After much anticipation in the months leading up to my snowboarding freeride holiday to La Clusaz, the lack of snowfall across the Alps was hitting the news and gave cause for concern in the days leading up to departure. I need not have worried as the snow Gods were kind; it snowed heavily from the moment we arrived in the resort!
La Clusaz Snowboarding Freeride Holiday Review
Part of the Massif des Aravis, La Clusaz is a delightful Alpine village a stone’s throw away from Geneva airport with just a one-hour transfer time. Although it has a central point, the village is a mixed bag of old and new buildings, small cafes, and restaurants. It lacks a certain Alpine finesse but possesses charm unlike many of the French purpose-built ski resorts.
After arriving early afternoon, we checked into the Hôtel Alpen Roc. I had to ask the receptionist to repeat himself when he stated that all drinks, including alcoholic, were free with our stay! An unusual and fantastic feature of the hotel.
With the snow getting heavier, we decided to unpack and head back down to the comfortable hotel lobby breakout area to relax and catch up on work with a few beers. That evening, we headed to the hotel bar where not only did we make use of the free beer, but we played for hours on the complimentary foosball table. What more could anyone want! Although, we did not stay up too late as we were in La Clusaz to snowboard, and the next day was going to be a powder day.
And, oh boy, was it a powder day! It had snowed heavily all night, but by morning it had stopped. Unfortunately, many of the runs were still closed, but not enough to spoil our fun. We met our ESF guide and decided to head straight over to the De Balme freeride area.
Because the L’Auguille chairlift was still closed, the only way to get across was along La Motte, a narrow and flat cat track that was heavy going due to the snow. Being a snowboarder, it was a bit of a struggle but well worth it for what lay ahead.
To reach the top of Col de Balme, we took the La Balme gondola and a 5-person chairlift. The views from the top are spectacular and an ideal location for those Insta pics. Not that I wanted to hang around for selfies as there was fresh snow to surf.
From the top, there are a couple of red runs down, but what makes the Col de Balme special is the extensive off-piste zone that is avalanche-safe.
On our first run, we headed right across the steep slope and kept high before dropping down to make fresh tracks and finding some real gems with the varied terrain of ridges, little couloirs, and valleys. We lapped this route a few times, each one being a different adventure to the last with new features found each time.
This is what snowboarding is all about and pure snowy heaven for the purist. A true winter wonderland full of opportunities.
We then headed to the left from the top along a steep slope before dropping in to make fresh tracks across glorious expansive fields of snow. It felt effortless and gravity-free as we glided down, occasionally hitting natural kickers, gliding through powdery bowls, over snow-laden ridges or rocks and cliff drops. I feel exhausted just writing about it!
There are off-piste opportunities on the other side of the top of Col de Balme. But it is not avalanche-controlled, and the dangers were made very apparent and real when we saw a rescue helicopter heading over. It was much later that we found out that a party had been caught in an avalanche but rescued, not before a couple of skiers had been buried under the snow and had to be dug out.
Luckily, no one was seriously injured, but it does highlight the dangers of ignoring the avalanche warnings and gambling with mother nature. It also highlights how amazing it is that La Clusaz has such a vast off-piste zone that is protected from avalanches.
Next, we took a long drag lift up to Torchere. Draglifts are never much fun for snowboarders, and it was made even more interesting when it stopped when I was at the steepest point in the blistering cold. The ride was worth it, though, as we headed to the left at the top and rode off-piste down challenging but glorious untracked powder all the way down, joining the Balme blue run for the final part down to the gondola. It was steep in parts, and we did have to navigate through rocky terrain at times, but it was probably our best run of the day.
We spent the rest of the afternoon lapping the Col de Balme. It was an ever-changing adrenaline-fueled experience as no two descents down the slope will ever feel the same. It was a hard day surfing the snow but worth it. It is not often that we are blessed with untracked powder in a resort with so many playful elements to explore and enjoy.
That evening, we decided to take it easy and headed up to the hotel bar for a few more games of foosball. I obviously couldn’t get enough of getting thrashed at the game – I blame it on the lightweight French-style cork ball!
La Clusaz Freeride Holiday Review: Day 2
On day two of our snowboarding holiday in La Clusaz, we were disappointed but not surprised to see that most of the ski lifts in the resort were still closed. The weather was not great as it was overcast and cloudy. We had an inkling that the weather may not hold out, and we planned to make the most of it while visibility was good.
We decided to head back over to the Col de Balme freeride zone and made use of the re-opened L’Auguille lift and headed up to the top before dropping down into the next valley on the Le Furney red run. The snow was hard-packed, so I focused on getting my snow legs back with some easy riding.
Conditions were not great with the snow compacted and tracked out, leaving moguls and cookies (ice balls). In some areas, the snow had been completely scraped away, leaving rocky dirt patches. Don’t get me wrong, it was still great fun, but we really had to work for it.
Towards the end of the morning, the resort runs were getting slushy. Many skiers hate these conditions, but on a snowboard, slush is so much fun.
Although enjoyable, it had been a tough morning on the legs. So, with the weather closing in, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.
La Clusaz Freeride Holiday Review: Day 3
Our final day! Luckily, our flights were in the evening, and because of the quick transfer time to Geneva airport, we had the whole morning to go snowboarding.
Despite fresh snow, most of the resort remained closed. Heading back over to the freeride zone, we took the quicker option of the La Motte cat track. ‘Quicker’ is the word as it was more compact than on day 1, making it as nippy as a boardercross track! Being the first real run of the day, I really needed to focus as at times it was icy and a bit challenging in parts.
At the top of Col de Balme, we traversed along the ridge on the left before dropping in to mainly untouched powder. We managed to hit this for a few runs before everyone else got the same idea, and it started to get tracked out.
Searching for more white gold, we headed to the other side of the bowl and managed to find fresh powder with some delightful natural kickers with soft powdery landings. Because the original snow dump had been packed down with fresh snow on top, we had a lot fewer rocks to navigate through than we did on the first day.
It was an amazing morning that capped an incredible few days. We headed back to the hotel, and as I waited for the taxi to pick us up and take us to the airport, I contemplated how on earth I had never been snowboarding in La Clusaz before!
La Clusaz Village
Off the slopes, the village at La Clusaz ski resort in France exudes a charming and picturesque ambiance. With its traditional Alpine architecture, cozy chalets, and a range of quaint shops and restaurants, the village captures the essence of a classic mountain getaway. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, creating a sense of authenticity and providing a cozy retreat after a day on the slopes.
It is not a lively resort, but it does have a few late-night bars with live music or DJs. If you fancy something different, I can recommend a tour of Distillerie des Aravis, the local Genepi micro-brewery. It was well presented in both French and English, with plenty of free samples!
Hôtel Alpen Roc
Hôtel Alpen Roc is in an excellent location. Situated in close proximity to the ski slopes, the hotel offers convenient access to the mountain and the resort’s amenities.
The rooms are basic but clean, cosy, and well-maintained, offering a comfortable retreat after a day of skiing or snowboarding.
The staff were all friendly and attentive and were very accommodating in storing our bags after checking out and allowing us the facilities to shower and get changed ready for our journey home.
Breakfast was good, and we had one evening meal in the restaurant. The food was buffet-style, but being vegan, I was not impressed with the options open to me.
As mentioned, the standout feature of the hotel is that the drinks are all-inclusive! With a large but cozy and welcoming bar, we felt no need to venture out from the hotel. Oh, and did I mention it has a free foosball table!
Freeride Snowboarding Holiday in La Clusaz Review – Final Words
The freeride area sets the resort apart from others and really is an adventure playground with endless possibilities. It is perfect for seasoned dog-eared snowboarders as well as those wanting to venture out and experience freeride snowboarding in a relatively safe and controlled environment.
Being such a short distance from Geneva, it is an ideal location for a quick snowboarding weekend away. But, La Clusaz also has the legs for a longer snowboarding holiday.
On our snowboarding trip to La Clusaz, we were extremely lucky with the snow, and it was such a shame that half the lifts were closed. But, having said that, it made us focus on the incredible areas that we could access, and of course, we will now need to return to ride the rest of the resort – go on then, twist my arm!