Insight: Les Saisies
Insight: Les Saisies
We’re no strangers here, having already spent a memorable day putting a full circuit of the Espace Diamant under our skis a couple of seasons ago. On that occasion we’d been based in nearby Crest Voland, and our experience of Les Saisies had been been confined to simply skiing past it a couple of times. Even so, what we saw had been enough to put it near the top of our growing mental list of ‘we’ll come back here’ ski areas.
We were finally able to return, our approach (from Albertville this time) taking us through the Beaufortain valley towards Beaufort-sur-Doron, on the outskirts of which we turned off the valley road to climb steeply through conifer forests towards one of our favourite spots, the village of Hauteluce. After a few final hairpins the climb relents and we approach Les Saisies, where just a few minutes later we’re safely parked and transferring our gear to an impressively spacious and well-equipped apartment at the Hameau du Beaufortain.
“Les Saisies provided some of the best snow conditions we encountered during what turned out to be an unreliable season.”
Filling in the gaps
Next morning we take advantage of the ski-in/ski-out location and take a leisurely blue- and green-graded cruise over to the front-de-neige of Les Saisies 1650, where the ski school groups are already assembling and confirmed skiers are converging on their preferred departure points. Ours is the Chard du Beurre lift. The powerful high-speed six-seater whisks us smoothly high above the Route des Grandes-Alpes, which passes through the heart of the village, before climbing to the 1889m Chard du Beurre. Although in absolute terms not that high, the sweeping panoramic views from the summit provide the perfect vantage point for newcomers keen to get their bearings.
Turning our back for now on the unmistakable outline of nearby Mont-Blanc (4810m), we take a blue-graded cruise via the Trolliers and Lézette pistes though wide open landscapes to the base of the Brichou lift. The onward steep haul takes us through some of this sector’s steadily-increasing tree-cover and drops us onto a ridge from which green, blue, red and black pistes return to the base of the lift, while ahead lie blue- and red-graded pistes dropping into the Grattary/Douce bowl.
Each turns out to be well worth trying, but for now we take the Coudray blue, which snakes its way down to the Douce chairlift, a useful link over to Praz-sur-Arly, Crest-Voland and Notre-Dame de Bellecombe. At the top we’re sorely tempted, but instead turn around to ski the Péchette red piste, a relatively steep run which swerves beneath the lift, skirts more forest and eventually fires us back to the Grattary chairlift. On reaching the summit we ski off onto the Grattary blue, before peeling off to take Arcosses for a red-graded swoop beneath the Brichou lift and onwards to the Roche Blanche 4-seater fixed chair.
Dropping into Hauteluce
This time when we leave the lift at 1865m we do give into temptation, in the form of a long red-graded descent on the Lanches and Balme pistes which between them plunge through 715m of vertical all the way down to Hauteluce. The lower section is the steeper of the two, but since each piste has its own lift, you have the option of returning before you commit to the start of Balme. Having come this far, we press on, and find that snowmaking, combined with low temperatures have actually produced better conditions than we encountered during our previous visit. The run terminates beside la Ferme du Chozal, one of the better places to stay in the Beaufortain and offering a fine restaurant with a large sun terrace. Our planned lunch break is elsewhere, however, so we relax and take in the amazing scenery during the lift rides back up to the La Legette sector. From the top a gentle glide is all it takes to bring us to Le Benetton.
Developing Bisanne 1500
Some time later, when we finally summon the will to leave this seductive spot, we join Blanchots for a gentle, green-graded cruise back past Les Saisies 1650 and join one of the onward chairlifts serving Mont Bisanne (1940m). This impressive viewpoint has orientation panels to help identify the surrounding peaks, but our sights are set on a spot currently hidden from view but much closer at hand. Getting to Le Planay is simple enough, via a scenic cruise on the blue-graded Le Planay piste (or the rather more direct Bouquetin black) which winds its way down the far side of le Mont to reach the steadily-developing ski village of Bisanne 1500. The sensational scenery and away-from-it-all setting make this a premium location, as developers like MGM Constructeur are keenly aware.
After riding the Rosières chairlift back to Mont Bisanne we recall that building up some speed during the long schuss on the far side of Bisanne would be enough to carry us smoothly over to pick up the beautiful forested run over to Crest Voland. This time, though, we explore some of the terrain above Les Saisies before dropping down into the village to rest our much-travelled legs over a vin chaud in the Tahiti Eden Spa’s salon de thé.
Outside the afternoon is winding down, while the kind of buzz familiar to habituées of ski resorts is starting to build. So before the lifts close, we glide off to join our last lifts of the day, which drop us neatly just above our apartment.
Within a very few minutes we’ve stowed our skis, changed out of our jackets and salopettes, and are savouring the glow of accomplishment which rounds off the perfect ski day. Thank-you Les Saisies – and the remarkable Espace Diamant.
Feature by Roger Moss, © 2017