Some 80 years after it opened its first ski lift in 1941, the pioneering Serre Chevalier ski resort is celebrating its special anniversary with a host of celebrations throughout the season, retracing the history of the resort, its traditions, its innovations and its audacity.
Unusually, Serre Chevalier is not centred on a single resort base, but on four separate villages - from east to west and lowest to highest altitude: Briançon, Chantemerle St Chaffrey, La Salle les Alpes (Villeneuve), and Le Monêtier les Bains. But the ski area it gives its name to is extensive, and great for keen intermediates who love to feel that sense of exploration.
The Serre Chevalier ski area extends west from Briançon and stretches across six peaks to Monêtier-les-Bains. The middle twin villages of Chantemerle and Villeneuve are the principal resort bases and share the bulk of the core ski area. With 81 runs, totalling 410 hectares, the domain has a great range of pistes for all abilities, with many tree-sheltered slopes, and the linear layout invites touring from one end to the other, giving a satisfying feeling of big-mileage travel.
Where is Serre Chevalier?
Serre Chevalier resort lies in the Southern French Alps in Southeastern France, near the Italian border, located in the Hautes-Alpes department, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, and is the most northerly of the 'southern resorts'. If coming by air, Turin airport in Italy, is your nearest gateway, a 90-minute transfer away. You can also get to Briançon by train from Paris.
What is the Serre Chevalier area like?
Historic Briançon is a beautiful 17th Century fortified town (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a buzzing commercial hub. It's the highest town in France in fact, guarding the southern end of the Col de Montgenevre, a minor pass between France and Italy.
The town's military history intersects with the history of skiing, since the soldiers stationed here at the end of the 19th Century were some of the first French troops to be trained as ski patrollers. (The rudimentary stopping technique in those early days was simply to fall to the ground, a 'manoeuvre' still referred to as 'l'arret Briançon' or the 'Briançon Stop').
The historic and atmospheric citadel of Briançon is well worth a visit to view the impressive ramparts and the warren of narrow cobbled streets within, filled with little shops, café-bars, and restaurants.
The modern lower part of Briançon also has plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops. There's also a cinema, a casino, an ice rink, a tenpin bowling and games arcade, and an aqua-leisure centre with a swimming pool and fun pools.
Monêtier-les-Bains is sited by natural hot springs and has a fabulous thermal spa complex - Les Grands Bains - with indoor and outdoor pools, aqua-massage features, steam rooms, saunas, and Roman baths.
Après ski in the villages is laid-back and friendly, focused mainly on the handful of bars nearest the base-area slopes and lift terminals. There is a tiny nightclub in Villeneuve, plus a couple of bigger ones in Briançon.
What is the skiing like in Serre Chevalier?
Serre Chevalier Vallée is the Hautes-Alpes biggest ski area with 410 hectares of secured slopes. Summit height is 2,800m and 80% of slopes are above 2000m that guarantee good snow conditions. Of its marked runs, 13 are black, 29 red, 26 blue and 13 green. From calm skiing in the larch forests, fun skiing in the two terrain parks, or family skiing in protected areas – there is a Serre Che for everyone!
Serre Chevalier also has one of the most extensive snowmaking networks in France and Europe to ensure good snow conditions throughout the season. A third of the entire ski area, is covered by its network of snow cannons.
The Briançon sector is lightly wooded and contains a handful of decent reds, the best of which runs all the way down to the edge of the town (snow conditions permitting), while the slopes above Monêtier-les-Bains include a nice selection of tree-lined reds and a nice black, plus a couple of short but testing runs off the highest point in the entire Serre Chevalier domain.
The core Grand Serre area above Villeneuve and Chantemerle features forested lower slopes, traversed by a few gentle trails, and sliced through by a couple of epic long black runs. The higher slopes are within open bowls, crisscrossed with nice intermediate runs. The best beginners' zones are on the base-area slopes at Villeneuve and Monêtier-les-Bains.
Several of the black runs in the ski area are left ungroomed and marked as ‘Brut de Neige’. Experts can also enjoy excellent off-piste terrain, both in the top powder bowls and lower down in the trees. It's worth noting too, that Serre's goals for the future include a more eco-friendly relationship between skiing and the land.
Resort director Patrick Arnaud explains: 'We are determined that the impact on the environment should be as little as possible. For example, we are not going to try to produce more man-made snow, on the contrary; we’d like to produce less, adapting our production to the altitude and exposition of the runs. We need to direct the flow towards places where skiing is natural, according to the season.
'Our approach to preparing the ski area must also change: less man-made snow and also less grooming, a return to the joys of skiing of the old days, and in any case more eco-responsible grooming with electrification of our grooming machines to reduce our carbon footprint.'
What can you do off the slopes in Serre Chevalier?
Alpine skiing remains the gateway to a great holiday experience in Serre Chevalier. But winters with closed lifts pushed alternative activities to the fore, and their attractiveness continues, as a complement to the alpine skiing experience.
As well as snowshoeing, fatbiking and dog-sledding, the big new attraction is the Giant Zipline. Initially scheduled for last winter, the opening of the zipline eventually took place last summer, and the winter version should be a mind-blowing experience zooming at 100km/hour over the snowy pistes! Located between the Grand Serre (at 2,491m) and the Grande Alpe (2,193m), this ride gives everyone the chance to mix excitement and a breathtaking view!
For another unusual descent, try snow karting: 300 metres of vertical drop, 2 km of descent: from the top of the Serre Chevalier cable car, at an altitude of 2,491 metres, race down the snowy slope in a Mountain Kart, a small three-wheeled vehicle with no engine!
Or try the Deval'Bob toboggan run - a 4km sledging trail that plunges 573m down 26 bends through the larch trees above the Serre Chevalier valley.
What events are coming up this season in Serre Chevalier?
A whole lot of festivities, events and other celebrations are being organised in each village of the valley, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the cable-car which launched Serre Chevalier, and the resort will be keen to welcome back UK skiers to join in the fun.
Four major events are scheduled throughout the season, in each of the villages in the valley: a water show in Monêtier les Bains, a historic pageant and fireworks in La Salle les Alpes, a wintersports event and concert in Saint Chaffrey-Chantemerle, as well as festivities in the historic settings of Briançon’s forts:
8 February: “Show under the stars” – Briançon
A mobile and aerial show to celebrate the 80th anniversary, performed by the Belgian company Theater Tol, which specialises in visual and poetic theatre.
16 February : Djibril Cissé DJ Set and XXL Fireworks.
24 February: DJ Seth “The Avener” & Demo Ski Show – Villeneuve
The famous French DJ The Avener will come and set the dancefloor of Serre Chevalier Vallée Briançon on fire for an unbelievable evening!
17 April: “Water fairy” – Le Monêtier les Bains.
A night-time aquatic and pyrotechnic show highlighting the 4 elements of creation....
For more information about this fantastic resort, go to https://www.serre-chevalier.com/en
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