SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - The Roc d'Enfer Loop

Posted: Saturday, 5 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

I have had the Roc d'Enfer at St Jean d'Aulps on my "must try" list for a couple of years now. As I have been getting weary of crowds, I made a decision to visit this tiny isolated section of the Portes du Soleil domain. Furthermore the Roc d'Enfer has a unique twist on offer, the runs link together in such a way that you can do a full circuit right round the mountain and back to base.
To do this requires using a fair few drag lifts, so the skibike was out of the equation and it was planned to be a ski only itinerary.

It seemed like it was going to be a pleasant day, so I headed out around 8am. My route took me through Geneva and along the Southern shore of Lake Geneva or Lac Leman as it is know locally. The early morning sun illuminated the snowy peaks of the Jura mountains opposite, where I had made so many pleasant trips recently. At Thonon le Bains, a posh spa town, the road turned inland, heading through a series of deep gorges.

The atmosphere was gloomy and when I arrived at the ski station at St. Jean d'Aulps it looked bleak and misty. Undeterred, I got my ticket and headed up in the gondola, on arrival at the top station I broke through the low cloud to a perfect Alpine winter day, sunny and calm with a crystal clear blue sky.

Broke through the low cloud to a perfect Alpine winter day

Going round the loop took me a good couple of hours. Some of the runs heading back the other way looked particularly enticing, so I made a few detours to sample their delights. The snow was in wonderful condition and looked to have hardly been skied, it was nearly noon and I was making fresh tracks. Where was everybody? My only regret was that you can't bring a skibike up here, there was scope for a week's worth of potential off-piste trail blazing.

A lot of the runs were graded red (expert) and deservedly so. This area has many peaks and gorges and the majority of the runs are narrow and steep. Likewise uplift is by old style Poma button drag lifts that go off like a rocket, I think I managed to get some air on one of them. One zig zagged up an incline whilst another appeared to be climbing a 45 degree angle slope. Not a happy situation for a nervous skiers, but as I have managed to get me and my skibike up worse in Scotland, just being on feet was easy.

The effort is worth it though, some of the runs are 5km long and you really feel up in the back country, not on a busy motorway. The final run ended abruptly at a line of plastic netting, there was a sign announcing that skis had to be removed as there was insufficient snow cover. Luckily, it was only a few minutes walk back to the base station, I had visions of an hours treck in ski boots or having to wait all day for a bus.

Mission completed I still had a good few hours to spare, so after a quick pit stop at the car, I switched over to skibiker mode and headed back to the gondola. The lifties explained that SnowScoots could be used in the gondola only and could use the run underneath it. This run turned out to be another infeasibly steep and narrow red run, composed of re-frozen artificial snow, slush, ice, rocks and bare earth. It pretty much couldn't have been worse, on the upside few had skied it, so at least I didn't have to contend with mogul fields too.

I switched over to skibiker mode and headed back to the telecabin

I made it down once, then went back up to check that the first time wasn't a fluke. I contemplated a third run, but there was no pleasure in riding, it was just a technique challenge. I called it a day.

In conclusion the Roc d'Enfer delivered exactly the mini adventure I was expecting. If you can ski or snowboard proficiently then I heartily recommend giving it a try. To be able to bag another ski station by skibike was an added bonus too. At the moment the skibike options are very limited, but with better lift infrastructure and a bit more good will from the management there is great potential at St Jean d'Aulps and the Roc d'Enfer.

Roc d'Enfer - skibike options are very limited