Rock the pistes
I’M LYING ON my back in the snow with unfiltered Alpine sun on my face letting the reggae music drift over me as I swing my ski-boots to the beat. The sounds reverberate around the surrounding mountains and Keziah Jones – one of France’s favourite blues, funk and reggae stars who heralded his status by landing in the middle of this ski slope by helicopter – has drawn a large crowd.
The rest of us came on skis to this pop-up concert in the French resort of Avoriaz as part of last year’s Festival des Concerts Sauvages, which comprised mid-slope and resort-based gigs spanning four days. It has a new name this year that crosses the language barrier: the universally understandable Rock the Pistes.
“C’est bon pour le pique-nique, n’est pas?” quipped a Jamaica band member. Hey, I know it’s not very street, Jamaica, but if you play out in the spring sun on a ski slope at lunchtime that’s the sort of crowd you’re likely to draw. He’s right though: we’re sitting knees up against a snow bank with our packed lunch, having just made the most of the empty ski run above Les Crosets. As we waited for the gig to start we careered up and down the piste, which had been cleared of those who’d gone to watch music. We carried on sliding until we heard the opening track.
Despite the band’s cynicism about the sandwich-scoffing, neoprene-clad crowd, the piste gig-goers gave it their all as the band worked them into some ski-boot stomping.
Less successful was the Joyce Jonathan gig we had been to earlier – only because her voice was too beautiful for the venue. She sings in that clear, airy, romantic way that only the French know how, and staging her concert at Les Lindarets, the central connection point for many ski lifts, meant she had to compete with the comings and goings of skiers passing through or meeting friends. Next time, she needs to be in a quiet spot on a tree-lined slope (watch her sing Pas Besoin de Toi on YouTube and weep as she gets soaked in the rain out on a roof terrace watching, through a window, the target of her amour getting intimate with another gal).
We had based ourselves in Avoriaz – where the rock festival HQ is located. The town is traffic free and resembles a city from the Lord of the Rings perched up on a cliff edge, where horses and sleighs cart people through the streets, on runners if there’s snow and tyres if there isn’t.
The Portes du Soleil ski area is not well known among the Irish, but the Brits have been coming here for years, as evidenced by the received pronunciation that reverberates around the mountains. There is a healthy sense of rivalry between the locals of the French and Swiss villages that straddle the ski area, which has 650km (404 miles) of pistes just above Geneva. Indeed, you can go village- and country-hopping all day, never going down the same piste twice.
One of the drawbacks of the ski area is its relatively low altitude, which means snow can be patchy in high spring, but it’s also wonderfully warm, perfect for skiing from concert to concert and for sitting out chillin’ to the vibes.
The skiing is easily accessible from many of the Pierre et Vacances apartments in Avoriaz. Each morning, we would set off to ski the vast array of slopes in the Portes du Soleil region, tying in ski routes with gig stops.
The idea was for text messages to give last-minute announcements about where the next concert was going to pop up, so you could work up some adrenalin while skiing to it. In reality the texts didn’t work on my phone – or on those of many others – so I got advance information in the town each morning. This allowed me to plan my day and route, choosing lunchtime concerts so I could tie them in with les picque-niques. This year the texting will probably be up to speed.
While I’m a fan of all the extras that get added to ski holidays, I really only head Alp-wise for as much skiing as I can get in, and the beauty of this festival is that you can combine the two activities easily.
The Rock the Pistes Festival runs from March 24-28th this year. For more on holidays in Avoriaz see Directski.com. Accommodation is in Pierre et Vacances apartments ( pv-holidays.com). For more information on Avoriaz see Avoriaz.com. Register for text information about gigs at en.rockthepistes.com/fcs.html. The gigs are free with a lift pass.