All you need to know about ski holidays by train

Val Cenis - slopes

The ‘Vanoise’ suffix denotes a subtle evolution of the old Val Cenis ski area, following the worth-while addition a few seasons ago of Termignon’s terrain to the existing area located above the main villages of Lanslebourg and Lanslevillard. The result is a respectable 125km of groomed runs, with the emphasis primarily on Reds and Blues, although there’s plenty of easily-accessible novice-friendly terrain.

Skiing above the snow-line here is high on visual drama, with panoramic views along the valley and across to Aussois, or in the other direction to the remote-looking vastness of the Lac de Mont Cenis. Whether frozen and snow-covered, or a shimmering vision of deep blue, it’s quite a sight, and just beyond the lake lie the peaks and valleys of Italy.

As with most ski areas, the outermost runs are particularly rewarding for those who like the sensation of being close to nature, with space to stop along the way and admire the scenery and the silence. Not that the lower sections are exactly heavily trafficked, and the forest sections offer shelter during less than ideal weather should you find visibility suddenly clamping down.

The Termignon sector has proved to be a very worthwhile addition, and getting to and from it from the other villages is simple, thanks to the Turra six-seater chairlift, which operates in both directions – or you can ski back to Lanslebourg.

As for advanced skiers, while black-graded groomed runs are limited, there’s worthwhile off-piste terrain accessible from the lift system.

Ski highlights for all levels

Beginners: Absolute beginners have accessible, dedicated facilities at Lanslebourg, Lanslevillard, Val Cenis le Haut and Termignon. A major plus is that after mastering the basics in reassuring sur-roundings novices can immediately start to build their confidence and fitness on Europe’s longest Green run (10km), the well-named ‘Escargot’. It’s super-easy, and they’re unlikely to get lost ei-ther, thanks to the slightly surreal presence of road signage beside the piste, confirming that beneath the snow is the D1006 route from the Col du Mont-Cenis (2100m) to Lanslebourg (1400m), although intermediates have the option of a turn-off for a run into Lanslevillard.

Intermediates: While the Eski-Mo offer looks highly tempting to capable intermediates, it’s still worth getting to know the varied and entertaining local terrain covered by the Val Cenis lift pass. The most obvious highlight is the startling overview of the vast, wild-looking Lac de Mont-Cenis, visible in all its glory from a 2800m viewpoint readily accessible via the Met chairlift, after a couple of high-speed rides on the Vieux Moulin gondola and the six-seater Solert chair. Another is the top-of-the-world setting of Termignon’s highest terrain, although that particular pleasure re-quires a serene haul to 2465m on the muscular Grand Coin draglift. At the top you’ll find reward-ing Red and Blue pistes, including a remote-feeling run on Bleue du Lac for a glimpse the off-piste possibilities.

In short it’s an area well worth getting to know, as are the rest of the runs in this sec-tor, including the Blue-graded zig-zag back among the trees to the village on Forestière and Girarde. There’s also a Red option: Bois des Coqs. Alternatively, if you’re not pressed for time, an-other Blue-graded run – the aptly-named ‘Traverse’ – takes a satisfyingly wayward route through the forests over to Lanslebourg, with the option to bail-out and join the Turra six-seater chairlift for a smooth high-speed ride down (or back up).

Experts: Black runs don’t exactly leap out from the piste map, and most are relatively short, but Michèle Jacot de la Met is an un-groomed drop from the top of the Met chairlift, with the oppor-tunity to warm up first on neighbouring Blues and Reds served by the same lift. Another mogul run is Moraine, accessed via the Plan Cardinal chairlift. Otherwise, it’s down to steep short-cuts be-tween intermediate pistes. That said, here and there the Reds include a few entertaining technical challenges.

The lower density of skiers on the mountain than in better-known ski areas means that after re-cent snowfalls you won’t need to venture far off-piste to find untracked powder. If you do feel a wanderlust, though, a good starting-point is the top station of the Plan Cardinal lift, from where you can explore varied terrain below the Glacier de l’Arcelle. Less remote-feeling, but still worth-while are the areas served by the Arcellins chair and the more hardcore Mont Cenis draglift. Above Termignon look below the Col de Sollières, accessible via the Grand Coin or Lac draglifts. This area might become rather better known if a project to extend the groomed ski area comes to fruition, although in a protected, environmentally-sensitive landscape such as this, it’s by no means certain that the project will prove viable. Finally, don’t overlook the potential of the wild and rugged ter-rain around nearby Bonneval sur Arc.

Ski schools and guides

The French national ski-school ESF offers lessons to all ages and abilities from 3 years upwards. There are offices in Val Cenis, Termignon and in Bonneval sur Arc. With a huge amount of experience within its ranks, the ESF school offers a broad range of specialised teaching, including freestyle, ski touring and off-piste. Their Handiski programme for skiers with disabilities includes both sit-ski and taxi-ski.

The ESI international ski school in Val Cenis is a small and friendly team offering ski and snowboard lessons in small groups with a more flexible approach and later morn-ing start times. The school offers varied Handiski lessons with fully-qualified instructors and companion skiers.

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Lift system

While the stats seem to suggest you’ll encounter quite a few draglifts, most are there to link ac-commodation direct to nearby ski-school areas. Elsewhere speedier and more comfortable alter-natives exist, the only exception being a pair of simple draglifts serving the topmost terrain above Termignon (where they minimise the visual impact on a sensitive, unspoilt environment). In fact, for most of the time you’ll be getting around on modern high-speed gondolas or four- and six-seater chairlifts – clear evidence of sustained heavy investment in lift infrastructure in recent years. As a result, it now takes just a few minutes to get between Lanslebourg and Termignon, thanks to the impressive Turra six-seater chair, which carries skiers in both directions (previously you’d have taken a shuttle bus ride).

There’s more still to come too, including another high-speed six-seater to replace both the Val Cenis draglift and the Arcellins II fixed chair. Meanwhile, just up the valley even Bonneval sur Arc is similarly well equipped, possessing three four-seater chairs in addition to six classic draglifts.

Snow reliability and snowmaking

Come here in midwinter and you’ll be surprised at how low temperatures can drop in the valley, particularly considering the relatively modest altitude (around 1300m). Add the fact that most of the ski terrain is north-facing – coupled with the presence to the north of the peaks of the Parc National de la Vanoise – and you have one of the better performers in the snowfall tables. Nothing is certain, however, so to provide cover should the season turn out to be a mild one, Val Cenis has around 180 snow cannon covering key pistes. The highest are around the 2100m mark, although most are sited on lower return runs. The resorts has invested 3.5 millions euros over 3 years (2016-2018) to reinforce its snow production network.
 

Val Cenis piste map

Ski area
Village Altitude
1460
m
Ski Altitude
1300m - 2800m
m
Pistes
125
km
Green Runs
12
Blue Runs
19
Red Runs
21
Black Runs
5
Total Runs 57
Terrain Park
4
Cabin Lifts
2
Chair Lifts
13
Drag Lifts
13
Total Lifts 28