Thu, 24 February 2022
Minimum altitude: 1,069 meters
Distance: 103.4 km
Slope Aspect: North-East
Vertical Climbed: 10,671 meters (35,012 feet)
Vertical Descended: 10,670 meters
Les Sybelles in the French Maurienne links six villages: St Colomban des Villards, Les Bottières, La Toussuire, Saint-Jean-d’Arves, Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves and Le Corbier. It claims to be France's 4th largest linked ski area with 310 km of ski runs from 1100 to 2620 meters altitude. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? All this at more reasonable Maurienne prices. In reality the area is a bit disjointed which reflects its history. The area was finally linked up in 2003 but many of the ski areas are much older. The problem is the villages don't link up that well.Pretty much everything revolves around a summit called l'Ouillon (2431 meters) which you have to pass through to access other sectors. The Ouillon is a flat plateau and you end up taking a lot of lifts to get to this point, some of which are relatively flat so you are not really gaining much height, just moving horizontally. There are a number of pistes that don't lead anywhere but to a dead end with a lift at the bottom but no way of skiing down to resort level.
The lowest point of the ski area is St Colomban des Villards at 1100m. It is located way out to the west, it is around 7km skiing from the Ouillon but gives 1200 vertical meters of skiing in a single run on a mix of red and blue graded pistes. Access into the other areas is via a slow four seater chair, then another chair with limited capacity, then a drag, then another slow chair which gets you as far as the Col de Bellard. The Ouillon is just to the left but instead of having a link you have to ski on a virtually flat blue to the Col de la Croix de Fer then double back on another chair for a total of 13km. There is limited but pleasant skiing in St Colomban itself.
The Croix de Fer gives access, via, you guessed it, another chair to the St Sorlin d'Arves sector. It took us 1h40 from St Colomban just to reach the top of the St Sorlin pistes. There are a number of fast chairs here and you can ski from the Trois Lacs (2570m) down to the resort (1510m) for over 1000 meters of descent. Only the Mur (Wall) black was open for our visit and this was a bump run and reasonably challenging. The rest is a mix of greens, blues and reds but the greens are reasonable steep. The return is via the Croix de Fer and the pleasant 3.5km long Vallons piste. There is no direct lift to the Ouillon from St Sorlin and you can't easily ski to St Jean d'Arves despite them being in the same valley. St Sorlin is really a satellite resort.
Back at the Ouillon there is not direct way to ski down to St Jean d'Arves or Le Corbier, instead you ski across a flat ridge to the Pointe du Corbier (2240m) using some drag lifts on the uphill sections. From here you can ski to St Jean d'Arves (1570m) on a pleasant and wide mix of red and blue slopes. Returning to the Pointe du Corbier you can access the Chardon and Jonquilles blacks. After lulling you into a false sense of security the Chardon has a short and steep wall which may make you pause for a second. You can also ski down to Le Corbier (1530m) for 710m of descent. You can access la Toussuire from the mid station at le Corbier which saves all the Ouillon ridge and plateau faff and ski down to Les Bottières at 1300m but we ran out of time. A red piste should take you from the Grand Truc (2209m) to Les Bottières for 900 meters of descent but you'll need 5 lifts to get back to the Ouillon and links closes at 16h00 so you'll need to leave at least an hour for the return. That means heading back to your starting point around 15h00.
Road access via the Maurienne autoroute is easy via St Jean de Maurienne to St Colomban (about 20 minutes) or from St Michel de Maurienne to the other villages (around 30 minutes). There are train stations at both St Jean and St Michel. It is on the main Paris to Turin rail link.
Another long day. St Colomban is less than an hours drive from home and we'd only visited Le Corbier once in the past although I know the ski touring well. We found getting around the resort a bit of a schlepp but each area had things to recommend it even if the links were somewhat tedious. It was very windy up on the Ouillon which didn't help our mood. You can ski over 1000 meters of vertical but some of the shorter runs in le Corbier were very pleasant. Despite this being the main winter holiday week with Paris off lift queues were never long, about 5 minutes maximum due to the extensive lift system. Pistes were quite crowded. The resort attracts a lot of Dutch and British visitors.
Fresh snow, humid or spring on south facing slopes. Dense powder on north sector slopes where it wasn't skied out. Best on piste snow was St Colomban which was shaded from the sun and sheltered from the moderate mistral wind.