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Travel to France by ferry and some of the best self drive skiing in the world. Enjoy the freedom of taking unlimited baggage and up to 9 people per car via .
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Book tickets to Grenoble and take Monarch Flights to this undiscovered destination from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick. There are plenty of cheap flights available to help you get the most out of any holiday to Grenoble, whatever season you travel in.
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Pick up and ski this winter
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Great skiing meets old-school charm
Between the Chamonix Valley and the Val d’Arly in the Haute-Savoie area of the French Alps. To the north lies the Massif des Aravis, while a little further up the valley is glamorous Megève. There are easy transfers via Sallanches from flights into Geneva and there’s good road access both from here and from Albertville. The killer feature, though, is direct high-speed rail access into Saint-Gervais Le Fayet, just a few km away. The scenery at almost every turn is impressive, thanks to the presence of nearby Mont-Blanc (which also accounts for the frequent heavy winter snowfalls).
If the long-standing plan to link the local terrain with that of the Val d’Arly’s Espace Diamant ever becomes a reality the result would be one of Europe’s biggest ski areas. For now the already-impressive figures for groomed terrain reflect links to neighbouring Megève, Combloux, Le Geittaz and (via the Tramway du Mont-Blanc) Les Houches. You can buy a St Gervais-only lift-pass, but most skiers will opt for the added value of the full Evasion Mont-Blanc package. Be aware, though, that Les Houches isn’t included, so plan in advance if you want to spend a day skiing the Prarion sector, whose worthwhile terrain includes the legendary Kandahar FIS Men’s Downhill run.
So, what does the full Evasion (meaning 'escape') pass bring you? For a start there’s gentle cruising and nicely-wooded runs above St Gervais and St Nicolas, some bracing Red- and Black-graded steeps below Mont Joly (2525m) and a choice of onward links from Mont d’Arbois over to Megève's Alpette and Côte 2000 sectors. Now add the wild beauty of the Combloux, Cordon and La Giettaz sectors across the valley and you'll be doing well to ski this out in a week. We think it’s a pretty good deal.
Although road traffic passes through the village centre it’s well-managed, and St Gervais remains a very pleasant place in which to relax, window-shop or explore the wealth of colourful, retro-chic architecture. It’s also a long-established spa town (so daily life continues well outside the ski-season) and it also has a distinctly genteel air and some stylish premium accommodation too. The retro architectural feel is enhanced by the presence of the Mont-Blanc Tramway, whose antique rolling-stock still winds its way up to the Belleview/Prarion ski areas at the Col de Voza (1900m) – and in summer all the way to the 2372m Nid d’Aigle.
The town centre also has a free multi-storey underground car park – useful as having a car simplifies the choice of starting-points, ski-lift-wise.
Anyone looking for a relaxed, unpressured environment, both on and off the mountain. Despite its long winter sports pedigree, Saint Gervais is often overlooked by skiers who feel happiest choosing from the higher-profile resorts whose names are already familiar. This place has real charm, though, and wears a friendly face, making it a solid choice for beginners, families and intermediates who value dramatic scenery and plenty of long cruising runs. Mixed-ability groups will also find that there are steeps below Mont Joly for more energetic skiers, so everyone should be happy.
Like countless others before us, until we actually ski here our image of Saint-Gervais probably owes more to the Mont-Blanc Tramway than the type of ski terrain on offer. Another reason for it being something of a late discovery for us is the location – roughly midway between the major ski areas of the Chamonix Valley and the Val d’Arly. In fact the full extent of the terrain is far from obvious (even from neighbouring Les Houches) until you begin to explore the mountains, so we arrive determined to do just that.
Day One finds us setting off from the Megève side, taking the Rochearbois cable-car link. It’s a mere hop, unlike the epic ride which follows on the Mont d’Arbois gondola, which takes us at what feels like a sedate pace over to the 1840m summit of Mont d'Arbois. No fewer than seven lifts converge on or near this key navigation point, so it’s a pretty buzzy place, as skiers come and go while those on foot peruse the menus or check-out the sun-terraces of the nearby mountain restaurants. And there’s another attraction: jaw-dropping views of nearby Mont-Blanc, whose 4810m summit produces a hypnotic, constantly-changing succession of cloud swirls in a largely clear blue sky.
From Mont d’Arbois it’s possible to ski down almost to Combloux, via a choice of Red or Blue-graded runs leading to the base of the Princess gondola lift. We opt instead for a quick drop down through the tree-line to the Monts-Rossets chairlift, followed by a gentler run over to the Bettex-Arbois gondola, whose lower counterpart brings skiers up from St Gervais. Once back up we discover a second Mont d’Arbois summit, this time at 1833m and separated from Mont d’Arbois 1840 by a ridge which isn’t quite skiable without polling or walking the final section (not ideal on a sunny day). Instead we head up the nearby Mont Joux chairlift to try some of the 1958m Mont’s mostly Red-graded terrain. Get it wrong from here and you end up just above Les Communailles – no bad thing, as there are restaurants tucked away at either end of the drag-lift. Get it right, though, and you’re rewarded with some brief but enjoyable Red runs (plus a Black) served by the Croix du Christ and Epaule chairlifts.
From here more confident skiers now head for the Mont Joly fixed chairlift, which offers a steep haul to pick up the Red-graded Chevreuil piste with an option to peel-off along the way, or Chamois, a more direct Black heading back down to the base of the lift. Due to the gradient, the terrain up here can become moguled, but it’s a price worth paying in milder conditions as snow conditions remain firmer at this altitude than lower down. Sure enough, by the time we head back down the west-facing slopes of Mont d’Arbois things are becoming distinctly soft in the late-March sunlight.
The following day we awake to very different conditions. A depression is moving through the mountains, and the results are becoming obvious as we reach our starting-point at St Nicolas de Véroce. Donning ski-gear in the rain is not one of life’s pleasures, but at least we know that it will be snowing steadily just a little higher, so head up anyway, spurred by the prospect of laying first tracks in fresh falls. The Chattrix fixed chairlift is a long one, although we don't get to admire the views during the ride, as we hit the snow line early. At the top it’s snowing hard, but we set off hopefully, optimistic that things will clear soon.
It doesn't. We should be enjoying spectacular scenery but as we drop down to reach the Croix du Christ high-speed chairlift we’re soon skiing in near-zero visibility. From here getting back down the mountain means going further up, to pick up the steep Gouet drag-lift which will haul us back to the return run. Ignoring for once the ‘Piste Fermé’ signs (the whole mountain is now closing until the bad weather has safely passed through), we make our way down on a deep carpet of soft snow, and return to the car feeling damp but quite heroic. A couple of hours later the skies clear, the mountain reopens and skiers are enjoying the sensational secenery and the new snow. For us, though, it’s too late, but we’ll be back as soon as possible to ski this beautiful corner of the Evasion Mont-Blanc ski domain and see what we missed.
© Roger Moss