Bonneval sur Arc, FR: 03/09/23


After the previous day at Megève, which felt at times like a visit to the Scottish Highlands, I relocated to the village of Avrieux at the entrance of the Haute Maurienne region. Overnight, it snowed at elevation and cleared up by morning so I decided that the above-treeline locals ski area at the end of the valley, Bonneval sur Arc, would be the right call for the day.


There was a light cloud layer first thing, which cleared up by 10 am. The snow report said six to eight inches mid-mountain and more at the summit.

I took a photo of this trail that separates the upper and lower mountain because a local mentioned that a couple miles behind that ridgeline was Val d'Isère. Look at the far right of the pic (to be explained below):

As always, a clear sign that you're at an old-school ski area in France:

Who knows -- maybe one of my long-lost relatives manufactured the transmission bearings.

I love the 1960s Jetsons screens that tell you when to pull the platter:

While they were trying to get the summit open, I lapped the mid-mountain sector, which had six inches of wind-compacted new snow:

This snow under the chair skied much better:

Halfway down where that group is standing, at 2100m, is the rainline, after which it quickly stiffened up. Luckily, the lift-served terrain goes to 3000m.

Going back a half hour later to the photo above -- the entire slope slid due to the new snow falling on rock-hard cover. There are Gasex cannons several hundred feet above, but apparently they decided not to use them before opening the trail!

A few minutes later, one of the grooming team arrived, calmly shoveled a small pathway on the left for people to ski through, which was then followed by a snowcat that quickly groomed it out. No drama, no closing the sector for continued avy mitigation, nuthin! Imagine if that had happened at a U.S. ski area.

Circled at the beginning of the day is the area that slid 90 minutes later:

Later in the afternoon, you can see the far edge of the slide on the right and tracks alongside -- they didn't even bother to rope off the slope!

Here is one of the Gasex storage areas where propane and oxygen is supplied for avy mitigation blasts:

During the early afternoon, I ended up with a local who showed me lots of low-hanging fruit up top that I would've missed. He skied really fast and didn't want to wait around for me to take pix. In any case, a nice small powder day.

I finished with a mid-afternoon lunch in the cute tiny village. I ordred the classic Savoie winter main dish, tartiflette:

"Born in New York, Drunk Here!"
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As always, a clear sign that you're at an old-school ski area in France:
Only top and bottom lifts are chairs on that trail map; others are all surface lifts. Other Maurienne areas have a few surface lifts but this one is higher proportion like St. Luc and Veysonnaz in the Valais.
I should know but don't -- in the U.S., is there a federally mandated protocol for how ski areas deal with inbound avalanche mitigation or is everything based on the risk of getting sued?

As mentioned, Bonneval seemed to have Gasex exploders in all the right places. Apparently, they just neglected to use them in that particular spot!
I should know but don't -- in the U.S., is there a federally mandated protocol for how ski areas deal with inbound avalanche mitigation or is everything based on the risk of getting sued?

Each state has legislation to deal with skiing risks. They are often termed a Skier's Responsibility Act and deal with the 'inherent risks of skiing'.

The laws recognize that there are inherent dangers involved in downhill skiing and snowboarding that a ski resort operator cannot reasonably remove from the slopes; therefore, if a skier wants to ski, they must assume those risks at their own peril.

From Utah:
(1) "Inherent risks of skiing" means the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of the sport
of recreational, competitive, or professional skiing, including:
(a) changing weather conditions;
(b) snow or ice conditions as the snow or ice conditions exist or may change, including hard
pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, or machine-made
(c) surface or subsurface conditions, including bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps,
streambeds, cliffs, trees, or other natural objects;
(d) variations or steepness in terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking
or grooming operations, or other terrain modifications, including:
(i) terrain parks;
(ii) terrain features, including jumps, rails, or fun boxes; or
(iii) all other constructed and natural features, including half pipes, quarter pipes, or freestylebump terrain;
(e) impact with lift towers, other structures, or their components, including signs, posts, fences or
enclosures, hydrants, or water pipes;
(f) collisions with other skiers;
(g) participation in, or practicing or training for, competitions or special events; and
(h) the failure of a skier to ski within the skier's own ability.

An inbounds avalanche would likely fall outside an "inherent risk of skiing" and open the ski resort to liability under s State statute.

However, Vail recently won a case regarding a fatality from an inbounds avalanche. The victim hiked up Prima Cornice which was closed from the top. Here

The Colorado Supreme Court has denied an appeal by the family of a 13-year-old skier killed in an inbounds avalanche in 2012 at Vail ski area.

The court’s denial to hear the case effectively ends a nearly 10-year fight by the parents of Taft Conlin. Louise Ingalls and Steve Conlin argued that Vail ski area should have done more to close the Prima Cornice run that slid and swept their son through dense trees. The Eagle teen and several friends had entered an open lower gate on the run on Jan. 12, 2012, but sidestepped up a ridge to terrain below a closed upper gate.

An Eagle County District Court jury in June 2018 ruled Vail had properly closed the upper run. Ingalls and Conlin argued skiers for years had sidestepped up that ridge and the boundaries of the closure were unclear. They argued the ski area violated the Ski Safety Act by not closing both entrances to Prima Cornice. The case was one of the few times the venerable Ski Safety Act was tested in a jury trial. Most every lawsuit challenging the legislation is dismissed well before trial.
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It is state by state in the US. In Colorado at least, inbounds Avi's are part of the risk you assume.

Another case at Winter Park from I think that occurred the same day as at Vail (one super sketch day in the history of Colo snowpacks).
WP Avi lawsuit
Someone on Harv's forum posted this youtube clip, which shows (six days after I was there) several feet of snow sitting on top of a weak layer. That looks like a professional pit!

which village in the valley east of Modane would nicest to stay in do you think?
Honestly, I didn't actually spend any time in the various villages other than lunch in cute Bonneval sur Arc. This British site has articles on La Norma and Val Cenis -- the latter seemed fine from my drive-through.

Purely from convenience, where I was based in Avrieux worked well (45 minutes to Bonneval sur Arc, 15 to Val Cenis, 20 to Orelle); however, it wasn't really a village, just a grouping of homes at the bottom of a mountain.