Wclimbing the mountain is always a miracle; Pulling the curtains feels like looking at a blue screen of digitally enhanced, super-large peaks. Living just over an hour from the French Alps means I’m lucky enough to go often, but most of my recent trips have been to hone my (shaking) skiing skills, hopefully I don’t take out anyone, Gwyneth-style.
Briançon, Serre Chevalier Valley, is the highest city in France. It may seem far-fetched, but direct sleeper train service from Paris means visiting Britons can literally leave the office and wake up the next morning in the mountains. From my home in Lyon, the journey is a little less engaging – like sardines in the middle seat of a carpool.
In the face of climate change, skiing is increasingly controversial. A booster seat consumes energy faster than a bunch of thirsty Britons consuming demi-pêches (one ski lift uses as much energy in one month as it takes to power 3.8 homes for one year); Diesel-powered groomers prepare the slopes every night, and trees are often cut down to make room for runs. Brown bears have been completely exterminated in the Alps And a quarter of flowers in the Alps are in danger of disappearing. Many people would be right to think that the ski industry is over, but do we need to mix up our mountain activities?
Serre Chevalier has broken with tradition since 1941 when, in the middle of World War II, the valley installed France’s first mechanical ski lift. It’s been modernized several times over the 80-odd years, but none has had as great a glow as in 2019, when the elevator got its first solar panel housing. Designed by local businessman Xavier DuPort, who owns Sunwind, they are virtually invisible to the eye and, combined with wind and hydro turbines, have reduced energy consumption by 8.5% (although people do We expect that number to increase to 30% by the end of the year).
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Unlike many others in our gondola, we will not be skiing down the mountain. mountain kart waiting for us, tricycles that looked sturdier than the Fisher Price model I used to roll freely around my elementary school playground. When going downhill, they went really fast and I almost fell three times. It’s fun, kid-friendly, and kart tours are also available in the summer.
Luckily, we didn’t need to pedal uphill anymore. The karts clip to the ski lifts and we follow them, this time down from a bird’s eye view, suspended over the zipline. The radar recorded my speed as I passed – 97km an hour, perhaps three times the speed I had achieved when I first learned to ski.
The changing face of the mountains is met with frank and anxious discussion here. Unlike many resorts, which are all closed out of season, the Serre Chevalier Valley is home to more than 16,000 permanent residents looking to protect their homes. Back with our feet on flat ground, we visit the geothermal spas at Currency-les-Bains. I was looking forward to a hedonistic afternoon surrounded by white peaks, cheerful mind blank. Instead, my interest was sparked by the spa’s new project – Les Grand Bains which built pipes between the hot water and the houses in the village. The project is in its infancy, but they hope it will heat 4,000 homes.
We made the journey by road to Les Saisies, but to visit Brits, a TGV (bullet train) runs between Paris and nearby Albertville, a 30-minute bus ride away. Downhill skiing is second to cross-country skiing here, which requires much less destructive infrastructure and habitats.
Snow backdrops are not exclusive to winter visitors. Les Saisies may be relatively low-key (1,657m) but framing the resort is the undisputed giant of the Alps: Mont Blanc. Local guide Helene Durand specializes in forest walks and yoga face-to-face with this iconic 4,807m peak, and we traversed the woods to the ramshackle old shepherd’s hut and a flat piece of land – ready to go. ready for our sun salutations. In this class, there is no need for incense or bowls of sound, the smell of pine and the sound of wind flowing through the forest have a much stronger spread. As a reluctant meditator, I am surprised to find myself more connected to this practice than I have ever been in the studio.
My trips to the Alps have historically been defined by two activities: skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. But this trip has shown me that I have barely scratched the surface of the activities the Alps have to offer; and they pay no price for the earth.
Travel for free to Serre Chevalier by Eurostar train to Paris, followed by Intercités de Nuit sleeper train to Briançon.
Hotel Le Grand is located almost on a ski lift in Serre Chevalier.
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