Summer Skiing in France

For those of you not lucky enough to be spending the winter in New Zealand, Australia or Chile there is still the possibility to get in some vertical on one of the summer ski areas in France.  Michael Berthelot has an interesting article (in French) on the state of the six French glaciers equipped for summer skiing.

Les Deux Alpes has the largest summer ski area in Europe, over 200 hectares with over 750 meters of vertical. The glaciers are in pretty good shape after some shrinkage during the 1990s.  Last year there was even 45cm of fresh snow on the 10th of August.  However it should be remembered that in the 1970s you could ski down right to 2560 meters July, an extra 200 meters of vertical.  The ski domain opens on the 21st of June.

Tignes is the other real summer ski area offering around 500 meters of vertical.  Summer skiing was the magic formula discovered by the Tignes promoter, Pierre Schnebelen.  By equipping the glacier de la Grande Motte for skiing the season was extended for 365 days a year.  In recent times the glacier has suffered badly from warmer temperatures and the station now closes for several months of the year.

As we reported earlier, the summer skiing on the Bellecôte Glacier at la Plagne is closed this year due to the rebuilding of the Roche de Mio cable car. It is maybe just as well, the glacier really suffered with the lack of snow last year and it is rarely possible to ski beyond the end of July.

In the halcyon days of the 1970s skiers remember descending as far as the St Charles Bridge at Val d’Isère from the summer skiing on the glacier du Pissaillas. The glacier is now in poor condition and with a restricted summer season.  Skiing finished in mid-July last year and we’ve just heard that due to the recent heat wave the glacier will remain closed this summer.

Pierre Schnebelen tried to transplant the idea of summer skiing to Val Thorens but met with fierce opposition from environmentalists. The remaining ski lifts on the Glacier de la Chavière have now been removed leaving a tiny piste on the glacier de Péclet. This glacier is in retreat and will be closed this summer.

Finally l’Alpe d’Huez has been equipping the glacier de Sarenne. The main interest for the resort is to guarantee winter skiing in this south facing resort but it enabled the resort to open in the autumn last year for the school holidays and offers the most challenging summer skiing in France.  The SATA (Société d’Aménagement Touristique de l’Alpe d’Huez) have contracted Doppelmayr to build a new Funitel lift (Les Marmottes 3) to ease access to the Sarenne glacier from the top of the Marmottes lift system.  Funitels use two cables and are stable in high winds.  The Mamottes 3 will be 700 meters long and climb 300 meters and be capable of carrying 1100 skiers/hour for the 3 minute trip.

While the work at l’Alpe d’Huez may make the resort more accessible to intermediates it has is controversial with advanced skiers who were particularly disappointed with the remodelling of the famous tunnel piste. This now has a ‘path’ from the summit of the Pic Blanc to give skiers an escape route.  l’Alpe d’Huez opens on the 28th of June.

France is not the only possibility for glacier skiing.  There is also summer skiing in Austria at Sölden and Hintertux and in Switzerland on the Diablerets Glacier, Saas Fee and Zermat and also Norway.  There is also the Tamworth Snowdome in England!

Posted by davidof on Sunday, 15 June, 2003 at 03:24 PM

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