Sandwiched between the Écrins National Park and the Queyras nature reserve, the Forêt Blanche ski area stretches from 1650m up to an altitude of 2750m. Even inside the ski area, “pure nature” are the operative words, as it owes its name to the over 600 Hectares of lush larch woodland which reaches as high as 2200m up the mountain. Pic de Chabrières, at 2750m, is the highest point, and hub of whole Forêt Blanche ski area, which stretches away on both sides towards the ski stations of Vars and Risoul respectively.
In 1990, the two above-mentioned ski resorts were amalgamated to form one ski area, which offers its visitors a total of 185km of ski runs, and a whopping 8 snow parks. Snow cannons ensure that the connecting route from Risoul through to Vars remains open throughout the season, although the dry climate of this part of the southern French Alps ensures great snow conditions and plenty of sunshine in any case. These perfect conditions allow holidaymakers to make the most of the huge variety of tree-lined ski runs on offer.
No skier will be left disappointed by the network of almost 120 runs, linked by 55 lifts. With the majority of its runs rated as either easy or medium difficulty, Forêt Blanche is the ideal destination for both families and beginners.
|Length of ski slopes||185km|
|Number of ski slopes||116|
New skiers will find a generous practice area directly above Risoul, complete with its own designated cable car. Some of the easier runs set off from the summit of L’Homme de Pierre, and from La Mayt summit heading down in the direction of Vars. A particular highlight is the red-graded “Olympique-Piste”, which, over the course of 3km, snakes down to Vars Sainte Marie via a wooded, sun-soaked flank of the mountain.
Budding professionals will find themselves just as well catered-for as the less experienced. Of all the challenging runs on offer, the most difficult is arguably the “Vautours” run. The obvious exception to this is the famous high-speed run “Kilomètre Lancé” (KL), which begins at the summit of Pic de Chabrières. Over a total length of 1400m, some of which at a gut-wrenching angle of 98%, this run descends a total of 435m. Thrill-seeking skiers from the age of 6 upwards can attempt to break the current speed record, 243.9 km/h, but even if they don't manage that, everyone gets to take home a certificate detailing their personal top speed.
The large range of off-piste routes also promises a whole host of surprises for visitors to Forêt Blanche. The majority wind around the thickly-wooded slopes of Risoul, while the wider area also offers a total of 5 slalom runs.
Risoul is also home to the majority of the 45 carefully-prepared cross-country routes, winding through luscious larch woodland. A particularly beautiful run leads from Le Fourmet (Vars) up to the Col de Vars.
The Forêt Blanche ski area is a true point of pilgrimage for snowboarders and freestylers, who are spoilt for choice in the 8 snow parks, 2 half pipes, "freeride" and "boardercross" areas. Just in the Vars section of the ski area alone there are a staggering 6 different boarder zones:
Vars' largest snow park is l'Eyssina, situated at an altitude of 2400m near to the two "Crévoux" chairlifts and covering an area of 8 hectares. Here boarders will find plenty awaits them whatever their skill level, including many “kickers”, “tables” and “rails”. L’Eysina also encompasses the “Alpha Park”, where the boxes are shaped to look like letters of the alphabet, a “boardercross run” on the “Crévoux-Piste”, as well as the so-called “Cool Zone”, with huts, terraces and barbeques every evening.
The virtually brand-new kid’s park near to the valley station of the Chabrières gondola, first built for the 2011/12 season, is perfectly designed for those youngest of boarding enthusiasts. A range of appropriately-sized ramps make the perfect stomping ground for children as young as 3.
Vars’ “Girly Park” is easily recognisable by its pink-coloured “boxes”, and is situated near to the upper station of the Chabrières gondola, by the “Clapier” run. This is the perfect place for younger girls to make their first few free-style attempts in safety and under no pressure, with an array of large, simple boxes to choose from.
Visitors searching for some freestyle-action after dark should look no further than the “Ecrins” park, right by the “Ecrins” lift. Once a week the floodlights here are switched on to allow continued use of its 15 features, including some unusually-shaped “rails”, once the sun has gone down.
The top location for a photo shoot, or perhaps to make a film to remember the holiday by, is undoubtedly the “Totem Park”, at the upper station of the “Sibières” lift. Two separate areas set the scene perfectly for more experienced boarders to hone their skills. While the “Indians’ Village” mainly contains wooden rails and impressive totem poles, the “Vars West” zone features Wild-West style constructions, built from locally-sourced materials.
Last but not least, the 6th of Vars’ snow parks, “Parc des Escondus”, in the upper reaches of the Escondus ski run and accessible via the Chabrières lift, is another highlight for seasoned boarders, with 14 challenging features to keep the adrenalin pumping.
Vars’ freestyling facilities are topped off by 3 “Parcours de Neige”, which are spread across the whole ski area and challenge skiers to traverse completely untouched snow.
But, unbelievably, the already impressive facilities on offer do not stop there – a further 3 boarder zones are waiting to be enjoyed in the Risoul ski area as well:
Nestled amongst larch trees by the lower reaches of the Melezet drag lift, the “White Park”, accessible via the Melezet chairlift, provides a whole host of different challenges: gaps, rails, tables, kickers and jib-lines, some of which are made from regional woods and are perfect for beginners. More experienced boarders on the other hand should head for the “Black Park”, near the “Peyrefolle” ski run.
However, the no.1 highlight of the entire Risoul area has to be “Surfland”, one of Europe’s largest snow parks. Situated in the vicinity of the “Cote de Berge” ski run, the park boasts a 150m-long half-pipe, as well as a smaller half-pipe for beginners. “Surfland” continues to be the venue for many large competitions, and served as a training area during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
For those whose thirst for snow sports still isn’t fully quenched by this enormous range of facilities, there are still yet more attractions to be mentioned. Snowshoe routes and hiking trails await intrepid explorers, covering a total distance of 34km, as well as 3 toboggan runs. The more adventurous holiday maker may prefer to take a trip on a snowmobile, or take to the skies in a paraglider to view the ski area from above.