A good place to learn to ski so long as your accommodation is slopeside in one of the two villages – you’ll then find nursery slopes, ski rentals, ski school, your bed for the night, and a bar where you can buy a drink to recover all within a few steps of one another. Both villages have nursery areas but Lanslevillard has the much larger area. Once you have built confidence there are some wonderful long green slopes winding down through the trees that are easy to reach on chairlifts or gondola.
Intermediate skiers have the most to gain from a stay in Val Cenis, with the three linked village areas that make up the area all easy to reach on fast red and blue pistes both above and below the treeline, so you have a good feeling of travel. Wonderful long trails up to 10km (nearly seven miles) long run from the top of the slopes over wide snowy slopes to the treeline where they plunge into classic rolling pistes cut down through the forest. To travel further still you can use the Maurienne pass to visit neighbouring resorts, including the option of a day in the 3 Valleys via Orelle or even the cult ski resort of Bonneval-sur-Arc, which mainly appeals to hardcore off piste skiers leaving fabulous empty pistes and a huge vertical open to non-experts to enjoy.
Advanced skiers have to be a little more inventive to make the most of a week here, because the on-piste options are fairly limited with six black runs, most of them short. The longest and best is Michele Jacot although after 400 vertical metres it turns red for the lower two thirds of the mountain. However this is a good area for off piste, especially when conditions are good, on either side of the piste and elsewhere on the upper part of the ski area, which is steepest, the local mountain guides will be pleased to show you around and indeed to take you ski touring in the wider region, a very popular activity.
The Maurienne area pass opens up many more opportunities, particularly the skiing at Bonneval-sur-Arc, 30 minutes bus ride up the valley. Rather like Alagna in Italy or La Grave in France this is something of a cult resort for free riders and a succession of lifts (three chairlifts) open up a huge vertical on a mountain that backs on to Val d’Isere, from which spectacular off piste verticals are possible. Another point to note is that Orelle, another village in the Valley, provides a backdoor route in to the Three Valleys via a long gondola lift. Heliskiing is also organised over in to Italy as indeed are helicopter transfers from Bonneval over to Val d’Isere by the local Mountain Guides Office, the best source and support for all things off Val Cenis’s pistes (+33 (0)4 79 05 80 97).
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
Snowboarders and freestyle skiers have quite a few benefits in Val Cenis. To begin with the predominance of chair and gondola uplift makes getting up the mountains easy, and once there you’ll find a nice mix of open powder bowl freeriding terrain on the steeper upper slopes, then fast cruisers down through the lower forested slopes with lots of natural hits on either side of the runs. There are several terrain parks with a good range of jumps and rails as well as a boardercross course to enjoy.
Cross country skiing is very popular in and around Val Cenis. There are about 120km along the valley, many of them following the valley floor through woodland and across open meadows alongside the river Arc. There are 12km of slopes locally but the majority of the Valley’s tracks are located in and around the neighbouring village of Bessans, 5km away, which boasts the highest plateau of its size in France and is a national cross-country ski and biathlon training centre for the country, with an excellent modern lodge, several rental shops, ski school on site and a full size biathlon range (http://www.biathlon-hautemaurienne.com). There are 80km of cross country tracks here, divided in to 27 separate loops with four levels of difficulty equating to downhill runs – green = very easy, blue = easy, red = moderate and black = very difficult!
Average Snow and Weather Conditions
The resort bases of Val Cenis are at quite a snowsure height for traditional villages and although they are not quite up to glacier height, the ski lifts do ascend to a healthy altitude for year round snow cover, and their north facing orientation further helps preserve the snow that accumulates. Around a quarter of the slopes also have snowmaking cover.