Riding a piste basher in Serre Chevalier

29th May 2018, by Sheila Reid

Sheila’s piste basher ready for action

Sheila’s piste basher ready for action

I’ve been going to Serre Chevalier every year since I first came across it while doing research for Where to Ski and Snowboard about 10 years ago.

I’ve skied most of the intermediate slopes, been to the spa in Monêtier many times and even had a guided tour round the old town of Briançon. But I’d never been on the piste basher trip that the resort offers. So this year I decided to tick that box.

So on the Thursday evening of our stay, nine intrepid travellers met our driver at 5.30pm at the Fréjus gondola in Villeneuve – we were three Brits and six French.

Unfortunately it had been the snowiest day of our week and it was still snowing as we hopped in the back of the piste basher so, sadly, visibility was not the greatest. However, that did not deter the high spirits of our fellow travellers or the excitement of the trip, as we trundled up and down slopes we’d skied many times, grooming the runs ready for the next day.

It was weird ‘driving’ or bumping along on some of our favourite slopes, such as Myrtilles, Fangeas, Marteau and Vallons, instead of skiing down them. You need to wear a seat belt as you can be thrown around a bit but that’s all part of the fun.

Amazingly, we covered a huge amount of the area, travelling up from Villeneuve across to Chantemerle and on to the top of Briançon, where we stopped to view the sunset – only we couldn’t see it because of the snow that evening! The driver told me it is usually magnificent – I had to take his word.

Then we headed back to Chantemerle and dinner at the Serre Ratier hotel, one of the few hotels that you can stay in on the mountain. Dinner was cheese fondue and ice cream with lashings of wine, apéritifs du chalet and génépi to finish.

The driver joined us for dinner and answered questions about piste bashing – but you do need to be able to speak some French.

The hotel is charming with 12 bedrooms. The residents’ dinning and sitting rooms are cosy with a log fire and verandah with great views in good weather.

Then it was back into the piste basher and ‘home’ to Villeneuve. There is room for one person up beside the driver and he stops at intervals on the mountain to allow everyone to take a turn beside him. That is one of the best parts of the trip as you really get a feel of what it is like to be a ‘pistie’.

As darkness falls, it is an amazing feeling being on the slopes after everyone else has descended.

Take your pick from four outings a week: sunrise and breakfast on the mountain on a Tuesday (€34), sunset and dinner on a Tuesday and Thursday (€56) and see the night shift at work on a Wednesday (€31). Places are limited, so it’s best to book in advance either online at www.skipass-serrechevalier.com or the day before at the lift pass office in the village you’re staying in.

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