The French region of Savoie Mont Blanc has as many as 110 ski resorts. Of these, some belong to the premier league of winter sports, with countless possibilities and hundreds of kilometres of slopes. The region also has many characteristic and often undiscovered gems like the Arêches-Beaufort ski resort. This winter sports area is perfect for relaxed descents in a beautiful mountain landscape with the Mont Blanc massif as an impressive backdrop. The Arêches-Beaufort ski area is also ideal for getting acquainted with ski touring. The possibilities for this pure form of winter sports are actually almost limitless.
In this blog ...
- Arêches-Beaufort ski area
- What is ski touring?
- An introduction to ski touring in Arêches-Beaufort
- Sleeping in an igloo
- Enjoying the peace and quiet in Arêches-Beaufort
- Smouldering Beaufort cheese
- Our verdict on Arêches-Beaufort ski resort
- Practical questions about the Arêches-Beaufort ski area
- You may also be interested in…
Arêches-Beaufort ski area
The Arêches-Beaufort ski area starts at an altitude of just above 1,000 metres. The highest point is at almost 2,400 metres. That doesn’t seem so high yet the ski area is relatively always certain to have snow. Due to its location at the foot of Mont Blanc, snow falls frequently and plentifully.
The area has some 50 kilometres of pistes. Predominantly, these are easy or average runs. About 15 kilometres of pistes are more challenging. Therefore, it is the ideal environment for learning (tour) skiing or relaxing on the slopes. Above all, don’t forget to look around. The area is located in a beautiful nature reserve. You’ll get a beautiful view of the impressive Mont Blanc massif.
The Arêches-Beaufort ski area consists of two parts. From the village of Arêches, you reach the middle station Le Cuvy by lift. Via several lifts you can get to the highest point of the ski area, the Col de la Forclaz. From the middle station, Le Cuvy, a red descent leads to Le Planay. That is the starting point to explore the other part of the area. The highest point in this part is the Col des Combettes at over 2,100 metres.
Enjoying Arêches and Beaufort
After a day’s skiing, you can enjoy the authentic villages of Arêches and Beaufort. Don’t expect roaring après-ski music; they don’t do that in Arêches-Beaufort. No, people come here for the peace and quiet. While enjoying a good glass of wine, a piece of delicious Beaufort cheese and a tasty traditional Savoyard dinner, people chat about their day together.
Although the whole area is not particularly big, Arêches-Beaufort is popular with tour skiers and those who like to descend off-piste. And because it is so incredibly quiet, they can make fresh tracks almost everywhere on the still-pristine white slopes. Serene is definitely the word for the Arêches-Beaufort ski area. On the weekend we skied there, we hardly saw any other skiers. Thanks to the many blue tour ski routes, the area is ideal for novice tour skiers. Here you have every chance to try out this branch of winter sports on easy slopes.
What is ski touring?
Ski touring is the purest form of alpine skiing. A tour skier walks up the mountain with skis under his feet and does not use lifts. Once at the top, the tour skier descends on the slopes or on unprepared slopes with powder snow. The latter is the ultimate for the real fanatic: blazing your own trail down slopes nobody has skied on before.
To walk up the slopes, you need so-called riser skins. You attach these along the entire length of the skis. They give you grip and allow you to ascend without sliding straight down. The touring skis have special bindings. When ascending, you open the rear part of the binding. This lets you move more easily when climbing. The movement you make when doing this is a bit like that of cross- country skiing.
Once you reach the top, you remove the riser sheets from the skis and stow them. You reattach the rear bindings and start your descent. But who knows, you might need to catch your breath first. The ascent is pretty strenuous. You could be cold on the way down too so make sure you dress well in layers, preferably with thermal clothing. You’ll cool down fairly quickly when descending.
An introduction to ski touring in Arêches-Beaufort
We naturally want to experience ski touring for ourselves. At the village sports shop, we hire all the equipment. The skis are similar to normal skis. The binding, on the other hand, is completely different. The ski boots do look like normal ski boots. Yet they are slightly different in terms of characteristics. They are made so that you can walk with them more easily than with normal ski boots.
The sports shop employee patiently explains how to click the ski boot into the binding. It seems simple. But that’s what I also thought about fitting snow chains at home. Once in the winter conditions, the reality proved more difficult. Hopefully, clicking the boot into the bindings won’t be so bad when we are out in the snow!
Being beginners, we take the lift to Le Cuvy. Because immediately climbing some 700 altitude metres when you have no experience with ski touring is too much of a good thing. Besides, there is no snow in the valley either. So that’s a good excuse to use the chairlift in a relaxed way.
Above, we are in a winter world. Unfortunately, the weather is bad, with snow and rain. Visibility is not ideal, the Mont Blanc massif is shrouded in a dense fog. I attach the riser sheets to my skis. Then I try to secure my boots in the ski bindings. But no matter what I try, I don’t succeed. Companion Céline, sitting on her knees in the snow, helps me press my shoes into place. Her help is welcome, and I will desperately need her more often today. Because after only a few metres of climbing, I slowly slide backwards. It turns out that my climbing skins are coming loose. Once again, Céline is my saving grace.
Fortunately, the guide has picked a section that isn’t too steep. I carefully slide my skis through the snow. Gliding is very important when moving forward. By stepping, the grip of the climbing skins disappears. Slowly but surely, I get the hang of the technique. I no longer feel the cold wind. Because despite going up an easy slope, I am sweating like mad.
We also keep the descent simple. We go down a blue piste. But before we get there, the rear binding has to be fastened. Again, I can’t get it done. Where on earth would I be without Céline’s help? This is how we spend the afternoon. Sweating profusely as we walk up, then calmly gliding down the completely empty slopes. I don’t venture into off-piste skiing. Skiing on the pistes suits me fine just now, but descending through the deep powder snow is a bridge too far for me with my poor technique.
Sleeping in an igloo
The organisation has a surprise for us. We will not sleep on the mountain in the refuge Alpage, but in the igloos next to the mountain hut! We are assured that we will not be cold. Inside the igloo it is always around freezing or slightly above. Even when it is -20 degrees outside at night. The igloos are built in a huge pile of snow. The comfortable mattress lies on a wooden plank, so does not make contact with the icy floor. A lovely warm blanket and a well-insulated sleeping bag ensure we don’t get cold.
So, we spend the night in a unique way at an altitude of about 2,000 metres. Not a single noise would we hear in the igloo. Truly at one with nature. Who would have thought that I would sleep in an igloo again? Not me!
I certainly didn’t feel cold in the igloo. But did I like it? It was no treat for a stiff man like me to struggle through the narrow entrance to the igloo. And since I had to get out a few times at night for a sanitary stop, it was a challenge to manoeuvre in the small ice cell. Standing is impossible in the igloo. However, for a more flexible person who likes adventure, this might be a great way to experience a special overnight stay in Arêches-Beaufort.
Enjoying the peace and quiet in Arêches-Beaufort
I wriggle out of the igloo early. It is not yet six o’clock and I have to go to the toilet again. I am reluctant to crawl back into the igloo and sleeping bag afterwards. So, I decide to go to the refuge already. There, the hot shower does wonders for my stiff muscles. Yesterday’s tour skiing was apparently quite a strain on my body.
Outside, I enjoy a slightly better view than yesterday. I can fortunately see the surrounding mountains now, but it will be another cloudy and grey day. The PistenBully is already active preparing the slopes. It is the only sign of life I detect at this early hour in the Arêches-Beaufort ski resort.
Half an hour later, the PistenBully arrives at the refuge. The driver gets out and goes inside. At the innkeeper’s, he orders a beer. For him, the day, or rather the night, is over. A well-deserved glass of barley beer is his reward. Thanks to him, we will soon be gliding down well-prepared slopes.
Over breakfast, we exchange tough stories about spending the night in the igloo. Some slept like a log. Others had more trouble getting some rest. But everyone agrees: it was a unique experience to spend the night like this on the mountain in the snow in utter peace and quiet.
We spend that day exploring the ski area. We don’t use our climbing skins. We let ourselves be taken by the drag lifts or sit comfortably in the chairlift. The area is wonderfully beautiful, wedged between the mountain giants. And what is striking is the utter tranquillity. Apart from the lift staff, we see no one else in the Arêches-Beaufort ski area. This gives us the opportunity to make the most of our time on the wonderful slopes.
Smouldering Beaufort cheese
A few minutes’ drive from the ski resort is the town of Beaufort. It is a small village, yet it has fame all over the world. This is because of the delicious Beaufort cheese, a typical Savoyard speciality. It is a hard, pale-yellow cheese that can only be made from cow’s milk from the region. The cows are only allowed to produce a certain maximum number of litres of milk each year. Feed for the cows must come from the region.
After a day of skiing, we visit the cooperative where the cheeses are made. Countless large cheeses lie maturing in the warehouses. They already smell delicious even though they are not yet fully matured. Cheeses labelled ‘premier alpage’ must mature for at least six months. Cheeses labelled ‘hors d’âge’ have a minimum maturation time of one year. The cheeses must be turned regularly. And that is quite a job, as a ‘wheel’, a full cheese, can weigh as much as 40 to 60 kg when matured.
In front of the cooperative, we see a ‘cheese vending machine’. This way, cheese lovers can get a piece of Beaufort cheese 24/7. Since you will of course run out when the shops are closed.
We also visit a farmer who, together with his brother, supplies milk to the cooperative. The cows are naturally in their stalls at this time of year. Gluttonously, they devour the hay specially selected for them. The farmers harvest this special hay in summer on the alpine meadows. Judging by the many shields on the wall, the farmers have numerous prize-winning cows in their barns.
Our verdict on Arêches-Beaufort ski resort
We liked the ski area very much. We especially liked the peace and quiet on the slopes. For someone who likes peace, space and pistes that aren’t too hard in beautiful surroundings, the Arêches-Beaufort ski resort is an excellent choice. It is also an ideal destination to spend a winter sports holiday with the whole family including (grand)children. The area is nice and clear and suitable for beginners to experienced off-piste skiers. And if you want to experience whether ski touring is for you, this is the place to start!
At the invitation of l’Agence Savoie Mont Blanc, we visited the Arêches-Beaufort ski area. We compiled the content of the blog independently and objectively based on our own impressions. In connection with the bad weather, we used photo material from the Les Saisies tourist office in some cases.
Practical questions about the Arêches-Beaufort ski area
The Arêches-Beaufort ski resort is located in the Savoie Mont Blanc region, less than half an hour's drive from the well-known ski resort of Albertville.
For winter sportsmen who like peace and quiet, space and average slopes, the Arêches-Beaufort ski area is ideal. The slopes are not too steep, there are plenty of blue and red runs and the tranquillity is remarkable in the area. The view of the imposing Mont Blanc massif makes winter sports even more special. The ski area lends itself perfectly to ski touring. As well as for people who want to give this pure form of winter sports a try.
These are some tips if you want to go ski touring for the first time:
- Rent the equipment when you first go ski touring. Because the purchase is not cheap and who knows, you might not like it.
- Above all, start slowly, on relatively flat stretches.
- Make sure you glide instead of trying to walk with your skis if you want to go up.
- If it goes well, make a start with a simple route that isn’t too long.
- Take regular breaks to recover from climbing.
- Make sure you dress in layers. When climbing, you'll get warm, but make sure you don't cool down too much when descending.
- If you want to go off-piste ski touring, it is absolutely recommended to do so with a guide who knows the area well.
You may also be interested in…
- Stylish winter sports in the heart of Savoie Mont Blanc
- Les Saisies, attractive village in Espace Diamant ski area
- Winter sports in the French-Italian Espace San Bernardo
- Méribel, the heavenly heart of Les Trois Vallées
- Skiing in La Plagne and Les Arcs
- Fit for the start of winter sports
- Outdoor paradise Savoie Mont Blanc in winter