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|Resort: Val Cenis (Lanslevillard)
Country: France, Maurienne Valley
Domain: Val Cenis (including resort of Termignon-la-Vanoise)
Date: 28th-30th Jan 2006
Our holiday: A long weekend break for four as warm-up for a week booked a few weeks later. Desire was to maximise time skiing and avoid paying the same for a long weekend as for a week which can very easily happen. Hence resort was chosen based on a combination of factors including 2 hour proximity to budget airline served centre, convenient flight times to maximise slope time, cheap lift pass (i.e. smaller area) and budget accommodation that would permit a weekend only. Mr and Mrs agavin (with about 7+ weeks skiing) went with 2 boarder friends, one of whom had done a season in the States.
Website : www.valcenis.fr (Good links to everything you need to know and panoramic webcam of middle mountain station - but apparently no update on weather or current conditions?)
Basics : The resort of Val Cenis consists of 2 villages (Lanslevillard and Lanslebourg) about 1km apart in the Maurienne Valley on the Italian border. We accessed this by flying to Turin with ryanair and driving there. In theory, it is 105km on the motorway from Turin through the Frejus tunnel with a further 23km from Modane up the valley. We took 6 hours due to heavy snowfall and sections of the motorway being closed - unfortunately the snow falling in Italy did not translate to loads of snow across the border in our resort! Total tolls paid were in the region of ¬£40 - make sure that you buy a return ticket for the Frejus tunnel if returning within 7 days which is only fractionally more than the single.
Lift system : The main lift system rises out of the 2nd village Lanslevillard at a Gondola station taking one from 1400m to 2100m from where a variety of routes can be selected down or a further chair ridden up to 2500m from where a final chair can be taken to reach the top station at 2800m. From resort level in Lanslevillard, there are also 2 additional chairs and one of the shortest gondolas I have ever ridden. From Lanslebourg, there are 2 chairs, one going only high enough to permit the link back to Lanslevillard, and another going up significantly higher. None of the chairs are particularly fast, and unfortunately none with Perspex bubbles which would have been desirable given the head wind carrying blown snow off the peaks. A few drags exist, but these can probably be avoided totally, although one mid-mountain drag was doing a good job of lifting one off your feet with a jerk when the slack was eventually taken in - not pleasant! Almost no queues, with the busiest time probably being after lunch on the Sunday with the day-trippers, but even then it was a case of only having to wait a few chairs/cars.
The terrain : In total there is 80km of piste. The majority of pistes would suit beginners and intermediates with lots of greens, blues and easy reds. It is important to note that the piste network bisects the road over the col du mont cenis into Italy that in winter becomes a green/blue piste and it tends to intersect most pistes as it zigzags its way down the mountain. It is also worthwhile pointing out that there are not very many distinct pistes in their own right. There are various pistes that are no more than a few hundred meter diversion before rejoining the main piste. There is a mixture of skiing both above and below the tree line, and a fun park on the lower slopes with a few jumps. Due to snow conditions, I cannot comment on the off-piste nor some of the runs at the top. The best runs are probably the 2 reds to the left of the chair accessed from the main mid-mountain station and possibly the red down to Lanslebourg.
The snow : The snow was not good. Despite it dumping (and having dumped just over in Italy for a few days), and being overcast, the pistes were in desperate need of snow. At altitude, there was a high wind blowing that had denuded all windward runs of snow, and deposited them on the lower / leeward side slopes. Lower down the mountain, some of the steeper sections were showing grass and stones in places. The slopes served by artificial snow were OK, if a little bit icy.
Off-piste : The boarders managed to find little bits of powder off-piste (blown off the top slopes!), but conditions were not great, and if the wind was any indication of prevailing trends, then I imagine the avalanche warning level would be consistently reasonably high?
The resort : We stayed in Lanslevillard, so cannot comment about Lanslebourg, other than that driving through it, it seemed small and pleasant. Lanslevillard is small and relatively unspoiled by commercialism. The locals seemed very friendly and keen to help in spite of the lack of French spoken by us. It is quite pretty with a small river running through it and a few stone bridges and an old church.
Food : We were on full board, but ventured out into a rifuge for lunch on the 2nd day. It appears that there are only 2 restaurants up the mountain. Food was good, but the menu simple and not very extensive. I imagine the larger restaurant at the top of the main gondola would have more of an offering, but would not be half as rustic as the one we tried. There are a few places for drinks spread out along the bottom of the slopes. Tried the creperie at the bottom of the main gondola which seemed to have a nice variety of crepes.
Accommodation : As originally stated, we were on a mission to minimise cost, so ended up booking into the Youth Hostel which is about 200m from the main gondola station. We shared a bunk room which was warm and clean, and the food was very good. On the 1st day, we went back for lunch and were served an excellent steak! They charged us 50 euros per day for full board (picnic for lunch option) and lift pass.
Costs: In total, including flights, car-hire, ski-carriage, tolls, petrol and accommodation and meals (we elected not to go back for lunch the 2nd day and kept the picnic for dinner), we were able to do this at ¬£200 per head for 2 full days skiing.
Conclusion: We achieved our goal of a good value long weekend. Any longer and we would probably have been bored. If the snow conditions were better, I imagine that 3 days would be a good length of time (excluding any off-piste). Add another day for a trip to Termignon to try those slopes and it may be possible to stretch it to a week. Definitely a pretty and unspoiled resort, and with plans to lift link to Termignon taking the total lift-linked piste to 120km, there is a lot of potential for the future.
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