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Report from Les 2 Alps

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Back From France...

Hello everybody! yes I’m back from skiing at Les 2 Alpes for 8 days and several in Paris.

This begs the question, have I skied before the season (and y’all) or after? Hmmmm... Wouldn’t before be better? Or am I just late in the season? Anyway...

Well, how was it? I can tell you I like this summer skiing thing. I really could get used to it.

We flew in to Geneva and rented a car to drive to Les 2 Alpes. (Others flew to Paris and took TGV high speed train to Grenoble then bus; some flew to Milan and drove; you could fly directly to Grenoble and take a bus) The direct driving route from Geneva (how could I possibly do that!) would be about 3 hours. We wanted to drive to Chamonix, go under Mont Blanc in the tunnel and skirt through Italy. Alas the woman at the EuropeCar desk (motto: "Happy to Help"-in english) told us the tunnel was still closed after the fire over 2 years ago. Still, we managed a scenic route that took us through Albertville where we picked up some French Francs. (Our fourth currency of the trip so far: US$, English Pounds at the airport layover, Swiss Francs in Geneva- hey yah gotta eat!, and then French Francs)
We turned off the autoroute on to the small route through the mountains and towards Valoire. There’s a ski area there and it’s pretty big. (No snow now though).

Leaving the town the mountains really started to become beautiful. They’re rugged, with little vegetation maybe some grass in spots but mostly dirt and rock shards at the high altitude. How many times can you call them amazing? To sum up my reaction: Imagine standing in a big dark empty hall that has a lot of echo. Now say "Wow" and let the echo reverberate a while. That would be my reaction to the place.

The town of Les 2 Alpes is pretty new especially by European standards. There was a store with a couple of posters showing the town in 1949 and 1989. In ’49 there was almost nothing there except a few farm houses and by 1989 the town is pretty much like it is now. I suppose you could call the town the Killington of the Alps-but it’s a long way from there.

You approach from up a steep climb with a lot of switch backs. The town is in a valley with the main skiing on the left (east) but also some decent skiing on the west side. The elevation of the town is 1,650 meters.(5,400ft). At the end of the street is a sharp drop off that goes down 600 meters to the town of Venosc. There’s a 6 person gondola (Telecabine) which takes you down there. It’s free with a ski pass or costs 40 FFr. ($5.75) for a a round trip. You can also hike down, but mountain biking (VTT, which stands for Velo Tout Terrain) is forbidden because the path is too narrow.

Venosc supplies the true European flavor of old buildings and narrow streets that you can walk around. It’s a small town that has some restaurants, bars and shops plus site seeing.

Summer skiing starts at the top of the gondola at 3200 meters (10,500 ft). To get there you take 2 gondolas. The first goes from the town at 1,650m to 2,200m and then you have to get out and walk to the next about 15 meters away in the same building. That takes you to the 3,200m level. That’s over a 5,000ft vertical rise and it takes awhile, about 25 minutes if it’s not really windy. (The day it was windy/foggy/snowy and the lifts at the top closed it took close to an hour) From there you take a t bar up to 3,425m (11,240 ft). With a little skating you can reach the top t-bar which will take you to 3,520m (11,550ft). The skiing actually goes down to 2,850m (9,350ft) which gives a total vertical drop of 575m or 1,900ft for summer skiing.

The skiing at the top is wide open with groomed trails. Racing takes place to the right of the t-bars on the main slopes. (that’s the t-bars that go from 3200m-3425m (740ft vert). Courses might use half of that vertical (if that) except for the national teams sometimes set long courses and might have 900 ft vertical drops. (Though that long a course is rare, I did see one) There are a lot of lanes set up and the groups there ranged from many groups of kids from various towns to national teams. Apparently the week before we were there the American team was there. The groups of kids were pretty impressive. They all had team uniforms with multicolored jackets and pants and the name of their ski club on the back of the jacket. Places like Sestriere, Courmayeur, Torino, etc., etc.. There was also a group from Killington Mountain School and one from Maine - Gould I think. There’s also a large half-pipe area and jumps for the snowboarders and twin tippers. Interestingly, skiers weren’t allowed to go into the half-pipe unless they had twin-tip skis on. Since I didn’t I never went in there. But there was a lot of activity and there are several camps that run programs for snowboarders/new schoolers

The snow:

Salt you ask? That’s for food and roads. Nothing but the real snow here. Conditions ranged from rock solid ice/snow, to soft wet snow, to packed powder, to 10" deep powder. I was amazed at the quality of the snow and the fact that it changed so much. The first day I skied was Saturday and the conditions were amazing. Perfect blue sky great snow, nothing but smiles! I had expected sort of chunky ice changing to slush but here was real good snow and we’re skiing on July 14th! Early in the morning it was firm and packed powder like. Later in the morning it became (down low) quite soft wet spring snow. We stopped before it got to the slush stage. (T-bars close at 1:30pm).

Here’s the wild thing: after making a bunch of runs on piste we decided to go off piste to a really nice section we kept eyeing from the chair lift that had a good steep pitch and not many tracks. We’d seen a couple of people earlier cutting under the rope and skiing over there so we figured we’d do the same. We go all the way to the top t-bar so that we’ll ski the entire 1,900 ft vertical drop. From a flat section we cut under the rope. We need to traverse left but I want to ski down straight for maybe 30-40 m and then cut over before the small crevace that marks the breaking off of the snow pack down the couloir. I head that way because of the view. The terrain falls away quickly so all you can see is the snow ahead of you and then the mountains in the distance. It’s a bit like skiing the snowfield at Sugarloaf where you can’t see the terrain in front and feel like you’re skiing off the edge of the mountain. Here it’s much more dramatic. For the half dozen turns I get in it feels like I’m skiing off the edge of the world.

Stopping at an outcrop of rock and the begining of the run we take our skis off and climb up a short ways for the view. It’s spectacular. The jagged peaks of the alps in the distance, some with snow on them, and below and to the right is the large couloir with the crevase at the top. It looks like a great run if you stay to the left, worth the hike back up. Maybe I’ll find someone who knows this area take me down. (This never happens).

Clicking back into our skis we begin the run down. The first few turns have are heavy wet powder mixed onto a more granular icy snow. It quickly becomes amazing snow, fine icy crystals about 4" deep on top of a firm base. We’re skiing fresh tracks! The consistency of the snow is amazing. There’s no clumpy spots, it’s just consistently nice soft friendly fine grained crystalline snow. Like the sky above, it’s bright, shiny, happy snow. It supplies the perfect amount of resistance and turn after turn is the same.
Turning...and...falling...turning...and....falling . Swiiish...swiiish...swiiish. It would be a great run in the spring but here on July 14th- Bastille Day, it’s phenomenal. I’m not cold, not hot, the sun’s bright, the sky’s blue, and the views are beautiful. All I can do is laugh!! Skiing just doesn’t get any better than this - just different.

I’m thrilled with the 168cm slalom skis (Saloman 3V). I’d been worried they’d be too short and wouldn’t like the deeper stuff but they’re a blast. I can make nice short radius turns that come across perpendicular to the fall line. I’m not wishing I had a longer ski at all. As the terrain flattens out the snow becomes more like heavy wet powder. It’s no longer the friendly, happy stuff up above. Still, it’s pretty damn good for summer. I carefully make a few long turns and then traverse to the trail.

Even though it’s getting late and we’ll probably miss lunch at the hotel, we decide to take another run. Who needs food when you’ve got skiing like this? There’s nothing but smiles and laughing on the lifts, 2 chairs and a t-bar to get back up. We don’t go all the way to the top because there’s no need to for the good stuff. Our different approach gives us a new short section of fresh tracks in some heavy powder. More fresh tracks! This is outrageous. Then it’s under the rope and the few turns down that feel like skiing off the edge of the planet. ("Hey, what if I fall?"- "Uh...yeah...Don’t think about that!!") Then it’s on to the steep part with the happy snow. In order to get more fresh tracks (!!) we ski close to the rock line. I scope out a line way to the right- there’s no tracks and it’ll be long. I just have to remember to turn left at the bottom before another small crevace that’s forming. There’s a small traverse to get over there. The view! It’s incredible. Far off jagged peaks mostly brown with snow at the top. Rugged tops in the foreground and the plunging couloir (or valley? 75m wide) just down below to the right. I head down on the happy snow making fresh tracks again. [Are you tired of that yet?] Of course I become mesmerized by the turns and not wanting them to stop I head too far down. I wake up when all of a sudden I notice a straight clump in front of me (the edge of the small crevace) "Full left rudder!" I turn about 8 feet in front of the line. I’ve gone too far and have to walk uphill but it was worth it for those turns. We get to the trail and the lift just in time as the lower chair closes at 1:15pm.

What a day! Not only did we "warm up" but we had outrageous runs with fresh tracks that rank with my best ever. To think we almost didn’t ski, to "rest" --how absurd that seems now!

At the bottom of the gondola we stop at the ticket area to get a bag and I notice a weather report. Though I can’t really read it I can tell it’s talking about a storm, high winds, and snow down to 2,000 meters. That’s low considering we only ski down to 2,850m ! Right now we’re so pumped up and the sky is blue that we pay little attention and just head to the hotel. It’s uncomfortably warm down here (80’s) in all this gear - it feels like a different universe. We walk to the hotel with ski boots shod with catracks and skis over the shoulder while kids with shorts and t-shirts do tricks in the skateboard park.

--Sorry, but I’ll have to post more later.
To come:
storm and disappointment
a surprise
shocker?: the best of the best do wedge turns for a week
il magazino Sciare
La Grave

Perhaps I’m a little carried away, but I’m finding a hard time seeing going out west when you could go to Europe for the same or maybe less. Certainly after this experience plans for skiing out west will probably be diverted to jumping the pond. (Of course I’m not sure where the money is yet)
post #2 of 12
Ah, I remember the place well and I know exactly what you are talking about. Did anyone point out which direction to look to see Mont Blanc? It's basically north from the top o' the montain (or left from the direction of getting off the T bars or gondola).

Someday perhaps I will ski there again and be ready to ski past the ropes, too.

post #3 of 12
eheh ... I use to be there on each weekend, and yes I was there on July 14th, as with my buddy, I guess we were the 1st on the off piste - cutting rope going sideway on what you call the edge of the world, then followin the rock line to the right, so on, perhap's you did see us basically. The WorldWideWeb 's a funny thing...<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by Jackdaw (edited August 02, 2001).]</FONT>
post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
That's excellent that you were there! was it summer or winter? Yes, someone did point out Mt. Blanc later in the week.

!!what a coincidence eh? We must have seen you. I was amazed at how few tracks there were even that late in the day.

Anyone go to La Grave?
post #5 of 12
Hey Tog,
Great post. Where did you find out about summer skiing in the Alps? What made you choose Les 2?
post #6 of 12
I went the first week of April, 2000. Snowed every day, even in the village (where it melted quickly). It was gorgeous, but I promptly decided not to ski all the way down. That drop off you mentioned was all that was open (there was some avalanche warning that closed the easy trail) and, somehow I could hear the spirit of the ex calling me a wimp for taking the gondola down, so I tried skilling one of the tough trailss. Promptly fell, slid down most of the trail and lost my glasses, which gave me reason to call him and ask him to get me a replacement pair.

Anyhow, the conditions were wonderful, the food was great and my ski instructor was, but of course, French!

I'd love to go back sometime when I can afford to do it.

post #7 of 12
few tracks ? yes, perhaps people hesitate because of the crevasses ?

Or because half of the riders are racers, they stay on the slope then finish at 11:00; another half stays in the park, the third half stays on the terrasse for sunbath ... not many people remaining to go freeriding
<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by Jackdaw (edited August 06, 2001).]</FONT>
post #8 of 12
Ooh-La-La Tog. It sounds sublime. Can't wait for more.
post #9 of 12
Beautiful as always, Tog! Reads like a novel. Can't wait for chapter 2!

Be Braver in your body, or your luck will leave you. DH Lawrence
post #10 of 12
Best info on summer skiing in the Alps (having skied quite a number of these places myself) - http://www.iglu.com/features/summerski.cfm
For my money, the best summer ski terrain in Europe is at Tignes (France) and Hintertux (Austria). Saas Fee beats Zermatt for gradient on the glacier, if you're heading for Switzerland.

David, London
post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
I've heard that at Hintertux there's nothing except the skiing- good for concentrated training etc. Is this true?
As for Tignes, it's the only other place I've been in Europe-in the winter 20 years ago. Great place. How far down do they ski in summer? Can you go down that steep drop off on the right as you go up? (Though now you go up underground?)
post #12 of 12
I skied Hintertux in October. Indeed it's a small village. The skiing, however, is extensive and a favourite training ground for World Cup ski racers in the off-season. Our group stayed down the valley in another small place. I reckon Mayrhofen would be the best bet, with a drive up the valley to the glacier access each morning.
As for Tignes, I've skied there several times in different summer months. The 'Wall' you're talking about forms (if I'm not mistaken) the tail of the glacier and is not skiable in summer. You basically get the big cablecar from the top station of the underground funicular, and the chairlift that rides up to the top station. So your overall vertical is pretty respectable (I think about 800m), with some reasonable pitches but nothing particularly steep.

David, London
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