Yes, people do go on a winter holiday without skiing. Or snowboarding. The snowy landscapes aren’t just reserved for those typical winter sport activities. Although we have found out that, in certain areas and places, you definitely are the odd one out if you’re not engaging in those activities.
But that didn’t stop us from exploring our options. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, hiking is the most obvious way to go. However there are plenty of other things to do on a winter holiday.
2. Nordic Skiing
Okay, okay, I admit it, this is very close to skiing but it’s a great way to get a bit of an idea what the actual deal is. We, naively, thought that Nordic Skiing was the easy version of skiing. But boy were we wrong.
We chose the scenery of La Chapelle d’Abondance to get acquainted with this new sport. First we drove to the Intersport shop in Le Petit-Chatel where we rented our equipment for the day. We hadn’t made any reservations, but that didn’t seem to be a problem. For only 8 euros each we got ourselves a pair of boots, skis and sticks. Ready to hit the field!
Our car was left – for free! – on the parking lot of the Télécabine de la Panthiaz. From there many Nordic ski tracks depart. And most importantly, there is green, easy, loop where you can practice and try to get the hang of it all.
I didn’t even make it all the way onto the easy loop before I first met the ground. I was thát bad. Without any lessons, it was quite a hardship to remain upright on our skis. When the track was flat, things went, well, not exactly smoothly, but we moved forward. Slowly. Step by step.
Soon enough the 400 meters green loop was boring us, so we decided to step up our game a bit. Onto the blue loop! But we had gotten a bit too eager. The first downhill bit got us all on our asses again. Fail. It sure seems a lot easier than it looks. It was pretty frustrating to see people pass up by in such a graceful way, as if it was like floating over the snow.
But we didn’t give up. We were determined to at least gain some control over those damned skis. Slowly, and after a lot of inspection of the other people on the track, our time spent on the ground decreased and we got a bit more confident.
Our beginner level of Nordic Skiing of course limited us to where we could actually ski, but the environment at Chapelle d’Abondance fortunately was very beautiful. It would have been nice to go further, but that wasn’t for us. All in all we had an amazing time, even though we left the tracks with aching limbs and lots of bruises. While it may be a bit scary to fall that many times, it’s definitely a great laugh to see others fall and struggle to get up again. So still an amazing activity to do on a winter holiday!
3. Go up to viewpoints by cable car
This is the least exhaustive way to get pretty views. Simply get yourself up to higher grounds by cable car. We were staying in Le Biot, about an hour and a half away from Chamonix, at the foot on the Mont Blanc. The highest mountain in Western-Europe. We couldn’t ignore that now, could we?
From Chamonix you can take the cable car up the Aiguille du Midi, a mountain in the Mont Blanc massive. Tickets are quite pricey at 69 euros but in my opinion it’s well worth it. The evening before we had booked our tickets online which I highly recommend. Places are limited and it would be a shame if upon arrival you weren’t able to go up.
When our time slot arrived, we got into the first of two cable cars. We were brought to the mid station where you’re immediately transferred onto the second car that takes you up to the top. It’s crazy how fast you make it to the top at 3842 meters. Stepping out on the viewing platform is simply amazing. The view overwhelms you. It’s breath-ta-king!
There are many viewing platforms on all sides of the mountain, so you can spend quite some time discovering all of those. I however recommend first going to the ‘Pas dans le vide‘, which means ‘Step into the void’. They’ve made a glass case where you can step into to experience being surrounded by nothing but mountains and snow. With 1000 meters of air underneath your feet quite a unique thing to do.
Unfortunately there is a long queue for it, so if you go there first you can already admire your surroundings while you’re waiting in that queue and save yourself some time. It’s a fun thing to do, but because of the queue it does feel a bit rushed once you step into it.
We spent about three hours on top, including our lunch time enjoying our homemade sandwiches with a gorgeous view. On the way back, we were able to stop at the mid station. There is a small café where we chose to enjoy the sun and a refreshing drink in one of their comfortable deck chairs. A perfect ending to a perfect visit!
4. Snow shoe hiking
This is probably also one of the most popular activities during winter sport. The hiking trails are often covered in meters and meters of snow, making it very dangerous to step onto with regular footwear. We had planned to attempt a snow shoe hike during our trip, but unfortunately due to family emergencies we were forced to return home sooner than expected. So I sadly cannot give you any more information or my experiences on this.
At the mid-station of the Mont Blanc we however attempted a little 500 meter hike to a lake on which we halfway figured was probably only for snow shoes. We ended up knee-deep in the snow every other step, which may have been fun but was actually pretty dangerous. You never know what lies beneath those heaps of snow. We followed steps from people that went before us, but still, no guarantee. There hadn’t been any fresh snow the last couple of weeks at the time of our visit, which is probably why we were still able to make it so far.
It may sound a bit childish, but sledding is actually a very fun thing to do. Our apartment was situated on top of the Col du Corbier, where an old ski station provides the perfect place to sled. We had found two plastic sleds on the balcony of our apartment and of course couldn’t stop ourselves from giving it a shot.
Another thing that’s way harder than it looks. But at least when you fall, it’s not from as high. You don’t need a very steep slope to gain speed and that also makes it easier to climb to the top again.
We had a great deal of fun with something so simple. All ski towns sold these sleds for a small price so cheap fun for all!
6. Fat bike / Snow scooter
Two more things that were advertised online and on folders that we got in the tourist offices. We were very eager to try one if not both but unfortunately it’s apparently very much advertised yet hard to actually do. Many tourist offices referred us to other tourist offices in other places for more information and when we did find an office that organizes tours with bikes or scooters they simply informed us they stopped doing it because of the many regulations. Well, that sucks.
Most of these tours are organized after the ski lifts close to make sure the skiers aren’t impeded, so that already makes it a bit less appealing I guess. After being sent from pillar to post many times, we decided to just give up on our idea of biking through the snow. Bummer!
So that concludes my list of stuff that we did or wanted to do while we were exploring the French Alps in winter time. It was a first acquaintance with winter holiday and sure tastes like more. I was pretty jealous of those people skiing effortlessly past me, although I’m not sure that’s something that’ll ever be up my alley. But who knows, maybe one day!