The message widely shared by the France government is “ski resorts are closed.” While the actual ski lifts are not running, the resorts are still open. Nevertheless, take away the ski lifts, the bars for a relaxing apres-ski drink after a long day on the mountain, the restaurants for warm soup and fondue, and what do we have left? An untouched mountain covered in champagne powder, waiting to be explored by visitors. And that’s precisely why we took a day trip to go snowshoeing in the French Alps.
The great thing about living in Lyon is the proximity to so many places. In post-COVID times, it will be really great! We can travel to Paris or Switzerland in two hours by train, or navigate to the French Alps or the Mediterranean Sea in under three hours by car. While COVID restrictions rage on, travel is allowed between departments in France. We had been in our little Lyon bubble for three weeks and were itching to get out. I researched nearby ski resorts to see where we could take our next adventure and found the perfect spot: Les Saisies.
Les Saisies is located 5400 feet (1650 m) above sea level, similar to Denver’s elevation. It’s tucked away in the French Alps near the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. So we knew the snow must be good. The resort welcomes panoramic mountain views, including a stunning view of Mont Blanc on a clear day. We asked a couple of friends if they wanted to go with us. They immediately questioned our sanity for wanting to drive five hours to be at a mountain for roughly the same amount of time. They followed up with a resounding “yes.”
Go ahead, flip your phone or computer upside down. You’ll notice the Les Saisies logo is the same both ways!
First things first: How do you even pronounce “Les Saisies”? When translated from French to English, the word “saisies,” interestingly enough, means “seizures.” Saying we are headed towards “seizure mountain” really doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it? Pronounce Les Saisies as “Le Say-zee,” which sounds much chicer than “seizure mountain.”
Cars must have winter tires or chains to drive in the French Alps from November through March. It’s a relatively new law that was passed a few years ago but only recently enforced. There’s still a lot of misinformation online, so we decided to err on the side of caution and purchase winter tires. Jordan drives a Volkswagen Golf, but I’m using the verb “drive” loosely here. He filled up his still half-full tank of gas for the first time since October for this trip! After work, Jordan went to a nearby store to have winter tires fitted on the car. We will store our standard set of tires in our garage for the winter season. In addition to the tires, we also bought snow socks to help with icy conditions.
On Friday evening, we packed our bags so we wouldn’t forget anything in a pre-coffee haze on Saturday morning. We filled up our camelbacks with water, packed a couple of granola bars, and threw all our winter clothing in a bag. It was easy to throw in extra layers and various clothing options since we weren’t sure how the weather would be. The weather apps said Les Saisies would be a crisp 25 degrees Fahrenheit. A sunny 25 degrees would be much warmer than a cloudy 25 degrees, and we were hoping for the former.
Before we left Lyon, we stopped at our local boulangerie to pick up chocolate croissants. After all, it’s a tradition. The chocolate croissants were warm and flaky. Small pieces broke off into Jordan’s freshly vacuumed car. Whoops! We may need to buy a portable vacuum if we plan on more Saturday car trips.
As we approached the Alps, we went through two tunnels. After leaving the first tunnel, we emerged into a cloud of fog. We couldn’t see anything. After leaving the second tunnel, the sun was shining, and snow covered everything around. Now, this is the right aesthetic! As we drove closer, multiple cars came down the mountain with piles of snow on their hoods. It had snowed in the Alps the entire day before, and we were going to enjoy fresh powder! While it would be much better on skis, snowshoes would have to do. Anything for a day on the mountain!
We slowly twisted and turned up the mountain on snow-packed roads. Various wooden chalets lined the streets, and others were tucked away in the snow. Branches of evergreen trees drooped with heavy snow that fell the day before. The road became flat as we arrived at the resort. We stopped in the village and entered a local ski shop to pick up our snowshoes. We made our rental reservations online, so the pickup was effortless. The employee gave us the instructions in French, but we understood! And for the pieces we didn’t understand, nodding worked. But it’s snowshoeing; how hard could it be?
When I lived in Colorado, I owned a pair of pink snowshoes. I used them once or twice, but they ended up in the back of the closet as I chose my skis over the snowshoes every time. I even packed my pink snowshoes in my car as I prepared for my cross-country move to South Carolina. After a few hours of driving, I stopped at a second-hand store and sold them. What was I going to do with snowshoes in South Carolina? The drive had knocked some sense into me.
The snowshoes the shop handed us were made of yellow plastic and had small spikes on the bottom. They were about double the width of our boots. The width would help us stay on top of the snow instead of plunging into the powder below. The shop also rented us boots that snapped directly into the snowshoes. It was surprising that they carried Jordan’s shoe size, a US 14!
After grabbing our snowshoeing gear from the shop, we drove to a nearby parking lot. We parked the car, geared up, and were ready to set off! Surprisingly, there were a lot of other people at the resort. Many were nordic skiing, hiking up the mountain to ski down, or snowshoeing like us. I admire those who hiked up to the top of the mountain with their skis. That’s a lot of work for only one run down the trail!
Trails previously used for skiing were now transformed into snowshoe trails. We could take a few routes to the top but decided to go uphill on a wide-open groomed trail. Within a few minutes, my gloves, hat, and jacket were off! It was a bluebird day and the sun was shining bright. It proved to be a warm 25 degrees out as we hoped. I dressed for skiing conditions but quickly needed to remove some layers. I would have been fine in a t-shirt!
We slowly made the way to the top of the mountain with our friends. We passed couples hiking with their dogs, families pulling kids up the hill on a sled, and other snowshoers. It was a beautiful day, but it was us against the clock. We only had a certain number of hours on the mountain before we had to head home. There was a 6:00 pm curfew, after all.
We soaked in the stunning 360-degree views of the Alps when we made it to the top. And as promised, a breathtaking view of Mont Blanc. We sat down at a nearby picnic table to enjoy some snacks. As we were eating our simple granola bars, we realized we had not planned properly. A group of people next to us brought a portable stove and made makeshift seats in the snow. They were making fondue and even opened a couple of bottles of wine to enjoy. The next thing we know, they were pulling baguettes out of their bag! Now I’ll be honest, Jordan did have a baguette in his backpack, but it wasn’t for fondue. It was in case we needed a snack on the way home since all restaurants are closed. We need to take a lesson from the French and plan for fondue next time.
After soaking in the sun at the top of the mountain, it was time to head down so we could make it home before curfew. We took an alternate snowshoeing route down to see more of the resort. This path was narrow and for snowshoes only. It twisted around tall trees heavy with fresh snowfall from the evening before. The snow on either side of the trail was high with untouched powder. I told Jordan that I would jump into it, and I was going to follow through. After handing Jordan my trekking poles, I fell back into the deep powder beside the trail. I felt like a kid again! Getting up was harder than expected, and I quickly remembered I’m actually in my early thirties.
We made it down the mountain in a fraction of the time. At several points of the trail, I felt like we were skiing on our snowshoes. The fresh powder was slick, and we smoothly glided down the mountain. With extra time to spend before we drove home, we decided to grab a refreshing drink at the mountainside restaurant. While restaurants are closed for eat-in, we can still order for takeaway. And that includes drinks, too. I chose to drink vin chaud, a hot wine mixed with various spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger. Jordan and our friends picked a small Mont Blanc beer. I think I made the better choice, but I wasn’t the one driving.
After returning our snowshoes, it was time leave the French Alps and return to Lyon. We only had a couple of hours before we turned into pumpkins. One day on the mountain simply wasn’t enough! The 6:00 pm curfew has been tough on us, but it is better than the alternative, a third lockdown (it’s heading in that direction).
Until we see you again, “seizure mountain”!