So you want to see snow? Get a gist of the cold ice hitting your face, maybe make a snowman as you have seen in countless movies and cartoons. These are the kinds of dreams and bucket list goals we Sri Lankan’s have when we think about visiting the Alps. We don’t think about skiing, snowboarding or any other type of winter sports, we just want to see what we have never seen before and that is “Snow”.
All the crazy banter aside, deciding which Alpine region to include in your itinerary is no joke. There is literally the least amount of information on the internet for those of us who want to simply get to the top of these mountains to enjoy the freezing cold. It took me almost one year to find an affordable and convenient pedestrian friendly arena that was not in Switzerland.
I am not discounting the Swiss Alps (I have never been there) but it would be nice to know we have options.
So without further delay, here’s my guide to seeing some snow 🙂
Why the French Alps?
We had several reasons attached to our decision to select the French Alps, I have given them in point form below:
- An extensive network of mountains, which are, accessible from one singular point. The 3 Vallees express gondola offers direct access to 8 resorts, starting from Orelle.
- Longer opening dates for spring skiing – most resorts are open till mid-May.
- The largest ski area in the world and the highest ski resort in Europe (Val Thorens).
- Greatest tourism office in Orelle – they are friendly, patient and will advise you where you should go and if the weather is up for your crazy plan.
- Several options available in terms of passes – you can take a pedestrian pass, a full day skiing pass, 7-day pass and so on.
- You don’t need a guided tour – this saves you a ton of money and gets you the opportunity to spend time doing what you like to do and not stick to a schedule.
How to get there?
Since Orelle is where the “3 Vallees Express Gondola” is located, this should be your starting point. You do not have direct trains or buses here and the best option is renting a car.
If you are arriving from Paris – simply take a train from Paris Gare de Lyon to St Michel Valloire or Modane. These two are the closest towns to the Gondola.
We took a TGV to Chambery and then a TER to St Michel Valloire and it cost us only 36 Euros per person for a first class seat (this was an early bird offer – so keep checking the SNCF website). The total journey time was 4 hrs 16 Min, excluding the 55 min wait at Chambery. From there onwards the Orelle Tourism office is a 7.4 Km walk (if you are feeling up to it because the scenery is breathtaking) or take a taxi and it will cost you around 20 Euros. When getting back if there are no taxis nearby you will have to pay double as they will charge from the point they start.
If you are making Modane your base, there are direct trains from Paris with a total travel time of 4 hrs and 06 minutes and the prices are similar to the above train journey. Modane to the Orelle Tourism office is around 10-11 km walk or once again a taxi ride depending on your convenience.
There are several options available to you and these will be explained to you by the “Office du Tourisme d’Orelle”. The 3 Vallees website contains a comprehensive list, along with the timings and days and it’s a great tool when budgeting your trip here. I have given a general set of options as obtained from the 3 Vallees website below.
We went ahead with the pedestrian pass up to Orelle as we were advised not to visit the other mountains by the tourism office due to bad weather (Crazy wind and hale). This cost us around 14 Euros and it is a bargain for the experience.
How long does it take?
The express gondola ride is quite the treat. It takes roughly 15 minutes to get to the top. If its windy they will stop it midway and resume once the weather settles. One car can carry around 4-6 people and equipment. You get seats on either side and it’s best to balance yourselves out when sitting.
I would not suggest jumping around or dancing inside as it hangs on a cable and its a steep ride to the top, according to our rough calculations around 36 stops. The car is fully enclosed and you can see a million scratches on the windows from what I can assume is a result of heavy hale.
Dressing for the weather
Since we live in a tropical climate throughout the year, handling the cold in such a setting can be a challenge. Unless you are an avid skier or traveler to cold destinations you definitely will need to make some purchases in the wardrobe department.
The temperatures in Orelle varies from -20 degrees Celcius to +5 degrees Celcius, and once again it depends on the season. We visited at the end of April and the temperature was around -5 to +5 degrees Celcius. This is still quite cold and its best to be properly dressed.
For ladies & gents, it’s best to wear a thermal underwear or at least a thin legging inside your jeans. Jeans work well if you are not going to ski. If you are planning to take a beginners lesson to skiing, please bring along ski pants and a good waterproof jacket. I will do a post separately on what to exactly pack for this visit, so keep watching this space.
This brings me to the end of my post today, I hope I was able to offer you an alternative option to the general guided tours to the Alps. If you need help with planning your visit DM me via any of my social media accounts.
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Until next time please enjoy the beauty of Orelle…