Insight: Pra Loup
Insight: Pra Loup
We discovered the Ubaye Valley many years ago, as a hauntingly beautiful summer destination. It’s only now, however, that we finally get to ski the local mountains. In late March the peak of the winter season is well behind us, but the snow still lies reassuringly deep on the mountains, with more fresh falls forecast in the days to come, to top things up. We therefore waste no time in getting our bearings and skiing the sights while visibility holds, setting off from Pra Loup 1600 in bright sunlight. Our early start finds temperatures hovering well below freezing, making for a chilly haul on the Clappe and Garcine drag-lifts, which have since been replaced by the Clappe Télémix and the Péguieou high-speed 6-seater chairlift.
We ski from Pra Loup to Foux d’Allos
Things are unnervingly quiet too, and we have plenty of time to admire the scenery as we climb well above the tree-line before taking a blue-graded cruise over to the Bergeries chair-lift. The ride back up drops us at Le Péguieou (2479m), where we take a blue-becoming-red schuss to the Lac drag-lift which finally hauls us to Le Lac (2500m), the departure point for the liaison with the Val d’Allos. This had better be worth it. At the summit there’s already no question that it is, the panoramic views and long descents rewarding any effort involved in getting here in bad old draglift days. Happily, the lift upgrade after our visit means that getting to this point is much quicker and easier for today’s skiers.
Grateful for our currently respectable fitness levels (it’s already been a long ski trip), we nevertheless pause for a few minutes to take in our sensational surroundings before making an exhilarating swoop down the red-graded Quartiers piste to join another red down to Les Agneliers (1708m).
It’s a key point along the route, so the Agneliers chair-lift is capable of carrying skiers in both directions. For now, though, we take its neighbour Ubaguets up to 2190m for a red-graded drop to the Crous 1 chairlift, which hauls us up to the viewpoint of Tête de Vescal at 2515m.
From here it’s gentle blue-graded cruising all the way down into Val d’Allos 1800 La Foux, where we plan to stop for lunch. But not just yet. Only too aware of the uncertainties of what the approaching weather front might bring, we first explore the local ski terrain and ride the powerful six-seater Chaup high-speed chairlift up the opposite side of the valley. It’s an impressively smooth, fast ride, and drops us on a fairly steep but wide, blue-graded return piste which descends to the valley floor. We peel off en-route, though, to take the distinctly ancient-looking Aiguille gondola which has since replaced by the high-speed 4-seater Observatoire chairlift).
The silky-smooth efficiency of the new lifts is a real leap forward from the antique if claustrophobic charm of old gondola, which showed its age during our visit by being more than a little reluctant to accommodate our all-mountain skis in the carrier racks on the outside the egg-style cabins. Swift intervention from the lift operator seemed to convince them just in time. That obviously isn’t a concern with the lift’s high-speed chairlift successor, and the route up has been modified, too.
Either way the truly sensational views falling away beneath our feet from the 2600m top station more than repaid the ride. The choice of routes back down depends on your skill and energy level. Our knees tell us to pass on the testing 3 Evêchés black and instead take the steep-and-wide red-graded Goussault piste, eager to take a now well-earned lunch-break.
The excellent Verdon restaurant serves a great meal and we emerge sated and usefully refuelled. As expected, the weather looks unsettled, to say the least, so instead of skiing more of Val d’Allos as planned we have to retrace our route back to Pra Loup with a gentle, scenic ride on the Vescal chairlift. By the time we’ve dropped down to Les Agneliers conditions have already begun to deteriorate, the snow softening beneath our skis while ominous clouds form overhead. It’s a long journey, but at least in this direction there are no drag-lifts to slow things down. In fact, once we reach Le Lac we find that it’s downhill all the way, with a choice of red or blue runs.
We take the red, and make a stop along the way for a warming chocolat-chaud in the seductively cosy interior of the Costebelle mountain restaurant, before wrenching ourselves away and pressing on down to our starting point at Pra Loup. Looking back, it really has been quite a day, and a genuinely unforgettable journey. Contemplating how much distance we’ve covered, it’s hard not to reach for words like ‘epic’… but then that’s exactly how it all felt.
Parting Thought: the combined ski area of the Espace Lumière is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places we’ve skied in the whole of France – which is saying something.
Feature by Roger Moss, © 2019