Tag Archives: alps

France v Italy

Friday 19 January 2024 – One of the various activities that Crystal Ski had organised during the week was an outing from the Sauze end of the Via Lattea – Milky Way – skiing area over to the other end of the system: Montgenèvre, which is just over the border in France.  I had the very vaguest recollection that I might have visited there on a previous Sauze holiday, but couldn’t be certain.  Anyway, after a week of getting very familiar with the lifts and runs close to Sauze D’Oulx, I thought that a change would be as good as a rest.

I was slightly, but tellingly, wrong in that.  Read on to find out in what way….

While it’s possible to ski from Sauze to Montgenèvre, it’s somewhat time-consuming and in any case one couldn’t rely on the links being open, as high winds were bedevilling the area, resulting in some critical link lifts occasionally being closed for safety reasons. Crystal Ski had, in any case, organised a coach to take us over, a journey of about 40 minutes, at an extra cost of €25.  The coach was to depart from the Tourist information Office, which was where (you’ll remember) we were deposited on our arrival some days before – a 10 minute walk down through the town, carrying boots and skis.  So about 40 people arrived and checked in with the Crystal team, loaded skis and boots into the loading bays of the coach and hopped on board for the journey.

When we arrived, the reverse process was a little more chaotic, as people tried to unearth their skis and boots from piles of other people’s equipment

but soon enough we were heading for the nearest lift.

Montgenèvre’s skiing in split by the road. The majority of the lifts were on the same side as the coaches, but the Crystal team recommended crossing the road and heading up the other side, the Chalvet area, as this would get the benefit of the morning sun; so I hied myself thither. There was a bit of jostling for position for the gondola ride up but after only a short delay I was headed up the mountain.

At the top of the gondola, there was a very limited choice of activity – ski back down, or choose between two lifts. The nearer of these, a chair lift, was very iced up and not operational, so I headed for the other, a drag lift. As I approached it, it also stopped going, which was a bit dull. There was obviously Something Going On, as a skidoo with flashing lights headed up the track after a few minutes; perhaps someone had had a misfortune? We never knew. After some moments, people got fed up and began to drift away to other parts of the mountain, so of course the lift started again. So I hopped on.

It was a long, long drag lift – and cold. It was difficult to get an accurate idea of temperature, but I suspect it was several degrees below freezing and there was quite a stiff and chilly wind blowing.  As I went up, I looked for evidence of pistes to ski down, and such evidence seemed a bit scant.

(Actually, if you look carefully at the picture above, you can just see that there’s a track in the distance on the left.)

Having reached the top, it was clear that there was only one way down – the piste to a further lift was marked “closed”

and it was here that the difference in style between this resort and Sauze began to be borne in on me. Much of Sauze’s skiing area is below the tree line, which I find very attractive, and which helps when trying to work out which general direction one is supposed to take.  Much of  Montgenèvre’s is above the tree line, and hence very open, making the choice of direction less intuitive.  These wide open spaces are great for people who are looking to ski off-piste, but I wasn’t – it’s fucking dangerous to go off piste by oneself – so I found the area a bit disorienting.  What was even more disconcerting was the discovery that very few people had skied in the area, and so the snow was soft and deep.  Again, expert skiers tend to love this and actively seek it out.  Me? Not so much – particularly since I was on my own, meaning potential problems if I fell and incapacitated myself.  I could just about see where people had skied before and so followed this general direction

but it was hard work for me, as the soft snow highlighted the shortcomings of my technique, and frankly I didn’t enjoy myself hugely.  However, I was where I was, so I blundered about, fortunately without falling or doing anyone else any damage.  Restful, it was not – skiing in this deep stuff saw the one and only time during the week when I actually had to stop and take a breather because I was exhausted. I did, though, eventually find some satisfaction in being able to link a few turns even in the softer snow. I doubt I’d have got many points for technical expertise, but my artistic impression, consisting mainly of swearing loudly when the conditions caught me out, was certainly unique, and I have to admit that the views were pretty good.

At this point – the point at which I could really have done with a rest and a coffee, the other key difference between this French resort and the Italian one I was used to became clear – finding a mountainside restaurant was difficult, because they’re very few and far between and don’t advertise themselves with any clarity.  In Sauze, it is difficult to ski more than a few hundred metres without passing a sun deck that announces the presence of a restaurant or café.  Here, I couldn’t find any such evidence.  Montgenèvre is a purpose-built ski area, and the priority was clearly on getting people skiing rather than relaxing.

I decided to get down to the town in search of a coffee, so skied down and crossed the road.  The other side did feature some trees, but was largely more of the same wide-open space

and even standing by the main buildings, I couldn’t detect anywhere to have a coffee.  Anyway, it was getting close to lunchtime, so I decided that a restaurant was what I should seek.  I got Google Maps out and could see that there were just a couple anywhere near the skiing area, which, again, I thought was odd; I would have expected several to be available.  The first one was packed, but the second one had space, so I sat myself down to a simple, but very good, lunch of steak haché and chips with a beer.

After lunch I skied on the other side, where more people had skied and thus the pistes were firmer – indeed, icy in places.  A couple of the pistes and lifts I wanted to explore were closed, but it was a decent afternoon’s skiing.  Again, there were some fine views to be had

but I found that I had used up a lot of my energy dealing with the morning’s more challenging (to me) conditions, so I stopped skiing quite early in the afternoon, making sure that I had enough time to find that elusive cup of coffee before the 4pm deadline for getting back on the coach home.

The skiing was more varied and more challenging than in Sauze;

but, being a purpose-built skiing operation, I found it less charming.  This is not a view shared by others who were part of this excursion, for whom, the views and the existence of some very easy skiing made for great enjoyment. But I missed the charm – and particularly being able easily to stop for a coffee/beer and a rest. This is, I think, a difference in my current approach to skiing and how I used to go about things; before, I was more interested in covering ground and ticking off all the lifts and runs in an area; now, I’m more engaged by simply being active and relishing the exercise, not minding repeating pistes if I found them enjoyable. The net of this is that, at least for this limited sample of two resorts, I found the Italian experience the more attractive.

I’ve got a couple more posts up my sleeve about this holiday and how I’ve found it, so I hope you’ll check in to read them in the coming days. For now, au revoir!