Snow & Ice, Action & Adventure in Sunny La Rosiere
Fancy an action packed French skiing adventure with an Italian twist? On our recent trip to La Rosière in the Tarentaise mountains, ice hockey, sledging and ski jumping adventures were topped off by a glorious day’s passport free skiing into Italy. Atout France took us out to the French Alps and challenged us to try and stay on our feet while doing some of the more unusual activities on offer in the mountains in winter. In this post, in part an advertising feature, we give you the low-down on sunny La Rosiere and report on the slippery new sports we tried …
On the edge
When you dream of skiing is the snow always white? At the Savoyard resort of La Rosière I pull my jacket close against the wind and count the colours around me. The pale lemon glow of a ski resort warming up, weak sunshine pushing cheerful vibes at those on the first chair lifts. The leftover sunrise pink on the faraway tips of the tops, soon to be carried away by wisps of wintry cloud. The violet tinge of the sunless tracks ahead, bordered by the blueish hue of jagged ‘giants’ teeth.’ The pale grey grooves beneath our feet on what seems like the longest drag lift on earth. Today I am glad I am not dreaming but very much alive and about to ski into Italy.
From France into Italy…
In my head skiing into Italy is a major expedition, although we will certainly be there within a couple of hours, probably even sooner. La Rosière is the only resort in the northern French Alps where you can cross the border on skis. (You can also have a similar experience in Montgenevre, part of the Milky Way ski Area.) The Espace San Bernardo international ski area encompasses long, sunny slopes on the French side and shady, powdery descents on the mountain’s Italian north face. The two resorts were linked in 1984 so it’s a well established dual national playground, and it’s a real buzz as you round a corner in France to discover the landscape, the architecture, the food and the people are reinvented in Italian.
Skiing for pizza
It’s an easy and rewarding morning’s skiing, travelling up to 2,650m, where the multi textured peaks of Mont Blanc, Mont Pourri and Aiguille Rouge look almost unreal in the distance. At the Col du Petit St Bernard we stop and watch the snow kiters taking advantage of reliable winds before playing with the air beneath our own skis on the wide slopes of the Aosta Valley. We do numerous red and blue runs and hitch a ride in a series of chairlifts and a magic carpet over lines of tiny skiers, snaking down the mountain. We head down the final part of the mountain in a cable car for a pizza lunch in the Italian resort of La Thuile. Below us our instructor points out the steepest run in Europe; Franco Berthod slope. Said to be 37 degrees, it winds crazily through the trees. Our adventures in the Alps are full of surprises, but I’m kind of glad he didn’t spring that one on me.
Paret for parents
Surprise! Another day another wild adventure as we are handed a sledge and hussled onto the last ski lift of the day. When I say a sledge, it’s more like three pieces of wood tacked together with a blade on the end. At the top of the mountain I am only half listening to our instructions as I’m wondering how on earth we are going to get back to the village by dark on a small wooden triangle. This is a Paret Sledge descent. Our instructor Ed from Evolution 2 explains that Paret Sledges have been around since the early 1900’s, aiding children to get to school more quickly in the mountains. They are apparently simple to master and hurrah, there’s an emergency eject button if it all gets too scary.
Downhill fast into the sunset
The kids have no fear at all, heading straight downhill into the sunset. Behind us, Mont Blanc is gently preparing for bed, the slopes are empty and the ski lifts stationary as we begin our determined race against the dark. The supercharged speed, with spray on our faces and our screams disappearing into the wind teaches us how to let go on the snow. The endless falling off and getting back on teaches us how to balance. But twenty minutes in no one has yet taught me how to do the emergency eject when I go out of control on the steep bit of this blue run.
It was fake news. “This is your eject button,” Ed laughs, tipping the sledge and voluntarily falling off into the powder. I tell him I’m already well rehearsed in that method of ejecting. The sport is curiously both easy and hard to master, you need to embrace the speed, find your centre of balance, throw your weight from side to side like you do on skis and relax. All at once. I only really relax when we reach the end. When the hot wine appears if I’m totally honest. Check out our paret sledging adventures in this video.
Ice hockey for (almost) all the family
There’s no relaxing on the ice hockey rink, whether you are a player or spectator. La Rosière has a tiny but perfectly formed patinoire, which invites ice hockey clubs from other towns to come and compete against each other. We turn up on a Wednesday night to admire the semi controlled chaos and near violence of the competitors. And then 24 hours later we find ourselves doing it as a family. Or Stuart and the kids do anyway. To have a go at ice hockey you need to be able to step away from the side of an ice rink. I’m a cling-on so not a chance.
Have a go at ice hockey
Although my family have never got much beyond the basics of ice skating, in the warm up exercises they are require to twirl, turn and stop along with 30 or so French ice hockey wannabees. When they’ve got the hang of all that, they are handed a hockey stick and put into teams. What follows is the best fun a kid ever had on a pair of blades with a parent following them round at glacial pace. The teams battle it out for glory and my kids spend their turn on the ice bashing slashing, laughing and falling. If there are any points scored by team Wickes it’s through own goals. See how we got on in this video.
Married to the ice
Instructor Patrick Adin is patient and encouraging. But then he’s seen it all before, having taught the sport at Meribel, Courchevel and La Rosière. The aim of the sessions are to have fun and have a go he tells me afterwards. And all are welcome he says, as long as they are little bit ‘sportif’ and in good health.
“It’s open to every type of family. You do the skating before it to train your body and feel the sensations.” He tells me the sport has 200 technical gestures. It can take ten years to become a good player. He’s been practicing and teaching for 47 years so far. “I have no woman, just the ice rink,” he laughs. Having seen Stuart’s performance in ice hockey I think our marriage is safe.
Back on skis
Back on skis we look like a more ‘sportif’ family. The kids love mastering the ramps in the snow zone adventure park so much that I try to book them into the snow kite zone at the Petit St Bernard pass. When La Rosiere is fully open it offers 160 kms of skiable mountain with 37 lifts, 79 runs and six snowparks, and although skiing at La Rosière isn’t as extensive as neighbours like Val d’Isère and Les Arcs, the link with La Thuile means it offers a good variety of conditions from the seemingly endless sunshine on the south facing slopes of the French side, to the more powdery and often more challenging snow on the shaded Italian slopes.
French ski school experts ESF provide a private guide for us for three days, something I highly recommend for a family of intermediates. Instructor Quentin Net leads us around, pointing out significant peaks and giving us a potted history of significant landmarks like the World War One monument Fort de la Redoute. He takes us right back to basics, and concentrates on bad habits. My skiing improves a lot through his timely interventions.
While the boys take every opportunity to ski Hannah and I have other treats in mind. We head off for a spa session at Le Lodge Hemera‘s O des Cimes spa where I have a back massage and Hannah has a body massage using Too Fruits products specially formulated for young skin. Then we relax in the swimming pool that looks down to a dreamland of inverted cloud before joining the boys for ten pin glow bowling at Bowling Kitzbühel – an activity that requires neither falling down or an emergency eject button.
Back home, when I dream about our week in the French Alps, they are saturated in many shades of adventure. I am flying down a slope on a tiny sledge as a brilliant orange sun drops out of the sky. I am sparking silver from ice hockey skates and I am skiing into lilac powder at the edge of the world. The white stuff of the French Alps; nothing can beat it for colour and family fun.
The closest airports to La Rosière are Chambery, Grenoble Alpes Isere or Geneva or Annecy, all accessible from UK airports in around two hours. We flew to Geneva from Manchester, hired a car and drove to the resort. From Geneva to La Rosiere approximate driving time is 2 hours 30 minutes although do leave extra time if you are travelling via Annecy, particularly during rush hours. The quickest route from Geneva is via Chambery on the motorway. If you use the motorways you will also need to budget for tolls. If you do rent a car don’t forget you may need winter tyres and snow chains. You may also want to rent a ski rack if you intend driving between resorts with your ski equipment.
You can also travel by train to Bourg-Saint-Maurice and use public transport to reach La Rosiere. Bourg St Maurice is just 20km down the valley from La Rosiere. Eurostar runs direct trains to the French Alps from St Pancras International in London, day trains on Saturdays between December-April and night trains on Fridays from January-April. Be aware the night train does not have sleeping berths, only seats, so you will be sitting up all night. On the upside, generous luggage allowances mean you can take your skis or snowboard, as well as two suitcases at no extra charge.
We stayed in a self catering holiday apartment in Les Cimes Blanches complex in the satellite village of Les Eucherts. This four star CGH complex has apartments that can sleep 2-10 and spa facilities with free swimming pool and steam rooms for all guests. Our accommodation was organised by PowderBeds.com, a specialist ski accommodation website, offering a varied range of apartments and hotels in resorts across France and Switzerland, at the best possible prices. Les Eucherts is separate from the main village but has everything you need, including ski lifts, restaurants, equipment hire, bowling and the ice rink. There is a free ski bus that can take you down the road if you fancy a night out in the main village. Or you can walk on a floodlit forest trail.
ESF offer group and private lessons in La Rosiere. Group lessons have a maximum of 8 people per instructor. Private lessons last one or two hours and cost €45 per adult in low season and €55 in high season. (25th December to 1st January and 5th February to 4th March.) There’s a 10% discount for booking 5-6 days. Private sessions can be taken as a family group. See here for details and prices.
We hired our equipment at Intersport at Les Eucherts where I was given brand new ski boots and Matthew was handed brand new skis. One of the advantages of skiing early in the season perhaps. Service was speedy and friendly.
Lift passes vary in price according to time of season and the week. As an example adults cost €43.10 for a days skiing with children over five paying €30.20. There are various discounts available. Check La Rosiere’s website for details.
Evolution 2 offers paret sledging for private groups at €10 per person which includes tuition, equipment and a vin chaud warm-up at the end. It’s well suited to family groups and sessions are run on demand so best give them a call or drop in to discuss if interested.
You can do a have a go ice hockey session on a Thursday evening at the Patinoire de La Rosiere. Tuition is free but you’ll need to pay the entry fee of Adult: €8 and Child: €6.50. Group rates are available for ten or more. You can hire a helmet if you don’t have one. I’d say it’s essential. As is the ability to stand up and do some basic skating.
A parent must be present at the facial or body treatments for the under 12 which cost €45. An adults massage also costs €45 at O des Cimes spa.
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in a collaboration with Atout France and France Montagnes to help promote winter sports in the French Alps. All opinions, photography, videography, skiing, falling over and lounging around is entirely our own.