More than any of the other Alpinforum trip reports that convinced me to plan a Maritime Alps ski visit, this one posted four years ago about Roubion really hit my sweet spot: comparatively small for the Alps at barely 1,600 vertical feet (the same as Hunter), rolling hills, and about 18 miles of marked trails. Still, check out the visuals on a bluebird day with clear views of not only the Mediterranean, but also Corsica 150 miles away (!) and what looked like really cozy slopes that wind intriguingly through the forest -- kinda like a Bobcat in the south of France! Even though there are a half dozen off-the-beaten-path ski areas in this region, Roubion was the one I really wanted to fit in on this visit.
Immediately after exiting the well-traveled route between Nice and Isola at the village of Saint-Sauveur sur Tinée, I downshifted for a narrow twisting road that zips up through a deep gorge with reddish rocks and felt like it had been teleported from northern New Mexico.
Within 15 minutes, the cliffside village of Roubion (the name is a provençal French variation of the word "cliff"), in existence since at least 1067, came into view on the right. There are quite of few of these scattered throughout this region.
Only 30 miles as the crow flies from Nice, Roubion is the newest ski area (1975) in the Maritimes Alpes region and prides itself on being a family-oriented option to industrial tourism both skiing and otherwise, i.e. keeping everything on a human level. As I drove further uphill, it became apparent that following the previous day's powderfest in Auron the skies weren't going to clear up. Atypically for the region, I was in for a gray, flat-light day, meaning that breathtaking full-color photos captioned "Corsica in the distance" weren’t in the cards. When I arrived at the modest base area, there was some additional less than delightful news -- I’d read their operating hours incorrectly: they weren't running their lifts that day. But after speaking with Michel, the gentleman in charge of grooming, he felt bad that I'd flown all the way from the mean streets of New York City to visit their ski area and generously offered to give me a few rides uphill.
As a sidebar: I can tell you that it doesn't hurt to be an American in southern France. Despite their antipathy for the present occupant of the White House, virtually everyone I spoke to the entire week seemed to be huge fans of the U.S. and especially NYC; in fact, it was often difficult to change the subject! People had all kinds of stories of what they'd done and experienced during a trip to the Big Apple. They were surprised to learn that the state of NY and the northeast in general have so many ski areas. I told them the same thing in reverse -- that very few people in the U.S. are aware of their ski region in the south of France, which was why I was there in the first place.
Before getting started, Michel insisted on a shot of their NYC/NJ visitor in front of his Pisten Bully:
And up we went:
I asked Michel a bunch of questions about Roubion's operations and he said that like all of the comparatively low-elevation ski areas in the region with limited snowmaking, natural precipitation was their biggest variable/challenge and that the previous three seasons had been especially tough. This season was a bit more normal but still below average.
A look downhill from the summit at 1,920 meters/6,300 feet, which has an impressive 360-degree panorama in person:
While the views from the top weren't as nice as they'd be on a bluebird day, it was great to get a private-ski-area experience and take advantage of the additional six inches of powder that'd fallen overnight:
"Les Écureuils" Trail
"Les Blanchons" Trail
Arriving back at the base area:
Their big infrastructure news is a fixed quad chair purchased from Val Thorens in the 3 Valleys region, which should be operational next season. They're also building a bunch of new wooden chalets for overnight visitors and restoring some old stone houses at the base, but it isn't cheap so they're doing them gradually:
This friendly dog had run in front of me mid-mountain earlier; he came down to say hello:
Although the ski area wasn't running that day, this cute restaurant was and I had a tasty lunch:
Since it wasn't even 1 pm, I headed back to the village of Roubion and chatted with tourism office employees Sophie and Anne about the rental electric mountain bikes that are already a big thing over there. The four levels of electric backup don't replace pedaling; you still have to exert yourself -- the point is to give non-hardcores of all ages the ability to ride all types of terrain, both on- and off-road. After giving it a try, I understood how electric mountain biking is a pretty inclusive idea for visitors:
It was still lunch time -- as you know, the French take long lunches -- so they joined me for a quick ride around the village with great views at every turn, old churches, etc.:
Eventually, we walked through the atmospheric village, interconnected by winding sidewalks:
And eventually ended up at the mayor's office -- yep, they have these type of photos over there too!
In summary: while the weather didn't necessarily cooperate, I wasn't going to look this gift horse in the mouth -- a handful of morning powder runs at an empty mountain and a visit to a type of "ski village" that doesn't exist in North America.
Friendly French people? Now I've seen everything!!
You heard it here first! I've always found French inhabitants in ski regions to be really welcoming, with those in the south of France even more so. Also, as mentioned, they're fascinated by the U.S. in general and particularly by NYC. A number of people mentioned the shared connection of 9/11 and their experiences with terrorist attacks at the Bataclan club in Paris and Bastille Day 2016 in Nice. Finally, millennials are crazy about the NBA and will tell you chapter and verse about their preferred team/players while wearing branded caps and t-shirts.