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Driving from Calais to Courchevel in March

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I'm new to snowheads and was hoping that some of you kind people might be able to give me some advice! Very Happy

I've not been snowboarding for 4 years now so planned a trip to Courchevel next Easter. Now I've driven lengthy and overnight journeys in Africa and the UK but not in Europe!

I'm planning on driving to Courchevel from the UK on March 27th next year (I like to be well organised, sorry!) and just had a few queries:

1. What are the likely driving conditions en-route to Courchevel at that time of the year - will I encounter snow? I know snow chains are obligatory but I'd rather not have to use them!
2. What are the service stations like - will there be any 24 hour fuel stations open? We won't be arriving in Calais until about 9pm local time and we plan to do the journey in one go.
3. The driving rules are somewhat confusing, does every passenger need a high visibility jacket or just the driver?
4. Is it worth investing in snow tyres as well as snow chains or are they an unnecessary expense? Looking at about £150 a tyre! Shocked

If this is posted in the wrong place then I do apologise! rolling eyes

Thanks to all in advance for any help! Smile
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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It's easy. French motorways are excellent with frequent 24/7 fuel available. You must have chains and you must know how to use them. And as you'll be hoping for fresh snow on piste you can't expect it not to drop on the roads near the resort. High visibility jackets cost very little and are a useful safety item but only obligatory for drivers. Winter tyres are great to have. Not essential but without them you are more likely to need chains.
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@hallti.y01, welcome to snowHeads.

1. Driving conditions for most of your journey should be fine. The roads should be clear all the way, but it is still best to be prepared with snow chains, as the final bit may be snowy if that is the prevailing weather on that day.
2. Service station on the autoroute are open 24 hours. You can also pay at the pump with a credit card if needed in many French petrol stations.
3. In France only the driver needs a high-vis vest, but we carry one for all our passengers including the dog.
4. If you are planning to drive regularly, buy snow tyres, but at the end of March chains will probably be enough.
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Firstly welcome to Snowheads.


I regularly drive from Calais to Courchevel and the following are my opinion which I am sure someone will come along and disagree with Happy

1.Conditions are generally good but never say never - I always have snow chains in the boot
2. Service stations are fab - you will not have a problem finding one on the motorway.
3. We carry one for all passengers - I am pretty sure that is the law. As is carrying breathalyzers for the driver.
4. We use snow tyres and keep them on in Blighty but I guess that is a preference. Probably at that time of the year you can get away without them
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Neither breathalyser nor high visibility jackets for all are obligatory. But there are other requirements - eg spare specs for drivers. The AA website has details. Viamichelin.com will work out tolls for you - around €150 return.
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@hallti.y01, hi and welcome. To answer your points:
1/ Generally easy but it really depends on which Courchevel you're going to and exactly where your accommodation is. 1350/1550/most of 1650 unlikely to need chains on the main roads. Higher parts of 1850 and steep access roads elsewhere, maybe. Road temperature is unlikely to reach zero until you are at least at Moutiers, probably Brides les Bains or higher so nothing to worry about.
2/ Yes, no issue. Most French fuel stations take credit cards directly at the pump even if they're "closed" but the autoroutes have proper 24 hour stations anyway.
3/ Can't be bothered to look it up but from memory all passengers and they must be within reach within the car.
4/ Not at that time of year, especially if your car is FWD. Buy snowsocks instead of snowchains; much less hassle.

In general, the roads are very clear at that time of year but there are always exceptions. I've kicked around there in March/April on summer tyres and snowsocks for the steep bits with no issues.
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Useful info from AA. http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/driving-abroad-whats-new-2012.html
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
OK my understanding is that high visibility jackets are required for anyone getting out of the car.
Breathalysers are indeed the law, but at the moment it is not officially enforced (This appears to be a strange feature of French law, some things are against the law - such as wearing ski masks - but they are not enforced.)

Oh! the drive itself is easy, but if you are leaving Calais at 21:00 take it easy or yo will arrive in the resort before anything is open.
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Hi viz jacket for everyone in the car, accessible from within the car.
I've driven to Courchevel in Jan and needed to put chains on: then again this year I drove there in March and didn't need to have winter tyres the weather was that nice.

YMMV, but I'd have winter tyres on anyway...

Sign up for the Sanef doofer to save time and hassle at the peage tolls. Calais to Courchevel will be about a 10 hour drive non stop I reckon.
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^ Yes, Sanef doofer well worth having Very Happy Available in the UK here: https://www.saneftolling.co.uk/
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As above, but you can never tell with the weather, we have driven out in March before and been in snow from Kent all the way to the Alps Very Happy
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Another vote for the Sanef doofer.

If you can arrive in Calais on fumes then fill up at one of the big supermarkets eg at the Cite Europe next to the Eurotunnel you'll save a few Euros which can then be spent on slopeside refreshment.

http://www.prix-carburants.gouv.fr/

eg 1.079E per litre for diesel at Carrefour compared to 1.259E per litre at the first services on the A26 South of Calais. For our car that's over 13 Euros and that will get you 17.5cc of Kronenbourg in Courchevel.
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Quote:

1.079E per litre for diesel at Carrefour compared to 1.259E per litre at the first services on the A26 South of Calais. For our car that's over 13 Euros and that will get you 17.5cc of Kronenbourg in Courchevel.

The sad thing is you've actually worked all that out Razz
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
What value did you put on the opportunity cost of your time, @jonathancarty?
wink
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You don't need a high visibility for everyone see: Reflective jackets (EN471) - one reflective jacket which must be kept within the passenger compartment of the vehicle and must be put on before exiting the vehicle in an emergency/breakdown situation
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Well I'm not leaving the family in the car on the hard shoulder in the event of a breakdown... and therefore a hi-viz for everyone it is. Hardly a bust-the-bank issue.

Still got the breathalizers from last time we drove down - are they not mandatory these days then?

Travelling through the night - is the SANEF doofer actually going to save much time? OTOH, see point 1 - not a vast expense I guess.

@hallti.y01, welcome to snowHead - you'll see there are as many opinions as members... and quite often more.
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If you are doing the long drive on the motorway at night the few tolls can give you a chance to stretch legs and wake yourself up.
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Arctic Roll wrote:
Well I'm not leaving the family in the car on the hard shoulder in the event of a breakdown... and therefore a hi-viz for everyone it is. Hardly a bust-the-bank issue.

Still got the breathalizers from last time we drove down - are they not mandatory these days then?

Travelling through the night - is the SANEF doofer actually going to save much time? OTOH, see point 1 - not a vast expense I guess.

@hallti.y01, welcome to snowHead - you'll see there are as many opinions as members... and quite often more.


Neither would I. I was just pointing out that people were giving advise which is wrong.
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@Arctic Roll, hi-viz for everyone plus a couple of spares, I keep them in the car year round, it's just sensible.
Still got the breathalysers but while they are technically still required the 11 euro fine for not having one failed to make it into law, so yes they are required , but there is no enforceable penalty for not having one.

Sanef doofer is invaluable especially when driving through the night, saves waking up the OH to pay the toll.

Useful info here http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/touring_tips/france-monaco.pdf

@hallti.y01,
1.Who knows? The only time I've ever needed to use chains was in March. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
2.Service areas are good. There are 3 types, a basic rest area with just parking and basic (French) toilets. Fuel stop with basic shop and better (UK) toilets decent coffee machines, sometimes snack restaurant as well. Full blown service areas with restaurant, shops etc, sometimes even a hotel. The basic type are very frequent, fuel stations slightly less so, and the big ones even less. There will be maps available on line if you want to plan but even the big ones are never that far away.
3.Technically only the driver, but they are a seriously good idea and if you fancy telling the OH that they can't have a hi-vis jacket when you break down on the motorway then you are braver than me.
4. Winter tyres. There are lots of threads about winter tyres here and elsewhere, but this is really about a state of mind. All sorts of factors can influence this decision but if your only reason to have winter tyres is for your trip to the Alps in March then I wouldn't. £600 goes a long way on food and wine even in Courchevel. Having said that I have winter tyres that go on as soon as the temperature regularly drops below 7 degrees and come off after my last trip to the Alps.

Driving in France is a real pleasure most of the time and I can guarantee that the worst part of you journey will be in the UK.
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It makes me laugh to hear a driver coming up to a peage gate after hundreds of kilometres saying he has to "wake up the OH" to pay. Laughing what do they suppose that solo drivers do?
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To be fair it was usually me who used to get crabby about being woken up to pay the toll before we had a tag. NehNeh
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@Timc, I just can't see why the driver wouldn't have jumped out to do it themselves. I have a French peage tag but have to jump out when driving alone in Italy. It's hardly a hardship!
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There are 4 places where you pick up a peage ticket and 4 places when you pay. The OP will leave Calais at about 21:00 and I doubt if anyone in the car is asleep when they pick up a ticket at Rheims. There may be when you come to pay Lyon, but after dozens of journeys no one has complained about waking up for a few seconds to put the ticket and the card in the machine. An autoroute transceiver will save you perhaps 5 seconds at a pickup and 10 at a pay, so about a minute on the journey. It is perhaps no coincidence that the majority of French drivers do not pay the extra.

And yes, the 25% of the drive to get to Dover is 75% of the hasle of driving to Les Arcs.
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And when traffic is very heavy you sit in a queue, doofer or no doofer.
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Yes, but only until the plaza splays out, then you head straight for the 30kph lane and drive through. Possibly to join the queue on the other side but you're still through quicker
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Evening all, have read through this older thread which is still very useful from what I can tell. I have bumped it to ask if the collective wisdom of Snowheads thinks snow chains are likely to be needed going to St Martin de B at 1450m (rather than Courchevel as OP was) at the tail end of March? Obviously I would buy them/know how to use them as they are obligatory but if it’s likely to be a tricky drive anyway I suspect we are more likely to fly. From what I’ve read it would most likely be fairly easy this late in the season unless it’s a bumper year (fingers crossed!) but interested if anyone thinks I’m wrong. It would be handy to have the car for shopping and - just in case we want to get up to LM or VT. we have a discovery and packed with all our kids and stuff it’s pretty heavy, if it makes any difference. rolling eyes thanks for the views!
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@Skimum1, You will probably not need them, but then again you might. On the dozens of times I have driven to Les Arcs over the years I have only needed chains twice and one of them was in April. They were need from about 1000m alititude. It also depends on what time you are arriving. We tended to arrive somewhere between 3 and 6 when there had been very little traffic on the road for hours. During daylight hours the road has always been fine.

I have always found the hardest part of the drive to be that to Folkstone and the easist part from Calais to Les Arcs.
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Re the chains: OK, so let's bite the bullet - I'd just reconcile myself to getting them as part of the cost of a winter holiday in the Alps. You're going to the mountains to ski on snow, and hoping for good snow for the holiday, and it'd be nice if it snowed a bit while you're there. So expect snow on the days you travel. You have no leeway on the days you travel (you can't defer driving to await better conditions) and unlike most locals (who will have winter tyres) you can't stay indoors if conditions are bad: you have to get out there. I would expect that for an SUV like the Land Rover you'll need the more expensive front-fitting chains like the spike Spiders (~£300 a set) because your wheels are too wide to take conventional ones, but check with your garage re your specific setup. Be wary of independent suppliers who say you should 'try them out first' or won't guarantee the proposed chains will fit.

But if I was taking a Discovery to the Alps I'd either swap to all-seasons before the trip, or get a separate set of winter tyres. The issue with chains is in the sort of 'foothills' terrain where you may get alternating tarmac/slush/snow conditions. In this situation, you will find it difficult because you can't keep fitting and removing and then re-fitting the chains as the conditions change.

Finally, it's statistically proven that if you buy a set of chains (especially if they're pricey) then you are 99.99% sure to get glorious weather conditions on every Alpine drive and will never need to use them. Whereas if you don't, you're guaranteed the opposite.

Another major question you have to ask yourself is whether to do it in one go, or have an overnight stay. This question crops up every year and a lot hinges on a. whether you have multiple drivers or not, b. the weather (whether it's OK or bad) and c. your individual stamina (whether you can drive through the night without dangerous loss of concentration). Lots of people will tell you their particular experience/preferences but of course, you are an individual and yours may not match theirs.

There have been times when I've thought we could have readily managed to press on to our destination in one go. And other times when I don't know how we would have managed without an overnight stop (generally because the weather en route was terrible and/or on that occasion no one seemed to have the stamina for a long haul).

After a few years, we conceded that the southbound drive warranted an overnight stay and we do this by default now. It may be confirmation bias, but as we float in the swimming pool/sauna, then are sat at dinner, then are going to bed we think 'we'd still be driving'. and in the morning, however early the start, feel that we're dong the rest of the journey in much better condition than if we'd have pressed on the night before. But that's just us.
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An "ordinary" car with "ordinary" sized wheels and bog standard cheap chains would be a lot easier, if that option is open to you.
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@Skimum1, highly unlikely to have any issue driving to St M which is the same height as La Tania where I am, as long as you make sure that the last leg is in daylight - you'll still get black ice at night at that time of year. I know the road and it's a relatively gentle and even incline all the way. You may be alright getting up to LM depending on weather and what tyres are currently on your car (summer or M&S? M&S will be a bit better but not as good as proper snow tyres) but I definitely wouldn't risk going to VT on summer tyres, except in actual summer.

From St M you should do your shopping in Moutiers which is lower so shouldn't be an issue but as above, if you're on summer tyres do your shopping in daylight on a fair weather day. I am assuming that your Disco has ABS for the descent? It most likely does but just check. I can tell you from personal experience that Landys without ABS are a handful going downhill on snow, whatever the tyres...

When your tyres are next due for change, put good quality snow rated all-seasons on and then this whole discussion becomes moot. Some people on here will moan about that advice but I've driven both a a Subaru and my current Audi quattro to and around VT on all season tyres when there was so much snow there was only one lift open and it's not an issue.
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pam w wrote:
An "ordinary" car with "ordinary" sized wheels and bog standard cheap chains would be a lot easier, if that option is open to you.
I disagree.

At that time of year, the vast majority of the road is likely to be clear and I agree with this salient point:
LaForet wrote:
The issue with chains is in the sort of 'foothills' terrain where you may get alternating tarmac/slush/snow conditions. In this situation, you will find it difficult because you can't keep fitting and removing and then re-fitting the chains as the conditions change.

Chances are, you'll put the chains on for too long and snap them.
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Thank you all for the replies. Much appreciated and thank you. We have recently done the drive in summer in our car and enjoyed the extra freedom it brings - I agree that it’s not a bad drive up to St M at all; the road would also be fairly well travelled on a Saturday one might hope as we are doing a standard Sat to Sat week. Will bear in mind advice re timing shopping and arrival times for daytime hours!

Disappointingly I changed my tyres for what I think is just a standard summer set quite recently (if only I had the foresight to think of asking the question sooner!) but will give this option some thought. I would not risk the journey without buying the chains at all as there is always a risk of needing them (and they are compulsory) but I think if it was highly likely they would be needed then we might opt to fly instead. We can share the driving but it’s fair to say the OH would do any tricky bits. We don’t have another car that fits us all in (has AbS though thankfully).

In summer we definitely appreciated the overnight stop even in fine conditions (although where we might reach on the way out what with having to leave around 5pm after school and work on Friday PM would need some further thought).

Thanks for the advice everyone. Lots to think about!
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Getting a crossing about 7 pm makes Reims just about doable. We have done it a couple of times and got to our prebooked stopover midnight to 1 am ish, leaving a 6 - 7 hour drive the next day. If you can pinch a bit of time off work and take the kids straight from school, getting a 5.30 ish crossing it makes quite a difference.
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@Skimum1, I'd take snowsocks instead of chains. Legal, much easier to put on and take off and won't damage the car if they wear down like a snapped chain can. They tend to wear out quite quickly on dry tarmac if you spin the wheels at all or drive too fast but if you lock the diff in 4WD and take it easy that shouldn't be too much of an issue. They may only last the one trip if you have to use them a lot but it's a lot less hassle.
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When I was still living in the UK, I often drove my Disco for skiing trips. I had decent chains (for the front) and all season tyres. In spite of some fairly tricky conditions, on several occasions, the Disco coped superbly and chains never required. Was even waived through a mountain road “control” once, when just about everyone else was being directed into a lay-by to fit chains.

IMO, great choice of car for long distances, lugging loads of gear in relative comfort, and tackling what the weather throws at you without too much stress.
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Skimum1 wrote:
Obviously I would buy them/know how to use them as they are obligatory but if it’s likely to be a tricky drive anyway I suspect we are more likely to fly.


Skimum1 wrote:
I think if it was highly likely they would be needed then we might opt to fly instead

As others have said while nothing can be categorically written off it's highly unlikely that you will need them or even have a snowy road (I've been going late March/early April for many years).

If you really want to cover all bases just keep a close high on the forecast for changeover day. If it's a proper storm that may actually affect travel it will be flagged and you can try and work around it. It's no issue if there are just some snow showers or such. Just to reiterate though this is highly unlikely. It's happened to me over Christmas a couple of times. And once in mid-March a long time ago I had to put snow chains on for the last stretch into Champagny (La Plagne).

But all in all I really wouldn't sweat it.


Last edited by You'll need to Register first of course. on Mon 30-08-21 19:36; edited 1 time in total
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During the journey down, if you want actual weather information and road conditions in the Tarentaise
http://www.webcams-dir.centre-est.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/index.php?secteur=6 gives the traffic cameras at Bonconseil, just below Bourg St M and the Aime by-pass (obviously both above Moutiers). There is also a camera at La Lechere (below Moutiers) which will show you the local weather and any queue for Moutiers. There used to be a camera at Gilly sur Isere, below Albertville, maybe it will be back for winter. . . . . .
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Thanks all for latest replies, really very helpful and definitely leaning towards the drive following this helpful advice, and given it’s meant to be a research trip for future plans not just a one off holiday. It’s also reassuring to know the car is definitely up to the job with the right tyres (and driver Laughing)!

That’s exactly it @Layne, I know there’s a chance I’ll need chains (/and very tempted by the idea of the socks) and happy to prepare for the eventuality but crossing fingers for first winter drive to be straightforward.

Will get looking for a good place to stop without height restrictions assuming we cannot get as far as Troyes…!

Thanks so much snowHead
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PS thanks also @Nemisis for the link, useful tip - I had no idea. Definitely worth keeping an eye on and adjusting departure/arrival times etc accordingly
so far as possible.
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