to the whole Paradiski area is €291 (about £222) or the Les Arc local area is €250 (about £190).

mountain view
B-e-a-utiful; but respect the mountains. Warning! Danger avalanches!

Overall this resort and ski area is one of my favourite with its mix of glacial high altitude runs and the option to ski through the trees lower down during poor snowy conditions.

Thanks Michael and friends!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Morzine Resort Review The Portes Du Soleil France

Arguably the most well known of the resorts within the Portes Du Soleil (PDS), Morzine is located in a valley with ski areas either side, around one hour from Geneva airport or roughly eight hours from Calais. It was the venue of our ski test in December when unfortunately the snow wasn’t fantastic. Even though it sits at a lower altitude than other European resorts, it is still favored heavily with British skiers due to the extensive ski area. The PDS’s motto of 12 resorts one pass highlights the 600km of skiing available. I have stayed in a few different areas within the PDS and always prefer to stay in Morzine as it is roughly in the middle.

Morzine itself is a very picturesque ski town with a variety of activities to do whether skiing is your primary activity or not. The town itself has plenty of bars like Coyotes’ and restaurants like L’etale; and if lager is not your preferred beer, it also boasts the first real ale bar in the Alps. At Le Bec Juane, all the ales are brewed in house and a 4 pint pitcher and a very large plate of Nachos will cost €20.

Skiing wise there is plenty to do for everyone. Out of Morzine itself you have the Pleny Bubble, which takes you up the South side of the valley and connects you with the tree line runs of Les Gets, Nyon and Mont Chery. On the North face, you have the Super Morzine Bubble that takes you across the valley and up towards Avoriaz, which is the highest resort in the PDS and is part of the Helly Hansen Ski-Free campaign. A short bus ride away you have the L’ardent Bubble that will connect you up to the Linderet Goat Village where there are nursery slopes and several lifts connecting you with Avoriaz, Chatel and Switzerland. Off piste is incredible when it’s on in this area. Happy Valley and Hidden Valley are located around the Chatel side and offer perfect powder bowls. Switzerland also offers a vast area of off piste with Les Gets offering some real hidden tree runs.

I would always recommend a full area pass as it allows you to explore literally everywhere. Whether you are riding powder in Avoriaz, Les Gets or Chatel or just looking to charge around the runs through France and Switzerland. The full area pass will cost you around €250 for six days however there are deals to be had so worth checking the website!

zore piste morzine
The Zore run, a gentle blue that takes you back to the Super Morzine bubble and down into the town itself!

Overall, the town of Morzine is a perfect base if your looking to explore the second largest ski area in the Alps. It literally offers something for everyone from complete beginner to top end skier or boarder through to powder bowls and tree runs to immaculate hard packed pistes.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

La Rosiere Ski Resort France

La Rosiere in Savoy is situated along the French – Italian border of the French Alps, and resides at 1850m on the slopes of Le Roc Noir (2400m). The resort is linked with La Thuile, in the Aosta Valley, as part of the Espace San Bernardo which provides plenty of skiing (snowboarding) on easy to challenging pistes, powder fields, parks, tree-lines and much more. The scenery is breathtaking from every angle; with the majestic Mont Blanc a focal point! Continue reading La Rosiere Ski Resort France

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather