Ken Roberts - - Cross Country Skiing

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pretty + fun ski places in France

posted to rec.skiing.nordic 04apr5:

Subject: prettiest view in the world?

Last Monday I ran into the most spectacular view I ever saw from a groomed cross country ski trail -- in France near Grenoble. I was skating on a trail I didn't even know existed when I started out that morning, and it's not on any ski trail map I've seen.

What are some other spectacular cross country ski views in the world?

I drove down to Grenoble, then west up into the Vercors plateau to Autrans, site of the 1964 Winter Olympics XC ski courses. My goal was to take on the challenge of skating up the long climb there, from Autrans up to Geve.

When I got to the base ski center, I was lucky to find there was still snow holding on this late in the season -- but the main "foyer de ski" building was locked. I looked inside and saw a note that all the trails were open up at Geve, so I drove to there. But the buildings were closed there too, so there was no place for me to purchase a "badge" for skiing or get a trail map.

But the trails were beautifully groomed, so I just started skating, and soon found a map sign at one of the intersections. It showed a connector trail going off to La Sure, which I never heard of, but it looked like it might make a nice out-and-back warmup before taking on my challenge. Turned out there was already a good climb on this connector, and then some down -- and I found that La Sure was a lift-served alpine downhill ski area -- with trails beautifully groomed from the weekend. Nobody was skiing on the wide trail, so instead of heading back to Geve and Autrans, I thought I'd try skating up the alpine downhill trail -- which soon led to playing with Peter Hoffman's "switchback" idea. I skated up all the way to the top of two lifts (taking some rest stops).

Up there I found there was also a cross country trail that came to the same place, also beautifully groomed, so I started skating north on it, and soon it made a downhill turn, where I stepped five meters off the trail to the top of a sheer cliff -- with a giant view northwest out over the river valleys and plains of France. (but that's not the view I'm talking about). Further down this trail I found a turn-off that would take be back to Geve -- but I thought that before my planned challenge, I would test myself climbing back up this narrow trail, which took me back to the top of the lifts.

But next I noticed that the skating trail continued on behind the lift and further south -- to who knows where? It was a perfect sunny day, so I started skating. (I did have a hiking topo map of the Vercors plateau, but it didn't show which routes were ski trails.) After a few km, I reached a little side-loop with a wonderful viewpoint over the interior of the Vercors. I liked this better than the views I've found in most North American XC ski areas, because I could see villages and farms, not just lots of trees and snow. (but that's not the view I'm talking about).

The beautiful grooming continued, so I kept skating generally south, with occasional signs for "Moliere". Then there it was -- a view across the whole French Alps, north to Mont Blanc, east to the Ecrins group and further south, with the great mountain groups in between, the Chartreuse and the Belledonne chain prominent, also major peaks in the Beaufortain and Lauziere and Vanoise ranges. At this "Moliere" viewpoint there's a "table of observation" there that shows the names of the major peaks. I've never seen a view from a groomed cross country ski trail that comes close to that spectacular. But I'll be glad for suggestions -- and more excuses to travel.

Then I kept skiing down a hill to a refuge hut (that might be serving food on weekends), and finally reached the end of the grooming. But there was still another trail heading back north but lower. And though it wasn't up on the ridge, it had pretty rocks right alongside it. Then a steep climb up to that same Vercors interior viewpoint, and from there I backtracked on the high ridge trail to the top of the Sure lifts. Down the narrow cross-country trail, with another visit to the cliff-top view. Then I found there was also a "high" connector trail between Sure and Geve, which traversed around the upper rim of the northern Vercors -- another pretty route where I could then look back across to where I'd been. And back to Geve.

What a great day of spring-time skiing. France may not have the quantity of trails in Norway. But it's got enough special quality places. In addition to Geve - Sure - Moliere, there's the fun trails of La Feclaz, and the gentle but big-mountain-surrounded valley of Bessans. the wine, the food, the sunshine. The 1992 Olympic courses of Les Saisies with some spectacular peaks close by, and the Jura with its famous long route and race. Did I mention the sunshine, the food, and the wine? Now that I've made the obligatory pilgrimage to Norway, France is the place I'm going back to.


P.S. Actually my skiing for the day wasn't over. From Geve I skied all the way down to Autrans, and along the way took the challenge of the two steep climbs of the "Variante de Coupe du Monde" trail. Even though that note at Autrans said something about closed trails, the snow down low was beautifully groomed. So finally I was able to try my originally planned challenge: the long climb from Autrans to Geve. And except to take my skis off to cross one paved road, I actually skated the whole way up without stopping to rest. Hope I get to try it again sometime.


Subject: Re: prettiest view in the world?

Date: April 23, 2004

Sounds like flying into Oslo and skiing the first afternoon in Rjukan would work -- thanks Terje.

And someone actually did it in France a couple of weeks ago: My friend Craig got off the airplane at the Geneva airport on Saturday morning after flying all the way from Salt Lake City, and skated at La Feclaz that afternoon. It was winter conditions in mid-April with new snow. They had groomed the trails nicely, but when I tried to purchase a badge for skiing, the man said "gratuit" -- no charge for that day.

We skated again at Bessans last weekend, and made a surprise discovery of another candidate trail for "prettiest". Bessans ( is an hour or so east from Albertville, and has been the venue for several recent elite ski-and-shoot Biathlon events. The whole setting of the quiet village and ski trails rather spectacular -- perhaps the gentlest trail system in France, yet surrounded by big dramatic mountains. The trails were nicely groomed, but the woman at the ski "nordique" center said "gratuit". (Interesting how I've seen several French XC ski centers groom many more km than they advertise, and keep on grooming without fee after the official "ski season" is finished).

But the surprise "prettiest" trail was when Craig and I decided to try one of the green ("tres facile" = very easy) trails on the edge of the "espace nordique Bessans" trail map. And then the trail kept going and going and started climbing southeast up this big valley, and we skated past a little village of stone houses and isolated shepherd's huts. It was not "very easy" any more -- some parts more like "tres difficile" -- so Craig and I had to stop and rest several times, but it didn't matter since it was so pleasant just to be there. The trail was no longer groomed smooth, but still well-packed and wide and very skate-able. It looked like the packing was done not by the ski center grooming machine, but by a "snowcat" vehicle being used for transportation up and down the valley.

We reached another village of stone houses which we figured must be Averole. It seemed deserted in mid-April: We were way out beyond the network of ski trails shown on the "espace nordique Bessans" map. Then I spotted a "hut" up beyond the village, must be the Refuge d'Averole. Craig said he had gone far enough, but I saw the skating track continuing, and I thought there would be people up at the Refuge, so I gave him the car keys.

Going up to the Refuge turned out to be the toughest skating I ever did: very steep beyond the village. Good thing I had practiced Peter's suggestion of skating switchbacks (going wide into the ungroomed snow), or I would not have made it. Finally I arrived at the Refuge, and there was the big snowcat vehicle. Four skiers picnicking out front greeted me in Italian. The hut-guardian switched effortlessly to English as soon as she heard one sentence of my attempt at ordering a drink in French -- so I had some hot chocolate and soup and bread. Then used my best downhill techniques to descend those steep slopes to the village. There was Craig -- he had taken a nap right there beside the trail instead of going back to the car. So we skied back down together to Bessans.

I think it's about 10 km and 300 vertical meters (1000 ft) of climbing to the village of Averole from the Besssans nordique depart, (or 5 km and 100 vertical meters if go up only far as the village of Vincendieres). For those who must, climbing to the Refuge adds another 200 vertical meters -- with some sections so steep that next time I'll bring climbing skins.

Glad I spent so much time this year practicing skating up long hills slowly. The European Alps offer several very rewarding examples.


Royal Gorge perimeter (California) 

posted to rec.skiing.nordic 04mar4:

Subject: Royal Gorge perimeter - long tour California

I skied the perimeter of the Royal Gorge cross country ski resort ( It was a great tour, and I'm very grateful to Mark Nadell (and Bob) for describing it on this newsgroup. If you can handle the distance and the steep hills, it must be one of the best long-distance groomed-track tours in the world.

The perimeter tour has some fine views, and the trails have interesting designs. It offers a good sense of visiting different places and different trails along the way, so you feel a new accomplishment every few minutes, not just at the end of it all.

I found it very hilly -- tougher hills than any other groomed-track ski tour I've done anywhere. A big part of my success was in pacing myself up the hills, even stopping to rest several times. I'd say the Lake Placid Loppet 50K or the Gold Rush 50K courses were just warmup exercises compared to hills of the Perimeter tour.

But I'm just a visitor from the East coast skiing at Royal Gorge for the second day of my life, so better to listen to the experienced Tahoe locals, who I hope will correct any misleading statements in this note.

Length and Vertical -- If you have to ask, you shouldn't be doing it. Just eyeballing it next to the Gold Rush 50K map, I figure it must be a lot more than 50 km. It took me between 6 and 7 hours to skate it, including three substantial food+rest breaks.

Route -- fairly obvious from the Royal Gorge resort trail map, but see also a separate post on the details.

Food + Drink -- There are a couple of lodges serving food, and several warming shelters where you can melt snow to make water. But there are long, long distances between the food lodges, so I was very glad I carried my own food and drink. (And follow all the instructions for starting the water-melting stoves in the warming huts. Fortunately a couple from San Diego found me at the Whitneys / Point Mariah shelter and showed me the key step I was missing).

Warning -- Some of the hills on this tour are very very steep going down. Some require expert downhill skiing skills even in good snow conditions. It wouldn't surprise if they could get dangerous in bad conditions or for someone with anything less than expert skills and judgment.



Subject: Royal Gorge perimeter - route details
Date: March 04, 2004

Building on Bob and Mark's earlier posts, below is the route I took for my Royal Gorge Perimeter tour -- as best as I can remember.  I'm just a short-time visitor:  hopefully the local experts will supply corrections to my route.

Which way around?  I was glad I did the tough climbs of Devil's Peak first while I was still fresh.  So I would do it counter-clockwise again next time, and that's how Mark described it.


HC = At least as tough a hill (steep and/or long, up or down) as I've ever encounted on any other groomed-track cross country ski center.  Probably tougher.

flat = flat with possible headwind

(no hill notation) = hilly


Start:  Summit Station (main lodge and parking)
Mirkwood Outlook
Rooster Comb / Mirkwood
  (Food: Wilderness Cafe)
  (? Bon Appetite ?)

Kidd Lake
Wagon Train
The Wall / Horseshoe (HC)
Devil's Peak spur, up and back (HC)
Horseshoe / The Wall (HC)
Klondike Lil's
Wagon Train
(official route goes directly to Stage Coach)
Deborah's Delight
Kidd Lake
Food:  Wilderness Cafe

Deer Lake (gentle)
Stage Coach
Snow Mountain
East Ridge / Bear Pass
Point Mariah (out and back)
Drink:  I melted snow at the Whitney / Point Mariah warming shelter

Whitney Bowl
Sterling's Canyon (later section is HC)
Lola's Lookout (HC)
Crow Nest (HC)
Bogus Basin
Nosedive / the Ledge / Ana's Chute (HC)
Sugar Bowl Interconnect (to under the ski lifts)
  (? or skip visiting the Sugar Bowl Lodge ?)
Food: Sugar Bowl Lodge + Alpine Ski Resort

Sugar Bowl Interconnect
Little Disney
International (starts down hill, then flat)
  (? perhaps I drifted onto Fleet Street ?)
Sleeping Beauty (flat)
Salter's Lane (flat)
  (Van Norden parking)
Sleeping Beauty (flat-to-gentle)
Telegraph (not sure this was groomed?)
Summit Connection
  (stop partway to take skis off to cross road)
   I also skied Thor's and Swan Dive (HC),
   (? but probably this is overdoing it ?)
Finish:  Summit Station (main lodge and parking)

Warning:  Some of the hills on this tour are very very steep going down. Some require expert downhill skiing skills even in good snow conditions.  It wouldn't surprise if they could get dangerous in bad conditions or for someone with anything less than expert skills and judgment.

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