Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

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Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Feb 15, 2018 9:10 am

Over the first half of my week in the Maritime Alps, I visited three pretty diverse ski areas and #4 was equally different from the others.
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Late afternoon on Tuesday, I drove a half hour from small, atmospheric, and proudly throwback Roubion to the animated but relaxed ski village of Valberg that averages more than 300 days of sunshine a year.
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At dinner that evening, I got chatting with a few French visitors at the next table and wondered aloud why a town in the south of France had what seemed like a Germanic place name. I was quickly corrected -- Valberg is a contraction for “Vallon des Bergers” or the Valley of Shepherds. Founded in 1936, it’s both the oldest ski area in the Maritime Alpes (celebrated its 80th anniversary a couple seasons ago) and the closest full-service ski village to the Cote d’Azur (only 32 air miles from Nice) with all sorts of options, including snowshoeing, swimming, horseback riding, sledding, and that week even a standup comedy festival.

Having had so much fun on my evening snowmobiling two days earlier, I signed up for a group ride departing the following morning at 7:30. While staying in bed for another hour would’ve been my preferred activity, I was glad to have come along within a couple minutes of getting on the sled. The quality of light at sunrise -- which unfortunately doesn't quite come across in these photos -- was gorgeous:
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Not as challenging as the ride in Auron a couple days earlier, but a nice, leisurely outing surrounded by beautiful scenery: worth the early wake-up. About 30 minutes in, the monsieur in charge unpacked a breakfast of coffee, tea, and croissants.
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By 9:15, I was booting up and looking forward to a circuit similar in layout to Park City's The Canyons. A series of rounded peaks with 54 miles of trails, a vertical of 1,900 feet, and as always over here, lots of lightly-touched offpiste. There's much more breathing room between the cut trails and terrain sectors than it appears in the trail map.
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Valberg's extensive snowmaking capabilities have been critical as, similar to Roubion just to the east, the preceding three years offered very modest natural precipitation. This season has been closer to average, but still a bit below. As Fraser Wilkin mentioned earlier, this winter's bumper crop of snow in the north/northwestern Alps has no effect on the Maritime Alps and vice-versa -- they're two completely different weather zones.
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In addition to high-speed cruising on buttery soft groomed trails, I found a bunch of nice shots with several inches of leftovers from two days earlier:
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Had a delicious lunch with locals Lionel and Rémi next to a snowmaking basin known as Wapiti Lake:
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Toward the end of the day, I headed back into town:
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And checked out the Twizy, a two-seat electric car from Renault, The town has a small fleet of them that you rent, similar to a Citibike in NYC.
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You put your planks in the back and cruise around town instead of clomping around in your ski boots:
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I zipped up the hill to check out the golf course and just missed the sunset, but still a nice photo opp:
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In short, a beautiful ski area with mostly relaxed upper-intermediate piste skiing, quite a bit of offpiste (given a sufficient base), and a cute village.
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Re: Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby kingslug » Thu Feb 22, 2018 6:00 am

Cool..makes me want to go back to Europe.
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Re: Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Feb 22, 2018 9:49 am

Thanks, Slug. None of these are necessarily places that people would fly across the ocean to ski by themselves. Like most of my Alps visits, this trip was "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

I still have two more reports to post/the best of the bunch -- I'm waiting for my camera to arrive after I left it in a bar the night before my flight back. :roll:
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Re: Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby kingslug » Thu Feb 22, 2018 11:10 am

After my less than stellar trip to Austria, flat groomers, and well, inhospitable all around, I swore off Europe. It was my wifes choice, but did snow 2 feet the night before we left. It was a slog though. 6 hour bus ride that should have been 2.5, etc. I think I really need a full blown Alps trip with real terrain off the beaten path. We got lucky at Zermatt some years ago with a 2 foot dump that lasted all week. 5 of the group even almost got killed by a huge avalanche on a guided tour..what a bonus. It aint Kansas. Have to do some research on where to go. These reports help.
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Re: Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Feb 23, 2018 12:21 am

Liz and I thought that Zermatt trip was stellar. She had been soured by he first Euro trip to Chamonix in 2001 where she was sandwiched between rain to 2000 meters and bad visibility up high for most of the week. The past two years we've opted for a highly flexible approach, though that's more of a challenge if you are only over there for one week. I continue to believe James is leading a charmed life with repeated one week structured trips and never having an experience like Liz did in 2001. Then there's his frequency of powder... :mrgreen: :drool:
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Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby jamesdeluxe » Fri Feb 23, 2018 4:14 am

Tony Crocker wrote:I continue to believe James is leading a charmed life with repeated one week structured trips and never having an experience like Liz did in 2001. Then there's his frequency of powder...

I only got 1.5 days of powder on this recent trip; the rest was sunny and pleasant but nothing epic snow-wise. I had a rainout day at Chatel a couple years ago and a handful of vertigo-filled storm days. As Tony mentioned, if there's no way around a down day due to weather, you almost always have good tourist or food options.

Following up on Slug's plan to try the Alps again, best practices are the obvious bullet points:
-- Avoid planned bus-based group trips and rent a car. You may get lucky with a group trip, but flexibility is shot. Tony goes to lengths that even I wouldn't -- driving 5+ hours to the Dolomites on this trip. :shock:

-- By avoiding Euro holidays and school breaks, you can get reasonable lodging literally last-minute at the same price as booking far in advance.

-- Don't overlook comparatively small or off-the-beaten path regions. I understand that people want to visit and write home about the well-known Top 10s but the comparatively small or off-the-beaten-path ski areas are often bigger than all but the largest resorts on this side of the ocean, especially offpiste. Even ski areas that appear mostly intermediate at first glance have interesting terrain and often vast expanses of untracked.
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Re: Valberg, FR: 02/07/18

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Feb 23, 2018 7:42 am

James makes good points. The Monte Rosa region of Italy where we skied two days on this last trip is better known than most of James’ places but has very similar off-the beaten track ambience. At the end we skied La Clusaz mainly due to my impression from his TR there a few years back.

And as well run and successful as the Dogs’ trip to Zermatt was, yes you have zero flexibility in that setup. Which was a big problem when the trip to Solden two years later was not so lucky with snow conditions.

There are a few places where demand is high enough that you have to take your chances and commit far ahead. The Sandhof Hotel in Lech (another James find) is an example of that.
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Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
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