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TR – Grand Bornand, Feb half term 2017

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Into the “ski-perambulator” I fed Easter dates, Feb half term dates, resort altitude, km of piste, lift pass price, accommodation availability and driving ease (plus a hefty investment of research time) and out popped the other end the resort of..... Le Grand Bornand.

I opted to book some nice accommodation in Saint Jean de Sixt rather than GB itself as it saved a few quid and looked a whole lot nicer. Plus there was the added bonus of a free ski bus direct to the slopes (of course with the option of choosing to drive if we wanted). This was to be my first experience of staying outside of the ski station itself and I was curious to see how it would feel being away from the action.

The drive down
We were booked onto the 9.30am Eurotunnel on the Friday morning meaning an overnight Premier Inn stop at Ashford. This would get us further into France on the Friday meaning a shorter drive on the Saturday – hopefully missing some of the worst half term road chaos. We had a leisurely drive down to Dijon, spiced up by a pit-stop off the A26 to St Quentin for cheap fuel and lunch ingredients (Netto, hello!), a stop at the aire d'Urvillers for coffee and sandwich making, and finally 20 miles later the realisation that I had lost my wedding ring! Frantic searching of the car proved fruitless and it dawned on me that the “ching” sound I had heard in the gents whilst vigorously shaking water from my hands must have been my wedding ring falling to the floor. Phone calls to the service station proved fruitless, both immediately and a few days later, and I resigned myself to the inevitable insurance claim.

We arrived in Dijon around 6pm, found a restaurant and then located the hotel. This was a “Fast Hotel” and I heartily recommend that people avoid it. Clearly the start of December was too late to book for half term as other hotels were already reserved, leaving just the crud like this specimen. I will book earlier next year. On the plus side the bedding was clean and I now know where Delboy used up the rest of that leftover fluorescent paint from the curry house. The downside was it looked like a crack-den from the outside and that the residents in the adjacent room had clearly misunderstood that the correct use of a telephone does not involve shouting.

Leaving hastily on the Saturday morning we collected breakfast from the first aire we came to.

We hit traffic somewhere near Geneva as expected but it wasn't on the whole as bad as last Easter and with the journey split over 2 days it did ease the pain. We arrived in Saint Jean de Sixt around 2pm, after filling what was left of the bootspace with a week's worth of groceries and medicinal plonk.

After meeting the owner, who was very nice, and pretending to understand how the hob worked, we made a quick lunch then headed to GB to collect pre-booked skis and boots. Luckily we had booked at Sport Alp on the road out of the village opposite a large car park and this proved very handy now and at the end of the week! Great service here, recommended.

Ski area
Overall was very impressed with the variety of runs. Although GB sits at 1000m and has “just” 86km piste, there was enough to keep a family entertained for a week. The snow from the previous week ensured the pistes were in great nick and we had clear blue sky and sun all week. We thought though that the grading of the runs was interesting – possibly a grade too low. Some blues (notably la Ruche and l'Abondance) were red in my opinion and some reds (eg, le Gypaete) were black.

For half term the queues were as expected, but no more than 7-8 minutes maximum. Lunchtime seemed to be quieter and we found that an early lunch could benefit with near non-existent queues for 45 mins or so. My main gripe was the lifties who did not bother to usher people along to fill chairs – the worst for this was les Gettiers. It's not rocket science is it? And to let an empty chair go up when a huge queue is waiting is beyond my understanding. On the subject of lifties, the lady manning the top of la Floria on the Thursday afternoon deserved a wrist slapping for not manning the incoming stop button. She was busy chatting to someone who was catching the lift down, and of course this was the time when my 9 year old decided to not lift her ski tips and went crashing underneath the chair. I had to shout at the attendant who hastily ran over and stopped the lift, but not before I had time to throw my poles to one side and skate back to my daughter to drag her out of the way of the incoming chair. If my French had been better the attendant would probably have got an earful but I was so relieved that my daughter was not hurt. It could have been so much worse.

On the whole though the lifties were very helpful, as one expects.

Favourite runs
For me it was les Lanches – so good when I did it that I went straight back up and did it again. The children loved Serpentine for the berms and Myrtilles with the many jumps at the side. Mrs B loved le Col des Annes and the 1.9km chair was great in the sun!

This was the children's 4th ski trip and they now are able to navigate their/our way around, picking out the combination of runs and lifts to get from A to B. This is great to see.

Favourite mountain restaurant
Les Gettiers – friendly staff (hospitality and tourism spoiler alert – friendliness is a winner and a sure-fire route to repeat custom) and a lovely building to boot. Not as busy for some reason as the resto at Maroly (les Gettiers had better views) but that suited us fine.

Half term madness
Yes the runs were busy and some runs were carnage – the lower section of Myrtilles for example where it funnels towards le Chateley skilift, but overall not as bad as I expected. Having said that, there were an awful lot of skiers out of control and skiing way beyond their abilities. L'Abondance was a great place for this and this seemed on of the busiest areas. Minutes after falling off the ski lift my daughter was collided from above by a young lad on skis. He was very apologetic and realised I think that he should have been more in control. Not a good 10 minutes for my daughter.

Le Duchet was the scene for some crazy skiing too. As steep blue I was giving my 7 year old a taxi ride down between my legs, slowing snowploughing our way down. To our right passed a number of skiers, at speed, and all getting closer it seemed. The last person was too close for comfort and as I looked up to see just how close, the woman gave me a polite French greeting. I shouted after her, saying effectively that she most certainly didn't have priority but I was fuming at their group's idiocy on insisting in skiing in a snake formation at all costs, too close to skiers downhill from them.

More lack of mountain awareness was demonstrated at the “XS” snowpark where a queue was formed waiting to take the small jumps. Along comes a family where the young daughter skips the queue completely. I saw her later on further down the piste so pointed back up to the jump/queue and mentioned that she should “attendez”. Pity my poor language skills and I should have taken her parents to task. I suppose that with greater half term numbers there is going to be a higher proportion of skiers with poor skier etiquette/poor control/no knowledge of mountain awareness – and this was something we became extremely wary of over the week.

Navette (and the grumpy driver)
The ski bus runs every half hour from Saint Jean de Sixt to GB and back and timed right this was great. Less so at the end of the day when you have boarded early and sit there on a hot bus waiting for the half hour to tick by! I thought driving to the slopes might be doable but the lack of parking even when arriving at 9am put me off, as did the impracticality of shoe-horning on ski boots outdoors. I have got to mention the grumpy driver who, upon asking for the paper tickets proving we were entitled to the use the bus for free, and I then struggled with gloves, poles, adult skis and child skis to retrieve the paper passes from my jacket, when said skis dripped snow onto his little counter, openly moaned in French. Some lessons in hospitality wouldn't go amiss. The same lessons could be attended by the restaurant owner at Casanova who was quite dismissive when we had the audacity to turn up without a reservation and refuse his offer to sit and eat within the hour.

Rant over.

The journey back up to the tunnel was busy around Geneva again and I think this was down to volume of traffic and possibly merging of motorways. An overnight stop in Reims (Premiere Classe - Epernay) broke the journey nicely. Dinner was at the Crescendo restaurant at the nearby Eleclerc with the world's most complex self-service system, flummoxing us and a couple of other families. However, the chap on the till was most helpful and gave – there's the magic phrase again – great customer service. The hotel was so-so, especially when a herd of elephants checked in at half past midnight and all thoughtfully proceeded to have a shower. Breakfast was poor. Next morning as we approached aire d'Urvillers I decided to spend 5 minutes loitering around the gents to see if my wedding ring was still on the floor. However the cleaner was doing a thorough job of mopping the floor and she pointed me towards the main cash desk where they had a box of lost property items. We went through these and lo and behold my ring had been handed in! Overjoyed I bounded back to the car but was strictly informed that the ring would need to be dunked in bleach before wearing it properly again. Fair point – but a nice way to round off the holiday.

We loved GB and thought it was a very pretty town with a lovely feel to it. Staying outside the ski station was not a hindrance at all as when we were off the slopes and back at the chalet we were all quite content to chill with snacks, drinks, dinner and some games. GB was only a 5 minute or 3km drive anyway for the odd meal out.

The variety of ski runs was impressive, especially the snowpark. We discovered two boardercross runs and it was fairly easy to get around the resort. GB has clearly put effort into marking areas out for débutante skiers and the scenery was stunning. I would approach the grading of the runs with caution though.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
lo and behold my ring had been handed in!

Hurrah! I love a happy ending snowHead . Nice report, too.
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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?
Thanks for taking the time to read it - hopefully will be of use/interest to someone!

The wedding ring has never looked cleaner too! Very Happy
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Very comprehensive report. Glad you enjoyed LGB, even at half term!
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Great report. Re travelling time, it takes us about 8 hours on a clear run to get from Calais to Chinaillon. So we normally do this easily in a day - there are 2 of us to share the driving. I am gathering from your report that you have little people to consider so appreciate you may have needed an overnight stop. We used to do this when our kids were younger but don't bother now, preferring to get the drive over in one hit. Conversely we have other friends who used to drive continuously but now prefer to take it more leisurely and have an overnight stop off to break the journey.
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Thanks for the report and lovely to hear the happy ending!

Parking at the lifts in GB was bad many years ago and I can only imagine how much worse it has become!
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