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Serre Chevalier: A Mountain of Activities.
By Dr. Hannah Snow Baud
At the time of writing, planning a family ski or winter sports holiday seems daunting; with travel restrictions, special measures and even further lockdowns possible, but ski resorts are opening and will follow national guidelines as well as implementing their own directives this season. They intend to operate safely, without exacerbating the spread of the virus. Whilst some of us may enjoy the Alpine honeypot resorts or more local options, there is also a laid-back gem set in its majestic playground of 3,900 hectares: Serre Chevalier. This family-friendly resort, about six hours’ drive from the Côte D’Azur and 3 hours from Marseille, was once considered to be a ‘weedy’ resort in comparison to its cousins, but now it is seen as a cool alternative.
The resort is made up of multiple villages, stretching for 15km along the Guisane Valley floor to the old town of Briançon, France’s highest town. There are four main centres among them which have most of the accommodation and the facilities: Briançon itself, Chantemerle/St Chaffrey, Villeneuve/La Salle les Alpes and Monêtier.
Whilst the après-ski is relatively quiet (not a problem this season anyway), the skiing is varied and extensive and there are plenty of activities off the slopes. The largest ski area in the southern French Alps has more than enough terrain for a week’s holiday for skiers and non-skiers alike. The snow reliability is good, as eighty per cent of the runs are above 2,000m and there is an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. The resort is committed to reducing its carbon footprint dramatically, and already produces its own electricity. Importantly for families, Serre Chevalier offers runs for skiers of all levels. Amongst the 410 hectares of marked and groomed, tree-lined runs there are good nursery slopes, and long, gentle green slopes for beginners. Intermediate skiers will love the area in particular, with its vast network of green, blue and red slopes. For the expert there are black runs and acres of woodland terrain. There are 59 ski lifts. The SnowPark is an impressive freestyle park in the heart of the ski area, with three separate fun zones for beginners to expert freeriders.
Off the slopes, among the usual activities such as tobogganing, skating and swimming, Serre Chevalier offers excitement and exploration. A giant zipline, measuring 1,100m long, thrills at speeds of up to 110km/h.Electric fat-tyre bikes can be ridden on prepared trails, there is mountain kart racing and Deval’Bobs (toboggans) glide through 4 kms of larch forest. There is a wide choice of affordable accommodation, from family-run hotels to modern chalets. In the way of luxury accommodation there are five 4-star hotels in the valley + numerous luxurious chalets.
The resort is made up of multiple village bases, spread out and fragmented, so it would be wise to check your accommodation is conveniently located for your needs: the lifts, nursery facilities or a livelier base, for example. Those fond of swimming or relaxing might prefer to stay in Monetier to have the excellent complex there right on your doorstep, with its indoor/outdoor spa. Chantemerle and Villeneuve have easier slopes above them that might suit a family with young children or novices. For young families there’s both nursery provision and ski school with snow gardens at each of the four main bases. Within each village there is a free shuttle that runs from the slopes to bus stops within that village. If you want to move between villages however you can use the valley shuttle bus that links the villages for which there is a small fare. Of course all bases are connected by ski runs so you can always ski over to the next village for lunch.
With regard to Covid-19, ski resorts have to be adaptable and reactive during these times. A lot can change during the pandemic. In the wake of this, it is expected that many holiday-makers will choose last-minute self-drive and self-catering trips to avoid exposure to the virus. Avoid travelling to resorts on Saturdays if you can, as they are usually the busy changeover day. The Serre Chevalier Vallee Ski Area plans to provide customers with blank keycards in establishments in the valley, so they can schedule their ski lessons and equipment rental easily from their accommodation. Similarly, visitors are encouraged to book their lift passes online in advance of their visit. They can then be collected from contactless machines on arrival. This will limit the number of visitors gathering at reception points at any one time. In an ‘outside the walls’ approach, resort advisers from the Tourist Offices plan to meet guests outside the offices in tents, outside the Briancon SNCF station and at the cable car in Chantemerle. Safety measures in place around the resort this season include: compulsory mask-wearing in meeting and reception areas (under 11’s are exempt); regular disinfection of these areas and the use of plexiglass. Cabins, chairs and ski rental equipment will be disinfected regularly. One-way systems will be in place as well as sanitisation points at entrances and exits of public areas. Only table service will be available at restaurants and bars. A Covid Unit will be set up at each ski school. Masks can be removed on the slopes and during lessons, except within 1.5m of an instructor. Only one accompanying adult may drop off children for lessons. Masks are to be worn on ski lifts and in queues.
Author: Dr Hannah Snow Baud is an experienced private tutor and coach for children aged up to 18. She specialises in English Language, English Literature, the humanities and building confidence in learning. She is also mum to 5 children aged 12-19.