I was inspired to write a TR about my first Euro ski trip after I commented in another thread about mid stations or something or other. Not one to write TRs much, but, I thought, I could be doing a service for east coast types of modest to getting by means who have thought of traveling to the Alps, but always thought it was out of reach or difficult to do. I am of relatively modest means in my retirement, and was admittedly intimidated by the thought of skiing the Alps, so I never did it, opting out for the easier to get to Rocky mountains. There’s tons of TRs on TGR, but that guy (mostly guys) is the one who straps on the skins and immediately goes off piste and bypasses any warmup. That’s not me, I start slow, look around, learn. No need to go into fourth gear anyway, the inbounds is jaw dropping.
Big caveat, I was injured through most of this two week excursion. Pulled my hamstring in January, and it just wouldn’t heal completely. looking back, January should have been the end of my season, but, this trip was paid for, so, of course I went, thinking it would be OK. It was, sort of, but, had my difficulties. No real regrets, though. First world problem.
I decided to do this when I met a woman who is an officer in the Mogul Meisters Ski club in Westchester, and she told me about the fun trips they do, one domestic, one Euro. This year’s Euro trip was to Val d’Isère/Tignes, a massive ski area in the French Alps about 2 hours (haha, not) from Geneva. it was $2650 for a week, airfare from JFK, transfer from Geneva, a very nice hotel very close to both lifts and town, lift tickets, and breakfast and five course dinner (it’s called half board). Both meals were really really good. Not bad. Most important, though, is the convenience for a first time Euro skier who has little language skills. Doing a ski club trip is like going on a cruise - just get your butt to JFK, and most everything else is taken care of, Just don’t whine. I liked that part. So, I decided to blow off the return trip with the ski club, and schedule a second week down the road at LaPlagne/Les Arcs, and called up my buddy in Denver who joined me on that part. I figured, it’s hard enough to get to Europe (been there five times in the past seven years), that I didn’t want it all to fly by fast with half on a plane and in airports. Then I spent two and a half days on a beautiful early spring weekend in Lyon, the culinary capital of France, it’s second largest city, about an hour and a half west of the mountains. I flew home out of Lyon.
I didn’t take many pictures, only on my phone, so I may post again adding them, since I’m doing this on a big Mac. Can’t type this much on a phone.
The flight over was an ordeal. Left JFK on a Friday at 10:30 pm, so, joined in on a van leaving Westchester at 5pm. So, the grind starts. 2.5 hours to JFK in Friday rush, wait around a crowded, hot terminal after checking in and security (200 bucks for my ski bag on Lufthansa, but, no way I’m renting in a strange country. Love my Mantras.) The rest is a bit blurry, flew to Frankfurt, got a fair amount of sleep (I hate flying), decent connection to Geneva after going through EU control, arrive in Geneva I think about 3pm their time, get all of our stuff on a big bus (I think the total was about 30 ski club members and guests), and then what was supposed to be 2-2.5 hours turned into almost 6 hours getting to Val/Tignes on the bus in nasty weather, rain/snow. Arrived at hotel about 9pm their time. Yeah, basically, 24 hour travel time. Sucks. Get what you pay for, I guess. Try to fly direct, if you can. Hey, my buddy from Denver has to do it in three flights. At least we’re close to JFK.
At least we got dinner that night. It was good. More wine, please.
Woke up to a great buffet breakfast, everything and more, and went out to explore on a really scuzzy day. Rain in town and at the hotel, changed to snow halfway up, but awful visibility. Not a good day. Just wanted to look around, and couldn’t. Second day, Monday, was much worse. Winds closed the entire mountain by 1pm. Worst winds I have ever skied in. Well, not really skiing, more like surviving. Here’s a thing from Facebook that tells that story well: https://www.facebook.com/1130303713650017/videos/316727928987444/UzpfSTEwMDAxMDYxNDg1MTU5OTo4MTQyMjk5NTIyNzQxNTk/?id=100010614851599 Brutal. So, two days down. Didn’t even bring much snow, next day was bluebird, the only one of the week, but, dust on crust. Still, the visuals were stunning, when I could finally see. This was the day we were hiring an off piste guide. Full avi pack, beacon, shovel and probe (like I know how to use these things). Ski two crusty things in between traverses, then my lower leg pops, can barely walk, have to go drink. Damn. Took the next day off, got out a little off and on for the rest of the week, got to see a little, but, that’s all you can see anyway, it was socked in for the rest of the week. This is the problem with some Alpine mountains, especially Val/Tignes. No trees. Think the top of ABasin multipled by fifty. No where to hide from weather when visibility drops.
LaPlagne/Les Arcs was much better. More trees, a lot more sun. My buddy flies into Lyon, spends the night and half day there (smart), and picks me up at the hotel in Val on Friday. Air kisses to the Mogul Meisters, and I limp off to my second week. We drive down the road to Belle Plagne, which is a small manufactured village mid mountain in the LaPlagne ski area. Literally mid mountain, it was a halfway stop on the gondola coming up from Plagne Bellocote. Our hotel is more “modern” in an 80s kind of way, a bit dumpy, the food was adequate and plentiful (half board buffet), but, the best feature was that we were not only ski in and out, we were ski out a few feet out the front door down to five lifts, and/or walk to the mid station. Ridiculous. And, the little village was fully equipped with bars and restaurants and ski shops and a bakery and cheese and meats and wine, and, get this, a four lane bowling alley. And, you’re basically sleeping and living at the equivalent of Mid Vail. Between LaPlagne and Les Arcs, there’s maybe seven or eight “villages” like this scattered about. There’s one on Les Arcs, Arc 1600, that is connected pretty conveniently to Bourg St. Maurice down in the valley by funicular, and that funicular is right in a train station that has high speed trains from London and Paris arriving. You could easily do this with no car from those cities. We bought our lift tickets in that train station on our way up, very modern.
Btw, lift tickets at the window are very reasonable, about 45 bucks a day, senior rates (Benny is old). One pass for an area you’ll never cover in a week.
That week was mostly bluebird, which made all the difference as far as visibility. There are a lot of tree runs at the bottom, but we didn’t bother, because it was so spectacular up top. I was hobbled, told my buddy to get some without me, he did a lot of exploring. I shouldn’t have been skiing, but I did, and I was happy. Amazing place. Really pretty, awesome skiing. This isn’t the U.S.. though, only the pistes are controlled, and a lot of the off piste is pretty free and open to all, most of the time. I was stunned to see lines right under massive hanging cornices, real death traps. You better have your act together, or pay a price. Speaking of which, rescue of any sort, including a meat sled on a groomer, is charged to you. They sell insurance for a few bucks a day with your tickets, always buy it. Anyway, one day we travel from our hotel over to the top of Les Arcs and back, with no clouds in the sky. Amazing. Awesome lunch, too. On mountain food is ridiculous, and not too expensive, and the views are stupid awesome. I always said I wouldn’t be a lunch person, but, I capitulated. It’s not a bad way to live. I’ll post pics.
Lift lines? Yeah, not polite. It’s pretty aggressive. Like driving in New Jersey rush hour traffic. With more contact. Keep elbows out. Get used to it, and pay attention. Too many conveyer belt entrances for my taste. Hate those things. Lots of fast six packs, quads, al sorts of lifts, actually. There’s a double decker four minute tram that connects LaPlagne and Les Arcs.
Did I say these places are big? Jezuz. I mean, LaPlagne/Les Arcs is like five Vails. There’s the Tres Valee around the corner, which is three resorts all on one pass. Couchavel, Val Thorens, and Meribel, with a few others thrown in. Sick. I’m told it’s good. Ha. Btw, if you plan on a trip, try to stay somewhat in the center of one of these places, because just getting from one side to the other is an all day affair, they’re so big. Val d’Isère/Tignes was easier to get from one side to the other, because you used the bus down in the valley for that. LaPlagne/Les Arcs is all built way up on the hill, no quick road between them. Expensive cab ride if you screw up.
Ski rentals looked pretty lame, glad I brought my Mantras, a great all around ski. Euros ski on pretty pedestrian mid level equipment, not many fat or powder skis. Black Crowe is a big brand for the core dudes, made in France. I’d bring my own, though.
Language is no real issue, tons of Brits, especially in Val/Tignes. Boy, those Brits are loud drunks. LaPlagne is more French, domestic.
Left that Friday for Lyon in my buddy’s rented car, so that was convenient. Transport can be 2-300 bucks out of one of those resorts to Geneva or even Lyon, so, beware of that cost. As I mentioned, try to train it to Bourg St. Maurice, or anywhere else, really, and this will save you big bucks. He wanted the car, but it sat there all week. Try to combine this with a trip to a big city like Paris or even London that is accessible by train to the mountains. It will be nice to break up the travel for a day or two, especially on the way in. I had a few awesome meals and did some sightseeing in Lyon on the way back, had a good time.
Ok, that’s it for now. I’m going to post this than go to my phone and post pics. Btw, I was so impressed, I didn’t buy either an Epic or Ikon pass for next year, because I’m going back. Just Killington/Sugarbush. Either I’ll try to find an AirB&B back at Belle Plagne for a month, or, something completely different, 2-3 weeks in the Dolomites at Arraba. I’m hooked. Do it, it’s not more expensive, just harder to get to. You’ll be impressed.
Our guide (on piste day) at lunch. Real ski bum, pretty much a dirtbag, in a good way, Sardinian. That was the howling wind day up above in the Facebook link. Cozy inside, good pizza. Leaving there was like a scene from the top of Everest, though. I got hit by a flying tree branch.
One course of one dinner. Did I say that food is awesome? You better like cheese, btw.
Group shot on that windy day in a protected gorge. Only place you could ski. I'm in the center, orange.
My peeps up on top of Tignes after I got injured. Sob.
Cool double box photo book all about Jean Claude Killy in our hotel bar. What a life.
Great trip report! Thanks. It’s a testament to how spectacular the Alps truly are, that after the experience you had from the time you left for JFK right through your first week at Val d’Isere/Tignes...what with nightmare travel, injuries, terrible conditions...you not only extended your trip, but you can’t wait to get back. Sorry the injury bug got in the way a bit, but that second week looked spectacular.
My only Euro experience was a quick stop in Zermatt last year, where our only ski day got skunked by the weather....but I can’t wait to get back, either.
"Fuck it, I'm staying another two weeks." FTW
I have very limited experience in Europe but I was also struck by the food. Reasonably priced and much better than anything I've had on a mountain in the US. Also they were banging it out, no waiting.
Great attitude too, sucking it up and making the best of it even though your wheels were messed up. Appreciation of the experience/culture makes all the difference.
What an awesome (and funneh!) TR Benny. Seems like you had a bit of trouble posting, I admit that the forum software is pretty ame and I really appreciate the persistence.
It wasn't too bad. Like I said, the pics were on my phone, so I did the pic posting seperately, because no way I'm typing that much on the phone. One little glitch I worked around is that it was easier to post a pic in the edit post mode than the original post. I didnt get that "insert image" button when I first posted, so I made a quick post and then inserted pictures in the "edit".
Wish I took more pictures, but, eh, I was stuck resting the leg doing stuff like this.
Poor poor me, right?