The resort of La Clusaz sits smack bang in the middle of the Aravis mountain range, one of the biggest chains in the Haute Savoie. Halfway between Chamonix and Annecy, and not far from Geneva airport, the resort is relatively easy to get to.
By Youri Barneoud
On arrival, what strikes you most about La Clusaz is the unusual aspect of the surrounding mountains: it feels more like the Rockies than the Alps. The landscape is majestic, and the village has done a good job of conserving its original Alpine spirit despite the growing popularity of the resort and its inevitable expansion. And anyone who’s visited the resort will tell you La Clusaz has some of the best freeriding around due to its varied terrain and orientation. “One of the first small resorts to spearhead snowboarding in the early ’90s, Steve Graham used to come snowboarding here, pushing many locals to turn pro, namely Mathieu Vanorenberg, Micka Boutillet, Philipe Bataille and Jonathan Collomb-Patton,” says local international pro Franck Moissonnier, who knows the resort inside-out.
For over a century, La Clusaz has been offering its visitors quality winter sports and Savoyard culture. It’s known how to conserve its charm and surrounding landscape as a small village resort while at the same time developing infrastructure. This winter it’s one of the only resorts in Europe to have opened a Télémix, the latest in ski lift technology. One of the first in France, this new, ultramodern type of ski lift combines the advantages of chairlifts and gondolas with 8 eight-seater gondolas and 54 six-seater chairlifts, offering faster and more comfortable access to the slopes, especially for beginners, children and disabled people. More importantly, with the capacity to shift 2,400 people per hour, there are never any queues. Among the resorts in the Northern Alps, the Aravis range enjoys excellent snowfall levels. Snow cover is propped up by solid artificial snow management, with 60ha of the resort equipped with snow cannons. As a result, the 130km and 72 runs remain open right through to spring. La Clusaz is also home to a few international pro riders such as Franck Moissonnier, and of course the skier Candide Thovex who every year organises his famous ‘Invitational’ at the end of the season.
The freeriding in La Clusaz is one of the best. On clam chowder days, there are interesting spots to explore throughout the domain, but the area that is particularly well known for its freeriding is called Balme, and riders often come from far to shred here. Starting at an altitude of 2600m, the Balme massif offers natural terrain that’s perfect for freestyle backcountry riding, excellent snow cover thanks to its north-facing orientation, and steep slopes featuring natural kickers, cornice, bowls… in fact everything you could want. You’ll often find pro riders from around the area meeting up here for big backcountry sessions: as well as Candide Thovex and Franck Moissonnier, the Balme area is familiar terrain for Laurent Gougain, Douds Charlet and many others. And it’s in this part of the domain that the Candide Invitational takes place, where snowboarders and skiers meet up to hit the monster kicker that Candide puts together every year. Take necessary precautions if you are going to venture out into this area: go with riders that are familiar with it and check the avalanche conditions before you set off. Incidentally, if you’re interested, there’s an initiative called Aravis Challenge that organises free meetings on mountain security and avalanche danger every Monday evening.
Dimension Freeride: +33(0)6 14 18 01 46
Aravis Challenge: +33 (0)4 50 02 81 29
As we mentioned earlier, Balme is a bit like a massive natural snowboard park. When conditions are on, this is where you’ll want to head to for your freestyle backcountry riding. The park is mainly made up of a halfpipe, which is generally well maintained. Not forgetting one of the biggest snow events of the season, The Candide Invitational.
For the 6th edition, the event continues to live up to its reputation. This year, only 60 riders have been invited (40 skiers and 20 snowboarders) in order to ensure a great show. They’ll be hitting modules at speeds of nearly 100km/h, designed by Mr Thovex himself. Spread out over different areas, each module will be associated with one country or geographical zone: the riders that lay down the best tricks will win a return plane ticket to the place each module represents. Finally, in order leave some leeway for weather conditions and at the same time allow the riders to get comfortable with the enormous snowpark, the event will last four days instead of the usual two: from 20 to 23 March.
The best shop in town is SkiBoss. Former pro rider Micka Boutillet will look after all your needs.
For places to eat, head over towards the Ferme or Scierie side of town, both of these places serve good local meals. You’ll also find some of the best après-ski bars such as le Pressoir, Bonnet d’Âne, Club18, Écluse.
The nicest hotel is the Hotel du Lac des Confins, which has an amazing view on the whole Aravis mountain range.
Otherwise there are also chambres d’hôtes or gîtes. Try for example: La Ferme du Var: +33 (0)4 50 02 26 56, [email protected] Or Le Chalet du Lac: +33 (0)4 50 02 53 26, [email protected]
HOW TO GET THERE
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 27 30 06, www.annecy.aeroport.fr
Air France flight info: 0 820 820 820
Airport / TGV / La Clusaz shuttle service
Flight info: +41 (0)900 57 15 00, www.gva.ch
General info: +41 (0)717 71 11
Accueil France: tel. +41 (0)22 798 20 00, www.accueil-france.net
Geneva / La Clusaz shuttle service, www.gare-routiere.com
Lyon (150 km)
Tel. 0 826 320 368 (from France), + 33 (0)4 79 68 32 96 (from abroad)
www.altibus.com / www.satobus-alps.com
On demand shuttle service
TGV connections from Lyon / Annecy
La Clusaz is 32km from Annecy train station
TGV connections from Paris, Lyon, etc
SNCF Bookings: 3635 (from France) / www.voyages-sncf.com
Regular shuttle service from Annecy to La Clusaz
Motorway A41: take exit Annecy Nord and head towards Thônes / resort of Aravis
Motorway A40: take exit n°16 Bonneville / La Clusaz
La Clusaz Bus Station
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 02 40 11, Fax: +33 (0)4 50 45 22 84
[email protected], www.voyages-crolard.com
Regular service Annecy Train Station / La Clusaz
From Annecy and Lyon airport
Tel: 0 826 320 386 (from France), + 33 (0)4 79 68 32 96 (from abroad)
www.altibus.com / www.satobus-alps.com
Altitude: 1100 metres
Km of runs: 128km, 72 runs (7 black, 20 red, 23 blue, 22 green)
Lifts: 46 (1 télémix, 1 cablecar, 4 gondolas, 12 chairlifts, 28 pomas)
Lift ticket prices
1 Day: €28.50
1 Week: from €161.50 to €173.50 depending on the time of year
+33 (0)4 50 32 65 00, [email protected]
Domain linking La Clusaz / Manigod + Grand-Bornand: 200km of slopes. Road liaisons by ski free bus service. La Clusaz Tour: +33 (0)4 50 32 38 33, [email protected] laclusaz-tour.com.