2012 Mountain activities

A ski holiday can be shorthand for a break involving any winter sport... and there are plenty of them to enjoy in the French mountains whilst you’re there – talk about action packed! Have you considered all the options?

Downhill skiing

A ski holiday can be shorthand for a break involving any winter sport... and there are plenty of them to enjoy in the French mountains whilst you’re there – talk about action packed! Have you considered all the options?

Downhill skiing
The main activity. Very pleasant on well-packed slopes for easy descents. Parabolic skis whose narrow form is inspired from surfing, give you better sensations on turns. Free ride skis are supposedly better adapted to snowboarding and off-piste skiing. Becoming a good skier able to ski on any kind of snow is not easy – luckily the technique can be mastered fairly quickly on easy slopes.

Telemark skiing
This ancient technique is coming back into fashion today and has its place in the very trendy circle of new snow sports. It is skiing for exploration, where speed is not really necessary. It is a method that goes back in time and reminds us of the origins of the sport. It is also a technique for all those who love the pure lines, fluid movements and elegant turns. It is attracting more and more followers.

Snowpark or Bordercross
This is a trail about 500m long, fairly narrow, which looks like a motocross track with banked corners and moguls. You generally go down in groups of 4 and the first to arrive wins. Not always easy to completely go for it, but it guarantees excitement.
This appeared in the eighties, and guarantees an adrenalin rush. If you have never experienced the pleasure of skiing downhill on powdery snow, you cannot easily understand why people are so enthusiastic about snowboarding. Even if you have never skied before, you can start with snowboarding since, contrary to widespread belief, it is easier than skiing because it is less technical.

This is done on short skis, which are very easy to manoeuvre, and is very easy to learn. You can go anywhere and it is great fun. It’s easy to turn, even 360°, as you slalom between the trees. However, it is less stable than ordinary skis and it’s not meant for speed. But it’s worth trying, especially for very new beginners.

Off-piste skiing
Far from being limited to expert skiers, you can take off-piste lessons suited to your level of ability. Even if you are pretty nifty on skis, why not try a session that really pushes you to the limits? A tutor who respects the rules of mountain safety can take you to the edge of off-pisting.

Everyone feeling a bit cocky, or even just curious on the slopes, has tried veering of the piste to test the untouched snow to the side. Off-pisting is more than this, and includes learning techniques to deal with constantly changing snow surfaces, as well as safety precautions.

Cross-country skiing (ski de fond)
Far from being a marginal activity, thousands of enthusiasts go cross-country skiing in the French massifs every day in winter. This activity combines the pleasures of a slow, contemplative ascent, far from the noisy equipment of the resorts, and downhill skiing in protected, natural surroundings.

Rando surfing
Inspired from cross country hiking on skis (where you stick “sealskins” under the skis to walk and climb without sliding back down). “Rando” surfing consists in climbing on foot, in snowshoes or with crampons, carrying the surfboard on your back to reach the desired spot where the virgin snow awaits the surfer’s new tracks. Clearly, rando surfing gives you glorious walks with the added pleasure of the long descents. But be warned, you have to be in good physical condition for the upward climb.
In America, it’s being used to combat obesity in school kids. Snowboarders have found snowshoes useful in getting to those off-piste powder bowls and mountaineers use them when the snow is too soft for crampons.

However, seeing nature in her winter glory must be one of the best reasons for snowshoeing - the early morning sparkle from sunlight on crystal; following fresh tracks of the hare or fox; the trance-inducing scenery touched by winter conditions.

Dog sledding
Riding in dog sleds, one of the oldest forms of transport in Arctic countries, is coming back into fashion. The sleds are well adapted to the many open spaces of the massifs. Connect with the wonderful and beautiful huskies in a complete change of surroundings!

Ice driving
The ice driving circuit in the resort of Flaine is a technical course that is 1,000m long and 10m - 15m wide, replicating the challenges of a mountain road. The School for Driving on Ice welcomes over 4,000 pupils from December to March and provides fully-equipped cars for thrill-seekers.

The French resort of Val Thorens is home to the longest toboggan run in Europe. It is 6km long and drops 700m in altitude. From the foot of the awe-inspiring glacier of Péclet, the run takes a whopping 45 minutes to complete and is open to adults and children over eight years old.

Brilliant fun - anyone can drive one and choose how fast or slow they want to go. The skidoo can zoom up slippery slopes that seem too steep but the scariest bit is going downhill as there’s less control. Everyone should try it once! Skidoo rides are available at ski resorts across France.

Ice diving
Explore the watery world beneath a frozen lake via a hole in the ice and under the guidance of a qualified diving instructor. All equipment is provided, including a dry suit, tank and mask. You don't need any diving experience and will remain at a depth of around three metres for about 20 minutes.

This article first appeared on FrenchEntrée.com

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