French Alps Skiing? Mai oui. Vive le difference.
Liste de seau is the French translation for the term "Bucket List". For most skiers, the French Alps is high on their list, and with good reason. The Alps are famed for their glamour, sophistication, and of course excellent skiing and even better après ski. Skiing in the French Alps can be either a terrific active family vacation, or an unparalleled adult party and physical challenge.
First, if you're an experienced North American skier and considering a trip to the French Alps, there are a few differences that you might want to be aware of before hitting the slopes.
1) No tree line. Keep your lingerie on; there's no typical "Bra Tree" to pass on the chair lift in the Alps. Most of us are used to heading up hill surrounded by trees (mostly evergreens); a path which has been carved through the forest at times. In the Alps, as you head upwards, it's somewhat startling to look around and see only white, broken up by some grey rocks and a few isolated trees. You can make out the groomed parts of the runs, barely, but there is plenty of off-piste skiing to be had, while glade skiing is usually not available.
2) T-bar type hooks. Those of us growing up skiing in the 70's and 80's remember with some discomfort the rope tows and T-bar lifts that always managed to pitch us off to the side at least once or twice. The French Alps have quite a few of these to manoeuvre.
3) Red runs. In North America, we have a ski run rating system of green (easy), blue (intermediate) and black (difficult). Black branches into single black diamond and double black diamond. In the French Alps, they have Red Runs, which are somewhere in between a blue and a black.
4) Helmets. Most North Americans have helmets, and use helmets. You can certainly rent helmets in the French Alps. But you will find a huge number of skiers who still wear either fashionable hats (not berets, sadly) or no hat at all. I asked a fellow skier if he wasn't cold, not wearing a hat and he said "No. Because I am a man. A French man." Don't try to lecture them.
5) Skiers vs Snowboarders. While snowboarding numbers are currently dropping in North America, as this generation of kids doesn't want to be like their snowboarding parents, in Europe it has always been a more ski dominated industry.
Valmorel, which is located in the Grand Domaine is a natural and beautiful ski area which is accessible to every level of skier. There are 165 kilometres of trails with 50 ski lifts taking skiers to more than a 1,250 feet of vertical drop. Club Med Valmorel is ski-on/ski-off, so well suited for families who want the ease of not having to transport kids and skis first thing in the morning. Ski rentals are available, as are storage lockers which lead right out to the slopes. All Club Meds are "all-inclusive" and at their ski resorts this includes ski lessons and lift tickets, in addition to the food, drink, and other on-site activities. Ski and snowboard lessons are available for children aged three and up. Valmorel recently won the "Best Family Resort" at the 2014 Snow Award, and the views of Mont Blanc are fantastic from this ski resort.
A shuttle bus ride away, the small village of Valmorel features cheese boutiques, wine stores, restaurants and the shopping that you would expect to find in a small French town. Well worth taking an afternoon off skiing to enjoy the local sites and take part in local customs; like drinking wine and eating cheese.
For those travelling with teenage children, or better yet, no children, you might want to consider Val Thorens, as it is as famed for its active nightlife as it is as a place to see and be seen, skiing. Val Thorens is about 200 kilometres from both Lyon and Geneva; the closest airports.
Club Med Val Thorens is positioned in the largest ski area in the world; 335 slopes covering more than 600 kilometres of terrain, with half of it easily accessible for most skiers, at the green and blue levels. It is the highest and oldest ski region in the world, but has all the advantages of modern high-speed lifts and gondolas. Many skiers are found sunning themselves on the many outdoor terraces and lounge which dot the bottom of the hill.
Make it so, your liste de seau.
For more information visit www.clubmed.ca, www.valmorel.com, or www.valthorens.com
Excerpted from an article which previously ran in GoodLife Magazine.
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Cheapflights.com kicks off it search for the thrill of the slopes in Washington. If you believe more snow equals more fun (and what skier doesn’t?), then Mount Baker should be on your to-do list. Reports of annual snowfall of more than 640 inches and a record-setting 1,140-inch winter back in 1998-1999 make this resort at the northern end of the Cascades a bit of a legend. While there are trails for all skill levels, Mount Baker attracts pretty aggressive skiers and boarders with lots of back country skiing, cliffs and natural halfpipes, all made better by consistent snow pack and reasonable prices. Just be warned that the snow fall levels bring avalanche risks, so gear up and/or get a guide if you want to get adventurous.
It’s a toss up whether the views from the summit or the base of the Alps peak of Valluga are more dramatic. If you are preparing for an “off the back” descent, you will get an eyeful of the journey ahead from the observation platform as your guide briefs you on where to turn and how to navigate the cliffs and rocks leading into the abyss below. If there is good snow cover, however, and you can master your nerves and make sharp turns, you will soon have the joy of marveling at what you’ve accomplished as you look back up at twin mountain peaks before making a long and powdery run back to home base in Zürs. Photo credit: © Copyright TVB St. Anton am Arlbergand/Fotograf Josef Mallaun
One of your best chances for an extensive run on ungroomed, unmarked snow is the 12-mile Vallée Blanche route from the top of Aiguille du Midi to the town of Chamonix in the Mont Blanc range of France. Starting with a two-stage cable car ride and featuring a harrowing climb along a thin ridge, which does feature a safety line in season but still requires climbing skills to manage, the Vallée Blanche tests your commitment to the cause before you even strap on your skis. However, in good conditions, the reward is an almost 12,000 foot vertical descent with amazing views. The terrain varies greatly depending on the route you pick, so skiers of varying experience levels can make the run. However, plan for a guide unless you already own and regularly use crampons and an avalanche beacon.
There are a handful of places to test your mettle as a climber and a skier, but few turn into a spring skiing mecca like Tuckerman’s Ravine. While some particularly hearty souls tackle the headwall in the winter months, the deep snow pack keeps the bowl open for business well into May when better weather conditions and lower avalanche risks draw skiers and snowboarders by hundreds, if not thousands. Prepare for a three (or more) hour hike into the ravine, toting your boots, gear and clothes for the highly variable weather of Mount Washington. Then it’s 30 minutes or more up the ravine before you are ready to rocket down the 40 to 55 degree slope. And, on a sunny spring day, be prepared for the line of people hiking up behind you and a crowd below to let you know just how they think you did on your run.
Host to some very high-profile snowboarding competitions, including the Burton European Open, Laax is a freestyler’s dream destination. With four snow parks, serving skiers and boarders at every level, and mini and super halfpipes – the latter being Europe’s largest — there is no shortage of places to catch air. Add in a freestyle slope and an indoor training facility known as the Freestyle Academy, and Laax is a place where you can learn the basics or master your craft. There are also more than 145 miles of trails for traditional downhill skiers and a glacier-fueled snow pack that generally ensures an extra long season for all to enjoy. Photo credit: gaudenzdanuser.com
Although Revelstoke Mountain Resort brought lifts and trails to this mountain in 2007, its heritage is all heli-skiing. For decades, skiers and snowboarders have enjoyed half a million acres of pristine and powdery terrain, accessible only by chopper. The way down is untouched snow and plenty of it. Revelstoke is renowned for its annual snowfall, which makes both the wide open bowls and treeline skiing consistently remarkable. Multiple heli-ski companies offer single, multi-day and guided packages. Cat skiing services also take you to the wide open slopes at lower price points and, of course, a slower pace. At the resort, the lifts do deliver plenty of mountain – the 5,260 feet of vertical drop is the biggest in North America — and a mix of terrains with options for less advanced skiers. Photo credit: Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing
Plan to stay for a week or even two if you make this trek. After all, there are very few flights between Buenos Aires and Malargue, the closest airport to this resort on the eastern side of the Andes. There are daily flights to Mendoza, but that’s a six hour drive from the mountain. You will be rewarded for the journey with a mix of dramatic views, big mountains and varied terrain. The resort is massive and the snow usually powdery. There is more back country skiing than groomed trails but there is something for almost everyone. And, if you get your fill of skiing, turn your attention to the nightlife — that’s extreme in its own right.
Skiing bumps may not be as popular as it once was but those who love it, really love it. These diehard enthusiasts are counting on places like the Mary Jane Territory at Colorado’s Winter Park Resort to keep the tradition going. Mary Jane is dedicated to mogul runs and tree skiing. While it offers runs for beginners to experts, the bulk of the mountain is for intermediate to fairly advanced, giving skiers lots of room to grow and learn. To help the process, there are Bob’s Mogul Camp and Bob’s Bump Jamboree, two ski school programs offering extensive training on mastering moguls. Photo credit: Winter Park Resort
For some, the lure of skiing is the adrenaline rush of bombing downhill at top speed. There’s no stopping to take in the view or savoring the feel of carving fresh tracks. Just pack down the snow and let’s go, as fast as we can! If that’s your state of mind, then head immediately to Whistler Blackcomb and take on the likes of Zig Zag, Dave Murray Downhill (the Downhill and Super G course of World Cups and Olympics past) and Ross Gold. Each is harder than the last but all are known for no-guts, no-glory speed!
(AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man) Hit the slopes before the Olympians at this growing resort two hours outside Seoul. Yongpyong is the venue for Alpine skiing and snowboarding at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games coming up in 2018. Already host to past World Cup Ski and Asia Winter Games competitions, this mountain is home to two halfpipes, 15 lifts and 31 trails, including six that have been approved for international competition. And, with its big moment in the spotlight looming, look for more and better things to come. It’s your chance to beat the champions down an Olympic course!
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