With May just around the corner and Easter in full swing it may seem that the ski season is all but over, but here in Les Arcs it was snowing all day yesterday and the forecast is for more of the same all week. And even during the recent spell of warm and sunny weather it was still possible to get in some great skiing if you know the right people.Fortunately I do; they’re called Val Heliski and are based as the name suggests in Val d’Isere, just up the road.
Out of the blue last week came a phone call from one of the company directors Claire Jeffery, asking if I’d like to make up the final slot on a heli drop in Italy. The answer was never going to be in doubt of course, so the following morning I found myself meeting up with Claire and punters James and Paul in La Rosiere for one of France’s best ski experiences.
We had to ski over to La Thuile in Italy since heli-skiing is forbidden in France; the way it works is that you’re picked up at the drop zone on the Italian side of the Col de Petit St. Bernard, and it’s all quite relaxing as you can pop into one of the mountain restaurants for a coffee whilst waiting for your supercool ski lift to pick you up.
Although in actual fact it’s anything but relaxing; who’s gonna be relaxed whilst waiting to go heli-skiing?
I can’t imagine how anyone could ever fail to be excited as the chopper arrives in a blur of snow, at the scramble to climb inside and then the thrilling climb into the skies; and the views were like no other as we scudded across the mountains, the Mont Blanc massif whizzing past on our left and the peaks of the Tarentaise on our right.
Our drop off was just a few minutes flight away on top of 3,200-metre Mont Freduez. Once the heli had swooped off there was time to stand and take in the view; the most remarkable thing for me was that I could almost see my house way, way down below Les Arcs, which was clearly visible to our south.
But what my mates down in Le Pré were up to was the last thing on my mind right then…
Our Italian guide Alessandro checked out options for our descent down to La Thuile and like any good mountain guide had no problem finding a pleasantly steep north facing slope which offered a light covering of powder at higher elevations before transmuting to wonderful spring snow lower down.
We descended in glorious solitude; other than one excitingly steep chute we had huge open slopes entirely to ourselves and could pretty much choose our own lines until we eventually hit the trees and had to become a little more disciplined.
The skiing lower down the mountain was a little sketchy to be honest, but it is April after all. As for the skiing higher up on Mont Freduez, well, as I said, summer may be fast approaching but with the right friends and the right guide you can still enjoy some fantastic skiing.
Sure, it ain’t cheap, but some things in life are worth paying for, and if you’re a skier, heli-skiing is most definitely one of them.
For full details on Val Heliski’s various ski packages in 32 different drop zones in the Alps go to www.valheliski.com