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Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

By August 2011, only seven ski areas in Europe were still offering liftserved skiing (FirstTracksOnline News).

Tignes, France
Les Deux Alpes, France
Zermatt, Switzerland
Saas-Fee, Switzerland
Passo dello Stelvio, Italy
Hintertux, Austria (August and September)
– Mölltaler Gletscher, Austria

euro-summer-ski

I wasn’t in Europe to ski, but I was going to ski in Europe. I had hoped going on our last Summer in Europe back in 1998, but a record heat wave and a freak accident prevented me from doing so.

This time, 13 years later, I was going to cross off the months August and September in my ski streak. Then it occurred to me, wouldn’t be interesting to make a comparison between each ski areas still activate within the same time period. It didn’t start that way, but as time the weeks passed by, it became a goal. The fact that I probably not return to do a summer tour of European glaciers made it even more appealing. Visiting them side-by-side in the same time period at the closing of the Summer season and give me a better ideas of what Europe got to offer to skiers in the late Summer months.

Only Zermatt and Hintertux are open year-round while the others shutdown once the Summer comes to an end: some of them for a few weeks, while Passo dello Stelvio is only open in Summer.

This is a list of different aspect of each summer ski areas. I don’t like to talk about “Best of” lists, but the following is more according to my opinions, thus the reason why I call it “Favorites”. For many of them, the actual summer terrain was greater than what was left at the end of the season. The following only reflected of what was left.

Favorite park : Les Deux Alpes
Favorite terrain : Hintertux
Favorite winter quality snow : Zermatt
Favorite off-the-beaten track : Passo dello Stelvio
Favorite place : Saas-Fee
Favorite place in France : Tignes
Most expensive : Zermatt
Biggest vertical : Hintertux
Highest altitude (summit and base of skiing) : Zermatt
Lowest altitude (summit and base of skiing) : Hinterux
Favorite on mountain food : Hintertux
Favorite beer selection : Hintertux
Favorite view : Zermatt, Tignes and Saas-Fee
Favorite sick road : Passo dello Stelvio
Less favorite steeps (or lack of) : Les Deux Alpes
Favorite steeps : Hintertux
Favorite Day conditions during my visit : Passo dello Stelvio
Favorite place to have fun : Saas-Fee (2nd in parks, good terrain and off-the-beaten track).

The only ski area I didn’t to visit that was still open was Mölltaler Gletscher in Austria. As I mentioned to my wife, I was probably not going to repeat a European Summer Ski Safari as the cost was much more expensive than a trip to South America, but it was fun to do. I would have loved to make to Mölltaler, but I was running out of energy and cash after almost 6 weeks in Europe; 3 of them in the Alps. At 85.7%, it’s a good sample of the mission into what late summer skiing in Europe has to offer.

Click on the specific links or image to access the seven original Ski Mad World posts.

Cham, Genève et Tignes turns August, FR – 11-13 août 2011

13 août 2011: Glacier de la Grande Motte, Tignes

See La Meije and Ski Les Deux Alpes: 20-21 août 2011

Zermatt CH : August 24, 2011 – Classic!!!

Saas-Fee CH : August 25, 2011 – Between Zermatt and Zürich

Passo dello Stelvio / Stilfserjoch IT : August 28, 2011 – Sci estivo

Hintertux, AUT : August 29, 2011 – Austria’s turns

Hintertux, AUT : September 1, 2011 – last turns and days in Europe

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Sunday: Italy (Passo dello Stelvio)
Last week: Switzerland (Zermatt and Saas-Fee)
Prior weeks : France (Tignes and Les Deux Alpes)

Its Monday and I’m starting my final week in Europe, so it must be time for Austrian turns. My almost 6 weeks stay in Europe is coming soon to an end, like many of the summer ski areas (Les Deux Alpes and Saas-Fee) which closed their summer skiing activities the previous day. The next ski season is close-by with snow having fallen this weekend at Passo dello Stelvio and Hintertux. Austria will see a few more Austria glaciers (Kaprun, Stubai and Solden) to re-open for the Fall-pre-season time.

Hintertux is different from the ski resorts I’ve visited in the pass month. The surrounding valleys and mountains are greener and populated with small rural villages which is the totally opposite from a place like Les Deux Alpes. The first thing you noticed at Hintertux is the facilities are modern. It takes 2 gondolas to reach Tuxer Fernerhaus and the lower extend of the snow at 2660 meters and a third gondola (Gletscherbus 3) to get at the slopes and top at 3288 meters. Each stage has a beautiful lodge and cafeteria and / or restaurant. The last stage gondola climbs towards a jagged Gefrorene Wand peak and you don’t really notice the ski terrain until you stepped out of the top station. There you notice the heart of the summer complex of Hintertux, two slopes almost face-to-face of approximately 200 meters each serviced by 2 t-Bars.


View of Olberer terrain


Olberer T-Bars, Gefrorene Wand on the other side.

Of all the summer ski areas I’ve visited, which is 6 out of the 7 of all ski areas open in late August, Hintertux is the lowest in altitude. The snow quality wasn’t the same as I encountered in the higher ski areas in Switzerland, but the terrain was excellent with a number of runs off two different faces. You could also ski down 628 vertical meters to the lodge restaurant at Tuxer Fernerhaus and take the Gletscherbus 3 gondola back up. Hervé was explaining me that generally in summer, they are more lifts on different terrain open (Kaserer 1 + 2 and Lärmstage chair), however this being the end of August; skiing had retreated to the best quality part of the glacier.

The terrain was pretty steep and snow was hard and icy in some spots. The gondola exits on top of the Gefrorene Wand side which is mostly West facing. We started skiing on the Olberer face where the Eastern orientation facing the sun would make it more edgeable in the early morning. There were a bunch of racers at the bottom of both lifts and they were a few courses on the hill. There were even some race kids from Greece. The snow was firm at first, but became soft after a few runs. Of course, they were the exception where there was no snow on top of glacier and you just hard and / or dirty glacier ice.

There was about 3-4 groomed runs on the Olberer side and the remains of an abandoned snowpark. The vast majority of skiers were training and skiing on that side. When the snow was softer, we headed across to ski the Gefrorene slopes.

We skied down to the longer run from the top of the Gefrorene lift down the chalet for our expresso and beverage break. The trail had a few switchbacks and there was a small stretch covered with rocky chocolate chips just before the melted out terrace. As we drank, we looked on at the major construction around the station which included the construction of new lift.


Lower ski run and lift construction seen from Tuxer Fernerhaus terrace at 2660 meters


Tuxer Fernerhaus (2660 m), construction crane and Gletscherbus 3 station

We headed back up and spent now most of our time on the Gefrorene side. Skier’s right along the T-Bar was as steep as I’ve seen for glacier slopes. There are maybe 30 posts on the side of the top trail indicating the different lanes, however that would have been earlier in the summer. Today, the only course on this side was on the other side of the T-Bar closer to the gondola terminal exit. There was still a dusting of fresh snow which covered the very hard and not always perfectly smooth surface, but we found a few good lines. You didn’t need to ski straight down, you could also follow the trail along between the steep lanes and the rock face which connected with the run to the bottom. There was some mellower terrain for the odd tourists that had rarely skied. The skier’s left part of the glacier was mellower (the southern end of both sides), the other being even longer, passed between each face and lifts to continue lower. That part of become pretty pathetic and slushy and dirty as it got later.

At the end of the ski day, we ended back down for an excellent cheap meal and beer at cafeteria at Sommerberg (2100m) at the top of the Gletscherbus 1. First rate facilities and dinning at reasonable price: not what I expected. We had an excellent two-days in the Tyrol and South Tyrol; today was my biggest day of the trip with 24 runs and 5806m vertical skied mostly 200m t-Bars for 4 hours.


Gletscherbus 3 gondola


Gefrorene Wand T-Bars, Olberer on the other side


MadPat skiing Gefrorene – picture isn’t level


Hervé on the Gefrorene Wand side with Olberer in view

After this meal, we took the one last gondola down and headed to the Gaushaus in Tux, a few villages down. Hervé headed back to Germany as I decided to settled down for a few days to ski on September, write some of these TRs and close out my skiing for 2010-11. I had initially hoped to make it further East pass Lienz to ski Mölltaler Gletscher, the only other remaining summer ski areas to make the list complete, however the extra 200km was getting me further from Paris. I knew what to expect at Hintertux for September turns, I wasn’t so sure about Mölltaler as I had difficulty finding information. After 5 weeks, I wisely decided to stay put and rest and my credit card keep a load off bill which was probably already pretty impressive.

A few days later, on September 1, I managed to return and ski before closing out the trip and return to Paris by train via stops in Innsbruck and Munich :
Hintertux, AUT : September 1, 2011 – last turns and days in Europe.


MadPat and Hervé at Sommerberg


Last stage before Hintertux and the valley at 1500 meters

MadPat’s Gallery :
Tag 32 / 29 August: Hintertux

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Ski Log

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Ski log detail of skiing terrain : 24 runs for 5806m vertical skiing

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Day Two skiing on the combo Zermatt-Saas Fee lift ticket which set me back a nice 120 CHF. Zermatt’s neighbouring valley is less touristy, but as scenic. Saas-Fee doesn’t have the attraction power of Zermatt and it isn’t access by train, but you still can’t drive on the town’s streets. No majestic Matterhorn hovering above, but if it lacks in a majestic iconic peak, it makes up in hanging glaciers easily visible from town.


Arriving in Saas-Fee in the late afternoon

I arrived the previous day as it was getting dark; Saas-Fee is definitely quiet place compared to my previous destination. I stayed at the Hotel Garni-Imseng, a laidback hotel with normal zimmers, but you could find in the basement next to the Bakers Museum, the Touristenlager place, a dorm in the basement which had 7 side-by-side 3 stories bunkbeds for a potential capacity of 21 people in one small room, fortunately we were only 5. The other guests were a couple of parkskiers from Geneva and a freerider that skied 2 hours in the early morning then took the bus and train to get to work in Lausanne and back later in the night. I’m not even sure if the owner knew this guy was staying there. The setup was sketchier than in Zermatt, but more genuine, authentic and friendlier from the owner, staff and guess. I guess that too many tourists in Zermatt can have a negative effect on the locals.

I had a full breakfast before heading for the gondola; I wasn’t in the hurry to hit the ice. It was slightly overcast as I rode the lift with a hiker. Lift assisted hiking was really big in my two Swiss destinations, many of the Saas-Fee gondolas were running just for hikers and had nothing to do with skier access to snow. The last part of the ascent was done with the Metro Alpin, an underground funicular, but much older than the one at Tignes.


Saas Fee in the early morning light from the gondola


Saas Fee’s Winter ski runs below glaciers

You couldn’t really see where the skiing was once you leave the terminal building; it didn’t help that it was cloudy. The skiing started as a push across very thin cover flats towards the side of the glacier. The first thing would notice was the cattrack set next to huge crevasses. I was also impressed with the overall steepness of the runs; not much of a runout in Saas-Fee. The runs were short and steep, not really steeper than Zermatt, but didn’t have the runout. The skiing domaine was also more restraint.


The zigzag Metro run that you access once off the Allalin terminal at 3500 meters. The run is on the edge of the glacier and among the crevasses. T-Bars in the background.


The Allalin 2 + 3 T-bars, bottom of Metro pitch with courses and Allalinhorn (4027m).


There were also courses on the FIS run. View of the crevasses and Allalin station (3500m).


Courses on FIS and Allalinhorn


Snowpark

No wonder the Geneva park kids like Saas Fee; the jumps and halfpipe were happening. The only park I witnessed during this late summer treks across the Alps glacier that came close was the Les Deux Alpes park.

The altitude wasn’t as high as the previous day skiing at Zermatt, so the snow softened up earlier. The glacier setup was two parallel T-Bars and a lower one where the bottom snow conditions were somewhat sketchy. There were a number of people training, but not close to the amount or general caliber as in Zermatt. I made runs until we started being immersed in clouds just prior to the last lift at 1pm.


Allalin 2 + 3 lifts and Metro run


FIS run with part of snowpark in the shadow of Allalinhorn


Top part of Summer skiing terrain as seen from top of Allalin 1 lift


Allalin 1 lift, lower part of Summer skiing terrain with Täschhorn (4490m) and Dom (4545m), 3rd highest mountain in the Alps.


Lower T-Bar : Allalin 1 – Lower ski accessed point at approximately 3200 meters.


Upper T-bars and Allalin restaurant & terminal (3500m)


Feegletscher and Täschhorn from the gondola


Storm brewing as the skiing ended

Once back in the valley, early evening showers moved in and continued into the next day. I managed to ride the alpine luge next to the gondola. The next morning the Swiss kids weren’t going out as the hill was closed and I decided to make an early move out towards Zürich. Zürich is a beautiful city. but like Switzerland, it is expensive. I’m moving further East for my next destination.


Saas-Fee


Walliser Rösti and beer after a good day skiing


Road from Saas-Fee to Zürich


and tracks from Saas-Fee to Zürich


Zürich

MadPat’s Galleries :
Tag 27 / 24 August: Zermatt und auf nach Saas Fee
Tag 28 / 25 August: Saas Fee
Tag 29 / 26 August: Saas Fee und Zurich

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Day’s Log

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Detail log of skiable terrain

The Day and terrain stats: 18 runs and 4490m vertical in just under 4 hours.
Verticals :
Allalin 2 + 3 : 249m (3330-3579)
Allalin 1 : 162m (3200-3362)
Top to bottom summer ski terrain: 379m (3200-3579)
Allalin restaurant terminal : 3500m
Metro Alpin Funicular Felskinn-Allalin : 456m (3044-3500)
Alpin Express 2 Gondola Moreina-Felskinn : 372m (2672-3044)
Alpin Express 1 Gondola Saas-Fee-Moreina : 765m (1907-2672)
Saas-Fee to Allalin : 1593m (1907-3500)

Ski Pass

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Zermatt!!! A place steep in mountaineering history and one of the most popular tourist attraction. It is also the terminal of ski mountaineering Zermatt-Chamonix Haute-Route.

The family was leaving Lyon today; wife and kids were taking the TGV train to Paris and flying back to Canada the next day. Earlier that morning, I hoped on my own train in the neighbouring town from my in-laws towards Geneva and Zermatt. It had been 4 weeks since we landed in Paris, the rest of the family were heading back for work and school while I was extended my stay in Europe to get a few more turns.


Train station in France


French countryside


Swiss Alps


Final train ride up to Zermatt

A few hours later I got off the train and walked into a postcard. No artificial Disneyfied pedestrian village with typical faux-Swiss Chalets; this was the real deal with spectacular scenery with the Matterhorn in the background and you’ll understand why there are so many tourists roaming the streets.


The Matterhorn


Zermatt

All good things for tourists, but for myself, Zermatt is first and foremost one of the most extensive summer skiing destination in the World. Skiing starts at 7am, but the gondola ride open at 6:30. I bought a 2-day combo ticket that is also good at Saas Fee in the next valley. The ticket set me back 129 CHF. A single day pass for Zermatt cost for one-day was 80 CHF making it probably one of the most expensive ski passes all season combined on the Planet. Walked in sandals from the hostel to the gondola terminal and hoped on at 7:30. The ride from 1600m edge of town to the 3800m summit station was made via the bottom gondola then followed by two trams.


Tram station


Tram ride above glacier

For some reason, we ended up waiting in a closed trams for what seem a longtime. People were hot in more ways than one. The weather forecast was uncertain as T-Storm were forecast later in the day. The Matterhorn was partially clouded off for part of the day. The temperature at the top terminal at 3883m was 0 celsius, the snow was refrozen and hard. There was a long cat-track starting from the summit terminal building and descending where the majority of the skiing was happening. There was even a tunnel to avoid skiers training Super G or Downhill. Once on the other side of the short tunnel, a multiple of teams had divided the hill in lanes for training. Conditions were hard and fast which was perfect snow conditions from running gates for teams from Ontario kids to the Austrian ski team. These conditions prevailed until 11:30.

In this last week of August, the skiing was serviced by 5 T-bars covering a vertical drop of almost 500 meters. Skiing is possible for an extra 500 meters on the Oberer Theodulgletscher earlier in the season.

The morning skiing wasn’t for the uninitiated: it was like a first year driver on the Autobahn. The terrain accessed by the two 280 meters Zermatt parallel T-Bars started steep only to conclude in a long run off at the end down to 3400 meters. A number of courses were set to the skier’s right and two on the left side of the trail. The gateless skiing was in the middle. At the bottom left side in the run out, there was a few park features. You could access the park via a shorter T-bar that ran 75 meters, but the snowpark was clearly not the focus of the Zermatt skiers. Some skiers were arriving from Cervinia on the Italia of the border via a lift arriving to the Plateau Rosa which you could ski to and from.


T-Bars and the Matterhorn


Coaches and racers with the Tram terminal at 3883m in the background


Lanes with Super G course on the left


Austrian racer

As skiers running the downhill course from higher up, I noticed a T-bar higher not visible from the top of main T-bars. This lift ran along the ridge that also served as the Swiss-Italian border and climbed an extra 160 meters. The top of the T-Bar was approximately at same altitude as the Summit building (3899m). On the plateau in between, a T-Bar assured the liaison. Although the Downhill run was off-limits, there was a gentler run between it and the cat-track from the morning. The excursion was better with snow that was soft and edgeable. It made for a pretty long run with almost 500m vertical: wow! It was impressive.


Ridge T-Bar on the Italian-Swiss border


Saddle between top T-Bar (3899m) and Tram Terminal (3883m). Start of the Super G/Downhill training course on the left


In the other direction : Breithorn (4164m) trek. You can notice path and climbers

Clouds started moving in at noon when most of the racers were gone. I asked if it was okay to run that was previously used to train downhill. The answer was “yes” and it ended up being the run of the day. I keep bumping into this French skier. He initially approached me and asked if I was American. He mentioned that he recognized me by my skiing. We took the T-Bar together a few times. He was instructor from Chamonix in Zermatt on a daytrip. When we talked about age, he says that he mentioned that he was “48” to the ladies. Turns out that he was actually 78 and had been an instructor for the last 60 years. He worked for a number of years in Tahoe and spent one year at Mammoth during their third year of operation in 1960-61. This man was full of stories and was the definition of the classic French skier from the 1960s in the way I would imagine in term of personality. He lived just off Argentière next to the lift.


Traverse towards Plateau Rosa with view of main summer skiing area


Plateau Rosa and lift connection with Breuil-Cervinia (Italy)


Back towards T-Bars base

Ended up milking out the last run of the T-Bar, skied the previous closed lanes due to the various training courses. The flatter bottom of the slopes was pretty mush, but it still fun to ski if you don’t mind that thing of snow.

We downloaded off the mountain together. He shared some of his bottle of cider and sandwich. He didn’t want to have anything to do with my Mars chocolate bar. The ride down was longer as we used the top tram then transferred to the two stage gondola. Not the fastest way down, but still incredibly spectacular.

The French skiers removed his ski boots at the top while I put my sandals. I was waiting for him to put his shoes only to find out that he didn’t have any. He told me he never wore shoes unless he asked for a loan at a bank. :O Telling you, classic. As we walked down the streets of Zermatt, me in my sandals, him barefoot, he offered me a ride down the valley with his car parked lower in the Valley (Zermatt is car-free). I had to decline as I needed to get my stuff back from the Hostal and transfer via Train and bus to Saas Fee. I was really a pleasure to share part of my day with him.

Zermatt is really spectacular. The scenery and the size of the summer liftserved skiing are pretty impressive. Definitely an all-round classic!!!


Close view of the Glacier during the Tram ride


Lower end of the Oberer Theodulgletscher with visible early summer lifts


Gondola download


Zermatt


Matterhorn in the clouds


Beautiful Zermatt

MadPat’s Galleries:
Jour 26 / 23 août: Ambérieu-en-Bugey à Zermatt
Tag 27 / 24 August: Zermatt und auf nach Saas Fee

Monday Mad Addict’s Attic : Zermatt (Trail Map)

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Day Log

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Detail log of skiable terrain

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With the assistance from postcard written on January 24, 1993.

Never…never saw anything like it: A ski day that would become unforgettable twenty years later. As we are during the Holidays, a time of the year where the slopes are the busiest.

This was my recollection of my second outing of the 1992-93 season, the first being at Chamrousse. Since that first day, we visited Lyon and took advantage to be in the beautiful city to get our Christmas shopping done prior to family get-together on Christmas. A gray Christmas Eve with rain, fog and unseasonably warm +12c; I was very far from my Canadian White Christmas that I was accustomed to in Montreal or the Laurentians. I was somewhat depressed by the constant humidity and fog of this place and probably one of the main reasons why living in France would be so difficult for myself.


Lyon

The French resort of Alpe d’Huez was unknown to me and I imagine off the radar of most North American enthusiasts like myself. The place was grand and so much bigger than what I was accustomed to, but that wasn’t the reason why I remember this day so many years later; it was rather my introduction to the French Holiday Mountain Madness. Let just say that it was a day of multiple happenings. After 9 days away from the mountain and snow, we got to return to the bigger and higher Alpe d’Huez also located in the Department of l’Isère. Main village is located at 1860 metres with a top elevation of 3330 metres. The lowest elevation 1120m making the 2210 meters vertical drop. One major resort connecting with 4 smaller ones with 125 trails for 220km of skiing served by 82 lifts with a 90,000 people per hour capacity.

The Drive

We left in the fog for another pre-dawn morning to drive to go skiing. The drive is only 160 km; a good part of distance on the 2-lane autoroute that connects Lyon to Grenoble. Do it on a Sunday between Christmas and New Year, and you’re going to get rushed by traffic driving way faster than the 130kmh speed limit. Over one million people live in Lyon and are within day trip range to reach the ski areas above Grenoble: Alpe d’Huez one of the two major resorts with Les Deux Alpes. My wife was driving the Peugeot 309 dodging from slow lane to fast lane back to slow as she was trying to move out-of-the-way of people driving probably over 160 kmh tailgating and flashing their headlights, then put the brakes as she changed into the slow lane where two-trailer trucks are limited to only 60kmh. Although the French get minimum 5-weeks vacation a year, my experience in France over the years tell me that many city folks are stressed. The drive was only the part of the impatience of the French version of the weekend warrior mentality.

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The 160km morning drive to Alpe d’Huez

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Isère skiing near Grenoble (B) with Chamrousse (A) and Alpe d’Huez (C)

Grenoble and the valley beyond were in the dark; it wasn’t going to get interesting until we left the main highway. At that point, it would become one of the most spectacular drive and the most stomach turning ski access road until I would go to Valle Nevado in Chile 15 years later in 2007. Although many North American skiers never heard of Alpe d’Huez, cycling fans have heard of this road. The road starts climbing once you leave the main highway below in the valley and unto 15km of zigzags in the mountain along side cliffs. The perfect road for car sickness. The worst part of it is that a number of cars passed us on the switchback road even if they couldn’t see ahead. We have to climb in altitude because snow rarely makes it down in the valleys. As we gained elevation, we were suddenly out of the darkness and cloud, and greeted with blue skies. This made for spectacular scenery. The ski resort is located at 5500 feet (almost as high as Mt. Washington). The mountain summit is over 10000 feet. During the drive up, you get to pass the beautiful mountain village of Huez, located at 4350 feet (1450m); however, even if the postcard scenery has a ton of snow, the reality is that there isn’t any snow: it hasn’t snowed since early December, that is why we had to find a ski resort in high altitude or with snowmaking like Alpe d’Huez.


Photo : Pierre Guillot
January 24th Postcard written to my mother in Canada


Getting out of the valley and above the clouds


Village of Huez above the clouds – not easy taking pictures on switchback roads. Concentrate with the postcard

Mountain : Anarchy & Chaos

Unlike Chamrousse, the bottom of Alpe d’Huez is above treeline and there are lifts everythere on the lower mountain. We parked next to a road that connects different parts of the resort a few feet from the snow and the flat slope. The bottom third of the mountain was pretty flat and served mainly green skiers (beginners); the driver and myself felt a bit green ourselves, but it was mostly from the drive, maybe a bit from the altitude and the long past breakfast a few hours away. It was already pretty late, and we were in a rush to get our lift pass.

The queue or lineups are often non-existent in France; buying a lift ticket was total anarchy and chaos. There was no queue, just a semi-circle of masses squeezed against each other up to the ticket counters. It was almost as bad as the pushing and shoving I’ve experienced for concert tickets or attending general admission shows at certain rock concerts.

Once we finally got our tickets, we skied a few runs, then headed straight to the top elevation of the ski area: Pic Blanc at 3330 meters. We took two large gondolas, which got us to 2700m then hopped on the Pic Blanc Aerial Tram for the last leg to the summit. No pylons, just a base and summit stations separated by almost 700 meters and spanning 2km. As it was for the ticket window, we were crushed in a tram with over 90 people. We managed to squeeze in as the door closed and started our final climb. The slope of ascent is pretty steep at the end and height was really impressive, not good if you are afraid of heights. At this point, my girlfriend passed out and had to catch her as she slumped, her skis falling against someone’s face; the person seemed pissed off, not realizing what had happened. I was struggling to keep her from falling, and making sure our skis didn’t crash onto someone else, hoping we arrived real soon. As the tram arrived and people walked out, Caroline had regained consciousness. We seeked for help with the Ski Patrol; after a few minutes, it was determined that we needed to eat and drink water, and spend time at a lower elevation. Caroline’s hometown village has an altitude of 190 meters, so it was an over 3km altitude gain that morning. It was also decided that it would be better not to take the black run called Le Tunnel down: we were going to use the Tram back down. On the other side of the summit, there is, or at least in 1992-93, summer skiing. The skiing starts on the other side and they is a tunnel through the mountain to cross towards the resort side.


View from our car


View from the top of Pic Blanc

The closest restaurant off the base of the Tram was at Le Plat des Marmottes at 2300m. We needed to ski down a blue run called Le Couloir where at one point it became le Boulevard des Marmottes, mainly a traverse across the slope with a few small cliffs on the uphill side. All of sudden, I heard a crash behind me and saw that a skier had suddenly tumbled down a small cliff. I turned around, and rushed to see if he was okay. After a few minutes, I headed back towards our restaurant. That running and the altitude had made me woozy also. There was a nice restaurant with lawn chairs on the snow; however you needed to pay or buy something to be allowed to use them: a foreign concept at the time. I can’t remember if we had a lunch or we bought some food to eat? I just know that I had a sore stomach with bad cramps and needed to go to the W.C. like they say in France. I can’t remember either if you had to pay to use the toilet, but what shock when I opened the stall door: there was no toilet to sit on. WTF? It was what they call a Turkish Toilet (known as Squat Toilet). Now imagine my discomfort when you have ski pants and ski boots and you really need to go.

Image of a Turkish Toilet (Wikipedia)
Image of a Turkish Toilet (Wikipedia)

Unbelievable

Minutes later, I came back to finally manage to eat some food. It was possibly past noon before we started really skiing, when we weren’t waiting in line. We skied down, but wanted to stay above the chaos of the lower slopes, so we headed towards to bottom of the Lievre Blanc double chair at 2100m. The liftline was another example of frustration as people didn’t leave anyone any elbow room, constantly stepping on your skis and your tips; I really can’t stand when that happens. Almost felt like doing as hockey players do, and dropping my gloves. Merry Christmas to you to…get the F*@! off my skis!!! You couldn’t move, and everyone tried to move ahead of you, regardless if you were there before or not. A few people couldn’t take it anymore and removed their skis, I did the same… but some of them actually had the gall to actually walk ahead of the line. At the end of the day, everyone in line had removed their skis then re-putting them just before getting on the chairlift. The person in charge sat in his cabin; no liftee to hand over the chair. The only thing he did was looking if people had passes or stopping the lift. A number of chairs were going up empty as people weren’t all expert in stepping in their bindings; the efficiency of the experience was mind-boggling. We did just a few 450m runs on the chair, skiing mostly artificial snow towards the bottom of the serviced trails. Gondolas and Tram had huge lineup, like a farm animal being coraled into a meat processing plant.


View of top of Lièvre Blanc lift and resort of Alpe d’Huez at the bottom


View of Lièvre blanc run

Peace and Steep

We did find some peace, skiing great short and steep runs above the Lièvre Blanc lift. There was the tiny Clocher du Macle double chairlift reaching up to 2780m and under the summit ridge. There was two short 250m runs serviced by that lift and a long secluded descente in La Combe Chardonnière down towards to bottom of the resort. The snow was firm edgeable snow and was great to ski on, similar to skiing on chalk and the stuff I’ve skied at Mammoth of Chair 23 in mid-June 2005. Even if they were short runs, the runs on Balcons were definitely the most memorable skiing souvenir from Alpe d’Huez that I have twenty years later. It was probably one of the steepest runs I had ever skied at a ski resort at that time. I remember having to give pointers to Caroline as she was intimidated by the slope.

That lift no longer exists and the quietness of the place has probably changed. The location has been serviced since 2000 by first, a two-stage 6-person gondola (Mamottes 1 and Marmottes 2), the last stage connecting Plate des Marmottes with Clocher de Macle at 2800m. In 2004, there would be a third stage: a 33 place Funitel Gondola (Marmottes 3) connected Clocher with the Glacier above the ridge at 3060 meters.


Upper mountain and steep Les Balcons run


MadPat’s sunset run for possible last run

As the day ended, the last long run of the day was another memorable one. A long winding descente with steep terrain with gullies. We had a few slow skiers struggling in a steep section ahead of us and the patrol closing the trail behind us wanting us to move. The trail mellowed at the end; snow wasn’t as good as we approached the zoo. Not sure which trails we took as it was so long ago; it was probably The Balme red trail which was a nice 4km descente away starting off at Le Plat des Marmottes, but not impossible that it was the even more secluded and longer La Combe Chardonnière. I remember wanting to do it, but don’t think we made it.

What a day, I was somewhat disappointed we didn’t get to ski the top off Pic Blanc and Le Tunnel, but it turned out not so bad after a bad start. I would probably return someday before leaving France at the end of January. We were about to leave for a few days and New Year as we were invited by a university ski team friend that happens to be from Paris.

Lessons of the day:
– eat a good breakfast,
– try to acclimatize yourself to the altitude
– drink plenty of water
– and avoid Alpe d’Huez during the Holidays

Note: that was my observation twenty years ago, the first three-point still definitely apply, not so sure on the fourth one.

Details info on current lifts from the remontees mécaniques website : www.remontees-mecaniques.net

Click to access 1995-96 trail map

MadPat’s Gallery:
27 décembre 1992 : Alpe d’Huez

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With the assistance from postcards written on December 14 & 20, 1992.


Photo: Thierry Astruc
December 14th Postcard written to my mother in Canada

I’ve rarely had time to ski prior to Christmas due to midterm exams, correcting or other engagements. Always had no time with Killington’s October stealth openings then would generally manage one or two outings before the end of semester crunch in December.

Fall 1992 was slightly different; I had absolutely no time to go skiing. I had to meet a self-imposed deadline and finish almost 4 years of graduate studies. Thesis was completed on November 30, numerous copies made for the faculty, jury and directors and off to Mirabel Airport for the Montreal-London-Lyon flights. Graduate work was over until the jury would meet, which gave me probably 2-3 months of time off with the Christmas Holidays.

Overnight flight and unable to sleep after being awake for over 55 hours and barely slept in the last month in order to compete the thesis. Blame it on last-minute major “suggestions” by one of my directors and formatting changes from one computer to the next (home computer was new to me, I had just bought a Mac Classic with no printer in the last few months and didn’t know that formatting changed with the type of printer used). A five and a half hour wait at Heathrow Airport in London until my 90 minutes flight to Lyon, France. I was going to visit my girlfriend and her family outside Lyon. This wasn’t my first visit to France and it wasn’t my first time in the Alps either. The New Year 1991 trip was for less than 2 weeks with the University ski team and was only about skiing, although some people might think that skiing in gates isn’t skiing. This trip was 2 months and it wasn’t focused on skiing, but I brought my ski gear anyway.

The first week was spent recuperating and sleeping from the high stress of the last few months. We also visited the surrounding villages, Lyon, the Beaujolais and Burgundy regions. It took us 18 days to finally make it to the Alps on December 18.


Flying into London with St. Paul Cathedral below


December in Lyon


Cremieu, Isère : a few minutes from my in-laws


Beaujolais


Brançion, Burgundy

This was the latest start to my ski season in memory, and first time I hadn’t skied in November since I’ve been keeping track back in 1981. It had been just above 6 months since my last day at Killington on June 11th.

In Lyon I bought the Guide Curien de la Neige, a French magazine that listed France 383 ski areas. Caroline had mentioned Chamrousse was a real option as it was only 135km and 2 hours away; she had skied there a few times as a teen. The base is located at 1600 metres and sits on the mountains just above Grenoble, the site of the 1968 Winter Olympics. Chamrousse was host to the Games alpine skiing events. Croix de Chamrousse is the summit located at 2255m.

chamrousse
Google Maps: The 135km day drive from the in-laws to the Olympic Mountain: Chamrousse

So the skiing was about the same distance as Tremblant from Montreal with approximately the same vertical, but much less expensive. Lift tickets were sold 80 FF ($20 CDN), although it was low season prior to this coming weekend. Today was Friday, we were hoping to come on Wednesday, but we wanted Winter tires installed on the mother-in-law’s Peugeot first. I found this reproduction of an old 50 year-old postcard; Chamrousse was arguably one of the first locations where skiing was practiced in France in the late 1800s.


Edition R. Girard, Photo : Centrale Grenoble
December 20th Postcard written to my mother in Canada

Skimap.org: Chamrousse Ski Map 2006
Source: Skimap.org: Chamrousse Ski Map 2005-06

We drove up to Roche Béranger base at 1750 metres. The place was quiet and it was a low-tide Friday, one week away from Christmas. Chamrousse’s elevation is lower than other Isère Department ski areas like Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes. We started skiing around Roche Béranger and slowly towards the left on the trails network and base area of Le Recoin at 1650m. The skiing terrain was fine near Roche Béranger; Arolles and Gaboureaux were some of the steeper open stuff which lead to the other base. That base was bigger and a tram reached the highest point. Runs down to Lac Robert or lower down towards 1400m weren’t open.

Caroline had started skiing when she was 6, and she spent a few years of her childhood in France’s Southern Alps; her technique was a bunch of mixed elements, some probably dating back to the 1960s French technique when Killy and Canadian Tiger Greene won medals at Chamrousse. She had skied only twice during her year in Canada, and once with me at Tremblant in late April. I gave her a few pointers, and continued to deprogram her from bad habits, and teach her from scratch. She was much better than an ex-girlfriend which had never skied before meeting me and that was in 1992. Now she is so a much better skier.

We skied Les Crêtes and the excellent and fun Mens’ Olympics Downhill, which was steep at the top and twisted on the mountain face. I was jealous of people living in Grenoble with this ski area sitting above them.

It would seem that snow is rare, even in the mountains. The lack of artificial snow and no base means rocks. It was super warm on that day, and the past week with +12c. The snow was good with some freshies, however the lack of base and a few rocks isn’t good for your ski bases: now my skis needed a place to get fixed.


Crossing over onto Le Recoin : Croix de Chamrousse and Tram to the summit


Skiing on the Roche Béranger side with Tram in the distance


Le Recoin below and Grenoble further below


Grenoble in the valley


Backside


Looking at the summit from Le Recoin base


December days are short

MadPat’s Gallery:
18 décembre 1992 : Chamrousse

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Originally posted on Fri Jun 06, 2003 12:29 am on firsttracksonline

This was my contribution of a 51 posts on a thread I started on the Skier’s Ultimate To Do List. The conversation was a spin-off of another conversation that got totally sidetracked.

The conversation in the previous thread was going into this direction. I just thought it would be interesting to see what is the Skier’s ultimate wish list.

Few people mentioned skiing Hawaii (that also been on my list).

I guess after talking about skiing in the Torngat Range or somewhere on Baffin Island would also be on the list.

Here are a few others (in no particular order):

Summer skiing in the Northern Hemisphere (excluding June).
Skiing every months of the year.
Jackson Hole and Alaska.
Delirium Dive at Sunshine (Alberta) – in-bounds, but you need AV equipment and partner.
Speed Skiing at LesArcs (France) – anyone can do it, you just sign on the waiver. A friend did it, he reached 130km/h (75mph).
Ski La Grave with a guide (France).
Ski Mt. Washington elsewhere than Tucks.
Southern Hemisphere (Chili and New Zealand).
Go back to Europe for whole year off!!!

Some important ones that I have already done:
Ski on my birthday: June 11 (twice, once at Blackcomb 88 and Killington 92).
Ski la Vallée-Blanche on Mt.Blanc (Chamonix, France) – March 29, 2003
Ski the Jungfrau area in Switzerland (Wengen, Muerren, Grindelwald) – March 11-14, 2003.
Ski in Western Canada (more to see of course)
Ski the major eastern ski areas (missing Wildcat from my wish list).

SKIING or SKI mag had a top 100 list a few years ago. What is your list?

****************
Fri Jun 06, 2003 11:31 pm

WOW. I enjoy reading this stuff. This at least is positive stuff.

Snowmobiling in Iceland!!! Kevin, you seem to have a lot of great experiences… which ones are the ones that are next or would like to do?

Great message Tony,

In response to your message:

DELIRIUM and BANFF:
Delirium Dive might not be so extreme – but it’s there!!! I have skied the gullies behind Whitehorn at Lake Louise since they opened them a few years ago. They used to be permanently closed.

I have been to Sunshine at three different occasions with my wife. She just has vertigo just thinking about DD. I wanted to go down. In fact, just the entry (according to the line chosen) can be pretty hair-raising.

When you mentioned that the local environos would like everything shut down in the National Park (Marmot, Louise, Sunshine, Norquay) – it is in fact only the radical ones. Environmental groups (majority) wants to limit expansion and lift capacity. Although the approval system for change to the ski areas takes time, the capacity has been increasing in the last few years. I don’t really have a problem with their stand, it is an important National Park after all.

It is funny, I somewhat agree with the opening policy for Delirium Dive. In North America, a lot of ski lines are now added as trails, in Europe it is the opposite. While at les 3 Vallées, my friend from France that I skied with told me that some lines used to be trails, but the area has removed some of the most difficult ones over the years. The reason is that the tourist see a run on a map and automatically thinks that he can ski it. So now, the very good skiers know if it’s skiable for them or not, and the tourist don’t even try. This means less pain for the ski patrol…and tourists.

US WEST:
One of the reason why I didn’t mention the US West much in my list. The extra we pay (for Canadians at least) is not necessarily worth it for us. Although there are exceptions. I mentioned Jackson Hole, but I would also like to include Sun Valley, Taos, Alta on my list. However there is so many places in Canada that I haven’t skied. Red, Fernie, Kicking Horse are probably the next ones. I would visited these area before I consider trying Sun Peaks or Panorama. Plus I would like to go back to Whistler in 2006 for our 10th anniversary (we spent part of our honeymoon there, we haven’t been back since).

EUROPE:
I am fortunate to be married to a wonderful wife, who happens to be from Lyon, France. Your list of priorities is in the right places. My number priority in Switzerland was Jungfrau (Grindelwald, Wengen, Muerren) – probably the most spectacular scenery, Chamonix/Courmayeur are not bad either. Number #2 was Zermatt. My visit to the Jungfrau in March was great. Probably not the best skiing terrain (in-bound), but the overall experience and atmosphere was so amazing. The history of the place is amazing, not like most French resort which were built-in the 60-70s. Of course, one that doesn’t fit in that category is Val d’Isère. I have skied there on two different occasion (1993, 2000) for a total of 5 days. Probably my favorite in France. I missed out on Summer skiing at Tignes in 1998. It was planned, unfortunately I aggravated a shoulder injury in France. It was 39celsius the weekend we spent in Albertville (43c in Lyon).

La Grave was also on my to-do list this year, but it didn’t work out. Guides were all booked last March. Next time.

Other places I have skied in Europe:
Flaine, Chamonix (2 areas + vallée-blanche), Val d’Isère-Tignes, Trois Vallées (includes Courchevel, Meribel, LesMenuires and Val Thornes), Les Arcs, Alpe d’Huez, Chamrousse and Courmayeur across the Mt.Blanc in Italy.

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE:
I have two friends that have skied New Zealand or Chili. One of them did both. One day it will be my tour.

BTW. If I would take a year sabbatical in Europe, it would be Val d’Isère or Chamonix. Real towns, real people (higher tourist for people rate in Val).

************

Sun Jun 08, 2003 11:52 pm

WISH LIST:
I forgot to mentioned at the beginning of this discussion: ski all five continents.

Europe is great… No comparison can be made with the West. It is not necessarily better – It is like comparing Apples and Oranges.

Frank, you would freak out. The vastness of it all is mind-boggling!!! I did. Imagine the 600km of trails and 200 lifts of les 3 vallées.

I read that: “the six largest ski area in the US could fit inside Les Trois Vallées. That means that Killington, Vail, Heavenly, Steamboat, Squaw valley and Park City could all fit inside the space covered by Les Trois Vallées … plus you can also throw in Jackson Hole, Taos, Sun Valley, Keystone, Crested Butte, Alta, Solitude, Cranmore and Stowe and still have room.” (Ski Europe book)

COMMENT ON VERTICAL:
We did something like 25 and 28 runs the last two times we were at Sugarloaf. I was with a great skier friend, a weekday in January, cold, snowing, amazing condition and… this year. GS skis all date / we changed after lunch the previous year. I would just need to do the math to calculate total vertical.

I roughly skied 15-20 runs the three days I was at Tremblant. Days that I started skiing where I brought my daughter to school in Ottawa, then drive 2 hours, eat lunch and start skiing at 12:30!!!

However, the vertical and speed is generally less.

Thanks for the proper link Tony.

**********

Mon Jun 09, 2003 4:12 pm

Tony, I agree with Marc’s comment about Stowe, MRG and Jay – they are better than anything in Quebec (see my list somewhere in Killington’s 140 messages I believe).

When I was in the Alps, I rarely skied on the trails. There are only two trails off the Val-Thorens’s tram, we are taking 900m vertical!!!

Sorry, about the continents. I was counting America as one, plus not counting Antarctica. Africa was included in my 5.

Love those Whitehorn Gullies.

*************

Tue Jun 10, 2003 3:04 pm

A quick comment about the biggest is not necessarly better.

Although Les 3 Vallées is the definitely biggest place I skied and I enjoyed myself very much during that week, it is not my favorite. BUT, It has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

Frank, you are in University now, but after that I hope you get a chance to travel. I was 23 when I went to Whistler in June. My good friend had moved there from Quebec. The next time I was out West to ski was in 1996 (31yrs old), 98, 99, 01.
Europe: first time in 90 (25yrs old with ski team). The next times I was skiing and visiting my girlfriend and eventually her family (93, 00, 03).

In-bound skiing in the East:
Although I haven’t been there in the last 7 years, Stowe remains in my top3. Trails like Goat, Chin Clip, Starr, Liftline, Hayride, etc. If there were more deals, I would be there more often. <

Late season skiing in Western Canada:
Frank, great deals are available with Skican. If you do the math, skiing one week in April at Banff (ski, hotel, airfare) is not much more expensive than somewhere like… Stowe or K (ski, hotel).

***********

Tue Jun 10, 2003 3:12 pm

Marc,
Are you talking beneath the Val Thorens or Courchevel tram? I think I preferred the couloirs in Courchevel (not the Grand Couloir which is the only one on the map). Although skiing down the 900m from the top of la Cime-de-Caron (Val Tho) was also very very good. Did you try la Pierre-Lory which is on the backside from Val Tho (not on all the maps)? That was one my favorite runs in that week.

****************

Wed Jun 11, 2003 8:22 am

snif… Marc, you story has brought a tear to my eye. Just wonderful memories.

Any recommendations for someone who would like to take a one year (or more) sabbatical in the next 10 years from cubical life and spend it outside in Europe (ie. skiing).

I am too old to ski-bum, plus I have a family. My wife and daughters have dual citizenship (Canadian-French). Courchevel 1850 would not be the place, but Chamonix or Bourg St-Maurice could be interesting.

Marc, when were you there? What you are describing weather wise (55F & blue skies) sound a lot like what I had. I had this weather for 5.5 days out of 6 from March 16-21.
I know what you mean about traversing, we were in Val Thorens. I made it twice to Courchevel, but skied under that tram only one run. Too much to see and ski. I think that run (the old trail called Emile-Allais), plus the Pierre-Lory, skiing under the ValTho Tram, Mt.Vallon and itinéraire du Lac du Loup (Les Menuires) were my favorites. Not the most extreme, but definitely the must fun – nice, steep and long.

**********

Tue Jun 17, 2003 10:15 am

Ottawa – 28c today.
People would want to shot me when I was happy with the late spring snowfall.

Someone I knew only had one sticker on his old car. This was a SWIX bumper sticker (this was in 1986) – Which said: SUMMER STINKS THINK SNOW!!!

**********

Sun Jun 22, 2003 9:37 pm

Also WOW!!! Thanks for the NZ pic.
I can’t take this heat, 34c for the next 4 days. I want to go South…ern Hemisphere skiing NOW!!!

I would fun to have one of those sticker, just to see the reaction of people at work.

Originally posted on Fri Jun 06, 2003 12:29 am on firsttracksonline

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