An adventure in the Haute Maurienne

7th January 2018, by Abi Butcher

Ski touring in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise last Easter. Pic: Tristan Kennedy

Ski touring in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise last Easter. Pic: Tristan Kennedy

As well as web editor of Where to Ski and Snowboard, I am a freelance travel writer for national newspapers and magazines and during the ski season my job involves getting on planes sometimes almost week in, week out. Not great for the environment, my energy levels nor leaving my dog – a large Rhodesian Ridgeback called Thala, whose second home until now has been with my parents on their farm while I am away. So this winter, I decided to move out to the Alps, hoping that by basing myself in the mountains I will be able to ski more and travel much less — and never without Thala.

A view over Le Bourget down the Maurienne Valley

My base for the winter is a little village called Le Bourget, at the bottom of the Haute Maurienne Vanoise. The Maurienne valley runs parallel to the Tarentaise valley, close to the Italian border. I first came here last March, on a ski touring trip (which you can read about here on the Daily Telegraph website) and fell in love with the place. It might be close to the Tarentaise but it’s a different world — an area owned and run by farmers and local families with a scattering of small ski resorts including Val Cenis, Bonneval-sur-Arc and La Norma. Further down the Maurienne is Orelle, the fabled “fourth valley” in the Trois Vallées ski area, and even further across is Valloire. I’ll be basing most of my skiing in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise, for which you can buy the Eskimo Pass (a ski pass covering five different bus-linked resorts and 300km of pistes) for just €165 for six days. There are very few Brits in the valley, and few tour operators service the British market – one of the exceptions being Peak Retreats, who have given me a lot of help in finding my way out here.

While each of these resorts are wonderful family-friendly, low-key places, I particularly love the endless possibilities for backcountry adventures in this place. The valley is a snowy pocket that is currently, as I type, benefitting from a weather phenomenon called Retour d’Est that hits only the Haute Maurienne Vanoise and Val d’Isère (read more about it here on The snow stays cold on its many north-facing slopes and unlike such resorts as Chamonix and Verbier you don’t fight for first tracks. We skied five days after the last snowfall just before Easter and I had some of the best powder conditions of my entire season — with fresh tracks each and every time.

Sunshine in Orelle on Saturday 6 January — but windy at the top

After a return visit to find a place this summer and confirm to myself that this friendly valley was a good one for the winter, I sold my estate car and splashed out on a VW Transporter to bring me, my dog and all my kit down here. I spent most of December insulating and converting my van with the help various friends and, equipped with snow chains, snow tyres and more ski kit than I know what to do with, Thala the dog, my friend Toby and I set off from my home town of Lymington, Hampshire on 3 January. A good sleep in a cosy cabin on the overnight service from Portsmouth to Caen with Brittany Ferries, eight-hour drive, and we arrived — amid a storm.

The weather cleared yesterday for us to ski Orelle — sunny south-facing slopes protected from winds that were howling around Val Thorens — enjoying run after run on empty pistes followed by an après-ski drink in the Bar Des 4 Vallées. A glass of wine here set me back €1.50 — another reason why I’ve chosen to live in the Maurienne for the winter: it won’t be breaking the bank.

Today we’ve skied La Norma, it’s raining low down (the resort is set at 1350m) but snowy up top (summit is 2750m). Toby did laps on his snowboard while Thala and I skinned up the special itinerary set aside for randonée, a pretty tree-lined path that reminded me how unfit I have become, running around for weeks trying to get everything done instead of putting in crucial time at the gym.

Me and Thala in La Norma, Sunday 7 January

So throughout the season I’ll be writing regular blogs (no doubt shooting myself in the foot by sharing my love for this valley and the people who live and ski here) and hopefully encouraging others to venture here. Currently, it’s dumping outside – we have the Retour d’Est bringing up to 2m of snow between now and Wednesday morning. What a season to choose to live in the Alps!

For more information on the Haute Maurienne Vanoise, visit and

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