Winter Fun in the Alps

Feb 8, 2012
In February as the temperatures are plummeting everywhere in France and some of the lowest temperatures are recorded across the country, Paris just wasn't cold enough for us. We needed to get somewhere where winter means lots of snow and outdoor activities!

The weatherman was being very nice with us, as always in the southern Alps, as we woke up to a bright sunshine and some fresh snow on our first day. We decided to head for the Col du Granon above Serre Chevalier and get it started with our snow shoes. The road we started to walk along had probably a meter of snow on it and the street signs were almost buried underneath the snow banks. As we got to this little place with a tiny chapel and couple of summer cottages, we sat down for some hot tea before continuing further up. The enjoyable thing about going with snowshoes is that you don't run into too many people during your day, and you can actually have the feeling of having it all just for yourself. During the whole day we met just a couple of people doing ski touring (which by the way is a fantastic way to go off path!), and other than that we were pretty much by ourselves. After some more climbing we came across a wintry little forest with beautiful snowy trees and frozen river banks and little footprints running through the snow. 

We stopped about 15 min away from the summit (2413m) because the wind was picking up the higher we got, and we started to feel the cold (felt like -15C). But before turning back and heading down we were enjoying the views to Serre Chevalier and its endless ski slopes as well as the high peaks of  Les Ecrins national park.

On our second day, we went to a different direction from Briancon, a place called Cervieres, near the Col d'Izoard just at the feet of the mighty pic de Rochebrune (3320m). The path we followed was partly on the ski tracks and at times it followed a narrow snow shoe path through the forest. After few hours we started having nice views down to the village and it was also time to start thinking about a lunch break. We found a nice little spot on a fallen tree and cleared the snow from it- a winter picnic. We wanted to continue the small path up until a frozen waterfall, and then turn back to head down.

After a long day outdoors we sure were happy to have some hefty Tartiflette (traditional mountain food, especially eaten in winter after a day out in the cold!) as a dinner later that night...

Now that we had done the fair share of snowshoeing, we decided to switch to the Nordic skis. The mountain pass of Col d'Izoard is a famous road summer time, and home to a lot of cyclists (also route for Tour de France in 2006 and 2011). In winter, it transforms into this magnificent ski track which goes up about 8 km long and continues down the same amount on the other side. The climb isn't that steep as it follows a road, and with right skis it's possible to slowly ski your way up. We took about two good hours to reach the refuge Napoléon at 2300m, which is located just below the top of the pass (@ 2361m); and continued to push all the way to the top. It truly is an amazing col, offering views to each side of the mountains- the Briancon side with its wooded mountainside and the Casse Deserte with its more cliffy scenario. After taking in the beautiful landscapes, we slide down to the refuge, where we got greeted by a group of sledge dogs. We got in to the refuge to fuel up- what a nice place with a restaurant and a small bar! Now we were all warm and rested and ready to enjoy what we'd probably call the best part of the day- almost 10km downhill! We had a blast skiing down the mountain- it made the whole climbing and pushing up well worth while!

The second skiing expedition was to one of all year round favorites- Vallee de la Claree. We got on our skis, and made our way up, this time under very windy conditions. Otherwise such a beautiful weather, but at times the wind made it almost impossible to push forwards, especially when there was piles of snow blown on the tracks. By the time we got to our lunch place, the wind had calmed a little, but we were still glad to get inside and warm up by the fireplace. We had a nice lunch indoors in this little tavern, and were fueled up to continue all the way till the last village (Laval). It was a good hour to go, but the conditions were somewhat better now. We also kept in mind that if we get up there, we will have the great downhill waiting for us on the way back ;)! In spite of it all, we got to Laval (2000m) and couldn't wait to continue our little refuge hopping. The refuge of Laval is recently renewed and offers an excellent place to stay overnight or just for a shorter rest. We got to sit by the fireplace and admire the views outside from their big windows and enjoy some hot beverages they prepared for us. Such a relaxing atmosphere! Once we were warm again, we got back on our skis, and started the descent- this time with the wind pushing us even faster down! We got down to the car in about 35 minutes, and the sun had started to set already behind the mountain range.

Time flies when you're having fun, and we had to head back to Paris. But it wouldn't be too long before the temperatures would cool down again- but this time way up in the north, namely in Finland! Stay tuned!

The bar across the train station in Oulx, Italy- free antipasti with your drinks! An absolute delight!

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