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The stuff of legends

Cult ski runs

Some ski runs mark a turning point in your life as a skier. They have that extra something that marks them down for posterity. Just what is it that makes them so special? It’s difficult to say exactly as there’s no one-size-fit-all recipe! One thing’s for sure though - green runs are rarely among the favourites. Generally speaking, you need a steep gradient, a history, some great anecdotes about how they came into being, an exceptional environment, a special atmosphere, a touch of the wild… and maybe we start to get closer to the magic ingredients that make a piste special. Come with us for a ride down some of the legendary French ski slopes that will stay with you for a long, long time.
In Val d'Isère
The Face de Bellevarde
The black slope begins at the top of the Olympique cablecar at 2827m for a 1000 metre downhill ride.

As soon as you get onto this formidable run, you have a plunging view of the village where you’re heading, quite exceptional for a 1000 metre descent!
The official Alpine and Super G competitions piste, it hosted the men’s Olympic downhill in 1992 and the Alpine world ski championships in February 2009, when Franck Piccard showed off his superb skills, taking home the silver medal, five fifths of a second behind Patrick Ortlieb.
The OK
This black slope begins at the top of Funival at 2815m, running down for 1000 metres.

This is the sort of piste where you’re pretty unlikely to be making an “ok, everything’s great” sign just before heading off down. In fact, the initials OK refer to the two mythical Olympic champions who came from Val D’Isère: Henri Oreiller and Jean-Claude Killy.
The home-grown hero, Henri Oreiller, was the first downhill Olympic skiing champion in Saint Moritz in 1948. Jean Claude Killy, hero of the 1968 Grenoble Games, was also from the area. This world-class run has hosted the early December Critérium alpine skiing world cup since 1955.
Chamonix Valley
The Combe Lachenal in La Flégère
This red piste begins at the top of the Index chairlift at 2400m, giving onto a 665m descent.

Previously an off-piste trail, the south-facing Combe is now a marked-out ski run. This superb run down the Chamonix Mont-Blanc valley is named after Louis Lachenal, one of the first climbers to reach 8000m when he conquered Annapurna in 1950 with Maurice Herzog. A distinguished member of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, Louis Lachenal was also a key mover and shaker behind the creation of La Flégère ski domain. During a conference in Marseille, he managed to convince investors from the oldest city in France to put their money into the future skiable domain of Flégère. At one point, there was even talk of naming one of the slopes the "Canebière” in their honour.
Louis Lachenal died after falling into a crevasse in the Vallée Blanche in 1955, one year before the inauguration of the Flégère chairlift. The magnificent Combe Lachenal also carries his name, in tribute to this great climber and champion skier who, among other things, headed the French ski team and was a teacher at ENSA (the French National Mountaineering and Skiing School).
The Verte piste in Les Houches
This black slope begins at the top of the Coupe du Monde chairlift at 1871m for a run of almost 900m downhill.

The Verte (or Green in English) is green in name only, for the Verte des Houches, located at the foot of Mont Blanc, is a steep and challenging piste that annually hosts the prestigious Kandahar World Cup in January. Considered by top alpine skiers as one of the most beautiful runs on the circuit, the mythical ride down the Verte piste takes you past "La Cassure", "Rocher Blanc", "Goulet", and “Schuss Battendier". It gets great cannon snow coverage on all the sheltered lower areas.
In Val Cenis
The piste de la Ramasse
Enjoy a ride down the 700m red piste that begins at 2100m at the top of the Ramasse chairlift.

The Ramasse run follows the historic route taken by travellers between Savoy and Italy. Before the road created by Napoléon was built, the valley’s guides, the Marrons, would take travellers down the slopes on a toboggan made from fallen branches, hence the name ‘la ramasse’ (from the French verb for to pick up or to gather). When you ski on the piste, you can well imagine the former travellers hurtling downhill on the makeshift sleds manoeuvred by their expert guides!
The Escargot piste
This green piste begins at the top of the Ramasse chairlift at 2100m, winding its way downhill for 700m.

The Escargot is the longest green run in Europe: 10kms long.
The mythical green run, an exception that confirms the rule, follows the summer Mont Cenis Col road, completed by Napoleon in 1810, and baptised the Route Impériale (the Imperial road). After Savoy was annexed to France in 1860, it became Route Nationale 6. The summertime road is metamorphosed into the Escargot in winter, a historic green run!
In Alpe d'Huez
Piste de Sarenne
This black piste begins at the top of the Pic Blanc chairlift at 3333m with a 1800m downhill run.
Created in 1974, this is the longest black piste in Europe, running downhill for 16km, and with a descent of 1800m. It was an off-piste trail before Alpe d’Huez enthusiastically incorporated it into its domain. Riding Sarenne is quite simply an amazing adventure for very good skiers. Sarenne was given a major makeover a few years back, and now it is groomed daily and enjoys regular maintenance. The fantastic panorama from the top of Pic Blanc wins 4 stars in the Michelin guide. The trail ends in the Sarenne gorges, where you can hop on a chairlift to get back to the resort.
Piste du Tunnel
This black piste begins at the top of the Pic Blanc chairlift at 3333m for a 700m descent.
It’s an unusual run as it crosses a mountain to give onto one of the steepest walls in French skiing. The piste starts at the top of Pic Blanc before it reaches the entrance to the Tunnel, an actual skiable tunnel through the mountain. A slight gradient allows skiers to slide effortlessly the 200m through the tunnel that looks like a long grotto. The entrance to the Piste du Tunnel used to have an almost 35° incline, but it has been reworked and now the incline is no more than 30° …
Other famous pistes
The Swiss Wall at Avoriaz
This black piste begins at the top of the Chavanette chairlift at 2217m for a 400m downhill run.
The Swiss wall leaves from Avoriaz and joins up with Champéry in Switzerland, from where it gets its name. Very steep and very long, it is never groomed and offers skiers a major challenge, including a wall of moguls when there's heavy traffic. Depending on the conditions, you can ski down an icy wall or wonderful powder the day after a fresh snowfall.

The Noire de Grevettaz at Contamines-Montjoie
This black piste begins at the top of the Tierces chairlift at 2300m and runs down for 690m.
The real thing, this black slope features a wall that’s never groomed as the incline is far too steep for machines to get up it, a really adrenalin-packed atmosphere from the outset, a panorama over Mont Blanc and a series of plateaus and fast downhill schuss runs for more than two kilometres.
The Emile Allais piste in Megève
This narrow black piste starts from the top of the Roche Brune chairlift at 1870m, offering an 800m ride down. This isn’t the only mythical run named after Emile Allais, a French ski champion who still dons his kit at 98 years old, and is himself an integral part of the myth. Apart from being the inventor of the French skiing method, he also invented the job of ski patroller. The list is long. Born in Megève in 1912, he won the combined (downhill and slalom) bronze medal in the 1936 Olympic Games, and then became triple gold medallist in the World Championships held in Chamonix in 1937.
The piste that carries his name at Megève was the scene of major international competitions until 1975. Inaugurated in 1950, the Emile Allais piste is now a mountain ski trail, known as the Allais trail.

The Saulire Couloirs at Courchevel
This black piste starts from the top of the Saulire chairlift at 2738m for a 900m run down. The Couloirs de la Saulire is THE run to do in the magnificent Courchevel domain. The north-facing slope offers exceptional snow conditions and a panorama that’ll take your breath away, although you can take our word, you’ll need plenty of the latter! On one side you have Méribel, and on the other, Courchevel, with some serious skiing: once committed, there’s no easy way out. Only the grand Couloir is marked out, and as soon as you move away from the markers, you’re off-piste. You could also try out the "Jean Blanc" piste in Courchevel.
The Kilomètre Lancé piste at Arc 2000
The Kilomètre Lancé (or Flying Kilometre) piste is closed to the public, but it’s possible to sign up and attempt the legendary downhill ride, supervised by professionals. It begins at the top of the gondola lifts at Varet, 2800m up for an 800m-long downhill ride.
The piste saw the world ski speed record being made by the Italian, Simoné Origone, at 251.4 km/hour. If you want to try to match it (…!) you will be supervised by a team of professionals to take it in test stages before reaching the first speed of 90 km/h, and possibly over 100 if you’re good enough.
It was the official Albertville Olympic Games slope in 1992, when speed skiing featured as a demonstration sport.
Less well-known but just as spectacular
In the Puy de Dome: the Ancolie piste in Super Besse

In the Vosges: the Gaby Curien in La Bresse

In Haute Savoie:
The Edgard wall in Clusaz
The Jean-Vuarnet in Morzine-Avoriaz
The Cascade in Flaine

In Savoy: the Jean Blanc in Courchevel
The Léo-Lacroix in Ménuires
The Mont de la Guerre piste in La Plagne
The Cime Caron in Val Thorens
The Combe du Vallon, the Mauduit piste and the Roc de Fer in Méribel
The Glacier piste in Tignes

In Isère:
The Diable piste in 2 Alpes
The Casserousse men’s Olympic piste in Chamrousse

In the Hautes-Alpes:
The Pousterle piste in Les Orres
The Chabrières piste in Vars
The Luc Alphand piste in Serre Chevalier

In Alpes Maritimes:
The Mélèzes piste in Auron
The Piste de Géant in Isola 2000

New book:
If you want to learn more about mythical runs, a book published by Glénat on legendary downhill runs is packed with information about the history and trends in Alpine skiing.

PISTES DE LEGENDE, LES DESCENTES QUI ONT FAIT L’HISTOIRE DU SKI EN FRANCE by Gilles Chappaz with a preface by Luc Alphand, Edition Glénat.
Crédit photos: N.Cuche, E.Beallet, L.Salino, offices tourisme Les Arcs - Avoriaz and Val Cenis, M.Buscail, M.Dalmasso, E.Moy/office du tourisme Les Houches
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