Alpine Skiing: les Karellis, Savoie, France - 2,480 m. (8,137 ft)

Sat, 1 December 2018


Minimum altitude: 1,550 meters

Distance: 60 km

Slope Aspect: North-East

Trip Reports

Vertical Climbed: 930 meters (3,051 feet)


General Description

Les Karellis is located in the Maurienne valley in the French Savoy department. In terms of kilometers of ski runs it is far from the largest in the Alps, boasting just 60 km of pistes but there is over 900 meters of vertical. The amount of skiing is more extensive on the ground than it appears on paper. For good skiers purely interested in alpine skiing the area will be a bit limited but for all round winter sports enthusiasts there is largely enough for a week’s skiing. Beginners and intermediates will find plenty to keep them busy with long green runs served by chair lifts winding down through pine forests.

The ski area is split over 3 north-east oriented bowls equipped with ski lifts and a 4th “hidden” back bowl. The Plagne bowl has south facing slopes.  The ski lifts take skiers to 2480 meters altitude and the village is at 1600 meters. Skiing below 2000 meters altitude is through larch forests. Two high speed lifts whisk skiers to the treeline, ideal for days when the weather is bad. Above this altitude things are more alpine in nature. If you want to get to the very top of the ski area, the Pointe de Chaudannes, you’ll have to hike the last 40 vertical meters.

The altitude and north-easterly aspect, coupled with extensive snow making ensure a long season from December to the end of April. Over 50% of the runs are rated black or red but while the reds are a good standard the blacks are relatively mild, there are no bottom clenching descents. 

The village is car free and the architecture is typical of modern, second generation, ski-in ski-out, French resorts. For those seeking a traditional Maurienne experience the village of Albanne links into the main ski area via a drag lift but remember that the Maurienne is the poor cousin of its chic northern neighbour the Vanoise and you are really being transported back to a typical Savoyard mountain village. The ski area can be reached via shuttle bus from the TGV station at Saint Jean de Maurienne.


Keeping the red flag flying

Les Karellis opened its doors over the Christmas of 1976. The vision of the founder Pierre Lainé was to link the communities that owned the slopes with tourist associations to provide a ski resort with a social and cultural aspect as well as aiding the local economy. Lainé wanted to offer "winter sports holidays to families of even quite modest means". He felt that the existing development model in French ski resorts didn't provide a balanced or durable economy for the local communities, "the success of les Karellis shows that it was possible to take a different route from that of ultra-liberalism that dominates in most tourist destinations". The ski resort is situated in the Montricher-Albanne community and is run as kind of cooperative venture with its partners. Holiday makers are offered all inclusive packages which include accommodation, lift pass and other entertainments. Continuing the social them tariffs are based on family revenue.

Property is theft

Lainé himself is a native of Saint-Mandé in the Paris suburbs. He discovered the Alps on the advice of his doctor to treat his Asthma. During the 2nd World War he was sent to a work camp in Germany and was lucky to escape with his life. Returning to France he joined the French Alpine Club where he organized trips for young people to discover the mountains before setting up a sort of “Kibbutz” in the Haute-Savoie in 1947. In 1954 he founded the Renouveau Vacances Association with the long term aim of democratizing winter tourism by creating a new type of ski resort. The problem was finding a site which had not already been developed where the local politicians were favourable.  Finally Montricher-Albanne signed an accord with Renouveau to build a resort on the local meadows where “la karèle” a type of grass grows. The town owns the land and buildings which are leased for 99 years to holiday associations. This means that out of 3000 beds, 2600 are available for rental. There is no private property and the town is relatively compact as a result. Lift pass prices are affordable. Season workers are provided with decent accommodation and contracts.  The French communist party regularly holds summer conferences in the resort.

Critics point out that les Karellis suffers from under occupancy, even in the high season. Only about 75% of beds are filled during peak periods. They wonder whether the model is still competitive with other destinations and whether the accommodation is adapted to demands of holiday makers in the 21st century.

The resort has a controversial project to link with Albiez Montrond on the south side of the mountain. The resort of Albiez Montrond has financial problems and it is hoped that by creating a resort with over 100 km of pistes will attract more visitors. The project is estimated at 26 million euros and would involve the construction of a chairlift from Albiez to les Karellis and a return piste on steep and unstable terrain. It is not sure that the project will receive planning permission.

Ski de fond / snowshoeing

The area has 30km of cross country ski pistes between Albanne and les Karellis. The pistes cover all levels and are free to access. There are extensive walking and snow shoeing trails through the larch forests.

Off Piste

Avalanche prone:

Already been deaths.

Couloirs du Midi

Ski Touring


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