Whenever I tell friends back home exactly where I’m living now they more often than not say “where?”
So for those that don’t know here’s a good (snowboarders) introduction to the Serre Chevalier Valley – I nicked it off the Whitelines website (http://whitelines.mpora.com/directory/serre-chevalier.html) if you want to see the original
Serre Chevalier is one of the most southerly resorts in the French Alps, located on Le Grand Serre Chevalier range close to Italy. It has 250km of some of the best terrain in France, including gullies, open bowls, couloirs, cliffs, pillow lines and long, wide, tree-lined pistes. Spread over four fairly traditional French villages from Briancon to quieter Monetier, the accommodation and nightlife tends to be a little isolated, but nice and cheap. Briancon has less sunshine and is usually icier than the more popular Chantemerle and Villeneuve. Le Monetier, although quieter, has some crowd-free riding in some of the best trees in the valley.
The Companie des Alpes spent a reported 10 million euros last year on lift improvements, including the new chairlift links to the village of Frejus, as well as snowmaking facilities and two Gasex Avalanche control systems. Serre
Chevalier has had some great snowfalls in the last few years (it is frequently on a different weather pattern to its larger northern counterparts) and with La Grave and Montgenevre at opposing ends of the valley, there is always plenty of riding to be had.
THE PARKS (2 out of 5)
The Altitude Park is located off the Combes chairlift and has features for beginners and intermediates. There are two lines of kickers, various boxes and rails and a hip and wallride at the bottom. It is well maintained – great for learning spins and improving – but advanced riders will quickly become bored. That said, the whole resort is one big backcountry park for experts, with natural hits and gullies to be found throughout the valley. There is also a 100m boardercross course, located off the Grande Serre chairlift, which snakes down through nine raised bank turns.
THE POWDER (5 out of 5)
When it snows, Serre Chevalier is freeride heaven – just be sure to check the avalanche risk and ask at the lift stations before attempting anything remotely out of bounds, as there are some really dangerous areas. From Monetier you can take the Cibout chair and traverse to the tree line, then drop the Yret face that runs back to the Tabac run.
The Montagnole – a glacial valley run from the Yret chair down to post five on the Tabac run – is best done with a local guide as it is totally out of the view of lift attendants, has some large cliffs and is prone to sliding. From Villeneuve, there are great runs off the Tete de Balme – take the Balme lift and head down the Cucamle side. L’Eychauda is a nasty draglift that leads you to a long, clear run where you can join the piste at any point, or head off to the Isolee black run for some huge cliffs. Towards Briancon, the Prorel lift takes you to a popular face – although caution is required as it is prone to avalanches.
THE PISTES (4 out of 5)
There are plenty of wide, well-groomed and tree-lined pistes in Serre Chevalier that are clearly signposted and interlink the various areas in a logical way. Briancon tends to get less sunshine – pistes are icier and accessed by several draglifts. Chantemerle has the Luc Alphand black run back to the village, which is fun and can be tackled by mixed ability groups as there is a bail-out green that avoids some of the steeper sections.
Villeneuve has some great pistes, particularly from the Casse du Boeuf chair and the Bez. The link to Monetier is accessed via a very slow chair and then two flat narrow traverses; it’s harder for beginners but well worth a trip as the runs back down to town are excellent. It is unusual to find so many trees on the slopes of a resort, meaning that visibility is OK even on bad weather days.
THE PARTIES (3 out of 5)
Due to the separate villages, nightlife is never going to be legendary, but with some great little bars around it’s not bad. The Saloon at the bottom of the Briancon main lift is great for après ski, while Bar Central and the Eden Bar offer the best nights on the town. Over in Chantemerle, the Station Bar has just opened at the foot of the pistes with live music and a buzzing happy hour, while in Villeneuve, the biggest venue is the Grotte, boasting internet, live music and a party vibe. Mojos has 2-for-1 happy hours and Le Frog is the best place to watch the football with a pint. In Monetier, L’Alpen is run by an English couple and has a great atmosphere.
“With so many trees on the slopes, visibility is possible even on bad weather days”