We’re learning a lot about Charlie in winter conditions. Today’s lesson was that even though you leave the heating on all night, the water pump inside the van can still freeze? Anyway more on that later…

Today Dave is not feeling so good, he is really struggling to shake the cold that he’s had since the start of the trip so we decide not to go skiing today but have a lazy day trying to make this blog work amongst other tasks.

Perfect piste on Le Chalvet

Thursday was a much better skiing day with great conditions especially on the area behind the village on the south-facing slopes of Le Chalvet. This has a relatively new 6 person chair lift that crosses over our aire and gives access to a large pisted bowl that has links to Claviere, just over the Italian border. With a not very brilliant ski map and few places to stop for lunch without returning to the Montgenèvre village, we eventually made our way painfully over towards the Italian side, where we finally found the warm and inviting refuge.

Refuge Gimont (2035m)

We walked in and sat at a table at the back of the restaurant. “Blah, blah Steve Birkinshaw blah new book There is No Map in Hell, blah…..” Dave’s ears pricked up, was that his old orienteering friends Eddie & Cath Speak from Stockport, long time members of Manchester & District Orienteering Club who just happened to be skiing in Italy and had that day skied over to Montgenèvre stopped for lunch, at the same time us, and they were seated in the same back room on a neighbouring table, in the same eatery…. Is that possible, it must be?

Anyhow after a good catch up with Eddie & Cath, some pasta and a Bombardino (for Lesley) the warm fire did it’s magic and we began to thaw out. On leaving the restaurant, we skied down the hill to find another two restaurants…just like buses, none for ages then 3 come together! 

The snow started falling around 5 pm but braving the elements and wrapped up in numerous layers we went in search of pizza. After walking the length of the town, at last Dave got his much requested pizza and they were HUGE.


Intending to take the bus, we just missed it because we were standing on the wrong side of the road! However we quickly hitched a lift into Chamonix which is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and located at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest peak of the Alps. It was also the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924.

We had a quick look around the town and had intended to visit the Alpine museum but it was closed until 2pm…. So after going to a smart restaurant called Josephine where one item on the menu was a staggering 500€! we thought coffee and croissants @12€’s were very reasonably priced

With our change of plans, we needed to get going to complete the long drive south to Mongenèvre and beat the expected big dump of snow on Tuesday night. Looking at the route the obvious choice was the 8 mile long Frejus Tunnel.

The school boy error was not to check the price! Well it did save a long alternative journey… and it meant we’d make it before the forecasted snow arrived and tunnel construction took from 1974 to 1980 (that’s a lot of digging) and it cost €700 million at 2005 prices and it’s the tenth longest road tunnel in the world. So in retrospect the 65€ was…. still BL**DY expensive!

The tunnel emerges at the Italian Ski resort of Bardoncchia from there it was a relatively easy drive via Claviere, to the massive aire at Mongenèvre which can hold up to 220 motorhomes. Fortunately for us there plenty free spaces with electric hook up and we ended up parking next to a group of five British motorhome ski seasonaires. Once set up Dave had a well-earned rest whilst Lesley went out to explore the town and stock up on provisions.

Ford Cluses to Chamonix

First job today was our appointment with the Ford garage to get the brakes sorted. We spent the morning in the garage waiting for the brake sensor to be fixed.

After waiting all morning at 12 all garages close for 2 hours, so we went for a wander into town and to find someplace to eat. We had not realised how close we were to the centre of Cluses.

Lesley outside the mairie in Cluses

Eventually they told us that although they had changed the brake pedal sensor they’d ordered in 10 days before, there was another issue… but this time they were certain it was with the ABS unit itself and guess what, a replacement would have to be ordered from Ford Germany. So with no other choice we left agreeing to come back in another 10 days.

Where to now then? A new plan was quickly hatched to change the order of visiting some more ski resorts. So the aire at Vaujany we had heard of from Winterized was swapped with Montgenèvre. However as soon as we left, Charlie started making the most strange sounds, we eventually worked out that our waste water had probably frozen whilst it had stood for a week in Les Gets and must have defrosted whilst in the garage. So before leaving Cluses we went back to the aire drained the waste water and topped up with LPG at a Total petrol station then headed for Chamonix and the Le Deux Glaciers camp site.

Le Deux Glaciers camp site, Christmas card perfect setting for a winter camp site

Because of a really tight up hill corner we had to put the snow chains on to reach our pitch (we’re getting good at this) and we were soon tucked up warm and cosy.

Cluses van wash

Fitting not right yet but we’re learning

Everyone leaving for the UK today were on early flights, but with no plane to catch our departure was a bit more relaxed. That said after more snow overnight we had to back the van down the ramp and then had fun of getting the snow chains off! but it’s all good practice… The snowy run down to Cluses was straightforward and we found supplies at a Carrefour 30 minutes before the early Sunday closure.

The aire was easy also to find and after we’d used the Flot Blue we got talking to a couple who had sold their properties in the UK and moved out to Morzine and converted a large farm house into a fabulous ski chalet which they let in the winter whist they toured in their black 4×4 Hymer ML-T motorhome. (their garage organisation would have even made Trevor jealous!). ‘How the other other half motorhome’. After they’d serviced their immaculate MH, we decided to give our filthy van a well deserved wash. I think we must have looked rather silly when another camper van (Helen & Steve Roberts) turned up to witness us washing the van in the rain. With the rain still falling but with van a whole lot cleaner we attempted to recover our dignity by inviting the pair round for a cuppa. Sometime after they left and with the rain still falling we noticed damp patches on two of the cushions under both the side windows. It looks like the windows are leaking but it is strange that we didn’t see this in Cumbria (not that it ever rains there), anyway a new problem to be investigated.

Skiing in Les Gets

Packing up and using the Flot Bleu to service the van all went smoothly including getting a refund on our 2 non-working jetons. However before traveling to Les Gets, to meet our friends Dave, Shirley & George, we stopped off and brought Lesley a new ski jacket from Intersport in Praz du Lys

Finding the Chalet Fleur de Neige proved to be easy and we spent a relaxed afternoon sorting out skis for the others and had lunch in town whilst George had a private lesson. On Monday we took things easy sticking to the blue runs which George managed to negotiate safely.

Dave T, Shirley, George & Dave with Mont Chery ski area in the background

Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Mont Chery area where from the top we enjoyed the most fantastic views of Mont Blanc. We loved cruising the red runs in this area and after a hot chocolate stop at Le Grand Ourse, it was time to meet up with George after his lesson and head over to Morzine for an outside lunch stop at Chez Nannon.

The view from the top of Mont Chery with Mont Blanc left and Praz de Lys area on the right

Wednesday’s skiing was marred a bit when George missed the rendezvous after he did a blue whilst we did a red run. After some frantic mobile calls George was eventually established as being ok and back in Les Gets, the remaining four had a lovely memorable lunch

Including Dave’s tartiflette pictured, at Le Chasse Montagne – thanks for the recommendation Paul.

Snow started to fall and we called it a day since the light was poor. We met Ian, another chalet guest on the way back and he helped us fit the snow chains to the van in case we have to move it in the morning as it has been snowing and the snow plough may need to come access up the ramp to the chalet. As it was the chalet staff’s day off we went out with Ian and his son Alex to La Copeaux.

George’s knee was playing up on Friday so he didn’t ski, the four of us skied the reds over at Mont Chery, which once again was sunny and well pisted. After two attempts at recommended mountain refuges we had lunch at GQ. The famous five re grouped for Saturday with the focus being on having an enjoyable and safe last day together.

Le Vaffieu
At the top of the Pléney at the arrival of the Belvédère chairlift

We also managed to book a table at Le Vaffieu which with great food and warm and friendly atmosphere we all agreed was the best mountain lunch of the week.

Friday 18th January

So here we are parked up with about 10 other motorhomes in a great little aire.

Being able to ski in and ski out of the aire was just brilliant. We took a blue down through the trees to pick up a poma button lift to take us to the main piste, which with perfect snow conditions and the place virtually to ourselves was just glorious… After a great first day on the slopes we later walked the 20 minutes up to the town brought some provisions and went to Le Grizzly for galettes and Breton cider

This would be our view if we didn’t have the Silver Screen wrapped around the front..

After another great day skiing in Praz de Lys that was only marred when Lesley got oil dripped onto her white ski jacket from one the wheels of the bearings that support the chair lift cable, me thinks much work with the stain remover would be required. That night Lesley decided to try the Remoska for the first time but unfortunately the butternut squash took ages to cook and eventually it had to be finished off in the oven. Despite the altitude and the cold we’d so far had a good couple of nights on hook up. Electric is brought using jetons or tokens, however the 3 Lesley put in at 8:30 last night were meant to last us until 8:30 the next morning? but stopped around midnight and with temperatures in the van of minus 11 we were very grateful for a cosy duvet.

Mézériat – 16th January

Enjoyable day spent with Sue, catching up with family including a walk to explore the village and pilgrimage to a patisserie in Montrevel to sample the cakes.

Le Praz du Lys

With Sue already left for work we set off from Mézériat earlyish, heading for the hills with a plan to call in at the Ford dealership in Cluses to see if we could organise to get the brake problem fixed. Stopped in the rain at U supermarket with Flot Blue facilities to empty the toilet cassette and fill up with water. Rain continued for most of the journey to Cluses where we found the Ford garage easily. Another check with the plug-in kit confirmed the brake sensor issue and we booked it in to get fixed in 10 days time.  We then started the steady climb up the hair pins to take us up to Le Praz du Lys – a small ski resort near to Les Gets.

Praz de Lys has a one-way system and we were very pleased we had winter tyres. The towrope came in handy as we were able to lend it to a snowplough to pull a French car out of a snowy ditch. The aire was a well organised two tiered affair with the most fantastic views of the ski area which as we arrived had received a massive dump of fresh snow giving the whole place a magical feel. The aire felt very friendly with everyone helping clear the snow and offering advice about the local area.