Serre-Chevalier has to be one of the top resorts in the whole of the French Alps. From Guillaume Chastagnol and Gary Zebrowski to Julien Bourguignon and Thomas Parfait, the resort has been responsible for several generations of top French pro riders. The terrain is one of the biggest and most varied in France, and as long as the snow conditions are up to it, the possibilities are infinite. Situated in the Hautes-Alps, which makes up the southern region of the French Alps, you could even make it down to Marseille for a tasty bit of fresh fish after a day’s riding! OK, so that would be about a 200km drive but the option is still there if you want it.
By Youri Barnéoud
The Guisane valley starts at the Col du Lautaret, at the foot of La Grave, and runs down to the Durance valley, where you can find other well-known resorts such as Vars-Risoul or Puy-Saint-Vincent. As for the domain of Serre-Chevalier, it’s made up of 20km, from the town of Briançon – also directly linked to the resort – towards the north west, crossing through 13 traditional alpine villages. The lowest point, Briançon, is based at 1200m, and the highest summit reaches 2850m. As it’s impossible to explore all 370km of the groomed slopes in one day, you can buy lift tickets that restrict you to certain zones. It’s one of the biggest resorts in Europe. The season proper runs from December to March (in principle), and it’s often the beginning of the season that sees the most impressive snowfalls – incidentally, the resort beat all snowfall records to date last December.
Freeriding is unquestionably the resort’s strongest point. When the conditions are good, the freeriding possibilities are practically infinite. You can start out in Les Vallons de la Cucumelle, in the Salle Les Alpes zone. There you’ll find a series of tree runs with steep sections in places – ideal terrain for when the weather is bad – or simply for those riders who like to choose their level of steepness – there are even some cliff drops. These glens lead you from the highest summits in the resort all the way down to the bottom of the valley, and are some of the longest runs you’ll find. At the end of the season, the resort organises a race down this part of the mountain, similar to the longstanding race organised in the neighbouring resort of La Grave. The Tabuc valley, on Monêtier, is another highly prized terrain by all freeriders, as well as the long and regular-gradient slopes of Cibouit down the right-hand side of the chairlift (a short walk takes you up to the summit) and the very steep runs situated under the Pic de l’Yret (commonly known as the Yret wall, and not for nothing!). If you want to get a taste of wide-open spaces, the Eychauda zone has some of the most incredible spots. But be careful not to go too low and find yourself stuck, as Eychauda doesn’t have that many lifts to take you back up. All these runs are in a big off-piste zone and it’s really important to check for avalanche danger and be well-equipped before venturing out. In the rest of the resort, it’s easy to find tree runs, or a few hidden runs that are out of the way of the main crowds, and yet visible from the top of the lifts. But the best and most open freeriding terrain is found on the Villeneuve and Monêtier side of the mountain, including the Casse du Boeuf, Montagnole (behind the Pic de l’Yret in Monêtier), the Bois de l’Aiguillette and Balme… all of them magic runs!
The snowpark is located in Villeneuve on the plateau of the Rouge. You can get to it from one side with the Forêt chairlift and from the other with the Alpage ski lift. The park is made up of 20-odd modules suited to all levels (kickers, handrails, boxes, step-ups), but mainly designed to be accessible to everyone. Towards the end of the season, the local riders normally put on a pro contest, with a few Coupe de France events regularly taking place there too.
There are, of course, several snowboard shops in the valley, but the best one is in Briançon, called Krakatoa (at the bottom of the Prorel cable cart) and owned by the Moranval brothers, who pioneered the local snowboard scene. The guys really know their stuff, there’s a huge choice of product on offer and it’s a cool place to hang out too. www.krakatoa.fr, email@example.com, Tel: +33(0)4 92 21 05 62.
There are lots of hotels and good value chambres d’hôte in the valley, but especially in Briançon, a town that houses around 15,000 inhabitants all year round. Help in finding accommodation is available at the tourist office or at www.chambres-hotes.org, a general website for finding chambres d’hôtes and other seasonal accommodation. Otherwise, there are quite a few small B&B-type places near the slopes offering decent prices: http://gites05.free.fr/hebergement.htm. In Puy-Saint-André, behind Prorel, there’s a gîte ran by a certain Mr Charton, check it out at www.altitude1515.fr. And in Monêtier, the place to stay at is called Le Flourou (type Le Flourou into Google).
WHERE TO EAT?
On the go: Le Break in Villeneuve Aravet, and Taty Brioche in Chantemerle are good places to grab a quick bite if you haven’t got much time.
In the resort: Le Troll and Le Grand Hotel in Chantemerle, and Le Bivouac in Villeneuve (La Salle-Les-Alpes) are good spots to eat and enjoy the views.
Bottom of the resort: L’Arbre à Pin in Chantemerle acts as a restaurant and bar that can offer fun evenings out. Au Pire Sandwich, in the zone of Serre d’Aigle, is a cool, unpretentious place to chill after a day’s riding.
WHERE TO GO FOR A DRINK?
You can hit up the Extrême Bar in Chantemerle for a cosy English pub atmosphere. The Grotte du Yéti, in Villeneuve, is another English bar that serves food and puts on concerts throughout the season. The Triptik, with more of a young vibe, often lights up the resort, as does the Vieille Ferme in Villeneuve. This again has an international clientele.
The Bam-Bam club in Villeneuve is open until 4 o’clock in the morning if you’re tempted, as is La Baïta.
Lift Ticket Prices
– Le Grand Serre-Che (allowing access to the whole domain)
Adult 1 day: €37 6 days: €176
– Serre Che (Villeneuve + Chantemerle)
Adult 1 day: €33 6 days: €160 3 hours: €27
Adult 1 day: €28.50 6 days: €138 3 hours: €24.50
HOW TO GET THERE?
Turin Caselle (Italy): 108km, www.airport.turin.it
Lyon Saint-Exupéry: 208 km, www.lyon.aeroport.fr
From the north: follow directions to Grenoble and then take the bypass (La Rocade) south towards Briançon, via the Col du Lautaret. But check first, the col is sometimes closed during the winter (for more info: +33 (0)476 799 005).
From the south: motorway A51, follow Gap and then Briançon.
From Italy: pass over the Col du Montgenèvre and through Briançon.
There are direct trains for Briançon from Paris, Marseille, Grenoble and Lyon. The Lyon to Oulx (Italy) TGV will get you to Serre-Chevalier in record time. There are then regular shuttle buses at the train stations of Briançon and Oulx to transfer you to the resort.
Avis: +33 (0)4 92 21 23 94
Europecar: +33 (0)4 92 21 26 00
Season: mid-December to mid-April
Slopes Km: 370 (115 runs: 24 green, 31 blue, 44 red and 16 black runs)
Number of lifts: 68
Lift ticket prices
Tourist Offices: Briançon: +33 (0)4 92 21 08 50, Serre-Chevalier: +33 (0)4 92 24 98 98
Tourist Office: firstname.lastname@example.org