PlanetSKI Takes the 45-Minute Challenge

PlanetSKI’s Tim Clark has taken on the challenge of getting from the French resort of La Rosiere to La Thuile in Italy on a snowboard in 45 minutes.  Can it be done?

“Oh no, you made the fatal mistake.”

It’s currently close to dinner time in La Rosiere and the chalet host Johnny had kindly listened to me recount my journey from France to Italy over the mountains.

Up until the point where I describe my descent from the Bellecombe 1 drag lift, that is.

Little did I know, but it turns out that there is more than one way to ski to Italy.

And if you are keen to keep a lunch reservation it’s vastly better to take one particular short cut near Bellecombe 1.

But more of that later.

I have spent close to five days exploring La Rosiere as a guest of Esprit Ski.

In between helping my two children learn to ski, taking the trip over to Italy had been on the agenda for a number of days.

It has been said that it can take as little as 45 minutes to get from resort to resort.

Considering it rude not to put that claim to the test, I headed off to see just how long the journey takes in reality.

And, if possible, seek out some grappa before the return journey.

The journey starts at the base of the lift to Roc Noir at 9:18am.

The lure of heading to Italy is one of the biggest reasons skiers head to La Rosiere, and the weight of people taking the same route each morning was a concern.

Luckily, the queue I was greeted with at Roches Noires, though fairly deep, cleared quickly.

Within eight minutes I was on the chair and at the top by a respectable 09:27am.

At the top of the Roc Noir. Image © Tim Clark

The early morning pistes high up in La Rosiere have previously been described as being as hard as concrete.

As I headed down the Elan (Route No 43) to the base of the Fort lift the snow resembled a kind of polished white porcelain.

I arrived at the base of Fort at 09:39, and within five minutes was on the lift.

On the way to the Fort lift. Image © Tim Clark

So far so good.

It was a relief as fellow commuters were streaming down the runs towards me all with the same intent.

An obligatory snap of Mont Blanc taken at 09:52 next to Fort de la Redoute, which in itself is a fascinating ruin, marks the point at which you head down the shadow side of Mont Valaisan and into Italy.

Mont Blanc view. Image © Tim Clark

Whether it is the result of being in shadow for most of the day, or the possibility that more snow fell on the leeward side of the range overnight, I am not sure, but the snow changed in texture almost immediately after dropping down.

For a snowboarder like me the little extra give it afforded was a welcome change and helped speed the journey.

Skiers take a short route known as Bouquetin down to the base of the Bellecombe drag lift.

The drag lift in itself isn’t necessarily a challenge, though it may pose problems for smaller children.

The issue is its length.

The long drag. Image © Tim Clark

The lift essentially takes the hard part of the link to Italy, dragging skiers across the back side of Mont Valaisan.

Your enemy isn’t the drag lift, it’s the possibility that you’ll daydream off as the spectacle of Mont Blanc passes you by and you’ll end up losing concentration.

I reached the drag lift at 10:05 and, after what felt like an age but in reality was only nine minutes, made it to the other side.

Here is where I made my fatal mistake, as Johnny would say.

The signposts taking you to La Thuile point towards the next run down, however, smart commuters take the next drag lift, known as Bellecombe II, up to the top of the pass, which is slightly out of sight on the right hand side as you emerge from the first drag lift.

The long route down to La Thuile. Image © Tim Clark

I didn’t spot it and joyfully followed the reams of other skiers down a fairly easy red run known as Longet (Route no 22) to the base of the San Bernardo Express.

By now even the mobile phone was announcing my welcome to Italy.

However, the cloud had closed in, before long I had taken a wrong turn and was, once again, greeting the base of the San Bernardo Express along with some other confused skiers I had met moments before.

At the base of the San Bernardo Express. Image © Tim Clark

The routes are confusing but the easiest link is to take a short black run known as Touraisse which helps cut across to the Fourclaz Express.

This is easier to say in hindsight.

In reality we were skiing into cloud and all I knew was I needed to follow the skier ahead of me, or lose myself completely.

Cloud rolling in. Image © Tim Clark

Eventually the Fourclaz emerges from the gloom.

Fourclaz lift. Image © Tim Clark

By now it’s 10:56am and I am truly lost.

The La Rosiere ski map shows the routes from the French perspective, it’s less clear that La Thuile’s ski area covers both sides of the mountain on the Italian side and that to move from the two resorts you actually travel in a kind of U-shape.

Maps are also few and far between and I would say that one in 10 skiers were checking their phones to work out where to go.

From the mount of Fourclaz the hard work is done and it’s all downhill to the centre of town.

At the top of Fourclaz. Image © Tim Clark

The red routes down to the main town were also a pleasant surprise, being less arduous than their French counterparts.

After a quick toilet break at Fourclaz I took the 19 route past Arnouaz, then the 6.4km long La Nouva (route no 6) down to La Thuile itself.

Despite the resort being a good 400m lower than La Rosiere at 1,441m, the pistes in La Thuile were in very good shape, as was the off piste snow.

Good snow on the way down to La Thuile. Image © Tim Clark

The advantage of less direct sun became obvious.

The weather was also different with wisps of low lying cloud breaking up the sun.

My arrival time into La Thuile was 11:36am.

Arriving in La Thuile. Image © Tim Clark

It was not exactly a 45 minute trip.

One major miscalculation and a couple of stops to take in the route aside it was a fairly good time.

No doubt good skiers can make the run in under an hour if they really want to.

For me it was time to find a limoncello and think about the return journey.

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