Two months ago we were regarded as the novices of the aires (aka campervan parking sites). We’re now the go-to van for crisis management and motorhome maintenance advice.
Fall-Line Digital Editor Hannah James continues the story of her season-long road trip in the Alps.
View of the aire at Montegenèvre – ski to the door
Eight weeks to become experts at anything rather goes against the 10,000 hours theory, but if you’re guests of an unforgiving mountain range with the most extreme conditions seen up here for a decade, your learning is somewhat accelerated. Our record is –26°C in Les Deux Alpes.
People in motorhomes fixate on plumbing in the way that Brits are obsessed with the weather, and where we were begging for help and advice just a few weeks ago, James’s reputation as the alpine Bob the Builder has now spread from mountain to mountain. At each aire we come to, there’s a gaggle of snow-mads and ski bums who’ve heard of his magic touch when it comes to keeping water flowing at –15°C, and are queuing up to consult with their new sensei. When we’re not running a campervan troubleshooting hot desk, we are actually getting some skiing done. A total of 16 ski areas so far – more than many people manage in a lifetime – including some Disneyesque resorts and some little-known ski stations in unheard-of valleys. This gorging on the Alps seems a bit greedy, but is more doable than you’d imagine.
1915 MILES AND COUNTING
Getting from one resort to another – and often a completely new ski area – is simply a case of mountain hopping. What takes you a day on skis is often a 20-minute trundle in the motorhome, and the only thing that actually disrupts us is the need to fill up on gas on a regular basis.
We run our systems on LPG, which is the best fuel for winter road tripping, but the least widely available. This means weekly jaunts to phantom fuel stations in search of our elixir of life and an ensuing row about our dependence on unreliable internet information – every time we move. That said, we’ve only covered 1915 miles since we left the UK and that’s less than James would travel in a month for work. The detour often affords us the chance to shop in mega-supermarkets, where we lose our minds at the enormous choice and quantity of normal food that’s not readily available up the hills.
What all this means is that there’s an opportunity for any snow enthusiast willing to drive the day down through France and do a condensed version of what we, as snow bums, are doing over six months. For example, in the past 10 days we’ve skied Les Deux Alpes, Montgenèvre and Claviere, and are set to head east to Sestriere and San Sicario tomorrow. Not only that, we stayed in two different locations with access to Les Deux Alpes – Mont-de-Lans and Vénosc – before heading past La Grave, Serre Chevalier and Briançon, all of which boast world-renowned ski areas. The total drive time from Les Deux Alpes resort to Montgenèvre is 1hr 30min.
PERKS AND PRIVILEGES
Perhaps we should all be considering this nomadic snowchasing, particularly when conditions are less predictable at the bookends of the season. The perks of snowchasing are evident, but there are some not-so-obvious benefits that we think make us better skiers, more sympathetic visitors and educated tourists.
Travelling around gives you a real sense of place – do you really pay attention during the excitement of the resort-bound transfer or the hangover of the airport run back? Drive yourself from mountain to mountain and you’ll realise this area is interconnected and compact. There is life outside La Folie Douce and Chambre Neuf – bonkers villages with rare old mountain men (although you need to learn to drink properly before you contemplate a night with these guys).
The aire in Chamonix sits at the Aiguille du Midi terminal
Road tripping also allows you to take advantage of more accommodation options if you’re prepared to turn up homeless. Gone are the days of strictly Saturday to Saturday: you can now book an Airbnb when you arrive in resort – no need to play a location lottery, and you know the owners are seeing a bigger cut of this transaction than they do from an agent. The Alps aren’t full, even during holidays, so you’ll never be kipping in the back of your car. Want to be really at one with the mountain? Hire a motorhome. Sitting here, I’m swilling a top-notch red, with 360° views of the mountains, waiting for my three-course meal lovingly prepared by James, and we’re discussing whether we go to Chamonix next week or head through Italy… weather and snow allowing, of course.
That’s all from the Snowchaser series for 2017/18 series. You can catch up in more detail on the Winterized website where Hannah and James documented their entire trip.
They’re going back for more in the 2018/19 season. Watch this space.
The backstory of the Snowchasers:
SNOWCHASER: NOVEMBER 2017 – A DREAM UNLEASHED
SNOWCHASER: DECEMBER 2017 – CHOOSING A VAN
SNOWCHASER: DECEMBER 2017 (PT 2) – THE PLAN
SNOWCHASER: JANUARY 2018 – THE LESSONS SO FAR