An Italian wind takes charge in Val Cenis

17th March 2015, by Chris Gill

One of the brighter periods on Monday - but you can see the cloud spilling over from Italy

One of the brighter periods on Monday - but you can see the cloud spilling over from Italy

Nik and I are now at the half-way point of our tour of Maurienne valley resorts (plus a final couple of days in the Trois Vallées to give us a benchmark). We’ve just completed two short days in Val Cenis. More properly called Val Cenis Vanoise, which is the ski area linking Lanslevillard, Lanslebourg and Termignon (plus various suburbs) in the Haute Maurienne, the high part of the valley east of Modane and the Fréjus tunnels to Italy.

Short days? I hear you cry. Well, we do have work to do, not least these blogs. But the determining factor in pushing us off the mountain before closing time has been the Lombarde. No, I hadn’t heard of it, either.

The Lombarde is a bone-chilling, often snow-bearing wind from the east, roughly, that spills over from Italy – particularly over the Col du Mont Cenis, a low point in the Alpine range bang in the middle of the Val Cenis slopes. The name’s a bit unfair, given that the part of Italy over the watershed from here is Piemonte, not Lombardia. I guess the Piemontese call it the Lombarde; as far as they are concerned, it comes from Lombardia.

Anyway, the last couple of days have been a bit challenging on the chilly chair-ride front, and at altitude also on the visibility front. On Sunday the upper slopes were seriously inhospitable, with some lifts closed, confining us to a series of excellent reds through the forest to the villages – the Bois des Coqs to Termignon particularly impressed me. The bad weather delivered only marginal improvement to the generally hard pistes.

But over Sunday night the upper slopes of Val Cenis got a useful dump, so on Monday there was more to enjoy. We were again put off the very highest lifts, but the chairlifts above mid-mountain took us to some lovely powder on the pistes and on safe slopes beside them. The slopes under the slow Plan Cardinal chair included some thigh-deep stashes, still virgin at lunchtime.

(Which prompts me to issue a safety reminder. If you find a piste closed and are tempted to duck the rope, consider the possibility that it is closed because of avalanche danger. The Arcelle red here was closed for this reason on Monday, yet people were skiing it. The amount of snow stored on the leeward slopes rising 1000m above this piste doesn’t bear thinking about.)

Val Cenis has something everybody, including superb green runs at Lanslevillard and from the Col, but it won’t keep keen piste bashers happy for a week. It is easily accessed by car, and if you have one you can make outings elsewhere in the Maurienne.

Peak Retreats had arranged for us to stay in an apartment in CGH’s excellent, nearly new Chalets de Flambeau, at Les Champs, one of the minor resort elements – a long walk or short drive from villagey Lanslevillard, further from towny Lanslebourg. It has its own short chairlift into the lower slopes. Personally I’d rather be in a proper resort, but nothing’s perfect.

The CGH formula has flaws, too – if you were filling a flat to capacity, you might wish for more loos and more hooks on the walls – but we were very comfortable here. Readers rave about the pool, which we weren’t able to try because of the common French ban on shorts-style swimmers.

Now we’re quitting the Haute Maurienne to move down-valley, to Valloire above St-Michel, where we may escape the Lombarde.

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