By Rhonda Carrier
Biking down a snow-clad mountain has never been high on my wish-list – or something I could even imagine myself being able to do. But once we’d got off the chair-lift and turned a corner onto a green run taking us back down to the resort of Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves in Les Sybelles ski area, I was determined not to bottle it. Seven kilometres (and two tumbles later), I was high on adrenaline and life in general – and ready to do it all over again.
'We followed fox and hare tracks across the pristine slopes, then took the chairlift up high for crazily scenic views towards Mont Blanc in one direction and Alpe d’Huez’s glacier in the other. From here, we walked along a ridge to peer down, using binoculars, at chamois (mountain goats) grazing in a valley. Along the way, our guide pointed out animal footprints as well as various plants that are foraged to be used in local cuisine and liqueurs.'
Fat-biking (mountain-biking with super-thick tyres) was just one of the brilliant activities we tried out during our short break in this charming, family-friendly resort that’s grown from an authentic mountain village without becoming large or impersonal. There was skiing, of course – the resort is well linked with the five others in the domain: Saint-Jean-d’Arves, Le Corbier, La Toussuire, Les Bottières and St Colomban-des-Villards. But there was also snowshoeing – something that sounded both a little uninspiring and a bit arduous after the joy of whizzing down the ski slopes, but that turned out to be really fun.
Led by a charming, informative guide, we followed fox and hare tracks across the pristine slopes, then took the chairlift up high for crazily scenic views towards Mont Blanc in one direction and Alpe d’Huez’s glacier in the other. From here, we walked along a ridge to peer down, using binoculars, at chamois (mountain goats) grazing in a valley. Along the way, our guide pointed out animal footprints as well as various plants that are foraged to be used in local cuisine and liqueurs.
In terms of kids, Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves has a great beginners’ area with a free magic carpet and then two drag-lifts and three chair-lifts. The fat-biking is open to children aged about 10-12 or up, or over 1.5m, according to their existing cycling proficiency. And you don’t have to go down green runs – you can break yourselves in gently with snow mountainbiking at La Toussuire instead. Snowshoeing is generally available to those about 7–8 and over (for half a day – ages 11/12 and up can go out for a whole day). Also fun with kids is an after-hours piste tour in a groomer (piste-basher) at La Toussuire, with kids under-10 riding for free. You can enquire about all activities available in the resort at Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves tourist office.
Our hotel was the charming ski-in ski-out La Balme, perched up above the village, with cosy rooms, rustic-chic decor and dreamy views of the three peaks of the Aiguilles d’Arves from its terraces and private balconies. Among its 26 rooms are family rooms with bunk-beds. Breakfast was a hearty buffet that set us up well for a day on the slopes, including eggs to boil, an array of sweet and savoury cakes, and luscious home-made jams.
Indeed, we ate well all through our stay, both in Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves itself (at Le Hors Piste with its creative cuisine), in Saint-Jean-d’Arves (at the family-friendly La Grenouillère with its great fondues and and other mountain classics, and extensive kids’ menu), in La Toussuire (at the welcoming, family-run Hôtel Les Soldanelles) and on the slopes (at L'Alpe and Le Choucas). Cheese-lovers, of course, are in heaven here – and should the mood take you, you can tour Saint-Sorlin-d'Arve's dairy cooperative, where some of the delicious local Beaufort is made.
The benefit of bringing the kids to a resort like Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves is that you’ll really feel you’re in France, and though the ski tutors and guides all speak English, you’ll hear mainly French voices around you. And the fact that the resort is not really on the international radar (despite Les Sybelles being France’s fourth-largest ski area) translates into lower lift-pass prices. And naturally, investing in weekly family passes saves you money too – as do online advance purchases and regular kids-ski-free promotions. And of course, accommodation, eating and activities are correspondingly good-value.
Getting to Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves is easy too – Chambéry Airport is only 70 minutes away by shuttle or private transfer, or you can fly to Lyon or Geneva just over two hours away. Or by train, you can travel to St Jean de Maurienne and hop aboard a coach transfer.
Read more about Les Sybelles and about family holidays in the Savoie region of the French Alps.