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TR: 2012 Maurienne Sans Frontières

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Our group skied in the Maurienne Valley a couple of years ago with (and at the suggestion of) offpisteskiing. We liked it so much that we determined to return. Later that same year Mrs A walked the Tour du Mont Thabor (which is just to the South of the Maurienne) on her own while I stayed at home nursing a poorly cat. We both wanted to do some more skiing there so returned again during the 2012 half term holiday.

Flights and car hire were through Airmiles (before they changed to Avios) and, in the end, 'cost' us only £70. Unfortunately, this meant we had to change at Heathrow with a 4 hour wait on the way out and 3 hours on the way back. This gave us plenty of time to sample the highlights of Terminal 5A. If you ever get stuck there then amble down to the South end where you'll find a quiet Espresso cafe oft frequented by cabin crew. Then, looking out of the window, head left behind the shops and stairs and you'll find a quiet seating area populated almost exclusively by terminal staff on their rest breaks. Because of some traffic control problems, we were held up on the tarmac for an hour. So by the time we got to Lyon we were a bit tired and stressed. Still, our car had been upgraded to a Ford Focus so we just flung the skis in the back and didn't bother with my inflatable roof rack. However, I declined the snow chains on offer at €8 a day - more anon.

Using mostly the resources of Google Maps we'd book ourselves into a small hotel in St Jean de Maurienne. The Hotel Bernard is certainly French and not International but we were made very welcome and our skis and boots were accommodated with ease.

We planned to use the Maurienne Sans Frontières ski pass. For €144 this gives you 8 tokens, each of which you can exchange for a day's lift pass at any of the resorts in the Maurienne valley. Some charge a bit extra, and some are BOGOF, but at €18 a day this represents spectacular value. So, as I screwed our bindings back on our skis, Mrs A went off carrying a photo of each of us to find the tourist office and buy the passes.

Tuesday, 14th February 2012 For our first day out we wanted something nearby and easy so we ended up in Albiez Montrond. This is a great little place ideal for families and for us finding our ski legs too. The views are great. Here is Mrs A posing below the Aiguilles d'Arves that we'd seen before from the other side. Just look at those fine flutings on the Crête de Chenallin.

And just because this was our first day, it didn't mean we had to stick to the pistes.

It certainly doesn't look like half term week here! Our route of the day:

Wednesday, 15th Day two and we were ready for some action. We decided to head to Les Sybelles which is a large area comprising a number of smaller resorts. Le proprietor told us that Les Bottieres was the easiest access point to reach so that's where we headed. This is part of La Toussuire resort but we opted to cough up the extra €6 each and get a pass for the whole of Les Sybelles. In hindsight, this was a mistake 'cos the weather was so poor that we weren't dashing about much anyway.

By the time we got to La Toussuire it was snowing heavily so we dived into a restaurant just ahead of a large group of British families - the only others we heard all holiday. In the end, we got as far as Le Corbier and then home again via the flatlands in the centre of Les Sybelles. We were enjoying ourselves so much we left it late to start our way home and managed with only 15 minutes to spare. Les Bottieres is on a bit of a limb so we'd bear that in mind another time. I was a bit cautious driving down the hill, still very conscious that we had no chains on board. Back in town we had a hunt round. The Hyper Casino right in the middle had some ranging from €35 to €47.50. Of course, they didn't have our size in stock but we found some nice Thule ones at a local garage for €65. Compare that with the €56 that Avis wanted just to hire them for the week!

Sadly, between us we had managed to lose little grey Garmin on the grey carpet inside the car so don't have a log of the day.

Thursday, 16th The combined stress of losing Garmin, the flights, French driving and the poor light had kicked off a cracking headache so we opted for a rest day just mooching around St Jean. Being the 'capital' of the Maurienne Valley it has a bit of the old 'county town' feel about it. It's still very French - all pastel colours or grey and peeling but the mountains are very close!

We also visited the Opinel Museum and bought a folding knife.

Friday, 17th Back to work! We thought we'd go to Valloire but le proprietor suggested that Valmeinier was easier to get to. They're linked together and one MSF token allows access to both. In the end we stayed in Valmeinier - and just the three lifts on the sunny side at that! There's all sorts to go at and it was quite nice just to ski and not worry about where we were going. Here's Mrs A looking up towards the Col des Marches where she'd walked two summers before.

Once again we spotted the Aiguilles d'Arves but this time including the long sunlit slope of the Aiguile d'Epasseur that we'd skinned up and skied down with offpisteskiing previously.

Back in town we found that our chains were now in stock at the supermarket - aargh!

Saturday, 18th We'd sussed out previously that Les Karellis might be a good resort from where to start touring. What we didn't know is what a little gem of a place it is. There are pieton tracks, langlaufen tracks and just about every sort of skiing possible - all in a small and perfectly formed resort. No wonder the place attracts a very high standard of skier. One side of the car park was lined with camper vans and we saw more tele gear here than in the rest of the week put together.

The skiing divides into three areas that are well linked. The southern bowl offers the easiest skiing with a nice blue run down into Albanne.

There, opposite the Poma, is a reasonably-priced restaurant with nice views of the village and Valmeinier - the large white slope in the background.

The middle bowl offers the steepest skiing with big long pitches of just about any gradient of off-piste that you might want.

This is overlooking the southern bowl from the top of the chair in the photo above. There is obviously an itineraire dropping down into the valley ahead and then bearing left back to Albanne. Although it looked safe we didn't have shovels and probes so gave it a miss. There were plenty of skinning tracks and, indeed, skiers off up the slopes to the right. I'm sure the Pointe d'Emy would offer fine view along the ridge to the Aiguilles d'Arves - see photo 4772 from Albiez above.

And this is the northern bowl - again mellow but with a long gun barrel down the middle. In the background is the Maurienne valley towards Modane. To the left is St Michel and the bright white slope on the right is Valmeinier.

Fortunately, little Garmin was found again:

Sunday, 19th Our last day turned out to be cloudy - very cloudy! We went to Saint-François Longchamp which is linked to Valmorel near Moûtiers. One MSF token gives access to the combined area so is great value. Since this was our last day we tried to do the whole area as much justice as possible given given the conditions. At times we couldn't see from one pole to the next and any off-piste action was out of the question. It was quite un-nerving riding up in the two man chair to the Col du Mottet above Valmorel with quiet and grey in all directions and just being able to see as far as the chair in front.

I took very few photos but this one shows the Col de la Madeleine which, in summer, is one of the high points of the Tour de France.

Our route:

We still have three tokens left on our Maurienne Sans Frontières card. We plan to use two of them when we return with the others in April to have another attempt at skiing round (and over) Mont Thabor.

Some folks will prefer staying in the same resort for a week but if you fancy exploring a bit then this card offers excellent value. You have to use the tokens at different resorts but many are linked so, for example, you can use a token one day in Valmeinier and another the next in Valloire but still ski the same slopes. Access to the whole of Les Sybelles costs an extra €6 and the whole of the 3V via Orelle is another €10.

It does mean driving to different resorts every day so basing yourself somewhere in the valley is a more sensible option. After St Jean, some of the other towns are not exactly pretty but the villages are certainly okay. We stayed in Bramans before and this was fine.

Once you've spent your token you can still use the card for the rest of the season to get a significant discount at any resort. This may make it worth considering even if you plan to stay mainly in one place.

The drive out and back every day was a bit tiresome but was generally less than 30 minutes each way. Another time I'd remember to take things like shovels, probes and skins in the car so that, if the mood took us, we could nip back and pick them up. And definitely stop behind in resort after skiing to pick up some more of the feel.

And finally. There are many things that appeal about the French way of life but driving is definitely not one of them. Yes, I know I'm not in my own car and I'm on the wrong side of the road so I'm taking things cautiously but why all the willy-waving like overtaking on a completely blind bend covered in snow. By the time we were in Les Karellis we'd sussed out that if we stayed behind at the end for a drink we'd relax a bit and most of the traffic would leave ahead of us. The drive down the hill was definitely less stressful until, that is, I heard a noise behind and looked in the mirror to see a 205 very close to our boot gently pirouetting down the road. He didn't look as though he was going over the edge so I just carried on as normal - pillock!

Oh yes. Does anybody want a pair of nice unused Thule chains size 095?

Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Wed 10-12-14 22:25; edited 1 time in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Wow! Fantasic report from waht looks like an awesome trip!

We're off to valloire in a couple weeks so hopefully you've left us plenty of snow snowHead
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
We stayed in St Jean d'Arves (Les Sybelles) the same week you were there (and had lots of fun on the snowy Weds as no one else seemed to be out!!).... will get round to writing my trip report at some point as we had a fab time
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 You need to Login to know who's really who.
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altis, interesting report, thanks. Nice to hear about "off the beaten track" places. katedenhaag, looking forward to hearing about your trip too. snowHead
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Great Report.... I need to get over to Les Karellis one of these days....
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