Insight: Le Grand Bornand
Insight: Le Grand Bornand
It’s been far too long since we were last in Le Grand Bornand in winter, and as we roll into Le Chinaillon at nightfall the heart of the village is covered by a thick blanket of fresh snow. It’s already good to be back and the timing is perfect, with further falls forecast overnight. Sure enough, next morning we awake to find snow-ploughs hard at work keeping things moving, and piste-groomers, heading back after what was clearly a long night. As the last snowflakes swirl and sting in the breeze we walk down to the La Floria chair-lift and are soon heading up to a distinctly chilly 1800m. When we get there the sun is hanging in a crystal clear sky, encouraging us to set our sights on the furthest point we can see: the 1869m Tête des Annes.
Taking in the views
Things warm up rapidly on the first run of the day, the long, Red-graded Combe de la Tolar dropping away steeply towards the base of the next lift: Les Terres Rouges. This time it’s a slower haul, giving us time to get our bearings and watch the first of the day’s freestylers making exploratory runs over the freshly-dusted humps in the snow-park. At the top we set off past the aptly-named Panorama mountain restaurant on the Blue-graded Les Rhodos to join the Almet drag-lift for the long, near-silent haul towards the Col des Annes. It’s a pretty basic lift, but drops us neatly at the start of Le Fenil, a bracing Red run which feeds into the lower reaches of Blue-graded cruise down from the Tête des Annes.
Getting there is an entertaining affair, courtesy of the Les Annes chairlift, whose relaxed progress takes us through pine forest and into the wide open spaces falling away on either side of a ridge leading to the 1869m summit. By now the villages seem a very long way away, and the ski area has taken on a new, much larger dimension than we remembered from first time around, when we hadn’t made it quite this far. The view from the top makes it all worthwhile, as a vast snowy landscape floats high above the dense mists cloaking now-distant valley floors; today, as usual, the skiers are getting the better deal.
The descent on the Blue-graded Col des Annes qualifies as a classic scenic cruise, taking us past traditional alpage farmsteads and a tiny, remote stone chapel. Moments like this sum up the spirit of skiing in the Massif des Aravis.
Something for everyone
After a welcome lunch break back at the Chalet du Maroly we take the La Tolar chairlift over to our starting-point. From here we pick up the Red-graded Les Lanches piste, working our way towards the novice area at the summits of the gondolas from Le Grand Bornand village. When we get there the only run which would normally take us down – the Red-graded l’Envers piste – is closed, so we ignore the alternative of a gondola ride and instead spend some more time getting better acquainted with the areas below Mont Lachat and the Roc des Arces. L’Abondance (whose lower reaches are equipped with floodlighting) is a popular Blue piste which drops neatly down to the foot of the Les Gettiers chairlift, with the option of peeling off where it merges with the Red-graded Les Gentianes for the final run down to the La Floria six-seater. Take it and you can pick up the full length of Les Gentianes or, if you have energy to burn, test your stamina on the moguls of the steep and generally-ungroomed Les Dames Red down to the Maroly sector. Alternatively, running alongside is the Black-graded Couloir de la Sonnerie, after which you might welcome Le Lac, a gentle Green-graded return run through the trees.
Authentic old village
The following morning finds yet more fresh snow, so before we ski we make the most of the chocolate-box setting by walking over to Vieux Chinaillon, the very oldest part of the village. It’s time well-spent, looking and feeling like the quintessential Alpine community you always pictured but never thought you’d find. But this is the real thing, and like skiing around the local mountains and valleys, it’s a revelation for anyone more accustomed to modern, purpose-built ski areas.
Feature by Roger Moss, © 2017