Snowboarding with Ski Miquel
Here our Operations Director, Nick, gives an overview of all our resorts from a snowboarder’s perspective and highlights the different features of each, which will hopefully be helpful to you in choosing the right destination for your next snowboard trip with Ski Miquel!
I was lucky enough to have started snowboarding when I was still very young, back in 1989, when I was only 14. I was keen on skateboarding at that age and had witnessed the occasional snowboarder riding around whilst on ski trips with my family, and having already been skiing for around 5 years by that point I desperately wanted to try what looked like great fun sliding sideways on snow. I convinced my parents to let me rent a snowboard for a couple of days on our family ski trip to Argentiere that year, but back then the rental snowboards were shaped like ironing boards and had clips on them that you could fasten your ski boots too, so it wasn’t the easiest of learning experiences, but I was already hooked.
After renting and borrowing snowboards for my trips over the next few years, I eventually managed to acquire my own when I was 18, which was a Burton Air 6.1 that I bought second-hand from my geography teacher after he had bought all the kit and tried it once but didn’t get on with it, so I picked it up for only £80 including bindings, bag, and a pair of Burton snowboard gloves. After buying myself a pair of Airwalk boots from Rollersnakes in Nottingham I was good to go, and off I went to do my first season in Les Menuires in December 1993, which is where my love for the sport grew exponentially.
After my first season, I came back to the UK to go to University and whilst I was ‘Captain of Snowboarding’ for the Nottingham University Snowsports Club I used to drive a minibus of other keen snowboarders to Tamworth Snowdome every Tuesday to participate in the snowboard nights they used to put on there, and I also used to do a fair amount of snowboarding on dry slopes as well. However, this didn’t quite cut it and when I finished my degree course all I could think about was going back to the mountains for some real snow, so off I went to Meribel in December 1998.
I was fortunate enough to witness the progression of snowboarding throughout the boom years of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, and it’s incredible to see how things have changed over that time. For example, when I did my first season there were barely any snowparks and so it was all about making use of the natural terrain, and when I did my second season there were some reasonably well-shaped kickers and a fairly basic halfpipe, but nowadays most resorts put a great deal of effort into making sure they have well-maintained snowparks for all to enjoy, and this of course has helped the progression in freestyle snowboarding and skiing no end.
Now I’m a bit longer in the tooth and so I don’t throw myself around as much as I used to, but I still enjoy riding pistes and powder as much as I ever did. With the advent of new technologies and a plethora of different snowboard shapes to choose from, this has only added to the interest of snowboarding and the versatility it offers.
I started working with Ski Miquel in 2017, but I had been on several Ski Miquel holidays by that point, so I was already familiar with most of the resorts, and I am now fully conversant with what each of them has to offer, so I wanted to share some of the highlights with a view to informing any other keen snowboarders about the merits of each:
This is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and it offers great variety for snowboarders. It’s a good resort for all abilities, and it has decent learner slopes which are great for beginners, and it’s also easy to graduate to some cruisy green and blue runs around the resort as you become more proficient.
The Gondrans area also offers some nice mellow cruising for those that want it, but there is also some more challenging terrain for any snowboarders who are wanting to push themselves a bit more, and the boardercross track and the kickers in the snowpark are good fun to play around on.
If you are wanting some speed then the run down from Eagle’s Rock is a good long ride and you can pick up some pace, and there is also some easily accessible off-piste on the way down. If you know where to go, or if you have someone to guide you, then you can try the couloirs that are visible from the chairlift on the way up to Eagle’s Rock, or you can take the itinerary run down the valley, which is exceptionally good after a decent dump of fresh snow.
On the other side of the valley, there is also some great off-piste to be explored around the Chalvet area, and dropping off the right-hand side of the Pharo blue run is hard to beat when the snow is good.
Nestled in the beautiful Écrins National Park, the Serre Chevalier valley is well worth a visit, and the resort is now truly world-class. The Chalet-Hotel Charlotte is located right in the heart of Monêtier, which is the highest village in the valley, and it is only a 5-minute walk in your snowboard boots down to the lift station.
There are beginner slopes in the village itself, which have a very mellow gradient for those who are just finding their feet, but once you are starting to link turns then you can take the Bachas chairlift up the mountain to access some nice cruisy green and blue runs up above the village. Beyond this, the Vallons red run takes you further over towards Villeneuve for those who are already a bit more adventurous.
Most of the lifts in the valley are chairlifts, and many of them have been upgraded in recent years to fast 6-man lifts with comfy padded seats and easy get-offs. There are a few gondola lifts in the valley, but only very few drag lifts, which is good news for any snowboarders who find those more of a challenge.
Most of the runs in the valley are blues and reds, and some of them are quite wide, so there is some great cruising to be done on a snowboard, with lots of fun features and side-hits as well. Some of the runs come down through the larch forests, but 80% of the skiing is above 2000m, so a lack of snow is not usually an issue. For any snowboarders feeling a bit more adventurous, there is a snowpark above Chantemerle, which has a range of kickers from very small to very large, and there is also some easily accessible off-piste throughout the valley. Pierre Vaultier also put the resort on the map recently by filming his famous Red Bull snowboard runs here.
This is our most challenging resort in terms of the terrain it offers, and we tend to recommend it for intermediate snowboarders and skiers rather than complete beginners, as most of the runs are reds with a few blacks as well, but there are only very few blue runs around the resort. The scenery is stunning and much of it is in the trees, offering a truly Austrian experience, with cosy mountain huts dotted throughout the valley for your daily coffee and lunch stops.
There are several different ski areas within the Gastein Valley, and each has its own feel and character. Bad Gastein is linked with Bad Hofgastein and the combined area offers a good number of pistes, most of which are red runs. In fact, Bad Gastein boasts the longest run in the Central Eastern Alps, which is 11km long and is a superb piste to ride from top to bottom, and there is a new state-of-the-art gondola lift at the bottom to take you back up again. If you are feeling adventurous, try some of the off-piste to the left-hand side of the red run, which is excellent with good snow.
Dorfgastein is the ski area further down the valley, and because of its lower altitude more of the runs are in the trees, which makes it feel like you are riding in Colorado. At the top end of the valley is Sportgastein, which is at a higher altitude above the treeline and is therefore more exposed, so is perhaps not the best area to head to on a bad weather day, but when the sun is out you can experience some excellent pisted runs and some easily accessible off-piste as well. The itinerary run down the north face is exceptional with decent snow, but be aware that you will end up coming out on the road and will need to catch a bus back up or down the valley.
Finally, there is Graukogel, which is small area close to the village of Bad Gastein itself. It only has two chairlifts, but on a good powder day you won’t want to be anywhere else, and you can lap them to your heart’s content! There are plans afoot to link Graukogel to the main village with a new gondola lift, which will improve the accessibility of the area, but this will no doubt make it a bit busier as well, so make the most of it while it’s still quiet!
This is our most popular resort amongst our guests, and one of the reasons for this is that most of the skiing is linked, which means it’s easy to get around the valley on skis without having to rely on any other means of transport. The Saalbach-Hinterglemm valley is also linked with Leogang and Fieberbrunn, and more recently a new gondola lift has been installed at Viehofen, which links the valley to Zell am See, so the total ski area is now very extensive. We therefore like to recommend this resort for those who enjoy racking up the kilometres rather than taking in the scenery at a leisurely pace, although that is also fine of course, and the scenery around Saalbach is rather spectacular.
As well as the many great runs to explore further afield by using the excellent modern lift system throughout the valley, there is also plenty of fun to be had within striking distance of the Chalet-Hotel Christina, and other highlights include some of the off-piste on the Schattberg above Saalbach after a fresh dump of snow, or why not test your mettle on the black piste which runs back down to the village.
This resort gets rave reviews from our guests, and it’s another of our resorts that we recommend for all abilities of snowboarder and skier, as it has excellent learner slopes and some nice easy blue and green runs to enable you to progress quickly from beginner to intermediate. Most of the lifts in the resort are chairlifts and there are very few draglifts, although there are a couple of drags above Orri and it's worth exploring the runs up there if you can.
The run over to Beret is a lot of fun, and any freestylers can try out their skills in the snowpark there, which is very well looked after. In the other direction, head over towards Bonaigua and you will be treated to some nice winding runs with changing gradients and some fun rollers to enjoy on the way.
For those who are a bit more advanced, there is some very easily accessible off-piste in Baqueira, and when the snow is good it’s easy to find some fresh turns. If you really want to test your nerve then why not have a bash at the infamous Escornacrabes couloir.
Our base in the village of Lauterbrunnen gives you enviable access to both sides of the valley and enables you to get to Mürren or Wengen, depending on your preferred choice for the day. The Mürren side has some nice cruisy runs, and if you are feeling plucky then head up the cable car to the top of the Schilthorn and try the black run down from the top, which will test your ability to hold an edge in places due to the steepness of the run.
On the Wengen side, there are some great runs around Männlichen and Kleine Sheidegg, and there is some easily accessible off-piste as well. Have a look at the video below from the afternoon I spent riding around with Ed Leigh on the Wengen side of the valley whilst everyone else was busy watching the Lauberhorn downhill race, which was a great day!
If you really want to blast down wide-open pistes then head over to Grindelwald and First, where many of the runs are exceptionally wide and the gradients are perfect for opening the throttle on the way down. Whilst you are there, it’s also worth trying the ‘First Flyer’ zipline, which is another fun thing to do, and then take the long winding track down to join the road when you can catch a bus back to Grindelwald before jumping on the train back to Lauterbrunnen – A proper day’s adventure!
I hope this gives you a reasonable overview of our different resorts from a snowboarder’s point of view. All of them are a little different in their own way and some are better suited to different abilities, but all offer something for everyone and there is a lifetime’s worth of excellent riding to explore, so why not try them all?