A secret the French have long kept to themselves, the four linked villages that make up Massif des Aravis are destined to be discovered. The pretty, rustic French villages of the Haute-Savoie where the velvety Reblochon cheese has been produced for centuries seep charm and one ski pass covers some 150 pistes no more than a short chair ride away from the heart of each. With easy access to Massif des Aravis from Geneva and plenty to do on and off the slopes, this haute getaway in the French Alps should be on your list of must-ski destinations.
Ski what?! That was our reaction too when we saw ski joering on our Massif des Aravis Ski Resorts itinerary.
Basically, a horse pulls you on your skis across the French Alps. Think water-skiing, but with a horse instead of a boat and snow instead of water. It’s newer to France, but is actually a centuries old tradition that comes from Sweden where farmers would use their horses and skis to transport things.
Don’t worry. The guide won’t send you off into the mountains with just a galloping horse and your skis. Ski joering is actually pretty simple as long as you can keep your skis straight. Aside from that, you just need to hold on alongside your guide and enjoy the ride.
With a shout of “C’est parti!” you’ll soon be pulled across the snow by a beautiful fjord horse from Norway for a unique experience you can only get in a few places in France: Alpe d’Huez, Chamonix and La Clusaz.
Ski joering with Aravis Passion in La Clusaz starts from €29 for 30 minutes.
If strapping on some skis or a snowboard and hurtling down a mountain isn’t your idea of a good time, there are other ways to enjoy the French Alps. Snowshoeing is an excellent work out and you can enjoy some spots that you just can’t get to even when back-country skiing.
I must admit I was a little concerned as I strapped on my snowshoes alongside my guide, Fred. As we chatted about the French Alps and Mont Blanc, which you can see peeking over the Aravis range on clear days, he casually said, “I’ve lost track how many times I’ve summited Mont Blanc. I stopped counting after the hundredth time.” I knew I was in for a workout, but Fred took it fairly easy on me and we climbed a switchback route up the mountain.
We took the ridge and then worked our way down to some of the snow-covered Reblochon cheese caves dotting the mountainside. Fred often spots some of France’s wildlife like rabbits, fox and the occasional wolf. We saw tracks, but no animals on our snowshoe hike. Back up on the ridge, he had a thermos of hot tea and it totally hit the spot. As darkness began to descend, we made our way back down toward La Clusaz and I couldn’t believe we’d been out for three hours already. Even though it was cloudy, it was still a gorgeous snowshoe and an excellent alternative way to explore the mountains.
Guided snowshoeing with Aravis Guides is €18 per person for 1/2 day.
Ski and Snowboard
With only two full days to enjoy the area, we aren’t able to explore all four ski areas that make up Massif des Aravis Ski Resorts. We did explore two of the four ski areas: La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand.
La Clusaz is home to 132 kilometers of ski pistes easily serviced by the 52 lifts. There are 190 snow cannons for the area, so you can be assured snow all winter long.
Tim’s ski guide for the day was from Evolution 2, one of the boutique guiding companies in the area. Most of the guides are from the nearby villages, so it’s great to know you’re going to be with a guide that is knowledgeable about the area. They explored some of the off-piste skiing that La Clusaz has to offer.
While Tim may be confident in his on-piste abilities, off-piste skiing is not yet his forte. Tim’s guide had some great pointers for him and helped him navigate the off-piste terrain. With five mountains that make up the La Clusaz ski area, it is definitely an attraction for those seeking time off the main pistes.
Tim’s favorite part about La Clusaz is the number of slope-side ski chalets and the convenience of being able to ski right to your hotel’s doorstep is awesome.
Much to our delight about a foot of snow fell overnight just in time for our day exploring Le Grand Bornand ski area. With 90 kilometers of ski runs serviced by 30 modern lifts there is plenty of skiing to be had.
While the off piste skiing in La Clusaz seemed a little higher than Tim’s ability level, that didn’t seem to be the case for him in Le Grand Bornand. His ski instructor from ESF showed him some great off-piste areas that were more of an intermediate level.
While Tim was improving his off-piste ski abilities, I was having my very first snowboard lesson. My snowboard instructor was fantastic and he had me up and riding down a tiny beginner hill in no time. It didn’t take much time to figure out I’m “goofy,” meaning I ride with my right foot forward as opposed to my left (regular). We worked on balance and stability with a number of exercises like small jumps and touching my toes while boarding without falling. It gave me the confidence that I could control my board by righting my body and I pretty much got over my fear of falling.
I had my first big wipe out when we got to learning turns and I sure was glad for all the fresh powder that fell over night. I think it saved my bum from some bruising. I actually only fell twice during my three hour lesson, so I was pretty proud of myself.
Snowboard lessons are hard work. There’s a lot of getting yourself off the ground, both from strapping on your board and from getting back up from those falls. It’s exhausting. I couldn’t quite master the right turn, mostly because my legs were just tired by the end of my lesson. But my instructor made it fun and I couldn’t wait to take some more lessons so I can hit the slopes.
Le Grand Bornand is also home to one of the best snowparks in France, equipped with jumps, a half-pipe and numerous rails to grind on if that’s your fancy. First I’ve got to graduate from snowboard school and actually successfully complete some regular hills. Maybe someday…
The resorts have a small town feel to them and Tim felt like he had the slopes to himself skiing during the week. With plenty of restaurants and some local bars Massif des Aravis Ski Resorts have a nice après-ski atmosphere and would be a great area to explore for a week-long stay.
I don’t know about you other skiers, but we get tired! Especially on a multi-day ski trip, it’s nice to have other activities to do. The weekly market, which rotates through the towns each day, was a fantastic way to spend a few hours. And French markets just always seem better than anywhere else.
Maybe it’s because French markets are so much about the food. The smells of freshly baked bread hit your nose before you spy the baguette poking out of a basket, smoked sausages wafting through the streets, and the stinkier the cheese the better. Piles of Reblochon were stacked and clearly the most popular food stall was the one with the line snaking practically to the ski lifts.
Of course, you can find other things besides food. I’m always astounded at how inexpensive the basket-bags are and I found an awesome tartiflette baking dish with the recipe inside.
The weekly market is from 8am – 12pm in La Clusaz on Mondays, Le Grand Bornand on Wednesdays, and St-Jean-de-Sixt on Sundays.
It is a good thing I don’t like in Rhone-Alpes because this region of France sure does like their cheese, especially in winter. And I cannot resist all the delicious cheese! Many dishes are made with the Reblochon cheese that comes from the area and some dishes to try while on your Lake Annecy Ski holiday are:
We discovered this delicious dish just recently, though the French have been consuming it since at least 1705 when it was first mentioned in the book Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois. It’s sort of like a very, very cheesy potato gratin made with Reblochon cheese, potatoes, ham and onions. It’s the perfect hot, steaming meal after you’ve spent a few hours on the slopes.
Where to try it: the best tartiflette we’ve had yet (and trust us when we say we’ve taste-tested quite a few) is at Hotel La Croix Saint-Maurice in Le Grand Bornand.
If you think tartiflette sounds like a cheesy feast you can hardly move after, let us introduce you to Reblochonade. It’s a traditional dish from the Savoyard heritage that is more like a Thanksgiving feast designed to be shared. The Reblochon cheese again takes center stage, this time melting into a velvety gooiness you dip all sorts of side accompaniments into. The Reblochon is in a pan and you put it in the fire to let it melt, taking it out to scrape off the melted top layer. Beef is cooked right at the table on top of the grill. And then there are all the sides – boiled potatoes (that you of course put the melted Reblochon on), potato gratin, poletna, leek gratin, french fries…I hope you’re ready to ski that meal off afterward!
Where to try it: La Ferme is a traditional French farm chalet with a panoramic view over the village. Eating Reblochonade here feels like stepping back in time.
I love truffles, both of the fungus and chocolate variety. But this time I’m talking about the kind that grow in the ground. When in season, they are delicious shaved over pasta, beef, or even eggs. Eating them just feels so luxurious. Black truffle shaved over a steak with truffle cream sauce was like heaven on a plate.
Where to try it: La Caleche, meaning The Carriage, is a remodeled farm house right in the heart of La Clusaz by the church. The atmosphere charming, the food delicious, and they have a chocolate fondue on their dessert menu that is to die for.
Diots de Savoie
Diots are a very typical pork sausage from the Haute-Savoie that is simmer fried with onions and white wine. It’s a simple, yet delicious meal that is perfect before more strenuous winter activities like snowshoeing.
Where to try it: the Hotel La Croix Saint-Maurice in Le Grand Bornand has a very delicious diot on their lunch menu.
Where to Stay
We really enjoyed our stay in La Clusaz at the Hotel Les Sapins. The hotel is steps away from the center of La Clusaz, yet set above with a beautiful view of the village. The ski lifts are literally outside the hotel’s door, so you can ski right up to the doorstep.
Know Before You Go
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