BASI British International Ski Teacher L4 ISTD // Mountain Leader MTA
TEL: +33 (0)630 111109   //   SIRET NO: 803 597 210 00035

Behind the scenes of the Refuge De Leisse: Ski Touring and Skiing Off Piste Tignes and Val D’Isere

The Refuge De Leisse is behind the Grand Motte glacier in Tignes and can be accessed by many different routes. After my second season of ski teaching and guiding in the Espace Killy I am still amazed as to what this area has to offer. There are so many good off piste and ski touring routes beyond your dreams. I know instructors and people that have lived in Tignes and Val D’Isere for years and they have never seen the places that I have been too, the places that I have fallen in love with and places that I am still discovering. I get so excited when I have spare time which I spend hiking, touring and skiing these routes.

Beyond the pistes of Tignes and Val D’Isere holds the wilderness and natural beauty of the Vanoise National Park.  In the parks in France and around the world there are mountain refuges. The best way to describe a refuge is that they are very similar to lodges. Many of these refuges are on hiking or ski touring routes so you can actually travel refuge to refuge, hut to hut. A lot of refuges are not manned for the main part of the winter and they are left as a winter room where you can stay for shelter. End of March to mid May dependant on snow and conditions these refuges are open and offer food and accommodation. The guardian of the refuge often ski tours in the winter or hikes in the summer into them which can take hours and sometimes days, just to start work. Each refuge is self suffcient as there are no supermarkets or corner shops nearby, the water supply is often a mountain stream which is diverted to the refuge. The water from the trough of the Refuge De La Leisse is the best I have ever drunk. Most food and supples are heli dropped once every couple of weeks. Most refuges are ran by solar power and the light switches are on a timer, you also don’t have internet access or any phone signal.

Map showing the route to refuge de Leisse, Tignes
IGN Map showing the route to refuge de Leisse, Tignes

The easier route is skiing off piste from the Genepy piste around the back of the Leisse chairlift and then over the frozen marshlands. If you wanted to embark a more difficult route you can drop into 35 Glacier couloir and get to the refuge. You also can also arrive to the refuge by the Col De Sana, Refuge De La Femma, Col De Vanoise, the list is endless. Celine Terryn is the guardian of the refuge de Leisse. She will welcome you with open arms and make sure that your stay is as comfortable as she can.

Celine can tell you many good stories, ‘ One day I  was ski touring alone to the refuge and the weather came in.  I ended up touring in circles as I couldn’t see anything. It took me hours to get to the refuge as the only ski tracks I could follow was mine and they were going in circles.’  I  asked her what happens when the weather gets really bad. She replied ‘This season the weather has been very up and down, when the winds get very strong I often stay in a room which is underground.’ The word brave entered my head. Like most of us doing seasonal work we have many strings to our bow and have many passions. Celine is a chartered physiotherapist when she isn’t working at the refuge and she surfs when she can. She is living the dream.

For more information visit the website of the refuge de Leisse.

Off Piste Skiing: La Grave a magical place with its future unknown.

La Grave is an unspoilt,traditional mountain village which is as far removed as you can get from a big ski resort. It is based in the southern Alps of France with the closest airport being only 1.5 hrs drive away. The off piste skiing however, is second to none. It is a place close to my heart, a place that I would like to stay the same forever and not to become a typical hustle and bustle ski resort.

Having lived in the area for seven seasons previously its wasn’t until I lived in the village itself for a week running a FREEFLO Off Piste Course that I realised the magic and uniqueness of the village which is so different to its concrete neighbour of Les Deuxs Alpes. Every morning I would stroll down the cobbled street passing small businesses and stone houses to go to the bakery to get fresh bread for our clients, realising that being in La Grave is like being in a time machine. It is a place where time is not important, the pace of the village is relaxed and laid back and often the bakery wouldn’t open exactly on time at 8am and the selection of bread was limited. The week that I was there was the week before the french holidays so it was quiet enough that my dog could walk with me off the lead. At the most I would only see one or two cars driving through the village on my morning stroll. I couldn’t help to get the impression that if it was an epic powder day that many places would just put a sign on the door saying ‘Gone Skiing’ as La Grave is a place for skiers. It is a place for people only interested in skiing and mountaineering. You don’t see all the expensive tourist cars, the high street shops,ski schools and hear all about the made up or exaggerated ski stories. What you see are locals, men with beards and visitors wearing well used quality mountain gear who have a passion for the mountains. When you take the dog for an evening walk by the stunning river below the village you rarely see anyone. If you do see anyone it is people hiking out of the river bed after a long day or climbers strapped with ropes and gear returning back to the village after a hard day ice climbing.

The off piste skiing in La Grave is in a world of its own, there is nothing like it in France. The area is accessed by one symbolic lift in three stages up to 3200m and at 2400m there is a quaint restaurant owned by an elderly couple that offer homemade food and cakes. Their signs are hand written and their food is delicious and not expensive compared to mountain prices. If the top button lift is working and open then you can start your off piste decent from 3600m all the way to the river which is below the village at 1450m. You can choose one of the many routes of the Vallons de la Meije which is a huge off piste playground, offering numerous lines of decent in the shadow of the north face of La Meije. The upper slopes are often wide open bowls with great varied pitches. Lower down you find yourself winding through the trees until you reach the river La Romanche. The off piste options in La Grave are endless.

With no pisted runs you have 2150m of vertical decent where you can express yourself and free ride the whole mountain. This mecca off piste area is not controlled and pisted like most other ski resorts. It is not a place where you would want to navigate in bad weather or anytime take a wrong route as the consequences could be high. It is highly recommended that you hire a guide or ski instructor to be safe and most importantly get the most out of the area. With the right guide a trip to La Grave lets you experience skiing in a way you don’t get the chance to in a traditional ski resort.

Different to any ski school FREEFLO offers intutive British Personal Ski Coaching in the snow-sure resorts of Tignes, Val D’Isere and La Grave. We specialise in all mountain and off piste skiing, plus backcountry ski touring and women specific ski courses. Fun and passionate we are highly experienced and fully qualified to work in France. With FREEFLO the quality of your experience, and safety are our priorities. With passion we help people to improve, have fun and to enjoy the freedom of the mountains. For further information please drop an email to: [email protected]