Skiing is usually a social activity. A chance to get together and enjoy the mountains, take some moderate exercise, eat and drink well. To ski alone is seen as fairly eccentric, although I’m hardly the only person to do it. I don’t do it all the time but I find it relaxing and therapeutic to just charge on your own, lift to lift, with nary a stop. I suppose it takes a degree of comfort with the environment to really enjoy it, and that’s what puts people off.
When you are somewhere with stunning views and good food, like La Giettaz, where I spent a happy weekend in mid March, skiing solo is pure pleasure. As with Cordon, the key to this place is the relaxed atmosphere and lack of crowds. The pistes are open and easy and there are no groups of English haw-hawing, wearing fancy dress, overspending or generally making beasts of themselves. I think a driving holiday around smaller resorts in France is a great option. If you want to scare yourself or ski some steeper stuff you can always get a guide, or drive to Chamonix, Tignes or whereever for the day, spend EUR54 on a lift pass (EUR28 at La Giettaz/Combloux) and go hard. The following week I went to Tignes/Val D’Isere for four days and skied with some friends and it was fun, but is the actual skiing experience so much better?
For example Val D’Isere boasts some of the world’s most impressive and efficient ski lifts including the amazing L’Olympique (capacity 3,750 per hour) which meets the top of the Funival (2,200 per hour) to service Val D’Isere’s Bellevarde ski area.
While it’s all very fast and slick, and goes some way to justifying the extortionate daily lift pass spend, it creates it’s own problems. At any one time at the top of these lifts there 200-300 people of varying abilities setting off and the pistes served are as a result, often crowded. That to me is irritating, potentially dangerous, and not the thing that mountain holidays are made of. Maybe I’m just getting old – which is becoming my catch phrase it seems.
And as for the food….well there’s good eating in Val D’Isere, especially the 2 Michelin star l’Atelier d’Edmond in Le Fornet, where I ate two lunches in succession on my Tignes trip. But sorry La Giettaz again won out. The unheralded Les Balcons de Lydie was my chosen spot and frankly I preferred their honest to goodness French country fayre to the microscopic stuff.
The last thing to touch on is the village itself. La Giettaz is a real french village rather than a ski resort, with school, Marie and everything else, situated in the lee of a cliff on a steep part of the D909 – the Col du Aravis road to la Clusaz.
The cliff and steepness of the terrain mean it’s pretty much in the shade most of the time and it’s got a rather spooky feel. I strolled around the village on a Friday night and it seemed somewhat deserted with a defunct ‘a vendre’ hotel right in the middle, one bar, Chez Lulu, and one pizzeria/creperie. If the French ever localized Scooby Doo, La Giettaz would make an excellent setting. My hotel, the rather optimistically titled ‘Fleur des Alpes’ appeared to have only a handful of guests, and took me back to the my childhood in cheap french hotels on the way south to camping in the summer. The evocative musty smell and sausage shaped pillows set the scene, while dinner was served by the owner sans menu. She just sat me down brought some soup, then pork casserole, followed by yogurt and fruit. All very healthy but a bit Colonie de Vacances for my taste.
The village seems to be run by one family, the Bibollets, whose name dominated the war memorial on the church wall. They also run the ski school, ski shop and Chez Lulu. Presumably they marry out to improve the bloodline. Either way it’s worth a weekend or a day away if you are stuck with the hordes in La Clusaz, and it’s a great counterpoint to the French mega-resorts in the Tarentaise.