It might have just 11 lifts to its name, but France’s Bonneval-sur-Arc is laden with freeride-friendly areas, quiet slopes and the kind of alpine charm you just won’t find at its big-named neighbours, says Alf Alderson
As a ski resort Bonneval-sur-Arc is technically quite wee, with just 11 lifts, 25km of pistes and 1200m of vertical; but let’s stop there.
A ‘mere’ 1200m of vertical has its advantages when the resort in question sits at 1800m and its slopes are north facing
– and you’re not likely to be driving all the way to the Bonneval just to skoot around on 25km of pistes, because it’s a long drive to get here…
First, you head up into the Vanoise National Park from Modane on the French/Italy border, then head past Val Cenis, snaking along a high mountain road to get, eventually, to this little village, which is at the end of the road to nowhere.
I was here to have a poke around the freeride terrain beneath the glistening blue icefalls draped across the upper slopes of 3638m Mont Albaron. This swathe of powder and crags is readily accessed via the resort’s slightly rickety series of chairlifts. These culminate at the top of the 3000 chair (so named because this is its upper elevation) from where it’s a swift and easy traverse to some glorious powderfields.
That said, I was expecting them to be tracked out – it hadn’t snowed for several days and the Easter weekend had just been and gone, with its massed ranks getting in one last blast before summer.
Ha! Not a bit of it. With my mate Hugh, plus two local ski instructors, Veronique Boniface and Christian Batailli, we scored fresh tracks pretty much all day. And since that day was sunny (but cold due to Bonneval’s altitude and north-facing aspect) we could want for little else.
You don’t even necessarily need local knowledge to find great skiing here, as the bowl beneath Albaron is pretty obvious, as are many of the other freeride areas. You can scope them out as you ride up on the 3000 chair (which, being almost as old and creaky as me gives you plenty of time to pick your lines).
However, look higher up the mountains and you’ll see the trails of ski tourers heading off for the Italian border and other such exotic destinations. We didn’t have time to follow in their tracks, but I’ve been assured the touring here is a delight, provided you have a guide to show you the best and safest routes.
✨UNE JOURNÉE MAGIQUE ✨#endirect du paradis blanc! De la poudreuse pour faire sa trace, un temps magnifique et des paysages grandioses! 😍🎿💕😎 @herve_charrier Merci! 😃 #bonnevalsurarc #petitepepitedupurski #hautemaurienne #vanoise #savoiemontblanc #jeskiffe #skifuté #frenchalps #powder #powderday #freestyle #freeski #offpiste #stationvillage #skiresort #winter #sun #snow #ski #snowboard #winterishere #pictureoftheday #powderagogo #skipass
As is often the case with small ski resorts, the attraction of Bonneval-sur-Arc isn’t just in the skiing. When we stopped for lunch at the resort’s only mountain restaurant, we found the kind of buzzing, no-frills atmosphere that is so common in unpretentious little ski hills.
Restaurant Criou serves up good value, filling grub to a very local crowd, which varies from young kids and their parents to cool young freeriders in too-baggy clothing, grizzled old ski tourers in too-tight clothing, and bemused visitors like myself and Hugh.
To be honest, I can’t give you a detailed run-down of the menu since we were loathe to hang about for long – after all, sunshine, blue skies and powder in mid-April is there to be made the most of, rather than talked about over a long lunch.
Saying goodbye to Veronique and Christian after our hastily shovelled-down grub, Hugh and I loosened up on some fast, empty, well-groomed reds off the Lacs and 3000 chairs before heading back to ‘our’ powder bowl. And it really did feel like it was ours – we encountered only three other skiers here all afternoon.
When we finally decided to head back down to the village in the late afternoon we were presented with the perfect
opportunity to warm down: a gentle stroll through what is a ‘real’ alpine village – all stone tiled houses and Baroque-style chapels – and about as far removed as you could get from nearby resorts like Tignes and Les Arcs.
Le #vieuxvillage de #bonnevalsurarc en #hiver! Vous connaissez cette #stationvillage? #petitepepitedupurski #stationvillage #skiresort #vanoise #jeskiffe #skifuté #skipass #savoiemontblanc #frenchalps #winter #holidays #powder #freeski #freestyle #offpiste #ski #snowboard #snow #francemontagnes #instanthmv
Bonneval-sur-Arc is a member of the group known as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, which aims to preserve traditional architectural styles and cultural traditions. As such, any building work has to remain true to the alpine style. Telephone cables and street lighting is routed underground, and shops are not permitted to use large, garish signage. Hallelujah.
Traditional transhumance agriculture and craft work are also still important, and produce such as Bonneval blue cheese, Savoie tomme and cured ham, or the work of local wood carvers, is still very much a part of the local economy. I can vouch for the fact that wandering aimlessly around the narrow streets dotted with such shops is a real pleasure.
This combination of lofty powder-pocketed mountains, uncrowded skiing and alpine village charm is quite something for a ‘little’ ski hill to cram into one package – and it just goes to show that a trip down the road to nowhere can often pay dividends.