This winter the Olympic torch not only will light up Grenoble, it will illuminate what until now has been a fairly well-kept secret: France has Europe's best skiing. The Americans who have discovered this fact would scarcely fill the Jackson Hole tram. American skiers have shied away from French resorts because of their reputation for being costly and for being—well, frankly—French. They are more costly than Austria, though hardly more than Switzerland. And they are French, all right—only five of Courchevel's 136 ski instructors speak English. France developed its elaborate ski complex for 1½ million ski-crazed Frenchmen, not to attract the American dollar and the British pound. In this respect French and U.S. skiing have a lot in common. Can you imagine a non-English-speaking French skier coping in Stowe or Aspen? If you plan to go to France this winter, leave your preconceptions behind and you will find in the kaleidoscopic scene reflected in Ernst Haas's photographs on the previous pages the ski adventure of a lifetime.
First, if you want to go to GRENOBLE and the Games, it is nearly but not hopelessly too late to make arrangements. They open February 6, close February 18. The sole U.S. agent for tickets is Don Travel Service, 375 Park Ave., New York 10022. Don will send you a detailed schedule for the 12 days and ticket order forms. Only the ice events take place in Grenoble. Everything else is miles out of town, up on one mountaintop or another. No private cars will be permitted at any of these venues on race days, but theoretically nonstop circulating buses will take spectators to Chamrousse (Alpine events), Alpe d'Huez (bobsled), Autrans (Nordics) and Saint-Nizier (90-meter jump).
GETTING THERE: On November 1, Air France inaugurated a daily New York-Lyons service, leaving New York at 7 p.m. and arriving in Lyons at 9:50 the next morning after an hour's stop in Paris. The 14 to 21-day excursion fare is $359. Full first-class fare is $792.30. The fare includes a connecting service with Air-Alpes, the French ski-plane company, to Alpe d'Huez, Courchevel or M√®geve. Grenoble is 1½ hours from Lyons by bus or car. Air Inter, a small feeder line, begins direct Paris-Grenoble flights twice daily on January 2.
Geneva is the other principal port of entry for pilgrims to the French Alps, and Swissair has direct flights leaving New York on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 6:55 p.m., arriving at 8:15 a.m. TWA also flies nonstop New York-Geneva on Fridays. The fare is the same as New York-Lyons, and the same Air-Alpes service to the mountains is included. Grenoble is 91 miles south of Geneva, two hours by train, longer by car.
STAYING THERE: Hotel rooms in Grenoble proper and in the Alpine venue of Chamrousse are almost impossible to find. Don Travel has several Olympic tours which include rooms near Grenoble as part of the packet. The most basic, for the Games only, is $399. Near Grenoble means rooms in small hotels or private homes up to half an hour away from town, or hotels in Aix-les-Bains, the lakeside summer spa, which will open 48 of its hotels for the period of the Games.
Aix is 45 miles away, an hour by special Olympic train. Don Travel also has rooms in the ski resorts of Alpe d'Huez and Deux Alpes, both about 1½ hours from Grenoble. Steve Lohr of General Tours, 532 Madison Ave., New York 10022, last week still had 60 rooms available in Grenoble. Sylvia Sherman Travel, 6404 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, who booked Olympic tours for the Far West Ski Association, has 100 beds left in Annecy, a beautiful lakeside town, and in La Clusaz, a ski area. Both are 60 miles from Grenoble. From Montreal, Atlas Tours and Air France has a hockey-fan tour escorted by Maurice Richard, with rooms in Aix-les-Bains, transportation and hockey seats for from $633 to $759. Atlantic-Pacific Travel of Montreal has 66 rooms in Chamrousse, the Alpine venue. If nothing avails, try your luck writing directly to the Olympic welcoming bureau, Office National d'Accueil, BP 517, 38-Grenoble, France. This organization has a list of 1,000 rooms in private houses and apartments in Grenoble, all of which they have inspected. They rent for from $5 to $12 per day. Many require one week, others two weeks minimum.
I trust that Mayor Hubert Dubedout will not take this personally, but anyone who spends the entire 12 days of the Games at Grenoble, other than teams, press and officials, is either a figure skater's mother or a masochist. Grenoble probably will be cold and foggy—it always is in winter. Restaurants will be jammed, and shuttling in and out of town to the events will be exhausting. None of the ski areas on the map on page 61 is more than two hours from the Olympics. People who prefer participant to spectator sports can go skiing, pausing from time to time to check television to see what's happening in Grenoble. There will be from two to eight hours of live coverage every day in France. For variety the skier can take an Air-Alpes flight, a bus or his own car, and drop in on, say, the opening ceremony on February 6, the women's figure skatingon February 10 or the men's slalom on February 17.
If you elect to try this combination experience, buy a membership in the Fédération Fran√ßaise dc Ski as soon as you reach France. An FFS card costs $3.15 and entitles you to about 15% reduction on most lifts and some accident insurance. Ski-school prices in France are nationally controlled—about $7 for 12 hours of class and about $4 per hour for private instruction.
The skiing itself is superb. Forty miles from Geneva—the most northerly of the ski areas on the map opposite—is AVORIAZ, a place that should shatter the myth that ski architecture means Bavarian hearts and flowers. You leave your car below, and Europe's largest, fastest téléphérique takes you up a sheer rock-faced ravine to a plateau surrounded by mountains. On this plateau a Franco-Belgian syndicate, three young architects and Jean Vuarnet, Squaw Valley downhill gold medalist, have built one of the most visionary ski villages in the Alps. Shingle-sheathed condominiums (see color), chalets and hotels are rough-faced, truncated cones with all lodgings and balconies facing south to the sun and to the north facing ski runs. The hotel Les Dromonts ($11 to $19 per person full pension) has a stage-set lobby with not a straight line in sight, cozy sunken pits around fireplaces, a fur-walled discoth√®que, a dining room floating above the lobby and bedrooms that arc cocoons of comfort—the baths have heated slate floors. There are no cars, just reindeer-drawn sleighs. A series of chairs and Poma lifts takes one 2,000 feet above the village, and you can run all the way down the gorge to the tram station, four miles below. In this, its second season, Avoriaz will have 1,000 beds.
Flaine, when it is finished, will be another architectural tour de force. The whole town, above the road from Geneva to Chamonix, has been designed by Marcel Breuer, architect of New York's Whitney Museum. It will be built of prefabricated concrete sections, cast in a factory below and taken by téléphérique to the site. Breuer's town will not be ready until next year, but Flaine is opening December 15 for adventurous skiers. Here is what they will find: 300 beds in comfortably furnished workers' barracks, two to a room (no private baths), a cafeteria, a bar, a 60-passenger cable car and five Poma lifts and T bars, 270° of open-slope skiing, 20 miles of trails and a ski school. The price: an incredible $7 per day for room, meals, lifts, classes. The reason: Flaine wants skiers to help lay out its runs.
Everybody knows about CHAMONIX, the town in the shadow of Mont Blanc, with its dizzying téléphériques, the Vallée Blanche glacier run and the climbing school. But few people know about the Lognan. Those who do consider it Europe's finest single run. The lift to its wide-open snowfield opened four years ago. It climbs in two cable-car sections 7,500 vertical feet. From the top there is a wide-open choice—plunge or amble, with Mont Blanc over your shoulder and Le Brévent towering ahead. There are 109 hotels in the area. One of the best is the Carlton-Symond and the skiers' favorite restaurant is the Choucas. The new Mont Blanc tunnel makes it possible to ski Italy from Chamonix—Cervinia is only two hours by car. You can ski down to Zermatt from there!
Megeve, only 40 minutes from Chamonix, is another world. Chamonix is dark and serious, but Meg√®ve is sunny and lighthearted, its skiing on the gentle side, its nightlife fast. Meg√®ve is Rothschild country, and Baron Edmond's hotel, Mont d'Arbois, located on a vast terrain that is an 18-hole golf course in summer, is a monument as impressive in its way as the Lognan run. It is the best mountain hotel in France, if not Europe, as calm and self-sufficient as an ocean liner. There are two in staff for every guest, a collection of luxe bars, grills, restaurants and shops, a glassed-in swimming pool and gym overlooking the mountains. Ivor Petrak, the man who turned The Lodge at Stowe into the best ski hotel in the U.S., is the captain of this ship of the snows. It will cost you from $16 (without bath) to $30 a night to stay there. Bring your ascots, your Puccis and your jewels.
La Plagne is an architectural phenomenon in yet another vein. Its skyscrapers of varnished wood (see cover and color pages) are as severely elegant as any Mies van der Rohe tower. Although now 6 years old, it has hardly promoted tourism, for La Plagne was designed as a family place and all but 10% of its 4,300 beds are in private apartments. However, this year, following a sort of Vail formula, La Plagne is renting these extremely comfortable accommodations—average price about $10 per person a night with lifts and ski school included. Emile Allais, who master-planned Squaw Valley and Courchevel and who moves next to Flaine, is the man behind the extraordinary ski-and-Iiving complex. The area has unusually good snow conditions, beautifully cared for pistes, and weather that most often gives you an unlimited view from the top—the best in the Alps. There are also hotels at La Plagne—L'Orée des Pistes and the Christiana. Prices range from $7 to $17, full pension.
To COURCHEVEL and MERIBEL add SAINT-MARTIN DE BELLEVILLE, a new ski station, and you have the Three Valleys, three ski areas now linked by uphill facilities on every side, combining to form an enormous roller coaster for skiers. You can even stretch this splendid prospect farther by flying in one of Michel Ziegler's Air-Alpes ski planes (SI, Feb. 7, 1966) to a glacier, such as the Gebroula, above Saint-Martin, and put about 30 miles under your skis in a day before bedding down at Courchevel.
Saint-Martin, brand new, will one day have 30,000 beds. It will give a student and middle-income family market some of the best terrain in the Alps at very low prices. Méribel is famous for Brigitte Bardot, who has a chalet there. And Courchevel is the town that started the whole postwar ski boom in France and set the pattern for the new resorts. Instead of being built down in the dark valley around an existing town, as was the custom, Courchevel was built up on the shoulder of the mountain, in the certain snow and brilliant sun. It now has 18,000 beds, a veritable New York Thruway of a beginners' slope—the longest in the world—and some couloirs and off-piste tours that will snap open your buckle boots. It does not slow down after dark either (see color). The late-night tempo at La Grange and Le Club Saint-Nicolas is a challenge of another sort.
Val-d'Isere, a 10-minute flight (or 1½-hour drive) over the hills from Courchevel, has a reputation for being all too calm after dark. While this is not entirely true, after a day of skiing what must be the most sporting terrain in Europe, all you need is a hot bath, a good meal and a good bed. There is no better place to find all three under the same roof in Val-d'Is√®re than at La Bergerie, the cozy pension and restaurant owned by the Robert Killys, Jean-Claude's parents. Val, as the ski snobs call it, has two steep mountains—the Solaise and the Bellevarde, both reached by cable cars (see color). On top of the Solaise there is a superb network of Poma lifts taking you to beginners' promenades or powder tours. Don't let anyone tell you that Val is only for experts—here you can learn on top, in the sun. But an expert could spend a week in the area without doubling his tracks. Best runs are the 40° Super S on the Solaise and the Face of Bellevarde. Val is also connected by lifts to TIGNES, a new ski station, at 6,500 feet the highest in Europe, making for another uphill, downdale roller coaster like that of the Three Valleys. This small town has a French and English clientele—only 100 Americans skied there last season. It has one really fine hotel, the Shamrock, where full board costs from $10 to $17 a day. This Christmas, Tignes opens the first two sections of a téléphérique to the Grande Motte that take you to 10,000 feet. A year from now this will be extended to the perpetual snows of the Grand Motte glacier, to 12,000 feet.
The French, who make the Poma lift, use it to lace their mountains with fast, inexpensive uphill facilities—a lesson that could be learned by many American resorts. But take care on the Poma—the operators get a kick out of engaging its mechanism with a jerk and watching the unsuspecting skier hurtle into the air. One other caution: the French ski these areas the way they sideslip through l'Etoile—and think nothing of cutting you off or skiing right over your tips.
The chances of your staying at CHAMROUSSE or ALPE D'HUEZ, both Olympic venues, are very remote. But there is hardly a greater thrill in skiing than playing Walter Mitty by skiing a downhill after the Olympic race is over. This will be possible on February 8. A visitor to Alpe d'Huez, the bobsled venue high on a south-facing canted plateau, will be able to ski its sunny slopes anytime during the Games. Alpe d'Huez is high—its téléphérique goes to 11,000 feet and is the alternate site for the Olympic downhill if Chamrousse has snow trouble. DEUX ALPES is the third area available to skiers who want to take a day off from watching the races to ski themselves. It is 40 miles from Grenoble, with good terrain, fairly easy skiing.
Once you leave the Grenoble area and head toward Nice, you are in the southern Alps. This means that the mountains must be high and face generally north for good snow. There are three areas in this direction worthy of an international traveler's brief attention: SERRE CHEVALIER, VARS and PRA-LOUP. Vars and Serre Chevalier are rapidly growing older centers with good skiing and lift facilities. Pra-Loup is a brand-new creation. Its chief attraction is that it will be the station of Honoré Bonnet, coach of the French team, who purportedly will retire here after the Games. He will come to a year-round place in the sun, a family ski village with no championship trails, but with wide meadows and pleasant promenades, swimming pools year round and golf in the summer.
EATING THERE: Anyone who skis in France leaves with memories of lunches of spicy Savoie ham, omelets, cheeses and fruit tarts with bottles of pale green Crépy, served on some mountain terrace. The moniteur you ski with will consider it part of his trust to guide you to the best in the area. Your dinners will more than likely be taken at your hotel. But eating in the Grenoble vicinity during the Games will be more of a problem. In town proper there are several good restaurants, serving such Dauphiné specialties as poulet aux écrevisses (chicken with a crayfish sauce), various quail dishes (this is a game-bird area) and the omnipresent gratin dauphinois, creamy, light scalloped potatoes. Best restaurants in town are the Bec Fin, the Poularde Bressane and a new place that looks old, run by a former wine-tasting champion of France, the Saint-Vincent. Good steaks and good Beaujolais are the specialties of the house. Just outside of town—and hopefully less crowded—you will find the Rostang at Sassenage, grandest and most expensive restaurant around and 20 minutes north on N 90 at Montbonnot, Les Mésanges, a friendly, wood-paneled auberge with windows overlooking the Belledonne mountains. At Uriage, on the road up to Chamrousse, stop at La Fondue—a rustic sort of place with a pig on the spit and wine in barrels. The skiing Rothschilds often lunch here on their way to and from the C√¥te d'Azur.
The towns where Olympic tourists may sleep and the places they should ski are indicated on the map. The inserts picture three of the ski glories of France: Chamonix's Lognan run (upper left), the Avoriaz téléphérique (upper right) and the Grande Motte glacier.
[See caption above.]
ST MARTIN DE BELLEVILLE
WHERE TO BUY
Mich√®le Rosier, who designs and manufactures under her own name and also for V de V in France and White Stag in the U.S., created all the ski wear shown on the cover and the preceding color pages. Prices listed are for American stores only. The quilted nylon suit on the cover is worn by Merja Alanen. The hood has detachable face pieces. The pants, like most Rosier ski pants, are worn over the boots. The outfit by White Stag is at Frederick & Nelson, Seattle; Aspen Leaf, Denver, and costs $90. On the opening color page (facing page 46) Rita Scherer wears a quilted nylon jump suit with orange horizontal quilting at waist and elbows. This design for V de V is $110 at Neiman-Marcus, Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth; Er√®s, Paris; Dorothée Bis, Avoriaz. On the next page Merja wears White Stag's quilted nylon-velvet ski suit that comes with a matching helmet. It is $110 at G. Fox, Hartford. On the following spread Merja wears a purple-and-orange stretch-quilt jump suit. It is $100 at Bloomingdale's, New York; Galeries Lafayette, Paris; Reussner Sports, Meg√®ve. On the sixth page of color Rita wears a blouse of yellow acrylic fur and nylon. It is $80 at Neiman-Marcus; Au Printemps, Paris; Gunhild, La Plagne. Rita is also photographed wearing a quilted jacket with acrylic fur collar made by V de V. It is $85 at Dayton's, Minneapolis; Vog, Paris; Shamrock, Courchevel. On the next page Merja wears a racing suit made of the same superstretch used by the French team. It is by V de V and is $155 at Hudson's, Detroit; Franck & Fils, Paris; Robert Pitte Sports, Val-d'Is√®re. The prefab ski house, designed by Gérard Grandval, has a living room, two bedrooms, a bath, and can be put up in three days. It costs $13,000 in France. On the next to last page of color Kyra Bester wears minipants for skiing with a matching double-breasted jacket in Elastiss. The pants are $55, the jacket $125, at Neiman-Marcus; Vog, Paris; Richard Sports, Alpe d'Huez. On the last color page Rita and Kyra wear jump suits of parachute nylon. They are by White Stag and are at Frederick & Nelson, Seattle; Aspen Leaf, Denver, and cost $60. The racing helmets are by Bayard, the gloves by Patault and the goggles by Cebe, all French companies.