A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011


A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011

Started by AlistairS in France - 14 Replies

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AlistairS posted Mar-2011

A Wonderful Introduction to Serre Chevalier 5-12th March 2011

We had already booked two separate skiing trips for the season. One to Obergurgl in December 2010 with two friends and a group trip to Pas in Andorra in February 2011 with 18 in the group. It would be our third trip to Obergurgl and second to Pas over the last seven years. We wanted to try somewhere new when I caught site of Tony-H's excellent Serre Chevalier Report from March 2010. Tony's enthusiasm, love of skiing and no-nonsense style of reporting wet our appetite to give Serre Chevalier a try.

After contacting Tony for some further advice we came across a company called Peak Retreats which specialises in what I would call Classic/Traditional French skiing holidays. They were advertising, what was then, the Best Western Premier Chantemerle – Chalet 52. This has since been taken over by a French Company called SARA and is now called Residence I'Adret. The accommodation was a two bedroom apartment sleeping 4-6 on a self catering basis. We booked this and then arranged flights with Easyjet from Gatwick to Grenoble. We were informed that Turin was probably the nearest airport being approx 1.30 hours drive from Serre Chevalier however, we opted for the cheaper flights with Easyjet and booked for Grenoble.

The Transfer, approx 2.00-3.00 hours (depending on weather, route closures and local holidays) was booked with a company called Alpine Transport Company who offered us a shared transfer at reduced cost with another couple who arrived on the same flight who were bound for Chantemerle. We then booked four pairs of skis/boots and two hold bags with Easyjet that made the cheap flights look rather more expensive! Our ski passes were pre-booked through Peak Retreats at cost price.

At the top of the new Vallons Lift

The 5th March 2011 came around eventually and before we knew it Bill the Taxi driver arrives outside and we load our ten bags onto the van bound for Gatwick. After an uneventful journey we arrive at the Easyjet check in and braved the maze and what I always find rather stressful event of booking in all your kit. Rather surprisingly, this all went smoothly and we carefully drop our skis at the oversize luggage conveyor and go a get some refreshments.

The flight was uneventful taking approx 1.15 minutes. Grenoble Airport is rather a strange place, unlike Innsbruck there are no mountains in sight however, being rather a small Airport seemed to make the arrival process much more efficient and less stressful. We even had time to have a quick cigarette while we waited 10 minutes for our ten bags to appear at the baggage reclaim area. We thought something must go wrong as everything was so smooth, efficient and dare I say it laidback.

We left the terminal and almost immediately came across a man holding a sign for the Alpine Transport Company. "You must be Alistair" he said as he led us out to the vehicle. The couple who shared our transfer arrived approx 5 minutes later and we set off for Serre Chevalier. Mike the driver, informed us that the traffic had been heavy as the French Holiday was still in full swing and would be so until the following weekend. Great, it turned out that this year the French holiday, for some reason, extended up to 12-13th March 2011. I thought this may cause a problem with bottlenecks at the lifts and heavy traffic on the piste. Mike told us that we had arrived at "the best kept secret in France" as far as the British were concerned. Whilst the French made up 80% of people who skied in Serre Che in any given season. He had lived in the resort for a number of years, was a keen skier and worked as a freelance ski photographer. He would drive for ATC on Saturdays to pay his rent. Nice guy and nice lifestyle. Unfortunately, the time was getting on and it was dark by the time we approached the mountains at La Grave and the Col du Lautatet Pass.

The Cucumelle run disappearing down the mountain

We dropped off the couple at their accommodation in Chantemerle and continued onto ours at the Residence I'Adret. We said thank you and goodbye to Mike who informed us that they would contact us later in the week in relation to our return journey to Grenoble the following Saturday. We booked in and received our door entry swipe cards for room 43.

First impressions on entering the apartment were very positive. It was very clean, spacious with an open plan kitchen, dining and living room with a separate shower/bath and toilet with two double bedrooms. Furthermore, there was a balcony in our bedroom and the living room which overlooked a heated swimming pool. There was also a flat screen TV on which we could receive BBC1. Very nice, we left our bags packed in the room and went out for a meal at a local pizzeria within ten minutes walk from the apartment and then returned to unpack and get organised for the following day and skiing.

The Author with the top section of the Cucumelle run behind

The beds were really very comfortable, following the previous long day of travelling and we awoke somewhat later than anticipated at 0830 hours to a lovely bright morning and glorious views of the mountain with its larch trees and yes lots of snow! As it was our first self-catering ski trip I was informed by my Wife, much to my and the boys displeasure, that we would not be skiing until we had visited the local supermarket. Needless to say, most people would be aware of "Supermarket Sweep" well we invented the concept. There is a local supermarket (Carrefour) within ten minutes walk of our complex and generally the prices were better than anticipated. Having stocked up the fridge and placing the beers on the balcony we went off with our ski pass prepaid voucher and skis and boots to the lift area. The lift area is approx 300-400 meters from the apartment so we hired a family ski locker complete with boot dryers from Intersport. This was located very close to the Cable Car, Gondola and chair out of Chantemerle up to Serre Ratier and mid mountain.

Our first impression of Chantemerle was generally a positive one. Amongst the purpose built village/buildings was the more traditional village buildings. The lift base was serviced by a three story shopping complex housing the retail/rental ski Companies, sweet shop, Spar Supermarket, bakery etc. For what it lost in character it more than made up in convenience. After a day on the mountain we would drop off our kit in the locker at Intersport on the lower floor and then head up to the bakery and Spar to obtain our groceries for the evening meal at the apartment.

The Luc Alphand run on its decent into Chantemerle taken from The Station Bar

Having obtained our ski passes we headed off to the Troncon Cable Car which took us up to Serre Ratier from which we skied a short distance to the Oree Du Bois chair which took us up to the Grand Alpe area. We all wanted to find our ski legs so we skied down the Foret blue to Aravet. The Snow and sunshine were wonderful and following our rather icy week in Andorra in February, it was nice not to have to avoid massive patches of ice on our decent. We got on the Foret chair at Aravet and continued to explore the runs around the Grand Alpe area. As you climb higher up the mountain above the larch forest it opens out into a wonderful playground of open bowls, mogul fields interspersed with long pisted runs of all denominations. This had wetted our appetite for the following days. That afternoon we skied between the Clot Gauthier area and the Prorel lift that takes you over the top and down into Briancon. However, time was against us, so Briancon would have to wait until tomorrow. We made our way back down to Chantemerle. The decent into Chantemerle is by the long Luc Alphand black or the longer Briance green which snakes across through the larch forest and transects the Alphand on numerous occasions on the way down. At the busy times and because of the French holiday period the black would become very congested and we saw a number of near misses and direct hits. In fairness, some of the skiers on the black should have opted for the green run as snow ploughing a black is an extreme sport in itself!

There is a nice Bar/Restaurant called "The Station" at the base of Chantemerle by the Luc Alphand run. It is English owned and they provide a great full English breakfast at 8.5 Euro. The extent of the breakfast was good value as it would set you up for a days skiing and we could run the whole day on drinks and a Mars bar in the afternoon. We did this on a couple of occasions during our stay. They also have Sky Sports for the football, most important for the beer and evening entertainment.

On the next day we headed over towards Briancon on the Prorel lift. The sun was doing it best, and once off the lift, the jackets would be zipped down to try and maintain some body fluids for the day ahead. We did a few runs at Serre Blanc area being the blue Bergers down to the Rocher Blanc chair and then up for the Chauvet red. You could see by looking down towards Briancon that the snow was suffering on this side of the mountain however, conditions were still good up around Rocher Blanc chair. We pottered on down towards Briancon but it soon became apparent that the snow lower down just above Puy St Pierre was becoming to thin for comfort as the bases of our skis started to suffer and grass started to appear amongst the slush and water. We could clearly see the old walled town of Briancon looking rather majestic sitting up above the lower new town. We headed back up on the Prorel gondola and skied back towards the now more familiar Grand Alpe area for some more fun and frolic's.

Briancon town one evening

Much has been written about the friendliness of the local people of the Serre Chevalier vallee. All of which was true in our experience they were most helpful and pleasant in their approach to us and we thoroughly felt at home during our stay.

We next went to explore the Villeneuve ski area where the boys took a liking to the Casse Du Boeuf run while their Mother and myself took the Bois and Bez reds down to the village where we had a nice Spag Bol in a restaurant on the Bez side of the village and later joined the boys at the La Grotte Bar for a drink before setting off up the hill for some more runs.

One afternoon we were all sitting having an afternoon drink at The Station bar. When my Wife, fortunately, saw a man pick up my eldest son's skis and poles and disappear into a rental ski area of a shop. The boys and I made a beeline for the shop which had a locker area. The look of surprise on the shop assistant's face when I bold in spotted the skis on the rack and took them and gave them to my Son. I looked around and saw this guy changing with our poles under his jacket. I walked across to him moved his jacket and reclaimed the poles. I thought it must be a misunderstanding however, I was very angry. He said, in broken English, but these are my poles. I pointed out the unique kinks in the bottom of the poles and he backed down when I said well shall we call the Police. He was not French but possibly Eastern European and he later appeared rather sheepishly from the shop and apologised and rather worryingly picked up another pair of skis and returned to the shop. It was interesting to note that those skis looked nothing like my Sons! We are still wondering if this was a genuine mistake but I somewhat doubt it. He must have been rather worried because my Son's are 21 and 24, one is 6'2" and the other is built like Arnie and is a part-time Doorman. The message being "Watch your skis"

The Transfer over Col du Lautatet Pass

We got across to Monetier via the new Vallons lift (I have taken some video footage of the chair lift ride and hope to post it in the near future) following of course a run down the now famous Cucumelle run and back up on the lift. You can really open it up down this run however; I still had to stop twice to rest my aching legs on the way down. I have to admit that the snow is somewhat superior in this area probably due too Monetier's location. We skied down the various runs to the small and friendly mountain hut called Peyra-Juana and had a most welcome drink. Before setting off down to the village itself which was very impressive.

Casualties of the Pass

In sum, If Heiniken made ski holidays in Serre Chevalier "then they would probably be the best ski holidays in the world" .Yes, we thoroughly enjoyed this holiday and the Serre Chevalier Vallee was nothing short of wonderful. We will return and ski some of the runs that we did not get around to on this trip. The French Holiday put more people on the mountain and led to a bit of congestion and a few lift bottlenecks at peak times however, on reflection this did not cause us any major problems and we adopted the laidback ethos of the resort and just relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. The location, transfer, skiing and accommodation scores 10 out of 10 and is the best skiing holiday we have taken to date.
I just love the gravitational pull

reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

Great report Alistair - can't believe how different the pass looked just a couple of hours after we drove over it!

Ian Wickham
reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

Great report Alistair

reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

Thanks Janet, We were shocked with how quickly the weather turned from bluebird to blackbird in such a short time. The weather as you know could not have been better during the week and we are all fortunate it changed on the day of our departure. However, I bet we would have some fun in the powder had we stayed for a further week I have kicked myself because of the lack of photo's taken but hey I had sooo much skiing to get in. I have taken some video and I will try to edit some clips and post them soon.
I just love the gravitational pull

reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

Ian Wickham wrote:Great report Alistair

Thanks Ian, it is indeed a great place, I think you have had the pleasure a few years ago? Did you enjoy your trip?
I just love the gravitational pull

reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

Lovely report AlistairS I've been to Serre Che too, many years ago now. BTW the Col de Lautaret is regularly closed due to bleak weather!

reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

bandit wrote:Lovely report AlistairS I've been to Serre Che too, many years ago now. BTW the Col de Lautaret is regularly closed due to bleak weather!

Thank you Bandit, La Grave at the other end of the Pass is an interesting place. It looks really mean and unforgiving. I gather its the experts area with one old lift up and if your lucky you might get down.
I just love the gravitational pull

reply to 'A Wonderful Introduction to the Serre Chevalier Vallee March 2011'
posted Mar-2011

Alistair - tremendous report, thanks for that. It reminded me just why I love the place, and how I have missed it this season. I always say I don't understand why people go back somewhere again and again, but Serre Che holds something a little bit special and unique in my opinion, and I also think that the amount of skiing available makes a difference, as its vast here!

Your photos made me realise how poor the snow was compared to my previous visits, and your description of the Briancon side confirms this, as I was skiing to the base at Easter last year believe it or not.

Anyway, I am so pleased that you found somewhere you love, partly due to the fact I wrote a report for this forum, and I hope you go back when its a little quieter on the slopes and the snow is better, as you will really see the place differently then.

I've been first week in March the past 2 seasons, and its been fantastic, busy at peak times coming off the mountain, but nothing like other resorts I've been to like St Anton or Mayrhofen for instance. I also went at Easter when the snow fell big time, so were got lucky. One morning it was literally knee deep powder, thats when you find out how your skiing has improved!!!

Anyway, thanks again, and I'm so pleased you liked the place as much as I did. Maybe we should compare notes over a beer in La Grotte next season....????

But don't forget, ssssshhhhh!!!! Its our best kept secret
www  New and improved me

Topic last updated on 23-March-2011 at 15:10

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