Step by step through the mountains
Over the years, French ski resorts have adapted to meet the wants and needs of all vacationers. They have set up areas for new downhill sports, and for children, as well as dedicated trails for rambling on foot or snowshoes, because people no longer come to the mountains just to ski, but to enjoy nature and to breathe the clean air.
Wide-open spaces for walkers
Low altitude resorts lay great emphasis on this nature tourism and attract walkers in both summer and winter.
- There are many routes in the Massif Central. The resort at Lioran, in the heart of Cantal, is a starting point for a hundred signposted trails.
- In the Vosges and the Jura all kinds of rambles, on foot or on snow-shoes, are also available, and are suitable for the whole family or for the more athletic.
- The Pyrenees are also perfect for mountain walking. Medium and high altitude ''Nordic spaces,'' combining cross-country skiing, luge, dog-sledding, snow-shoeing and walking. These can be found at Issarbe, Le Somport-Candanchu, Val d'Azun, Cauterets, Plateau de Beille, Font-Romeu/Pyrénées 2000 and Capcir.
- The Northern Alps and Southern Alps resorts are not just the favorite places of the ''tout schuss'' adepts, they are also beloved of walkers. In Savoie, winter trekking guides help you to choose between walks, snow-shoeing, ski trekking, ski runs... At Méribel, for example, 20 km of footpaths will take you from district to district or to explore ancient villages. In the High Alps, the resorts at Réallon, Trévous, Vars, Risoul, Orcières Merlette and Serre-Chevalier each have 25 to 35 km of sign-posted footpaths where you can snow-shoe or ramble.
Before setting off
Be aware – winter rambling requires some special precautions:
"Make sure you're fully informed before you set out, by checking the weather forecasts and the avalanche risk bulletins (BRA)," says Yves Lespérat, the technical adviser at the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre.
"Obviously, you need to study the terrain on a map, because the snow masks the natural geographical hazards: holes, crevasses, faults… And then, you must be aware that rambling on snow, either on foot or on snow-shoes, is more physically demanding than rambling in summer. Adjust your route and the timing of your walks accordingly.
Good equipment is vital as well. Wear several layers of clothing in breathable materials. You need water-proof footwear and clothing, boots... Don't forget to take a hot drink in a thermos flask (sweet tea, for example), a woolly hat, and gloves, not forgetting goggles, sunblock and lip salve to protect you from the sun. A mobile phone may come in handy, but you may not always recieve a signal to your telephone in the mountains.
In avalanche zones, victim-seeking equipment (ARVA, accompanied by a probe and a snow shovel) is vital. But the most important thing is to know how to use it… In fact, the most important thing is really to know when to give up if the conditions aren't ideal! And of course, never set out alone, either in summer or winter," concludes Yves Lespérat.