SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Praz De Lys Or Sommand?

Posted: Monday, 10 February 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I didn't really want to go out today, but if I don't push myself now I will only regret it once the season has passed. So I headed for the ski station of Praz de Lys / Sommand, located roughly between Mieussy, Taninges and Les Gets, it is almost part of the Portes du Soleil. If it was, the prices would be double and the car parks would be full of Range Rover Evoques and not battered Peugeots 306s, in my books this is all good news. Wikipedia says similar and explains why it is so.
Sommand is noted for the beauty of its varied landscape of beautiful forests and open panoramic views. It has almost none of the over development and mass tourism infrastructure characterised by many nearby resorts. This is due to the area being a protected nature reserve which allows only low impact sustainable development. Its focus is on providing a uniquely family friendly resort while leaving other resorts, like Les Gets/Morzine/Flaine to cater for the Northern European "package holiday" and "youth" market.

One unique feature of Praz de Lys is they have a ticket kiosk in Mieussy so that you can sort lift passes en route, once you arrive you are straight out on the slopes. I have been here a number of times before, normally by following the road running from Cluses to Les Gets, taking a left turn not long after Taninges, then driving up what must have once been a goat track, to the mesa high above.

A squall blew in, bringing driving snow and poor visibility

This time I tried the route up from Mieussy, which turned out to be a thoroughly gnarly hairpin climb up an extremely steep escarpment. I followed a Peugeot 306 up the hill, its exhaust pouring black smoke as the owner thrashed it mercilessly to avoid being overtaken by an Englishman. At the top of the hill the road leads off towards the ski station of Sommand, having taken one wrong turn I found the car park by the chairlifts set about my business.

The lifties were a little bit confused about my apparatus, went into a huddle and collectively decided that I was OK. I have skibiked this area before, but never made it over to this side of the hill. But from that point onwards there were no issues elsewhere, all the chairlifts are the older constant speed type, each was dutifully slowed down and sped up for me without issue. Now I know how Royalty must feel when they pay places a visit.

A great snow stash at relatively high altitude just an hour from Geneva

What I particularly wanted to do was the off-piste below the Haute Fleurry chairlift, I had a moment of Nirvana riding that slope at the very end of last season and wanted to feel it again.
Unfortunately last year the weather was calm and balmy, this year no sooner had I got to the top of the chairlift than a squall blew in, bringing driving snow and poor visibility. Furthermore, I learned that slope quite well last year and I was on the looked out for a particularly evil set of rocks that defined my line of entry. They had completely disappeared, such has been the volume of recent snowfall. I made it down, but my descent had not been as elegant as I would have wished. I wasn't to have a second bite at it either, as the Haute Fleurry chairlift closed soon afterwards due to the wind and didn't reopen.
I took a lower level route back to Sommand and warmed myself up with a vin chaud, eavesdropping on a bunch of French retirees having a typically Gallic post lunch conversation about the life preserving virtues of Royal Jelly.
I went back out on the hill for a couple more circuits and then decided to finish the day on SnowBlades, I needed the loo, so used the facilities of the nearby restaurant and had another vin chaud, just to be polite. A friendly fellow who works there wanted lots of information about skibikes, I offered a demo ride when I get my spare bike back, who knows, we might have another skibike fan.

In conclusion, if you're the sort of person who likes bling and glitz or wants snow to be accompanied by 24 hour entertainment, you would absolutely hate Praz de Lys / Sommand. For me, as a great snow stash at relatively high altitude, just an hour from Geneva, it's a gem.
Access can be an issue when the weather is severe, both roads are steep and narrow. You don't need a 4x4, but winter tyres and snow chains are a must, even if the chains never come out of the boot.
It has a wide variety of runs, about 75% being accessible by the chairlifts. There are some advanced areas that I still haven't had the chance to test, so I hope I can get back when there's snow and I can see better where I'm going and exactly what I'm running into.
Best of all, the lift operators seem to be laid back about what you bring on the lift and have been consistently skibike friendly for two years running now.