France’s secret off-piste skiing spot

24th January 2018, by Abi Butcher

No fights on a powder day: what's not to like about skiing in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise?

No fights on a powder day: what's not to like about skiing in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise?

Fred Buttard founded UpGuides with his business partner Victor Charon in 2012, but qualified as an IFMGA mountain guide in 2005, spending eight years working in Chamonix and four years in Val d’Isere. He explains his love of the Haute Maurienne Vanoise.

“The Maurienne is my home valley, I have a really special feeling for it, but if you look at it rationally, and compare it to Chamonix or Val d’Isère, it’s like those places were 30 years ago,” he says.

The Haute Maurienne Vanoise sits in the northern French Alps, running parallel to the Tarentaise Valley — home to the likes of Alpe d’Huez, Val d’Isère and the Les Trois Vallees — but with a fraction of the tourists or the infrastructure. Glance up at the mountains and you see trees, rock faces and crystal-white peaks, not a criss-cross of chairlifts and high-rise buildings. There are a mere handful or Brits — those who have come to the valley and stayed for the love of it — but no “seasonaires”. The Haute Maurienne Vanoise is owned and run by the people who live here and farm the land — ESF instructors who get up at 5am to milk their cows before going to work on the slopes for the day.

While it’s a wonderfully family-friendly ski area, gentle slopes and home runs, the longest green run in the world and careful skiers, the reason Fred chose to return to the Haute Maurienne Vanoise to set up his business is freeride options here — on empty mountains.

“The skiing here is not so different from Chamonix or Val d’Isère. I’d be lying if I said the runs are as long, or there are as many couloirs as in Chamonix, but there is so much to do here — I’m not ashamed of what we this valley has to offer,” he says.

“People these days are so focused on big and high mountains, but mountains like that are not best for skiing — they’re affected by high winds and bad weather and so you can’t access all the time. Smaller mountains make much more sense for skiers”

Crucially, adds Fred, there’s no fight in the Maurienne for powder: “You can take it easy, start your day with a coffee instead of a fight in the lift queue and to be first on the slopes. I have crazy memories from Val d’Isere, when you had only one chance after a nice dump of good snow for fresh tracks.”

Maurienne local: Fred Buttard, founder of Upguides

So what are some of the best lines in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise?

“We have a lot of great skiing accessible from the lift with just a short climb. The first line I’d have Col des Hautes in Aussois, 300m vertical of climbing and 1600m of skiing down, a really good ratio,” says Fred. “It’s north-east, with the pitch beginning around 35-40 degrees, getting slowly less steep with really nice and relaxed skiing all the way down to the village.”

“My second choice would be Le Grand Vallon in Valfrejus, which again is a really good combination of just a short walk from the lift over a ridge, from where you can ski down into a huge bowl. It’s not really steep but it has some really good skiing – you finish the run towards the valley where there is a really steep slope to exit.”

On top of the skiing here, Italy is just a short drive through the Frejus tunnel says Fred.
“When the conditions are good we try to go to Italy – that’s what’s really magic here, it’s two different worlds, it can be white and cold on one side of the tunnel and green and warm on the other. Conditions can be so different it gives us even more option”

As well as excellent skiing opportunities, the prices in the Haute Maurienne Vanoise are much cheaper than surrounding areas. Hotels, restaurants, food and lift pass for the area’s five main resorts are a fraction of the cost of the mega resorts just over the Vanoise national park.

But by telling people, are we not going to ruin its charm? Fred says it’s a conflict — locals want to keep it a secret, but in the same moment everyone in the valley makes their living from tourism (it’s a huge cycling area in the summer, with the Col de L’Iseran at the neck of the valley). Having watched the Tarentaise growing so fast, Fred says locals are “waking up” a little and making the most of the positives the Haute Maurienne Vanoise has to offer.

“It’s too late and useless to compete with the Tarentaise but tourism here is growing at a nice pace — we don’t have high-rise buildings, there are big lift expansion projects and we are all happy to see people coming,” he explains. “We know the terrain here is so big that we have room here for a lot more people.”

Prices with Upguides start from €80 a day to join a group (of no more than six), €380 for a private day; €270 for a half day. For more information visit For more information on the Haute Maurienne Vanoise visit

Back to features

Recent features

Popular features

Share |