Isola, FR: 02/04/18

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Isola, FR: 02/04/18

Postby jamesdeluxe » Wed Feb 07, 2018 3:53 pm

A few years back while reading the German-language Alpinforum -- where I steal all my ideas for off-the-beaten-path ski areas in the Alps -- I noticed a number of enticing trip reports from France’s Maritime Alps region, just north of Nice. Like most of us on this side of the Atlantic, I don’t instinctively connect the Côte d'Azur/Riviera with skiing, but those reports made me realise that the region had more than enough for a week-long road trip, with views of the Mediterranean on clear days as a value-added bonus. I've been looking forward to this not only as a skier but also because more than three decades ago as an undergrad I spent a half year in Nice and hadn’t been back since.

Here's the route in the extreme southeastern corner of France:
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And a zoom-in with some of the region's ski areas:
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After a quick change of planes in Zurich, I arrived in Nice at 10 am. Just walking through the airport, which is directly on the Mediterranean and decorated with plants from the region, was an odd feeling -- kinda like arriving in southern Florida for a ski trip. I got my car and headed north on Autoroute 8, the Route de Grenoble:
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Within 15 minutes, it becomes a narrow two-lane road that zigzags through canyons and small villages:
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I arrived at Isola at 12:30 for lunch with Cécile and Christian.
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Christian and I then got cracking with a 2.5-hour ski tour up through the trees, which was a great way to head off any thoughts of impending jet lag:
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That night, I had a fantastic dinner where you take a groomer up the mountain to an atmospheric chalet and hang out with new friends beside a roaring fire, drink lots of wine, and eat fantastic food:
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The next morning, I was on the snow by 9 am. Isola is the closest destination ski area to Nice, directly on the Italian border about 32 miles as the crow flies from the ocean. It's officially known as Isola 2000, referring to the ski village's elevation in meters (the actual village of Isola is much further down). As always in the Alps, the trail map doesn't convey how big the ski area is end to end:
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On weekends and school holidays, Isola is hugely popular with people from the Côte d'Azur and offers all sorts of activities for families, including those who don't ski or snowboard. Like many French purpose-built resorts from the 1960s and 70s, there are a number of concrete buildings at the base (similar to Snowbird in Utah) that they would certainly build differently today, but the dramatic Alpine scenery, spectacular views down to the ocean, and impressive snowpreservation (absolutely no rain this high up during winter, a similar situation as Colorado) make up for it.
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I started on the far looker's left and made my way over to Isola's premier terrain sector, Saint Sauveur, with a great combination of wide-open terrain and substantial tree skiing:
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One of several cute mountain huts -- the owner is a French gentleman who also lived a couple decades in Canada and became a citizen there too, as the flags demonstrate:
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Here's the view from the top; the Mediterranean is just below the clouds in the far left:
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A couple of the ski areas I'll visit in the coming days are on the right:
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Along the Italian border are a number of military fortifications from WWII, including barbed wire and other detritus:
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A late afternoon beer at the Solarium hut:
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They fine you for not taking a photo here:
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Re: Isola, FR: 02/04/18

Postby EMSC » Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:13 pm

=D> =D>

Double applause for the uphill on your arrival day.
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Re: Isola, FR: 02/04/18

Postby tseeb » Wed Feb 07, 2018 10:03 pm

I had a chance to ski Isola in late March in the late 1990s. It was my wife's first trip to Europe and we were on a 7 day Wine and Gastronomy tour based in Cannes. I brought glove and shell pants and had a rental car, but did not want to leave my wife in Cannes for what looked to be a long day while I went skiing. I was especially sorry one morning when we went to the Picasso museum in Antibes and saw snow had fallen to 2,000 or 3,000 foot elevation above the Mediterranean.
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Re: Isola, FR: 02/04/18

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Feb 07, 2018 11:15 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Absolutely no rain this high up during winter

it is highly counterintuitive but virtually all high rain/snow line storms come from the Atlantic and hit the Alps from the northwest according to Fraser. Consequently areas like Isola far from the Atlantic storm tracks and places in the southeast Alps like the Dolomites and St. Moritz rarely see rain. Which is the reason we were in the Dolomites when one of those storms hit the Alps Jan. 20-21 with rain/snow line at 6,500 feet. The next storm Jan. 26 came from the Mediterranean, had a low rain/snow line of 3,000 feet, hit the areas James is skiing now and also produced that big powder day for us in Cervinia.
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Re: Isola, FR: 02/04/18

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:11 am

EMSC wrote:Double applause for the uphill on your arrival day.

Lucky for me, he broke trail. Funny thing is, I'm convinced that the skinning was the reason I had zero jet lag and stayed awake until 10:30 pm that evening.
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