Long view of lone skier on snow-covered ridge with vast mountain background

Serre Chevalier

Hautes-Alpes, French Alps

250km of terrain for all levels of skier, at the gateway to the Southern Alps.

Long regarded something of an alternative choice, ‘Serre Che’ has come of age as major ski area.

It’s accessible via flights into Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Nice and Turin.

The Ski Area

The extent of the terrain on offer is hard to grasp. A string of mountains ensures entertainment for all levels, including demanding off-piste skiers. Along the way are some great blue cruises, including wide runs through the tree-line, and the area has a great sunshine record.

Aim high and you get to enjoy sensational top-of-the-world views of the vast snowy peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins.

The lift system, once overly reliant on drag-lifts, is being systematically upgraded as part of huge investments by owners Compagnie des Alpes. While you’re here try alternative activities like kite-skiing (just up the valley below the Col du Lauteret) or even taking the controls of a piste-groomer.

The Serre Chevalier 6-day lift-pass also allows you a day’s skiing in nearby Puy Saint-Vincent and Montgenèvre (including Italy’s Via Lattea sector to explore Sestrière, Sansicario, etc). Normally it also includes l’Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux-Alpes, but with a major landslide currently road access from Grenoble it’s a case of watch this space...

Resort Information

Altitude : 1200m - 2800m
Serre Chevalier
Pistes Total:
250 km
24 Green
28 Blue
37 Red
12 Black
Ski Resort Lifts : 62
3 Magic Carpets
28 Draglifts
21 Chairlifts
4 Gondolas
2 Cable Cars

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Overview of skier returning to snow-covered valley, showing villages

The Ski Village

The area comprises not one but four main centres: Briançon, Chantemerle, Villeneuve and spa-town Le Monêtier-les-Bains. In addition there’s a string of smaller villages set beside the road from Grenoble via the legendary Col du Lauteret.

Free shuttle-buses run between Briançon and le Monêtier, connecting skiers with various lift access-points. Principal attractions are the traditional village ambiance of what remain for the most part authentic year-round working communities.

In recent years, though, the levels of comfort and services on offer in newer premium accommodation have transformed the image of Serre Chevalier, which now ranks high among France’s major-league linked-domain ski areas.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

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Skiers and snowboarder leaving high-speed chairlift

Best For

Skiing or snowboarding here, regardless of where you’re based along the valley, will appeal primarily to confident intermediates. Which is not to say that there isn’t also some reassuring terrain for beginners, who have a good choice of ski-schools, either ESF or independents.

More experienced intermediates will enjoy long blue- and red-graded descents down through the tree-line, while snowboarders have large snowpark and boardercross areas.

To get the most out of your lift-pass, though, it makes sense to do some mileage, which is perfectly possible, thanks to clear signing and the much-improved lift system. Off-piste potential is there, too, as is snow-kiting (with instruction) at the nearby Col du Lauteret.

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Skiing There

Beginners / Families Intermediates Advanced / Expert Mountain Scenery

Snowboarding

Plenty of fun things including a forest freestyle course and a video zone.
1 Snowparks
1 Snowboarder Cross


Cross-Country Skiing

Eight valley circuits taking in natural landscapes and pretty villages.
35km Cross-Country and Nordic Ski Trails

Handiski...

  • Special guide for disabled visitors. English version downloadable from http://www.serre-chevalier.com
  • Wide range of ski equipment available (dualski, tandemski, kartski, uniski, scarver)
  • Reduced rates or free lift pass, according to disability, 50% reduction for accompanying helper.
  • One Nordic ski pass at full price gives 2 free for helpers (proof of disability and conditions apply for all passes).
  • Specially trained and experienced ski instructors with choice of ski schools.
  • Chalet Handy, Villeneuve - meeting point for disabled skiers with parking, adapted toilets, warm shelter and changing area, etc. Advice and equipment care.
  • Range of adapted accommodation including an adapted apartment at Résidence l’Adret where we stayed. See our review below.

icon-smileyYes please...

  • Big-mountain skiing for all levels.
  • Still-improving lift system.
  • Firendly, authentic working villages.
  • Plenty of ski-school options.
  • Truly sensational mountain views.
  • Friendly atmosphere.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • Not a legendary party capital.
  • Refined, big-mountain skiing means a quite pricey lift-pass.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • Look carefully at the many options to find the type of base which suits your style, e.g. convenience v tradition.
  • Nearby Briançon has lots of character, plus high-speed gondola access.
  • Download the free app, compatible with iOS and Android devices.

Practical Information

Getting there

By Car
For Dover-Calais ferry travel, other cross-channel routes, offers and bookings visit P&O Ferries

From Grenoble, Lyon, Paris : Exit A51 motorway at Pont de Claix. Take the N91 to Briançon. Check local traffic information for the exposed
Col du Lauteret. Alternatively, take the A43 (via Frejus Tunnel) from north, exit Oulx, Montgenèvre, 35km from Serre Chevalier.

From Marseille: Take the A51 to La Saulce, continue in the direction for Tallard & Briançon (RN94).

By air
The nearest airports are Grenoble, Lyon-St Exupéry(160km), Marseille (250 km), and Turin (110 km). For details of all bus connections visit the Serre Chevalier website. The Resalp LINKBUS company has launched a new shuttle that connects Turin Airport to Serre Chevalier Briançon. Running every Saturday and Sunday in season, it will correspond with the major flights into Turin. Prices start from €25pp.

By train
TGV Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Grenoble with an onward bus connection. Briançon station is 6 km from the resort
( Autocars Rignon : 0033(0)4 92 21 00 56).
A direct night train links Paris to Briançon.

Book your TGV fast train from Paris or Eurostar’s ski train direct to the French Alps with .

Transfers
Visit Ski-Lifts for the best range of ski transfer destinations from airports and main rail stations.


Things to do

Kite-Skiing and Grooming


Just up the valley at the Col du Lauteret you can try kite-skiing, with qualified instruction. Alternatively, if you’ve ever wondered what it might feel like to drive a piste groomer, wonder no more; you can book at taster session and get behind the wheel.



Where to stay

Tried and testedRésidence l'Adret

Chantmerle
Serre Chevalier

L'Adret Residence, Chantmerle

Located just a few minutes’ walk from the village centre and 400m from the lifts, la Résidence l’Adret is a practical spot from which to access the whole of the Serre Chevalier ski area. Formerly the Best Western Chantemerle, l’Adret’s 52 apartments have been refurbished in a contemporary style, with leather sofas and armchairs, mood lighting, flat-screen TV (international programmes available) and DVD. The kitchen areas are well equipped, though would benefit from the addition of a combination oven rather than just a simple microwave. We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment which had a spacious lounge dining area with a sofa-bed, a bedroom with king-size bed and separate toilet and bathroom. One small criticism was the lack of a thermostatically-controlled shower, which would be safer, given the piping-hot water from the apartment’s own water heater.
Whilst visiting l’Adret we saw a selection of other apartments, one sleeping up to 10 people, which was similarly spacious, comfortable and ideal for large groups or extended familes. An apartment with wheelchair access had specially-lowered kitchen worktops and an adapted shower room. All apartments have lift access from reception and from the underground parking, where guests have a heated ski locker room.
There–s free WiFi access, though only in the ground floor
reception, lounge and bar areas when we visited.
A well-stocked supermarket and an excellent boulangerie are just five minutes’ walk away, with a small selection of restaurants and bars.
Note: It’s necessary to cross the main road to access the ski area, but there’s a pedestrian underpass nearby.

For further information and bookings contact:
Peak Retreats
0844 576 0170 (UK) or +44 23 9283 9310
reservations@peakretreats.co.uk


Tried and testedHotel Auberge du Choucas

05220 Le Monêtier-les-Bains
Tel: 0033 (0)4 92 24 42 73

Hotel Choucas, Monetier

 Friendly, family-run hotel in the heart of this pleasant village. Comfortable rooms and an authentic vaulted stone dining room.


Hotel de l'Europe

1, rue Saint Eldrade
05220 Le Monêtier-les-Bains
Tel: 0033 (0)4 92 24 40 03

Family run hotel with 29 rooms and restaurant serving traditional cuisine. Located in the heart of the historic village centre of Monetier, the bar is a welcoming meeting place for an early evening aperitif after a day on the slopes. English spoken.


Where to Eat

Tried and testedChalet Pra Long

Mid-station of Prorel lift, Briançon sector.

Chalet Pra Long bar restaurant with views over Briancon

 This is a large self-service restaurant with a big sunny terrace, convivial bar and a snack bar. From the terrace you get stunning views over Briançon where you can see the Vauban fortifications - worth a visit when you go into the town. We tried the self-service, where there was a choice of daily specials all priced at 11,50€ plus all the usual salads, desserts and a bowl of soup. A slightly predictable menu but friendly service.


Insight: Serre Chevalier

Long view of skier off piste in bright sunlight at Serre Chevalier

Insight: Serre Chevalier

Our previous visit to Serre Chevalier had allowed us to ski only a part of this vast domain, so we vowed to return, to get a clearer picture of what to expect during a more typical ski break. Some places take some getting to know, and in our experience, are all the better for it.

To any seasoned ski traveller, leaving Grenoble via the D1091 towards Briançon always brings a sense of adventure. The route is an experience in itself, climbing steadily past a succession of ski stations including Vaujany, Oz-en-Oisans, Alpe d’Huez and Les 2 Alpes. As we reach La Grave the first snow flurries announce the final climb towards the 2058m Col du Lauteret, but the ‘Col Ouvert’ signs prove to be reliable and we make it over without recourse to snow chains. All the same, we take it easy on the final long descent into Le Monêtier-les-Bains (our base during our first visit) then onward to our apartment at the Résidence l’Adret in Chantemerle.

“It’s impossible to remain unmoved by the outline of Mont Pelvoux and the countless other peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins stretching to the horizon beneath a steely-blue sky. Days like these are apparently pretty typical here..”

Early morning piste, Serre Chevalier
Skiers looking at piste map, Serre Chevalier

Our base in Serre Chevalier: Chantemerle

Next morning, after picking up our lift-passes we take the Blétonet and Les Combes chairlifts through the tree-line and into bright sunshine at around 2350m. From here you can launch straight onto the humps and banked hairpins of a popular boardercross piste, a now-essential feature. We love them too, but as time is short we ski down beside the run on the blue-graded Combes, to pick up the Grande Serre chairlift. Finding it closed, we press on, passing the venerable Coqs draglifts and soon reach the six-seater Prorel chairlift. This powerful lift hauls us smoothly up to over 2400m, where a stiff, icy breeze is blowing in from the southeast with a Mistral-like ability to slice right through your clothing. Once beyond the ridge, though, things are suddenly calmer as we drop down on Bergers, another wide, blue-graded run, while two nearby reds go their own way for awhile before ending up right where our run does, namely the base of the Rocher Blanc chairlift.

Despite the terrain over here being south-facing, low temperatures have kept the snow in great condition so there are no nasty icy patches to suddenly unsettle our skis. Which means we can relax and take in the jaw-dropping surroundings. They’re called the Hautes Alpes for good reason, and it’s impossible to remain unmoved by the outline of Mont Pelvoux and the countless other peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins stretching to the horizon beneath a steely-blue sky. Days like these are apparently pretty typical here, interspersed with frequently epic snowfalls – the perfect combination in the eyes of just about any keen skier.

Le Chemin piste with skier, Serre Chevalier
Briancon can be seen far below the prorel gondola

The Outer Limits

But we’re not just here for the views. The plan is to make our way over towards Briançon, by what turns out to be the scenic route.

The onward run around the mountain begins as Le Chemin, a gentle enough cruise to be graded green before morphing into Chaussée, which is a blue with a couple of quite steep sections. Why do they do this? Maybe to build up green-only skiers’ confidence and encourage them to step up to blues; after all, you have to do it sometime.

For your effort you’re rewarded with a real sense of being right away from it all, a factor which almost always makes perimeter runs well worth discovering, even when they might look unexceptional on the piste-map.

That’s Briançon down there…

At the foot of the piste lies a decision or two: continue on the red-graded descent snaking its way down into Briançon, take the gondola down (or up) or do as we do and stop for lunch at the Chalet de Pré Loup mountain restaurant. It’s cunningly sited between the gondola and the children’s ESF Piou-Piou children’s learner area and also throws in startling crow’s-eye views of the remarkable fortified city far below. On a sunny day like today it’s a tough place to leave, but we still have some distance to cover if we’re going to head back over to Chantemerle and beyond.

So, the Prorel gondola it is, then. This really is quite a lift, whose first section (or ‘tronçon’) brings skiers and visitors up from Briançon, a cable-distance of 1222m, with 414m or vertical. But it’s nothing compared to the second stage, which hauls us another 2370m, along the way climbing through 728m – by any standards an impressive ride.

At the top we climb out in perfect sunlight onto still near-perfect snow, although there’s also a taste of the chill winds we encountered earlier, so we ski straight across to pick up the nearby Serre Blanc chairlift. We’ve ridden our share of breezy lifts over the years, but today this is in a different league. Before we’re anywhere near the summit we feel like we’re being freeze-dried, and tough-out the rest of the ride while literally aching to be safely over the ridge. When we get there, doing so proves challenging, as skiers all around us are also discovering, but we push on, powering our way for the next minute or so feeling like Arctic explorers, while nature’s wind-tunnel whips the snow into impressively swirling clouds. At which point we notice that everyone (ourselves included) is smiling at the mad unreality of it all, and the sense that we’re all sharing something of a mini-adventure. Less than a minute later, as suddenly as it began, it’s all over and we’ve morphed back into ordinary skiers out for some afternoon fun in the sunshine.

Above the tree-line the possibilities are wide open in the well-interconnected terrain between Chantemerle and Briançon.
The Cote Chevalier chairlift hauls skiers up through the forest to a snowpark, boardercross and more, Serre Chevalier

Heading back, to Villeneuve this time

While boarders hone their tricks in the large snowpark to our right, we ski on, taking Angea (blue) down to the Cote Chevalier fixed chairlift for a sedate haul up through a steep tract of larch forest. This time we decide to cruise down towards Villeneuve by way of Génépi, Alpage and the much longer Marteau runs. One of the joys of skiing here is the wealth of sheltered return pistes among the forested mountainsides, and this perfect example drops us neatly just beside the novice area. From here it’s just 200m or so to the shuttle-bus pic-kup point, for connections along the valley between Le Monêtier-les-Bains and Briançon. Given time, there’s a lot more we could have done before heading back, but we’ve previously explored the sector about Le Monêtier and know just what it offers. It’s also well-connected with the other areas these days, after massive investments in lift upgrades by owners Compagnie des Alpes. Our experiences tell us that obviously it won’t be quite so relaxed during peak season periods – particularly the French school holidays – but we haven’t encountered any signs of bottlenecks during our time here, and there’s an awful lot of terrain on tap to keep everyone happy – including near-limitless off-piste.

So, what impressions do we take with us after having finally broadened our knowledge of the ski area? Well, the first thing to say is that it all fits together remarkably well. You might take that as read, but you’d be ignoring the fact that for many years British skiers have had a slightly confused picture of just what Serre Chevalier actually is. Okay, there are multiple villages spread along the valley but other areas are similarly dispersed, although more often vertically, i.e. at different altitudes on the mountain. Apply the same mindset here, substituting horizontal for vertical and you suddenly see that this place really is a cohesive, practical proposition. And given the snowfalls, sunshine record and above all the wealth and quality of skiing on offer for all levels, you’d be crazy not to come and ski it. MountainPassions heart icon