From powder to piste to biathlon – if you’ve got into the winter spirit after Pyeongchang 2018 and want to try something a bit different (while still having the option to chill out on the piste) then Haute Maurienne Vanoise may be just the answer.
The Haute Maurienne Vanoise is located in the southern part of Savoie Mont Blanc and is made of three ski resorts: Val Cenis, Bessans and Bonneval-sur-Arc. Each resort has it’s own distinctive nature, which is what makes this area so interesting to ski in. Val Cenis is a lovely family friendly resort with a large ski area covering 125km. Bessans is one of the best resorts in France for Nordic skiing, with 133km and a biathlon stadium, while Bonneval-sur-Arc is a charming and authentic mountain village with 25km of slopes, best known for ski touring and freeriding. It’s evident that there is something for everyone, but until visiting the area ourselves, we were unaware of just how enjoyable it is to have so many different options in one area.
Val Cenis has some of the most beautiful slopes we’ve ever skied, with spectacular views out across the national park. The forests that cover the lower part of the mountain allow for beautiful tree-lined descents and gorgeous pistes. The area is served by fast, comfortable lifts, which is definitely a bonus and allows you to truly get the most of your skiing day. Val Cenis definitely has enough to entertain all skiers, but it is particularly good for beginners. Serious freeride fans and those in search of the best powder should definitely head over to Bonneval, where the off piste options are both vast and vastly enjoyable.
However, the highlight of our visit to Haute Maurienne Vanoise was the introduction to biathlon. If, like us, you found yourself getting strangely into this sport during the PyeongChang Winter Games, I would highly recommend trying it out for yourself. You may not think it, but it’s actually a lot of fun and it’s great to experience skiing and the mountains in a whole new way.
The Biathlon Stadium is located in Bessans and is by far the best place you could ask for an introduction to the sport. If you don’t believe us, take it from the fact that some of the world’s top athletes train here!
Combining Nordic skiing with precision rifle shooting, it’s not something I thought I’d take to, to be quite honest. I hugely admire those that do it, but just the thought of cross-country skiing competitively is enough make my muscles hurt. However, it’s one of those things you really enjoy once you get the hang of it. I will admit it was incredibly tough; the skiing really works your body and the shooting was definitely not as easy as it looks on the television. Let’s just say I’m not going to be joining the GB Nordic Ski Squad anytime soon, but that I have a newfound respect for those that compete in this sport! Combining the skiing with the rifle shooting does add a nice variety of activity though, and while it is tough, it’s very enjoyable.
If you’re a seasoned skier after a more different, yet just as enjoyable, skiing experience, I would highly recommend heading to Bessan’s Biathlon Stadium. You could even get a group of friends together for some healthy competition that is sure to be a lot of fun. I will also admit that the awesome spa at the Saint-Charles Hotel was definitely put to good use after our Biathlon experience!
In Bessans, we also had the opportunity to go snow-shoeing, something I’ve always been interested in as a different way of seeing the mountains – particularly for those that do not, or cannot, ski. We went out at night, which was a really unique experience. The mountains at night is a completely different experience; still, calm and of course, breathtakingly beautiful. It’s surprising how clearly you can see despite the darkness and it was amazing to see these landsapes in a whole new light (or dark, as it were).
Over in Val Cenis, we also had the opportunity to witness La Grand Odyssee Dog Sledding race. One of the most difficult dog sledding races in the world, around 25 mushers from a dozen different countries compete against each other for two weeks of racing. They cover an incredible 750 km and more than 25,000m of height difference in total, across the Savoie Mont Blanc area. We got to watch the start at Val Cenis, which was an amazing experience. The dogs are honestly adorable and their enthusiasm is infectious. Crowds line the streets and there’s a really great atmosphere, you feel truly immersed in the alpine community and the unique experience.
We stayed in the 4-star Hotel Saint-Charles – €169 for a double room with breakfast (for two). An introduction to biathlon on Bessans stadium costs €62 for a private class.
Featured Image – @SavoieMontBlanc/Desage