Insight: Orcières Merlette 1850
Insight: Orcières Merlette 1850
The drive from Gap to Orcières Merlette 1850 is not one we’ll forget. At the gateway to Provence, the landscapes of the Southern French Alps can be unnerving for a travelling skier, convincing you until you begin to climb that surely there’s no snow to be had nearby. Fortunately, this time we’re driving through the snow-line long before the final ascent to the village, where the scene is just pure picture-postcard. As we climb, though, we’re actually seeing less and less, and we enter the village in thick mist, peering at every sign for the name of our hotel. It appears to us just in time, at the very top of the resort.
Ready for anything
The next morning we awake and gaze from the balcony at the fresh accumulations of snow on the mountains which enfold Orcières. We never tire of moments like this. Better still, the exit door of the hotel ski-locker room feeds directly onto the piste for a 30-second drop down to the Drouvet 1 ‘télémix’ lift carrying both chairs and gondola-style cabins. We grab a cabin, and after transferring to the lift’s successor (Drouvet 2) we arrive at the summit of Le Drouvet (2655m) feeling in every sense uplifted and ready to explore.
We launch off along a nearby ridge on Les Bouquetins, a long Blue-graded cruise which connects to another (Les Vallons) for a steeper Red-and-Blue drop which eventually takes us all the way back to where we began. After taking the same lifts back up, we peel off the ridge onto Les Clots, a Red-graded blast which we have all to ourselves on the run back to the base of the Drouvet 2 lift. This time we spend a few minutes taking in the scenery, which is fast acquiring a surreal quality as a white carpet of mist thickens in the valley floor far below.
Above the clouds
Up here, though, its feels like we’re in Ski Heaven as we take the Blue-graded Les Pépés and savour the above-the-clouds experience. The sense of space up here is a real revelation, with wide pistes and as yet very few tracks to disturb the previous night’s efforts by the grooming crews. A couple of gentle hauls up to Le Drouvet on the La Croze des Hommes chair is followed by a couple of Red descents on Les Crêtes and Bartavelle, before we go for a change of scenery.
Orcière 1850’s pristine snow
The Les Lacs chair takes us some way towards the Col de Freissinières (and also accesses Le Gourou, a pleasingly long and winding Red), but for now getting there means dropping down to pick up the Le Gourou chair for the final haul up to 2727m. Eventually there will be a cable-car even higher to the 2956m Roche Brune, along with new Red-graded terrain, but for now we’re not complaining; the ride is magical, as we glide in near-silence past towering walls of pristine snow. At the top La Jalabres spears off into a steep Red descent which brings us to the base of the lift for another haul, by which time we’re feeling the call of the nearest mountain restaurant.
We glide off on a succession of Blue cruisers – Freissiniêres and Sirènes – which take us down to the Roche Rousse, and the promise of a hot meal on a spectacularly-sited sun terrace. As for the afternoon, well, we take it easy – particularly on the final leg, as we encounter soft conditions and encounter the still-rising mists. But we’ve had a wonderful day’s skiing in truly epic scenery at Orcières, and the following day we return to do it all again.
Feature by Roger Moss, © 2020