An inventive family Christmas in La Clusaz

7th January 2016, by Ben Moore

Thin snow cover in La Clusaz lead to an inventive family holiday

Thin snow cover in La Clusaz lead to an inventive family holiday

Picture this. I’ve just got off a chairlift on Manigod, one of the five linked peaks that make up the Lake Annecy Ski Resorts area at La Clusaz. At the start of the piste in front is a bright orange banner marked ‘FAIBLE ENNEIGEMENT’ or thin snow cover. It’s Christmas Day. There’s a cloudless blue sky and big warm sun. This wasn’t the Christmas ski week we expected!

Of course we weren’t alone – resorts, tour operators and many other skiers also felt the pain between the 19 and 26 of December after really poor snowfall to start the season. However it turned into one of the best family holidays we’ve had.

Our boys are 13 and 11 but they still love the magic of Christmas. They wanted to take their own Christmas tree and decorations to make our Crystal Ski La Residence apartment as festive as possible. This gave me an additional car packing challenge, with tree and wrapped presents to squeeze in around the normal ski gear.

La Clusaz is a picture-perfect resort, chiseled out of a valley, blessed with a pretty church spire and normally caked in the white stuff. But in 2015, this Christmas scene had been painted using a palette of brown, green and a little dab of white.

You could see the resort had worked tirelessly to get as many runs as possible open. But the reality was less than a third of pistes were open.

The ski area immediately above the village centre is called l’Aiguille and can be reached using gondolas from near the ice rink and the church. There are beginner greens and a snow park, while up higher is a choice of reds and a long blue through the trees to the bottom of the Balme area.

Massif de Balme is the playground of local freestyle skier and filmmaker Candide Thovex. His house overlooks the imposing ridge of mountains and the runs, lifts and restaurants in Balme star in his movie One of Those Days 2.

It’s a mix of reds and blacks and off piste areas set against exposed rock faces. Balme spends most of the day in the shade so it tends to offer the best snow in La Clusaz. But even it suffered. The shady situation meant pistes became hard-packed and icy very quickly.

So with the skiing limited, we grabbed the opportunity to fill the void with a few of the great alternatives La Clusaz has to offer.

First up was e-biking. The friendly guys at Evolution 2 saddled us up with mean-looking Scott mountain bikes fitted with a battery-powered motor, which enhances your own pedalling power. It comes with five settings from Eco to Turbo that you can switch through as you ride. At first it’s a slightly weird sensation but you soon get used to how it works and it becomes your best friend when you’re going uphill!

As part of our route we rode up to the far end of the valley to Lac des Confins. The hairpin bends climbing up to the lake gave us all a chance to go into Turbo mode. Confins is the Ski de Fond centre of La Clusaz and once there we played around with the bikes on the snowy and icy terrain.

We were a little saddle sore afterwards so it was great to head to the municipal swimming pool. Set into the hillside the complex has an indoor pool, Jacuzzi and sauna, but the big draw card is the heated outdoor pool that looks out over the resort and the ski area.

Later in the week we found ourselves back at Lac des Confins, swapping our all-mountain skis for the skinnier Nordic ones and a spot of Biathlon.

Our ESF instructor gave a great beginners’ guide to the Nordic skiing technique and then we were off on laps of a half kilometre track. There were plenty of laughs – nothing brings a smile to childrens’ faces more than seeing mum and dad falling over and looking like Bambi on skis trying to get up.

We also had to learn to control our breathing and heartbeat at the end of each lap, in order to lie down with skis on and successfully shoot five small targets using a laser rifle. For each target missed you had to ski around a circle of cones as a penalty.

As the sun set on the La Clusaz valley, we were set a team relay challenge. We were up against three French families in a race – complete one lap, shoot five targets, then tag your next skier. Team GB came home in bronze medal place. A really fun way to end a less than normal family Christmas skiing holiday.

Ben Moore is founder and editor of Parallel Trails

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