A Sporting Life in the Mountains
In addition to traditional skiing activities (downhill, Nordic, snowboard) and health-resort options (spas, outdoor activities, lifestyle and gourmet attractions), the snow-covered mountains offer thrilling winter possibilities for bold, active types who want to try out the latest, most unusual, full-adrenaline sports. These sports include snake tobogganing, speed-riding, snow-kiting, snow-scooting, airboarding, snowbiking, the yooner, ice climbing and ice diving. Even beginners can have a try at these spectacular sports.
Tobogganing in a snake (snake gliss) is good fun for both family and friends. Although a helmet is required, this is one of the least dangerous sports that is currently “all the rage” in French ski resorts. Invented by Sport Adventure Events in the
French Alps, the idea is to link a dozen plastic toboggans together, allowing them to snake across the snow. Overseen by a trained instructor, the itinerary can extend over several kilometres full of thrilling descents. The best spots to try snake gliss are Orcières 1850, Les Angles, and Ax 3 Domaines. Also worth discovering is Rouge Gazon, a new dedicated site in the Vosges Mountains.
Snow-kiting and speed-riding - Extreme sensations guaranteed
Skis and snowboards may be considered more traditional, however, you’ll be leaving the ski lifts behind when you have the wind pulling you along bringing with it an incredible sense of freedom. These two new hybrid sports combine ‘wind’ with ‘snow’ to boost the heady sensation of speed. Both, however, require technical and physical preparation. As ‘extreme’ sports, they call for an intensive introductory course under specialised supervision, followed by cautious practice with full awareness of the risks. Snow-kiting is similar to kite-surfing, for it uses a kite to race across relatively flat fields of snow. Meanwhile, speed-riding combines skis and paragliding with a kite that lifts the speed-rider off of the slope in bounds that sometimes rise tens of metres high.
• The thrill of speed-riding at all levels, on slopes of Le Sancy in Auvergne: Aerospeed.
• A snow-kite school exploiting the vast snow fields of Vercors: Adrenactive.
• Another school located in the wonderful Vercors: Gliss-Kite.
• A snow-kite school in Le Semnoz, which takes advantage the areas overlooking Lake Annecy: Air Evolution.
• The speed-riding school at Val Fréjus (Maurienne Valley).
• A school in La Bresse in the Vosges Mountains: Bol d’Air.
• A speed-riding school in Les Arcs (Paradiski, Tarantaise Valley).
• A speed-riding school in the Ubaye Valley: Sand-Fly.
Snow-scooting is a snow sport that really rocks!
Like some sort of genetically modified mountain bike, a BMX frame is mounted on hinged skis instead of wheels, making it possible to ride the slopes like bike rider. This lightweight and playful contraption can perform daring turns and acrobatic figures. Top-level competitions are already being organised, and many places now rent out the equipment. However, you must remember to coexist peacefully with other skiers on the slopes, and some resorts do not yet allow snow-scooting. Those ski resorts which do permit snow-scooting can be found on the official site of the Association Française de Snowscoot.
Mountain biking on snow
At first sight, it looks like an ordinary mountain bike. However, there are a few important modifications that turn it into a snowbike: a special suspension system, hydraulic brakes and heavily studded tires! Once the initial apprehension and awkwardness have been overcome, the sensation of speed – at up to 95 kph (60 mph) – and controlled skids are intoxicating. This daredevil activity is usually done once the slopes have been closed to skiers, or on specialised trails that are beginning to crop up in several French resorts.
Airbording was invented in Switzerland as a snow-bound cousin of bodyboarding. Armed with an inflatable board and a helmet, airboarders race down the slopes on their bellies, head first. The snow-level impression of speed is fantastic! Airboarding can be done on toboggan runs, as well as on specific slopes in certain resorts such as Val Thorens. Some forty resorts inFrance allow airboarders to hit the ski slopes once they have been closed to skiers and snowboarders.
The yooner of today is a micro-sledge based on an old wooden design that had been used by children in the Thônes Valley to get to school during the winter. The new yooner design is composed of a plastic seat on a short monoski with a stainless-steel bottom, and it is endowed with a suspension system to absorb the shock of bumps and moguls. A joystick between the legs is used to steer. Unlike other new sports, learning to control a yooner is quick and easy,so you’ll soon be appreciating the thrill of speed that is made all the more impressive by being close to the ground.
As a mountain version of explorations into ‘the deep’, ice diving takes place beneath the thick ice on a high-altitude lake. A fully monitored initiation into this kind of diving is a wonderful experience of visual impressions in the changing light that filters through the ‘ice field.’ Specialised, high-tech equipment protects the diver from the cold. Several ski resorts propose introduction courses in ice diving:
• Chamrousse, near Grenoble: DivExtreme.
• Tignes, the leading resort of the Tarantaise Valley: Tignes Plongée.
• Orcières 1850, in the Hautes-Alpes: Oser Plonger.
• Montriond, near Avoriaz and Morzine (Portes du Soleil): Aquaventure.
In order to climb the ephemeral curtains of ice and vertical sculptures clinging to the rocky cliffs, mountaineers had to invent the sport of ice climbing. This art is halfway between crag-climbing and mountaineering, and utilises special techniques with front-pointed crampons and a pair of ice axes. This spectacular sport can nevertheless be attempted by fearless ‘apprentice climbers,’ assuming they target the right obstacle. It is done primarily in the shade, from December to February, but also on a few artificial walls that are doused with water when the temperature drops. Pioneering guides for this type of climbing have explored major sites in the Alps, notably around Mont Blanc, in the Vanoise region, and in the Oisans-Ecrins and Queyras sectors.
• ‘Ice Climbing Ecrins’ is the finest gathering of enthusiastic practitioners, held in Argentière in Les Écrins and organised by: Ice-Fall.
• Ice climbing in Courchevel, the leading resort of the 3 Vallées complex.
• Ice climbing in Champagny-en-Vanoise, a village-resort linked to La Plagne.
• Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix, below Mont Blanc.
• Compagnie des Guides in Saint-Gervais/Mont Blanc.
• A ‘pro’ who works in the colossal setting of Oisans with its famous Meije summit: Paul Grobel.
• Bureau des guides et des accompagnateurs in La Grave/La Meije, also in the Haut-Oisans region.
• Ice Ruissling in the Vosges Mountains, with the Ecole du Ski Français.
Ice Climbing and ‘Pure’ Paragliding
Claire and Zeb are a couple of travelling mountain pros with prestigious credentials. Claire is a former world-champion paraglider, while Bertrand (dubbed ‘Zeb’) is the son of a famous mountaineer and a record-holding paraglider that had made a dual flight from the summit of Everest at the mere age of 17 in 1990. The couple share their passion in courses organised by Antipodes in Haute-Maurienne.
This leisure and health activity is very popular in Scandinavian countries and has recently become a success in France, particularly in the Vercors region. Nordic walking combines the adventure of hiking with strenuous physical effort which and can be done by everyone in winter as well as summer.