Where to SkiBike - Praz de Lys Sommand (Taninges/Mieusy Haute Savoie)

Posted: Wednesday, 22 February 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Pras de Lys Sommand is the biggest resort that I had never heard of, the chances are that you probably don't know it either. To the best of my knowledge you won't find it in any package holiday brochures, if you visit you are unlikely to hear the usual melange of English, German and Dutch languages spoken. Yet again, this is a secret the French don't want to share with the rest of the world, in fact it would not be stretching the truth much to say that I felt like a spy just being there.
Pras de Lys is located right above the charming historic market town of Taninges, very close to Cluses, which perhaps you may already know, as Cluses is the gateway to Les Carroz, Flaine and the other parts of the Grand Massif domain. Pras de Lys Sommand, however, is a stand alone resort and not part of any larger domain. One part is a giant snow bowl located on a high plateau, the other is the face of a linking mountain.

Praz de Lys - much bigger than I was expecting
The drive from Geneva is relatively easy, but the last 5km takes you up quite a steep road with hairpin bends. In fine weather this seems straightforward, but in heavy snow you could well have to fit chains to make it. I didn't see any cars in the car park that weren't wearing winter tyres, although the usual complement of posh 4x4s were noticeably absent and small front wheel drive hatchbacks were the norm.

Frozen waterfalls on the road to Praz de Lys

I was staggered by the scale of the place, it is much larger than I expected, so much is hidden from below. As well as Alpine skiing there is also Nordic (Cross Country) skiing, SnowShoe hiking and even a snowmobile track.

I quickly set myself up and jumped on the nearest chairlift and headed down an easy blue to warm myself up, it was very difficult to control my speed due to the extremely icy surface, so I tried another run with exactly the same result. Furthermore, the layout of the pistes mean that steep hills are criss-crossed with much easier runs and even hiking and cross country trails. It is an odd arrangement and strikes me as potentially quite dangerous, a bit like having a cycle lane cross a motorway.
I decided to give the nearby red run a miss as I was having a crisis of confidence, had I forgotten everything I know overnight?
I tried some of the nearby off-piste sections, they were crusty but quite deep underneath, if you broke through the crust you had some digging out to do, none too enthused I went for a final go on the icy blue.
About half way down a steep section, I thought "bugger it with all this turning malarky Mark.. just let the frickin skibike run free"
The piste was totally empty and it looked like I had a mile free ahead and no-one behind me.
Bloomin heck, I thought I was going to break the speed barrier, I have never been so fast before on a skibike, taking off over bumps and balancing on a knife edge.
So this is what it feels like to be Raymond Georgesson, Serge Mermillod or Martin Schwaiger. I gingerly took myself back to the car park and put the skibike in the back of the car before I killed myself or someone else. I got the SnowBlades out, I have twice the braking power on those!

Just before my dice with death on the icy "Le Lac" run
I re-tried the near fatal blue on SnowBlades and confirmed that, yes it was very icy and fast, but not entirely unreadable. I just don't have sufficiently good carving skills on a skibike yet, maybe I never will.
I then decided to try over the hill on the Sommand sectors
this was a completely different story, the snow was still hard but at least it had a decent couple of inches of soft scrapings. The runs were also of a less severe gradient and might possibly get more sun on them. I really could have kicked myself for not persevering and bringing the skibike over to this sector and there was now insufficient time to switch back. If I was to return, I would definitely park on the Sommand side and ride there first.

Overlooking Sommand from the top of the bowl

In conclusion, Pras de Lys Sommand has plenty to offer the skibiker, there are runs of varying grades from moderate to very difficult. It is the best value resort I have visited, an afternoon lift pass costing just 18.5€, something like £15, which in the UK would buy you an hour on a badly maintained dry slope or roughly 30 minutes in an indoor snow centre. There are plenty of chairlifts, although you do need to check the map, as I spotted one that took you to a piste leading down to a drag lift for the return uphill leg.
Access from Geneva by car is on par with the other local resorts such as Flaine, there is also a coach up from Cluses, which has a railway station served by TGV Express Trains.

Taninges at dusk - rugged yet pretty