Ken Roberts - - Cross Country Skiing

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France northern Alps cross-country centers


Bessans in Haute Maurienne

posted to February 2011

Great afternoon for Sharon + me. Not only was the depth on the trails more than sufficient (no hint of bare sports even at the lowest altitude), it was powdery winter snow (no hint of re-frozen), well-packed for any kind of skiing, classic or skating.

Nice big new building (and more parking) at the main base. Lots of people out having fun on the trails. Somehow it's always fun whenever I ski at Bessans.

It's a big open space in the midst of big mountains. Lots of gentle trails, that are still interesting enough. Skiing alongside the Arc river, and past various farm + shepherd buildings.

Up above 1700 meters altitude, seemed like normal winter again. : lat/long (N45.319806 E6.998205)

Sardieres + Bramans in Haute Maurienne

posted to February 2011

We were wondering what else the Haute Maurienne valley offers (in addition to wonderful Bessans) for a longer holiday, so Sharon + I tried some of the most promising other places there. (Some website said these other places could be reached by shuttle bus from Bessans).

Sardieres is around 1500-1600 meters altitude. Its trail network is named "Monolithe" because of a rock tower near one of the trails. Its trails are high enough to hold snow -- the problem is that many of its trails face south. So we found that the surface had turned very icy (this year) -- and appropriately the trails were marked as Closed. But I tried some of the closed trails anyway . . .

the loop that goes up to the Monolithe. The climb up was pretty interesting (total vertical difference about 130 meters (perhaps about 180 vertical meters of total climbing includinng interesting ups + downs + curves). The upper downhill part was much less interesting, just a road -- but with nice views out across the valley to the snowy slopes + peaks on the other side. I think maybe the road continues down to Aussois (lift-served downhill ski station). The lower section of the descent back to Sardieres was more interesting, tho not as much as the uphill climb - (so perhaps an overall more interesting tour might just descent the wrong way back down the uphill climb section). There were also some shorter trails on the other side, but not enough were open for me to assess how interesting or fun they are.

Initial assessment: Worth a visit in good snow conditions if staying multiple days in Bessans and enjoy hilly trails.

Bramans is near Sardieres but closer to the main road. The low trails are around 1230 meters altitude (not holding enough snow in this bad winter, though higher than most of the Jura), so we could not sample them this time.

Instead we tried to drive up to le Planay, which has a 10 km loop and a 6 km trail at around 1700 meters altitude. But we found that the road is closed to normal vehicle traffic in winter, so we couldn't drive up there. Next we tried at the tourist office, and found out there's a free shuttle bus (navette), authorized to drive up that road to le Cernay at the departure of the ski trails. But the bus didn't run on Monday. So we didn't get to try those trails either. (so instead we drove up to Bessans and had a great time.)

Haute Maurienne ideas

posted to February 2011

Looks like the backcountry snow is going to get tricky for the next week or so, so I made a list of moderate / high altitude cross-country centers in Savoie which I haven't tried before.

Some are in the Haute Maurienne: Bramans (lat/long = N45.22342 E6.77486) and Sardières / Monolithe (N45.24329 E6.78053) - (smaller network, around 1500m altitude). In addition to Bessans which I've enjoyed before. (also more lift-served downhill-skiing options in the Maurienne).

Key thing I discovered is that there is a free shuttle bus (Fr "navette") that runs between the stations of the Haute Maurienne [ see schedule ]. Seems to run more frequently during holiday periods (esp. around Christmas - New Years, Easter, and the French winter school holidays), and sometimes have to phone in advance to request the bus to run.

So that could make it possible to sample cross-country skiing in more than one location during a week's holiday without using a car. The Bramans trail network has both a mid-altitude section (1250m, already higher than almost any groomed trail in the Jura) and high-altitude section le Planay (1750m).

Interesting thing about Bessans is that unlike most high-altitude XC trail networks which tend to have just a hut and a few houses, Bessans has a substantial village of stone houses right alongside its trail network.

Haute Maurienne region is accessed from Modane, a train stop on the Paris - Lyon - Torino - Milano high-speed railway. Also a major bus stop on the A43 motorway between France + Italy.

Grand Naves

posted to March 2011

The big plus for Grand Naves is its setting: Most of the trails are above tree-line in a big wide valley, with great view south to the dramatic rock+snow peaks of the Lauziere group and the Cheval Blanc. One of the trails climbs up to a point with an even bigger view including south+east into the Vanoise mountains.

And it's quiet. Small mountain village. No ski lifts for downhill skiing. But in driving range from the giant Trois Vallees ski resorts and from fast autoroute highway at Albertville in Savoie.

Altitude is higher: Most of the trails start at 1565m (le Tovet), accessed by free shuttle bus ("navette") from parking by the village of Grand Naves (1316m). One trail goes up to around 2000m.

I drove there with both my skating skis and my backcountry skis, but I got so engaged with the backcountry exploration above and around the trails, that I didn't have time + energy left for skating on the trails -- but I did see XC skiers having fun and myself skied alongside many of the trails while exploring.

(For backcountry, my conclusion was that purchasing a XC trail pass is using the shuttle bus and groomed XC ski trails to access the backcountry above could be a valuable strategy for Sharon and me. I suspect that in good snow conditions, a good skier could ski back down to the parking by the village, instead of taking the shuttle bus down.)

more . . .

  • trail network less 50 km

  • some of the trails are fairly exposed to the sun.

  • GPS latitude/longitude to purchase XC ski trail pass and get trail map at tourist office in Grand Naves: (N45.55925 E6.52115)

  • free shuttle bus stops there, also at larger parking just (east+south) above the village (where the road is marked closed during winter thru early spring -- use of road is reserved for shuttle bus only).

le Barioz

posted to February 2011

Some great trail conditions at le Barioz today - (on the trails that were groomed.)

Their base is at 1450 meters (GPS lat/long = N45.32540 E6.04721) on the West side of the Belledonne mountain group a bit north of Grenoble - (I think 1450m is significantly higher than any groomed XC ski trail in the Jura.) Most of their trails are much higher than the base - around 1600-1900 meters.

Great views of dramatic mountains in many directions from the higher trails (way more spectacular than places in the Jura I've tried).

Shortcoming was that a significant portion of their trail distance was not recently groomed - (as their website reported) - but enough for me to have plenty of fun skiing (skating style).

Most of the trails were rather hilly -- except perhaps "les Ramiettes" trail (long out-and-back) which I didn't try.

The combination of "le Crete Luisard" and "les Cretes" was one of the most spectacular groomed XC ski trails I've ever been on -- runs along a ridge with big views of dramatic peaks + ridges in all directions. Also has in interesting design with variations in the ups + downs + curves -- goes up to almost 1900 meters (near to summit of le Grand Rocher) -- with some serious steep sections.

Biggest reservation: Reaching most of the trails (except "les Ramiettes") requires first going up the "acces refuge" trail which is a long non-gentle climb, fairly sustained for about 275 vertical meters (900 ft) over 4 km distance (? which would be an average steepness grade of 7% ?). And unlike the other hilly trails it had that typical Euro semi-boring design. A deterrent especially for skaters (at least those at less than regionally competitive level). Fortunately snow conditions were firm for me skating up, but even so I made sure to stop and rest several times, save my strength for the fun trails higher up. Great trail for a hill workout (I can see how one of the biathlon medalists in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics came out of le Barioz).

(? Maybe there's some time when they give skiers a ride up on the grooming snowcat ? - just a suggestion)

Overall fun day for me. Recommended for athletic skiers on a blue-sky day to enjoy the big views.

more . . .

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concept words: ski skiing cross country cross-country xc snow skier skiers skis nordic roberts report