I’m just back from my last ski trip of the season, to the relatively little-known ski resorts of Bonneval sur Arc and Val Cenis in France’s Haute Maurienne region, and it’s a shame more resorts are not like them.
Unlike the huge purpose built ski areas to the north, these are two dinky little spots where community spirit is a big part of the attraction. I skied with various locals, all of whom seemed to know almost everyone on the mountain, from lifties to bar staff, to ski instructors and pisteurs.
And walking down the street with anyone who lives here takes ages; you have to stop every few seconds to pass the time of day with one of their mates or work colleagues.
It’s rare to get this in a big ski resort like Les Arcs or Val d’Isere (which is actually just over the Col d’Iseran from Bonneval; however you can’t travel between the two in winter as the road is closed from November to June).
The towns that make up Val Cenis ski area (Termignon, Lanslebourg and Lanslevillard) only have a combined population of 2,500, but most of the residents live and work here year-round and so there’s an active vibe about the place – you don’t get that feeling of anonymity that’s common in so many of the mega-resorts, or the ghost town feel once the ski season is over.
The skiing in Val Cenis is spread out above the valley – we skied from Termignon at one end to Lanslevillard at the other, with around 125km of pistes to go at, some sensational looking freeride terrain and for families – the longest green run in the world, the 10-km L’Escargot.
However, the first day at Bonneval sur Arc was the best, and here’s why: it’s the day after Easter Monday, the pistes are far from crowded, the sun is shining, and when we hit the north-facing off-piste terrain below 3,637-metre Albaron we’re able to do circuit after circuit on fresh powder, which for sure has a few tracks on it, but where fresh lines can still be had.
Try doing that in a French mega-resort the day after the Easter holidays – there won’t be a patch of untracked snow to be seen…