Never mind the low altitude good skiing in tiny La Clusaz
Never mind the low altitude: Pastoral prettiness and good skiing in tiny La Clusaz
By ROB FREEMAN
PUBLISHED: 14:18 GMT, 13 March 2012 | UPDATED: 14:18 GMT, 13 March 2012
Mark Twain had strong views on statistics – that they were worse than lies or even damned lies.
Ski guide Olivier Mermillod would have seen eye to eye with Mr Twain – for that principle holds true when statistics are applied to ski resorts in general. And to Olivier’s resort of La Clusaz in particular.
The bare figures will tell you that, though huddled in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps, La Clusaz is afflicted by a low-altitude location – meaning that it cannot guarantee good snow, that it can be crowded at weekends, that it doesn’t have many tough runs.
But what the numbers won’t tell you – although Olivier will – is that here is a resort you will want to return to time and again. And that it does have skiing for everyone.
‘There are far more challenging runs here than people realise,’ he explains. ‘And the unusual rock formations in this area mean that we have some of the most remarkable terrain in the French Alps.‘
The statistics also omit to mention that it is a perfectly charming, quintessentially French village that has refused to have its character and atmosphere ravaged by the march of time.
It is a resort with which most visitors fall in love – which explains the massive loyalty shown to it by generations of British skiers and boarders.
Its five interlinked sectors, though compact, make for wide-ranging skiing, with La Clusaz able to boast some engaging off-piste sections. On the slopes there is something for everyone, and because most of the runs are pastureland in summer, little snow is needed to make them skiable
It is, of course, always risky to tell to a guide that his resort’s skiing might be viewed as too easy.
A gleam comes into Olivier’s eye when I dare to utter this idea.
‘Put your skis on,’ he says. ‘We’ll see how true that is.’
And so off we go, heading for the lovely cruising sectors of Beauregard (one of the most pleasant beginners’ areas you are likely to see), La Croix Fry-Manigod-Merdassier and L’Etale. But even here, there are a couple of nice black runs, La Noire and Tetras.
We also head for the slopes beneath L’Aiguille and Balme, where things become a little more serious, with challenging black and red runs such as Lapiaz and Le Vraille, Fernuy and Blanchat.
But this isn’t good enough for Olivier.Steady as they go: The resort offers plenty of gentle slopes for beginners and junior skiers
‘Let’s try off-piste, there’s some great terrain here,’ he urges.
I counter that the snow off-piste does not look to be in top shape.
‘No, but we will imagine,’ says the Frenchman, brimming with confidence and anticipation.
‘The slopes are so good that we will still have fun even though the snow isn’t perfect.
‘Let’s head for those cliffs!’
Not one to be a spoilsport, I follow in his tracks. And soon discover that a vivid imagination can take you a long way on hard, bumpy off-piste areas when you have surroundings as dramatic as the Massif de Balme and the Massif de L’Aiguille to distract you.
No flights of fancy are needed in Le Clusaz itself.
Few French villages are more picturesque, and the traditional village square and Savoyard church revel in their own prettiness. Busy streets fan out from the square, each boasting excellent shops, bars and hotels – all with a calmly Gallic feel.
There are plenty of people here, soaking up the ambience. There are cleared walks, opportunities for snowshoeing and sledging, an ice-skating rink, and an aqua-centre with indoor and outdoor heated pools. Or, if you are feeling daring, you can take a bungee jump with a difference – plunging into a chasm on a bike, toboggan or even a shopping trolley.
A good selection of stores sells local produce and the outdoor market – held every Monday in La Place de l’Eglise – is a must-visit.
Most of the accommodation – chalets, apartments and two- or three- star hotels – sits in the mid-range bracket. But there is one exception – the striking five-star Au Coeur du Village hotel, which perches beside the Beauregard and Patinoire telecabines.
Here is unabashed luxury, with a spa and a gastronomic restaurant. Rooms have a refined high-end feel to them, all parquet flooring and aged-wood panelling. Some of the suites feature a living room, a whirlpool bath and a balcony with mountain views.
La Clusaz is not the most boisterous of ski resorts, but there are bars for every mood – and you can even find watering holes that may tempt you to stay out and risk a late start on the slopes.
Le Salto does nicely for après-ski drinks, while Les Caves du Paccaly and Le Grenier are good for live music. For insomniacs, meanwhile, the Club 18 discotheque and nightclub L’Ecluse – with its glass dance floor over the river – may beckon.
Holidaymakers have been coming here for over 100 years, and those early visitors would still recognise the village, with the chalets sporting their hand-cut wooden shingles and the production of Reblochon cheese still going on much as it has done for decades.
Easy to reach – Geneva airport is an hour’s drive distant, the TGV rail station at Annecy is 20 miles away – La Clusaz is an unfussy option for a weekend of skiing.
Certainly, Mark Twain would have found little to criticise here. The author, who travelled extensively in France and loved the Alps, may have visited La Clusaz on his travels. Damned statistics or otherwise, it is certainly worth following in his footprints.
A seven-night half-board stay at the five-star Au Coeur du Village Hotel (www.hotel-aucoeurduvillage.fr/en) costs from £1379 per person through Inghams (020 8780 4447, www.inghams.co.uk), including return flights from Gatwick to Geneva and resort transfers.
Flights also available (with a supplement) from Southampton, Stansted, Exeter, Jersey, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds-Bradford, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Belfast, Glasgow and Heathrow.
More information on La Clusaz at www.laclusaz.com, or via 0033-4-5032-6500.