13th March 2022 | Jane Peel, French Alps
What can you do in a 5-day flying visit to the two biggest ski areas in France? An awful lot, and we don’t just mean skiing. The Paradiski and Les3Vallées in the Tarentaise have some of the best high-altitude slopes in the Alps and – as we discover – some of the best high-adrenalin activities. NEW
Usually, we’re all about the skiing here on PlanetSKI.
It’s our reason for being.
But occasionally there are some things on offer that are – how shall we put it – more interesting than your average non-ski activity.
And if you can do them after a day on the slopes, all the better as far as we are concerned.
Welcome to La Plagne in the Paradiski area and Les Menuires in Les3Vallées where that’s precisely the case.
PlanetSKI arrived on Monday afternoon and left on Friday lunchtime.
We packed a lot in.
First up is La Plagne, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this season.
Let’s make it clear that there’s some fabulous skiing here. It’s not just the intermediate paradise it’s often labelled as.
There’s plenty of good off-piste which we didn’t experience on this occasion as there’s been no fresh snow for a while and we preferred to stay on the groomed slopes.
Clear blue skies, sunshine, perfect conditions.
We couldn’t ask for more.
But before we’ve even clipped into our skis, we get to try out one of La Plagne’s newest sports.
It’s called Moonbiking and was introduced this season by the Oxygène Ski School.
The Moonbike is an all-electric vehicle that has a top speed of 42 kilometres an hour.
It’s three times lighter than a snowmobile and easy to ride. Apparently.
Er, we beg to differ….
One of the most exciting things you can do La Plagne, aside from the skiing, is to throw yourself down the only bobsleigh track in France.
It was built for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics and is now used not only for professional athletes but tourists too.
A few years back we went down it on a Bob Raft.
The raft is a four-person self-steering bob that is suitable for families but still offers a thrill-seeking ride, reaching speeds of up to 80 kilometres an hour.
This time, we’re trying the even faster Speed Luge.
For this, you’re on your own, lying down in what is essentially a metal cage.
Like the bob raft, the luge is ‘self-steering’.
I have no idea how this happens but I am glad someone else is in control of the journey down the track.
The sensation, being so close to the ice, is way more intense.
I reach a maximum of 95kmh (59mph) on my run.
The whole thing takes about 1 minute 15 seconds.
Click and drag on the image to move the camera 360 degrees and watch from all viewpoints.
And now for something completely different.
It is a form of meditation using breathing exercises and visualisation with the help of the forests and you practise it on your skis.
It’s a passion of ski instructor, Karine Fromaget, who works for the Oxygène Ski School in Monchavin La Plagne.
Karine first came across sophrology as a 14-year-old ski racer when a sophrologist from Geneva visited La Plagne to help youngsters cope with the stress of racing.
She has developed it and, since 2018, has been using sophrology techniques to help her students deal with their own issues.
They could be beginners afraid of falling and hurting themselves or getting hit by someone else.
They could be scared of icy or steep slopes.
It is, in effect, a form of sports psychology.
With added trees.
So with a new sense of calm, we leave La Plagne and head to Les Menuires for the next stage of our Tarentaise adventure.
First up, I should be tackling the 4km-long Roc’n’Bob sledge run.
I reluctantly bail out in favour of work as I know I’m not going to have any time at the laptop tonight.
Maybe it’s just as well.
“It was scarier than the speed luge. I fell off four times,” one of my fellow travellers tells me later.
Night Ski Touring
This has to be one of the best ways to experience the slopes of a busy resort.
After the lifts have closed we leave the après ski drinkers dancing on the tables, attach skins to our touring skis and start a gentle trek up the mountain.
We continue as the sun goes down and as Les Menuires, in the distance, lights up.
After about 1 hour and 30 minutes of climbing, we reach the welcome warmth of the Refuge du Lac du Lou where the reward for our efforts is a traditional raclette dinner.
The Refuge is the base for ice diving in the lake of the same name but, thankfully, that is not one of the activities on the agenda for tonight.
Stuffed full of cheese, potatoes & cold meats, it takes less than 20 minutes to ski back down with headtorches to guide us.
It seems as if it’s only a few hours later, early on Thursday morning, that we’re back on skis to explore the pistes in daylight.
We blast around Les Menuires and head up the new, superfast gondola to ski down La Masse.
We take the cable car up to Cime Caron at 3,200m above Val Thorens.
Then it’s over to the Méribel valley to ski Mont Vallon down to Méribel Mottaret.
Just as in La Plagne, the weather could not be better and the conditions, particularly on the high altitude, north-facing slopes are excellent, despite the lack of recent snow.
It seems everyone is making the most of the sunshine with both the slopes and the restaurant terraces busy.
On Friday morning, the weather changes, as forecast.
The clouds drift in over Les Menuires and the winds are high, forcing the closure of some lifts.
But we have time for a couple of hours’ skiing, sticking mainly to the lower altitude runs out of the wind, before heading back to the UK.
The sun even makes an appearance for us as we visit one of my favourite villages in Les3Vallées, St-Martin-de-Belleville.
It’s a great way to end to a full-on five days.
I don’t usually look forward to leaving the mountains but, frankly, I could do with a rest.
For more information on the resorts and activities, visit the websites: