Les Sybelles – heard of it? Chances are you haven’t, yet it’s one of France’s biggest ski areas with 260km of pistes (plus another 50km of Nordic trails), not to mention some very impressive and seemingly limitless freeride options.
‘Les Sybelles’ consists of six linked ski resorts in the Maurienne massif; St. Jean d’Arves (1550m), St. Sorlin d’Arves (1600m), Le Corbier (1550m), La Toussuire (1750m), St. Colomban des Villards (1100m) and Les Bottières (1300m).
They lie in the shadow of the three mighty fangs of 3514-metre Aiguilles d’Arves and offered much to impress on my visit over the Easter holidays.
I was staying in La Toussuire, and skiing with Les Sybelles’ only UIAGM mountain guide Philippe Vincent. Our first day’s skiing was of the bluebird variety and Philippe headed straight for the central point of Les Sybelles, 2431-metre L’Ouillon.
This gave him the chance to point out the lay of the land as well as allowing us to make the short five-minute hike from the top of the 2 Croix drag lift to the summit of L’Ouillon.
From here you can ski off-piste in pretty much any direction, and since Philippe has been skiing here since he was five he knew exactly which slopes would give us the best snow for the descent to St. Sorlin.
From St. Sorlin we headed on a series of chairs up to the area’s highest point, 2620-metre Les Perrons, and I remarked to Philippe how amazed I was by the fact that so few people seem to have heard of Les Sybelles.
“It’s not just the amount of piste skiing that goes unrecognised,” Philippe replied, “It’s the quality of the off-piste”. He’d been constantly pointing out freeride lines as we rode the lifts, and our next descent was a perfect example of what he meant.
From Les Perrons we headed skier’s left towards an area known as Disneyland and Alaska, where we found steep, north facing chutes that still offered decent, untracked snow almost three-weeks after the last snowfall.
For skiers looking for something less testing, Les Sybelles has a lovely selection of easy blues and reds that will flatter any intermediate skier, and although some of the lifts are a bit slow (a matter being rectified over the next few years by the installation of several high-speed lifts) queues are a rarity – we encountered not one over the Easter holidays.
What’s more, the resort is easy to get to (1.5-hours from Chambery Airport, about ten-hour’s drive from the Channel and there’s a train station at nearby St. Jean de Maurienne), and prices for accommodation, lift passes etc. are considerably lower than at most other ski resorts in the French Alps.
As for the actual resorts, La Toussuire and Le Corbier will remind you of La Plagne and Tignes in that they’re modern and functional, while the other four villages are largely unspoiled, traditional settlements lying in beautiful mountain settings.
Over the next couple of days, I enjoyed some great snow conditions on- and off-piste despite poor weather as well as some fun nights out in local restaurants and an interesting side trip to the authentic alpine village of Albiez, and came away from Les Sybelles determined to return and explore futher – after all, there’s a lot to be discovered in the biggest ski area you’ve never heard of.
Alf stayed at the Hotel Beausoleil in La Toussuire. Peak Retreats offer seven-nights in La Toussuire at Le Haut de Comborciere from £202 per person based on four sharing a two-bedroom self-catering apartment, including Eurotunnel crossing. Lift passes: adults six days £161