La Rosière’s off-piste skiing and charming eateries are its attractions
After three days of high winds across the European continent, rushing from Spain through the Alps, ocean-blue skies create patches amid the clouds. Our ski instructor Vincent swings off the slope to the right into knee-deep powder. Feather-beds of fresh snow are still unsliced at 9.30am: the treat offered in a resort that is not crowded and mainly catering for beginners and intermediates.
We slalom through young pine trees and cross a piste to a barely touched black slope. After falls of snow the black runs are left for skiers to flatten and mogul, unlike most of the runs which are pisted each morning.
I witnessed it with my own sleepy eyes that blizzardy dawn, when given a ride in a slope-bashing Pisten Bully, a machine that combs and regenerates runs. The driver, who works from 2am to 10am, caterpillared us up a blue run, pinning me against my seat at an angle that would see a car somersault backwards bonnet over boot. His face wore the impassive calm of one who defies the laws of gravity daily and who wishes to show guests that he is above their terror.
We growled past the top of a chairlift, having accumulated vast piles of snow from a low wall at the side of the run; pushing it forward to be rolled over and pinned down – white gold dust that prolongs the ski season. Then we nose-dived in slow motion down a black run, savouring it excitedly at a camel’s pace, feet pressed to the floor to compensate for the lack of a seat belt.
A lone Langlaufer, taking advantage of the empty slopes, crosses our path shrouded in mist. For all the organisation of ski resorts, there are those who know how to use them for their own private pursuits out of hours.
We had come for heli-skiing but the windy weather created unstable sheets of snow atop other layers, making avalanche risk high, so we are slope-bound.
La Rosière is a place where off-pisting is not too challenging, attracting heli-virgins. France does not allow heli-skiing helicopters to take off from its soil – or snow – so the chopper arises over the hill in Italy. It’s the same in Chamonix, an instructor tells me, while in Switzerland there are some restrictions on where helicopters can go, I’m told. “It is not good,” says ski-teacher Cyrill, “if you set off at 4am to walk up a mountain, in order to ski down it, and arrive at the summit to find a helicopter dropping off other skiers.”
There is the prettiest skiing in La Rosière, wiggling down the long Fontaine Froide through the trees: moguling, traversing and flying. At the top is the short, sharp, steep burst of black (which can be avoided on a hill-side blue).