Monday, March 18, 2013

My POV: Skiing in the Alps

Before I went skiing in the Alps in the area of Portes du Soleil, I was really curious about what it was like compared to the Rockies. If you read my blog posts on my experiences with skiing in the Rockies (here and here), you know that I have not been to very many places. I was nervous heading to France that I was not going to enjoy it much because I To give those of you an idea who are also curious what it is like, this post might be right up your alley!

1.) Color Coding of the Slopes
-Greens in the Alps- The Greens in the Alps are like the easy greens in the Rockies. We went down maybe two of these in the very beginning and realized that it was pretty impossible for Luke the Snowboarder to go anywhere. They are really flat.
-Blues in the Alps- The Blues in the Alps have a wide... very wide... very very wide range. They range from what would be a normal green in the Rockies all the way to a blue in the Rockies. I assume that what makes the easy ones a Blue is because those runs lead to more difficult ones, so they make sure an inexperienced skier doesn't get stuck on a tough slope. Sometimes these blues can be pretty narrow also. We came across moguls every once in a while, but luckily they weren't too bad. They really should break down the Blue slopes by category (like they do in Crested Butte) to be something like "Blue", "Double Blue", etc.
-Reds in the Alps- These are a little steeper than the Blues in the Alps, but they are much longer. I guess I would consider these to be like Double Blues in the Rockies. The steep part is for much longer, so there aren't many flatter areas to take a rest. Occasionally, you will find moguls. We didn't do many of these because we had 6 days and didn't want to push it too much. Some Reds may have been similar to a Black in the Rockies.
-Blacks in the Alps- Most Blacks in the Alps had moguls. They were usually about as steep and long as a Red but included moguls. Some Blacks may be similar to a double black in the Rockies, but I think most of those were closed.
The blue sign is what the signs look like while going down a slope.
2.) Signs on the Slopes
At the top of a lift, the names on the signs usually told you the direction to the next lift rather than the direction of the slope. So when beginning, you had to know which lift you were heading to next and then follow the lift name on the signs while going down. The name of the slope you were on was in smaller writing on the lift name sign, so you really couldn't even see it from far away. Signs for lift names were located at points where slopes split off into a few different runs.
While going down a run, signs were posted with the slope name, slope color and also how far you are to the end of the run (see picture above). I liked the numbers because you could tell when you were close to the bottom or if you still had a long way to go. The signs counted down and were spaced anywhere from 25yds to 100yds.
'Proclou' is the name of a lift. It shows blue because that is the color of the slope to get to the lift.
The black pictures shows what kind of lift it is.
You can also see really small print which is the name of the run to get to the lift.
3.) Lift Passes
Our lift passes gave us access to the whole area of Portes du Soleil, but we could have ordered passes for access to only one mountain base for a cheaper price. The price for our all mountain lift passes were approximately 41 a day (approx $53). Comparing that to Crested Butte Mountain where the same type of pass at the same time in the season would be approximately $65. It was cheaper!
Lift passes were hands-free, so you can put the card into your pocket and never have to pull it out again. Each lift had an access point where you walked up and rubbed that pocket against a scanning device, and then the turnstile let you pass after it read your pass.
4.) Avalanches
I hadn't really seen any areas where an avalanche had occurred before being in the Alps. I know in Crested Butte, they create their own avalanches to prevent them from happening while skiers are on the mountain. In the Alps, we saw a few places where an avalanche had already occurred and another was ready to fall. At that point, we saw mountain patrol putting up fences along a ski run in case the avalanche went onto the slope.
5.) Lifts and Lift Lines (a couple of different points here)
The lines were ridiculous! People do not know how to wait... don't know if it is the French or the British or the Swiss, but whoever it was obviously was not taught how to queue. We would be standing in line and someone would just come shoving their way up next to you. And then because of that, they would usually end up in front of you in line. Actually, the word "line" shouldn't even be used here because there was no line. It was just a crowd of people inching their way forward as quickly as possible without caring who may or may not have been waiting before you. It was pretty much guaranteed that we would be sitting next to a stranger on every lift because it was really difficult to get us all on together. We actually got all 6 of us together at one point... not sure how that happened!
To get on to each lift, you had to scan your lift pass. Even if you were on the top of a mountain, going up just a little bit farther, you had to scan your pass and go through a turnstile. There was no assuming that because you had made it that far up that you had paid.
There are a ton of lifts! It seemed that pretty much every single slope had its own lift. It wasn't the type of mountain where you could go up a lift, then ski down one run, make your way to another run, another run and then be at the bottom of a lift where you could take a few different routes to get to the same lift. It was mostly ski down the one and only route to get to this lift. We did just about as much skiing as we did sitting on lifts. There are pros and cons to this... lifts always give you a good break and cool you down, BUT waiting in the lift lines was not fun.
There are four lifts in this picture all going to the same base.
Many lifts from the town to the main base are bubble lifts (indoor gondolas that usually hold 6 people). They are used rather than chair lifts because non-skiers can take them up the mountain to get to the 'base' or area with a bunch of restaurants just to hang out for the day.
Inside a bubble lift. Skis are placed in holders on the outside, and poles come inside the lift with you.
One of the areas with about 5 different places to eat.
The Alpians (I made that up) are big big big fans of button lifts aka drag lifts or what James likes to call lollipops. We avoided them the whole trip, but decided to make our last lift a button lift. They are not as difficult as they seem, but you don't really get a rest like you do on a chair lift. (I'll be the third to post this video.)
Last point on the lifts - If you didn't put the lift bar down, you would get yelled at. The previous times I had been skiing, we would put the bar down maybe half of the time. Not here. If you were on the lift for more than 5 seconds and you hadn't pulled the bar down, you would get a "blooblooblaahbloo, s'il vous plait!!" which apparently means, "pull down the bar, please!!" There was also one lift we went on that had an automatic bar. It went down within the first 5 seconds and then went up just 5 seconds before getting off of it. The chairs also had high backs... I could have fallen asleep on that baby.
6.) Mini Skiers
I don't feel that there were as many little ones on the slopes as I have seen in the Rockies. By little ones, I mean like 2-3 years old. I saw quite a few that were 4-6 years old, but not as many of the super tiny ones which is the most adorable thing to watch. When we did see little ones, they were usually part of ski school and part of the long line of ducklings. I don't feel there were as many that skied down the tougher slopes on their own like I have seen in the Rockies. I also saw quite a few young children skiing with poles which is not something I have really seen before (and actually I saw quite a few adults without poles). Just an observation.
Speaking of Ski School - For our group, ski school was not at the very bottom of the mountain. They had to go up the main lift (bubble lift) to get to the 'base' area where ski school was located.
7.) Powder
I can't really say if the powder was different than the Rockies. It hadn't snowed for a week, so there were definitely many icy patches, but that's to be expected without snowfall. A freshly groomed slope was definitely a little difficult to go down because you were basically skiing on groomed ice. We could definitely tell the difference of the powder from one side of a mountain to the next which all depended on which side of the mountain the sun shined.
8.) Mountain Views
Last but not least, the views while on top of a mountain were SPECTACULAR! Maybe it was the fact that I knew where I was - in the Alps - and it was just awesome to see the mountains all around me. Endless mountain tops that I don't think I ever "saw" while in the Rockies - again maybe I was a bit biased. There was one point where Falene, Julia and I were skiing down and all three of us saw this amazing view that forced us all to stop and take pictures. We did this without saying a word to each other. It was kinda funny! We stood there for a few minutes just looking at the view. Beautiful!
The girls saw something 'sparkly' and had to stop for a picture!
I enjoyed skiing in the Alps despite my love for Mount Crested Butte. Like I said, just being in the Alps was a really great experience. Bucket list item for sure! Since Luke and I both enjoy the sport, we would love to make skiing an annual trip whether it's in the Rockies, the Alps, Japan, Norway, wherever (I may have just given him a heart attack because it is so expensive to ski). If you're into it also, maybe we can go together some day! (If you are still reading... thanks for putting up with my extremely long post!)

If you have skied in the Rockies in the States and in the Alps, what other things do you find different?

Other posts on skiing in Portes du Soleil: Post 1, Post 2

FACTS OF PORTES DU SOLEIL: (taken from Wikipedia)
Top Elevation of 2466 meters (8,090 feet)
280 total runs (149 easy, 105 intermediate, 26 difficult)
201 total lifts (106 of them are drag lifts)
10 terrain parks
694 snowmaking cannons



  1. How about the views? Which was prettier? I might use this for my Travel RoundUp post next month.

    1. The Alps! (But really it's probably comparable.) I may only be saying the Alps because I felt like I was dreaming while up top... letting my emotions get the best (or worst) of me. The flight into Geneva was REALLY cool though!

  2. Interesting to read a direct comparison from someone who's skied both. I always thought the Alps were more dramatic mountains than the Rockies.

  3. Wow. It's very comprehensive. Would love to go here soon. Thanks!

  4. Skiing was one thing that I wanted to do while I was there and didn't get a chance to do. Jealous!

    french ski


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