Where can you ski for less than €2 a day?
When it comes to hitting the slopes age doesn’t bestow a bundle of advantages. Bending those knees gets harder. Sore muscles need more embrocation and longer in the bath. But in the huge French Paradiski area there is one significant compensation.
A ski pass, bought online this season, costs a mere €10 for six days. Though I am, ostensibly, your silver ski expert, I confess I might not have discovered this had I not asked for a couple of senior day passes recently in Montchavin, a satellite of La Plagne which accounts for one half of that huge lift and piste network in the Tarentaise.
“Do you have your passport?” asked the woman at the window. No, but I had my driving licence. Just as well. The two day price for my wife, who is … well, younger than me, was €89. For me it was €11. Confession number two – I’m over 72, which is the minimum age for this concession. “Dieu existe”, I remarked, open mouthed. Later I checked online, to find that the deal became even tastier. Confession three: life’s too short to check prices in all other resorts on your behalf – but I’ve visited a few websites and haven’t found anything to match that so far, though further inquiries revealed that next season, when I’ll be 74, I’ll be able to ski absolutely free in Val d’Isère and Tignes, for example.
If we’re spared, as your granny used to say. A recently published list of US resorts where seniors ski free after a certain age included few big names. Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire and Squaw Valley, California (respectively free after 65 and 76) were among the exceptions. It’s not just about saving money but not wasting it. At our age we’re less inclined to go out in bad weather. Cheap or free passes make the decision to take a day off easier.
This season has been a case in point. January conditions in the Tarentaise were as variable as I can remember. Sunshine, rain, ice and slush all played their parts. La Plagne is noted for long blue, intermediate cruising runs but they tend to be crowded and when they’re hard and icy they encourage recklessness. Best stick, when possible to red or even black pistes, which skiers and snowboarders usually treat with more respect. Pistes graded red, in particular, are generally none too taxing. This rule certainly applied on the home runs to Montchavin and a clutch of reds just across the valley in Les Arcs, reached via the impressive double deck Vanoise Express cable car.
The first complex to be built in La Plagne – Plagne Centre – dates from the start of the 1960s, when the Zeitgeist in such purpose designed ski areas was to develop great monoliths with accommodation, shops, restaurants and other facilities under one roof.
Montchavin, which, along with eight other linked centres, came later, could not be more different. It was a farming village long before the wintersports boom. The scent of cattle still wafts from byre near its main street. There are no high rise blocks. Walls are built using stone from the surrounding mountains, such as schist, quartzite and sandstone. There’s a lively bar where you can drink a delicious bière blanche and an excellent Alpine platter of cheese and charcuterie.
Our three star hotel, the Bellecôte – a short step from the nearest access gondola – was adequately comfortable if not exactly luxurious Book B&B rather than half board – I enjoyed a fine dish of wild boar, morels and gnocchi from the a la carte menu. Besides, you might want to dine elsewhere. Notably at La Bovate, run by the mayor, which serves an excellent three course prix fixe for €29.50, with desserts including a tarte aux myrtilles (bilberries) with s small tot of genepy, the local herb digestif, thrown in. With that in mind – and depending on your attitude to the new alcohol guidelines – you could use the money saved on the lift pass to upgrade your choice of wine. But don’t neglect to admit your age when you go to buy it. And don’t forget to take evidence of all those lost years – or the choice may be taken out of your hands.
For more information go to www.la-plagne.com or call 0033 (0) 4 79 09 79 79.