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French Alps Dec10-12, Here is My Plan

post #1 of 70
Thread Starter 
This will be my first trip to ski Europe. I've had luck the past 3 yrs with mid-Dec trip to Snowbird(2)&Aspen and just booked a free ticket flight to Geneva.  I arrive in Geneva at 7:30am Thurs am, Dec 10th(1:30am back in Penna).  I will hire a car and drive to Grand Montets in Chamonix about 90 minutes away.  Hope to be skiing by Noon.  That is the only Chamonix resort open, but apparently it is a good experts resorts with plenty of skiing. After skiing, I'll make my way down to Bourg-Saint-Maurice where I will find a hotel.  I figure that is about 2 hrs of driving.  The next morning I'll drive the 24 miles to Val'd isere-Tignes and ski those resorts and come back to sleep again in Saint-Maurice.  The next day, Saturday, Les Arcs opens, and I'll take the short train rirde to ski there and when I come back to Saint Maurice, I'll get my car and drive 2.5 hrs back to Geneva Airport, where I'll spend the night before Sunday morning flight back to Newark. 

I have my air booked but am holding off on hotels, figuring that is very early season and I can always find a room.  Plans may change if there is very early heavy snowfall and maybe I won't have to go south as much.  I want to experience the French Alps and ski a couple different resorts, cause I like to ski and see different areas. I figure if I get jet lagged (or when i do), I'll just pull off and nap, easier to do if you are one.  Verbier does not open until Dec 12th so that is not an option. 

Tignes and ValThorens are the sure bets if no snow, but ValThorens is further, so why bother on first Euro trip.  And LesArcs looks like a huge area to explore.  So hopefully, I'll get to ride a whole different bunch of cable cars and gondolas and the snow gods will be on my sides, but even so, likely I'll get some pretty good skiing in where I'm going. any better ideas?  It's a quick trip but will get me out of town for a few days.
post #2 of 70
Bourg is a nice base and Tignes is a good early season bet. If I were you, flying into Geneva, I'd go ultra flexible and consider skiing in Switzerland if conditions are better there (Zermatt or Saas Fee, for example).

If you're not already locked into Geneva, consider Zurich as your hub too. Engelberg is very close and is a good early season bet, and then you could drive to the Arlberg, which seems to get early storms every year.

In Italy, with Milan or Turin as your base, the best early bet is Cervinia.

I'd say Geneva or Zurich would be the way to go.

post #3 of 70
Thread Starter 
I have my ticket to Geneva already.  Zermatt is 4 hrs by train, convenient, but i miss my first half day of skiing and maybe some of my last.  but it would make life easier not getting a car.
post #4 of 70
Thread Starter 
I found mapquest.france and see I was being a bit too ambitious with the driving because Argentiere where Grand Montets is is 1:45 min away from GVA and then I have another 2:30 minutes to get to Saint-Maurice after skiing.  That's too much driving, and would be much worse with weather.
So mapquest says it is only 2:30 minutes to Tignes from Geneva, so I always land at 10:30am and ski full half day in Salt Lake, 1 hr from airport, so I'm landing at 7:30am and even giving an extra hour for customs etc I should be on time for half day at Tignes, and ski there for the 2.5 days.   Since I'm traveling east I am thinking it is a good idea for 4-5 night to set my alarm for 4am and try to get a little in the eurozone, that would help.
post #5 of 70

If you haven't skied in the Alps before, something to keep in mind is that Alpine resorts are not organized like their US counterparts. So they generally don't have day lodges and can have strikingly little parking for day skiers, etc. A lot of resorts have grown organically, eg, not from a central plan, and it shows in the (what at first seems) haphazard way they're laid out. Others, though well planned (France has a lot of these), are geared toward people coming and staying for a week at a time. So parking, mobility, etc. tends to be based on hotels and their guests.

All this to say that you can lose a fair whack of time coming into an Alpine resort on a day trip, looking for parking, finding a lift ticket office, etc. Smaller resorts are easier in this regard, and obviously, this only affects your day 1, when you're going to try and ski off the plane.

Wherever you find parking, boot up there. You probably won't find anything else. Also, remember that you may lose a little time from first lift out of town to lift you'll actually ski off. That's the downside of those big Alpine verticals! Particularly true in early season, when I guess most of the skiing will be on the highest part of the mountain. At Cervinia, for example,  you've got to take two gondolas and a cable car before you hit a slope in early Dec., about 40 min. riding lifts, not counting lines. Course, you'll be jetlagged, so maybe you can nap. 

For the record, I've hatched my own plan to have a friend show and ski same day from the States, though we've never put it into practice, yet. Let us know how it works.

One final thought: your arrival day is a weekday or weekend? Should be less traffic, easier parking and fewer liftlines on a weekday, speeding things up a bit.

post #6 of 70
I lived in Bourg St M in 07-08 and did the Geneva airport drive a couple of times and it always seemed like 2.5 hours (with Tignes another half hour or so)...there may have been a detour at the time...good new is that except for the very last part near Tignes, the road is at a low elevation so it takes a big, cold or windy storm to make it hard driving. 

The Cham portion was probably overly aggressive and may be a longer drive to BSM during winter than summer...

There is a bus also...altibus.com, I think 
post #7 of 70
I will only comment on the Cham part of this plan as that is the only one of those places I've been.

It's a direct shot from the airport on a freeway all the way to the town of Chamonix, then about 15 minutes beyond to Argentiere on a two lane road. I can't see this taking you more than two hours.  There is a large parking lot right next to the cable car, so no messing around there, either. Customs involes nothing more than handing your passport to someone and them handing it back, so I see no reason why you can't be skiing by well before noon.

Grand Montets is awesome. Since your first day is only a half day, I'd probably plan on staying the night in Argentiere so you get 1.5 days skiing rather than 0.5 and then driving somewhere else. Of course you're right that it shouldn't be crowded, so you can make that decision at the time. It just seems less stressful with less driving, and in half a day you will not come close to skiing all of the resort (depending on how much is open, of course). I find Euro resorts look much smaller on the piste map than they actually are. Grand Montets is actually very big.
post #8 of 70
Thread Starter 
Thank Ami.  I like to ski different resorts each day but don't want to overdo it with the driving.  That is a good idea, ski the first 1.5 days at Grand Montets, and then the 3 day somewhere else.  Avoriaz opens Dec 12th, my 3rd day, and might be a good option.  It is on the way back to Geneva .  I was thinking Merebel would be nice, but that is does not open until Dec 19th.  Of course, big early snowfalls or no snow would change things.
post #9 of 70
Yeah, do keep scale in mind. Resorts in the Alps are much bigger than most anything in North America, and unless you're really good at orienteering, one day at any major Alpine resort is nothing. The one disclaimer on that is that this is early season, so not everything will be open. But that aside, if I were at Chamonix, I'd probably just stay there. It's huge. Huge.
post #10 of 70
I like to travel around checking out different ski areas as well, so I know what you mean. I'll just say that after my first trip to the alps, I started reconsidering that. But then prickly makes a very good point about resorts not being fully open at that time.

Avoriaz puts you right in the middle of one of (if not the) largest ski areas in the Alps. But most of it is pretty low, so the amount open could be very limited. If they have enough snow it would be a good option, but otherwise it's probably not really worth it. It is close to Geneva, as you say, so a good option for your last day.

Honestly, I'd just go to Chamonix. If you feel like checking somewhere else out after a couple days, great. Go for it. If not, also great.
post #11 of 70
Thread Starter 
I read an article about the snowiest resorts in Europe and actually Avoriaz was #5.
post #12 of 70
That may be true (I have no idea) but could also be deceptive. Avoriaz lies at the top of the Portes des Soliel. So while the village Avoriaz might get a lot of snow, much of the skiing takes place at a lower altitude. If you only take in to account the slopes at or above the same elevation as Avoriaz, the vast ski resort shrinks very quickly. I'd be somewhat skeptical of how much will be open at that time of year, but if they've gotten good early snow  it is by all means worth checking out.
post #13 of 70
There was a thread a year or so ago that really opened my eyes up on European snow stats (which I think are harder to parse than those for North America). Some of the resorts known for being snowsure -- Zermatt for example -- actually sit in relatively dry zones; that they've got height, exposure, etc. in their favor is another matter (eg, snow preservation vs. snow fall).

I don't know anything about Avoriaz, frankly, but I'd be careful with anything on European snow. Conventional wisdom would be that Val Thorens and Tignes are hard to beat. I also understand that Andermatt has a unique position to pick up storms from three sides which gives it unusual storm exposure. Anecdotally, it always seems to me that St Anton gets a lot of early storms. And from experience, I know Cervinia always seems to have good cover early.

Cheers, P.

post #14 of 70
Thread Starter 
You are right in that it is harder to figure out the Euro resort snowfall averages.  Of course they have to be standardized to elevation  to mean something.  But here is one place where i found Alvoriaz to get better snowfalls,
and the fact that they are one of the resorts scheduled to open that Dec 12th weekend, a bunch more are not scheduled to open until the next weekend.
But here is a question.  I am an experienced skier who likes black runs and moguls.  I'm not really much for cruising and usually try to find the harder way down.  Also, I really appreciated good scenery and being way out there.  I'm looking forward to some awesome cable car rides.  Do you know if either the Tignes or Val Thorens is better for those qualities.  How about trees, do either have more to make the resort more scenic and natural?

I don't really mind doing some sightseeing on cruisers, but what would really make me happy are some nice couple thousand foot blacks.  In the US blacks rarely go more than 1,000ft. w/o being broken up. Primrose Path at Snowbird is one of my favorites.  1,000 ft of moguls at  good black pitch. Somehow the Euro's don't seem to be big on skiing the moguls and also I read they stay out of the powder, whaat?  I have read Grand Montets is a real good experts area and so is Les Arcs. (which also opens Dec 12th).  
post #15 of 70
The key to your question is timing. If you were in the Alps Dec. 12 of last year, you would have found phenomenal skiing, with most everything accessible. Then, certainly, your desire to ski pretty much anything (long, steep, mogulled, whatever) would have been satisfied. But at that point of the season (as, really, is the case back in the States too) there's no guarantee. It's early.

I haven't skied at either Val Thorens or Tignes (though I have been to Tignes), so I can't comment much on terrain. Val Thorens has no tree cover, I think. Both are known for challenging runs as well as high, snowsure slopes. I know people who ski the 3 Vals a lot, and they tell me Val Thorens is really dicey for visibility. If conditions were good, I'm sure you'd find great skiing at either place.

I've skied less in France than in the other Alpine countries, but my sense has always been that the French are more hands-off on the moguls than the Swiss or the Austrians; the Italians are hopeless in this regard.

Finally, it's possible that early opening dates are based on aggressive snowmaking rather than good natural snowfall records (not saying that's the case, but it is possible).
post #16 of 70
Val T & Tignes are above the tree line. Both resorts are ugly ugly ugly, but the mountains around them are pretty special.

It is possible to ski from one side of Espace Killy to the other and back in one day, but you'd be missing out on great runs for the sake of getting the distance in.
If you want a bit of off-piste fun, go to the Vallee Perdue.
If you want moguls with a bit of a pitch, the Face on Bellevarde. (about 1500ft of vertical)

And on the Tignes side...

Vallon de la Sache

North Face of Grande Balme

So, there's 4 runs for you to start off with.


post #17 of 70

The kind of skiing you say you're after pretty much describes Chamonix.

As for Avoriaz, if you look at that pdf you'll see some interesting figures:
Resort: 1800m
Slopes: 950-2300m

Their "fifth snowiest resort in Europe" claim is therefore being measured from near the top of the resort, not the base. In fact the article even says that the area is "uncomfortably low". I don't doubt that they'll open on Dec 12th. The question is what will they be able to open. There is a bowl above Avoriaz that gets you about 500m of intermediate cruisers. It could be limited to that.

There is some more interesting terrain that drops from above Avoriaz down towards Les Gets. If that's open it would be more worth your time. This is the top of one of the routes:

Which funnels you down into this:

Off the other side of the bowl above Avoriaz is the Swiss Wall, which drops down towards Les Crostes in Switzerland. It's very black and very mogully:
So if that's open, there is even more of a reason to go. Just check when you arrive in Switzerland before heading up there. If only the slopes directly above Avoriaz are open, you're going to wish you'd gone somewhere else.

post #18 of 70
Thread Starter 
Ok, I accept Azoriaz info as good advice.  Also, I can't seem to find a trail map of only Azoriaz, only the whole group of resorts.  So if Azoriaz is out, then I am left with initial plan of 1: going right to Tignes/Val Thorens and staying for 3 days, 2: first half day at GrandMontets then be driving fool and drive to Tignes/Val Thorens for day 2 & 3.  But I would like to go to Chamonix just to be there and see the Mt Blanc etc.  I don't really like skiing/traveling alone, but at least that gives me the complete freedom to do what suits me.

p.s. - thanks for Azoriaz pics above, seems like you have some experience out that way.
post #19 of 70
I agree with ami. I also have first hand experience only at Cham but you need to allow more than a half day at Grand Montets unless the you're unlucky with the weather. I'd also consider a day on Valee Blanche - it's a glacier so it should be open. It will take a full day and you can count it about half skiing and half sight seeing. Two cable cars up the side of Mont Blanc and then a the longest decent in Europe. Get a guide (group) that's taking the more difficult route down if you want some challenge. Two nights in and around Cham will give you a lot of variety without the lost time of a long drive. Between Argentiere and Chamonix - Montets and Blanche you will find the  variety you seek. It's not like skiing Aspen Mtn one day and Snowmass the next.
post #20 of 70

Tignes 2nd December last year...

Snow making at the bottom of the Face:

post #21 of 70
It just dumped on the Alps last December. And January. February too. March not so much. But April...
post #22 of 70

Agree with the others that you might find that you don't feel you need to travel around much for a 2.5 day trip and definetely agree that it will be best to wait to see where the snow is- that is not a busy week and last minute deals should be available.  The last two years have been good openning day at Les Arcs, but if snow is late arriving, then a glacier like Tignes may be the best option. 

Parking at the funicular in Bourg St Maurice used to be free with decent availability, but I think they started charging last year- I used to store my skis at Polairstar at the base of the funicular where Steve, Gordon and Rosie will look after you.

Tignes/Val have several options, but some may depend on how low down they are open. 

post #23 of 70
The Aiguille du Midi is open earlier this year. If we have good snow earlier this year there will be a huge playground available.
post #24 of 70

I think you are being overly ambitious for your 3 day trip.  just to give you some idea - it took me over 3 hours to drive from Cham to Courcheval at 4am - and it was not snowing.

Don't know if your driving will take you past BSM on a saturday - it did for me. and BSM was a big parking lot - as saturday is the day when everybody in europe start/end their ski trips.

Also it took me a little more than 3 hours from Val D/Tignes  to GVA at 4am in good weather.

This is not the same as landing in SLC and being at Wildcat base in 1 hour.

Suggest you add some buffer and flexibility into your planning - based on where the snow is the day you land at GVA. 

Also - in my experience - it is not easy to find Black/mogul/challenging slopes in europe without guides.
In fact a number of steeper slopes don't even open till much later in the winter.

post #25 of 70
Thread Starter 
thanks for all the info.  one thing.  Grand Montets is the only Chamonix resort scheduled to open for Dec 10th when I arrive.  I think the Aiguille du Midi is scheduled to open for my last day of skiing Dec 12th.  So maybe that's the plan, ski GrMontets for 2 days and hook up with advanced guided trip on Aig.dMid conditions permitting.

Luckily Continental allowed me to schedule this free trip with freq flyer miles, so I 'm just happy I don't have to pay the fare, and could spend it on something like the car.  I may not even need a car if I'm going to just stay in Chamonix valley, if there are regular shuttle going back and forth that early.  The season is just barely starting.  But my last 3 mid-Dec trips have been saved by last minute enormous dumps and I had mid-winter condtions, so I'm optimistic that the snow gods will be in my favor again and I'll ski the good snow, cause that's what it is all about!   It doesn't have to be powder but it the good kind of snow is always hoped for.   I've been mostly skiing Utah for many years, and those north faces at Alta and Snowbird are Always! nice and sweet in late Feb when I'm usually there. 
Edited by SnowbirdDevotee - 10/13/09 at 2:16pm
post #26 of 70

Euro snow pre Xmas is a bit of a lottery - I'd prepare myself for skiing the man made ribbon of death with the addition of spectacular scenery & cheese based diet then every bit of real/non glacier snow you get is a bonus.  Remember re glacier off piste that it can take a number of heavy snowfalls to fill in crevasses and snowbridges.

post #27 of 70
Hey fatbob, did I see you sliding at Hemel on Saturday? We were there breifly while taking a break from packing my house for the removal men.
post #28 of 70
As fatbob hints at, don't count on being able to ski the Vallee Blanche. Quite a lot of snow is first required to make it skiable. The Aguille de Midi cable car being open does not mean it is skiable. That cable car is primarily used by sightseers, not skiers, and is thus opened based on a schedule that has nothing to do with snow conditions.

Having said that, you could certainly get a guide one day at Grands Montets. It really is a much larger area that you would think from the piste-maps.

Speaking of piste maps, I find them generally very poor in Europe (maybe because I grew up with the James Neuhaus American maps). In Europe, it's usually a black line signifying a lift and a couple of squiggly lines hinting at a run but telling you nothing about its nature. Or there are the annoying online interactive maps that do not really give you any more information but are always ridiculously small on your computer screen and cannot be printed. Why can't they just publlish a simple pdf?

That's a long way of saying no, I have not seen an adaquate map of just Avoriaz. Only completely useless maps of the enitre Portes des Soliel. But put simply, what you want to ski are the Swiss Wall (the official name on the map is something starting with "Che" with a "v" or two in it, can't remember off the top of my head) and Crozats. If they are not open, do not go there.

I know you might feel like you're getting overwhelmed with information here. Just keep in mind, whatever you end up doing, you're going to have a great time.
post #29 of 70
I've said this so many times that I'm thinking of asking the authors for a commission, but here goes:

Get yourself a copy of Where to Ski and Snowboard, 2010.

My new copy arrived yesterday, the same day my new skis showed up! Talk about kharma.
post #30 of 70
Prickly, if Dave Watts is still one of the authors, you don't stand a chance of getting commission. As we say in England, he's got deep pockets and short arms. (and he still owes me a drink or two from the Whistler trip about 5 years ago)
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