I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the mountains since starting to snowboard in 1995, and to be honest I’ve tried most methods of getting out into Europe. 15 hour road trips in the back of unheated windowless Sprinter vans potentially being the highlight.
I’ve found over the years, flying into Geneva or Lyon and then self driving through Avis is an excellent way of tackling the transfer and still retaining independence while in the mountains. I love to explore, and having a hire car allows me that pleasure. This road trip takes you from Lyon Airport all the way to the highest city in France, Briancon and some of the ski resorts worth stopping at in between.
From Lyon airport you should head for Grenoble into the Daulphiné Alps and the Ecrins National Park and some fantastic ski resorts that will suit everyone from total beginners to hardened pro riders and off piste specialists.
The first main resort you will come across is L’Alp D’Huez, a famous stop on the Tour de France. The summit at Pic Du Blanc is an impressive 3300m and apparently has the longest pisted run in Europe at 16km. With 240km of runs and 2 snow parks there should be plenty to keep you occupied. My tip would be to take the “Alpette Rousses” lift up to “Dome de Petite Rousses” to get away from the crowds and marvel at the top lift station and its precarious position atop a 400metre cliff.
A few kilometres further down the valley towards Briancon is a right turn to Les Deux Alps, the party town of this part of the Alps. Bars, clubs and eating a plenty. My personal favourite being the Avalanche Club, although I can’t recall much from my time inside this little gem that is open till the small hours of the morning. The resort goes up to 3600m and has 225km of pistes. Glacier riding in the summer, 2 freestyle parks and smaller parks if you like jumps, spins and rails. You can access best high alpine area in the Southern Alps, La Grave, from here. If you like alpine charm character then head down to the little hamlet of Venosc from the main resort. Traditional building set in the depths of the Venosc valley below L2A.
20 minutes further up the valley towards Briancon is La Grave, although patrolled its total un-pisted and has no formal avalanche controls. Its high, it’s dangerous and should not be considered unless you know what you are doing or have hired a guide from Bureau des Guides de La Grave – La Meije. The area has unsurpassed off piste and 2150m vertical descent as well as some of the most amazing mountain scenery in this part of the Alps. Its also worth noting that the small restaurant at 3200m does an awesome steak, chips and tea, useful when its -32C outside.
From La Grave head towards Briancon and you’ll come over the high mountain pass of the Col Du Lautaret at 2053m, this is often closed due to snow falls. From here it’s all down hill to our last stop, the highest city in France and the sprawling ski area of Serre Chevalier. The three communities of Monetier / Chantemerle and Braincon link up to create a vast ski area of 250km of piste up to 2800m. Probably the most French and family orientated of the resorts in the area, which offers a wide range facilities and riding potential. It has great off piste and tree riding, plus a couple of parks. Briancon itself has a fascinating history and fortifications dating back to the 17th century, so if you do get this far then certainly take the time to drive down into the town and explore…Oh and its has the only McDonalds for about 2 hours…I’m sure some people will be interested in that.
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