Author Archives: Gareth Jefferies

Opening the pistes in Morzine

Have you ever looked on in envy as you are waiting to go up the ski lift? Looked at one or two lonely tracks down through the powder. These have probably been left by the “pisteurs” checking the piste over before the lift is cleared to open.  In Morzine you can do this yourself. Each Wednesday throughout the season you can sign up to join a small group to accompany the Pisteur secouriste (ski patrol) for the “overture des pistes”.  And what’s more it’s free! The only hard bit is getting our of bed early enough to meet at the lift at 8am!

Ouverture des pistes

Morzine Source Magazine arranged for a group of business owners and workers from Morzine to join in this excellent activity. So 15 of us met Michel from the Morzine team at the base of the Pleney lift. We were also met by fresh snow and good weather. What more could we ask for?

As promised we set off down our private freshly groomed piste. In fact in places the groomers (dameuse de neige) were still hard at work. This provided Michel with a good opportunity to warn us of the dangers of venturing out on the pistes when they are closed. These grooming machines often work attached to cables that are up to 1km long! If you don’t know what I am talking about I highly recommend watching this film that demonstrates their use. It’s a pertinent warning as some local ski tourers were seriously injured in this valley by one of these cables a few years ago.

We’ve had so much snow in the Portes du Soleil recently that they were having to dig out the chair lifts! Using the piste machine is certainly quicker than digging.

But what is a “Jalon”?

As we went down the piste Michel zig zagged from one side to the other re-positioning the piste markers, signs and fences that had been buried by the snow or moved out of the way for the grooming operations. He was particularly keen to ask that people read and follow the signage. It’s obvious really, however as we all know, when on holiday there are many that like to leave the rules at home.

We all managed to learn a new French word too, “jalon”, which in this context translates as “stake”, these are the sticks that mark the sides of the piste. As opposed to the larger metal piste signs that have the name of the piste marked on them and a number. These jalon have orange tips on the right hand side of the piste and just one colour on the left. This is useful to know in a whiteout.

This was also a good time to explain one of the basic emergency procedures when out skiing. If someone is injured on a piste and you need help, then note the number and name of the piste visible on a nearby piste marker. When this information is relayed to the ski patrol they’ll be able to find the incident without any problem. These markers start at #1, at the bottom piste, Here we are stood at #9, on piste “B” the rather uninspired name of the “home run” in Morzine. 

By the time we reached the bottom of the run it was 8.45am and the lift was just opening for the public. Michel radioed through to his office that the piste “B” was now open. This is something that is done for each piste in the area. The time and the name of the Secouriste that checked the piste is noted on a central register. If there is a serious incident and the police are called upon to investigate, this information forms part of their evidence. 

First tracks

Back at the top Michel checked that we were all happy to ski a black run. This is not obligatory, however in his words “it can’t be all work can it?” As far as we could tell, so far none of this could be counted as work 😜NB. see note below. Though he did follow this up with a reminder that when it is the school holidays and the pistes are icy, his job becomes very busy indeed.  So off we went putting first tracks down one of Morzine’s superb tree-lined powder runs. 

We went back up the lift for a 3rd time, by now it was 9.30am and the pistes were transformed by the crowds gathering for ski school. Michel invited us into his newly built First Aid post for a coffee to finish a very interesting and enjoyable few hours. If you would like to take part then you can find more information about this event on the Morzine-Avoriaz website in English or French.


The Pisteur secouristes in our area are having a hard time this season.  Michel was very upbeat which was great. However in the last couple of weeks 4 have died in 3 separate incidents in France. 3 of them on our doorstep. I raised this question with another pisteur, and asked if this was just an unfortunate coincidence. He responded that thanks to the abundant snow falls in the last couple of weeks he had not seen any life outside of his work. 6am starts and getting home at 7pm after hard physical days. Combine that with a job that can involve having to work with explosives and ski in some very hazardous terrain and there might be a link. So keep this in mind next time you see the first tracks down the piste, or when you are held back from an area because of the risk of avalanche. These resort workers are literally putting their lives on the line to keep us all safe.

There is only one marker #21 on the Follys piste in St Jean d’Aulps!

Cross Country Skiing in the Haute Savoie.

Interest in cross-country skiing is on the up and up. France has a very strong biathlon team, headed by Martin Forcade, a 4 time Olympic champion and 11 time world champion. Even  the UK has a current world cup competitor and Olympian, Andrew Musgrave.

As the cost of downhill skiing increases, as the pistes get busier and as people start to appreciate the benefits of daily exercise the interest in cross-country skiing will only improve.

Ski de Fond in Les Gets

Ski de Fond in Les Gets

It is often said that cross-country skiing is the best cardiovascular workout available. This will be because unlike running or cycling you will use both your upper and lower limbs to propel yourself forward. I should say that although this is true at the higher levels of skill, it is possible to cross-country ski at lower efforts too. If you see the number of retired folk on cross-country skis you will understand. I have likened it to swimming, it’s 50% skill and 50% fitness, though like swimming it still works if you lack one or the other. You just go faster with less effort if you take some time to learn the skill!

The cost of Cross Country skiing in the Haute Savoie.

There are many places listed below with free access. However if you are just starting out these free spots might not be a great option, because hiring kit might be an issue. For that you will need a nearby shop of a “Foyer”. These foyer are frequently the place where you start your day, and they can often hire kit. In this case it will cost between 10 and 15€ a day for boots/skis/poles. A day pass for the skiing will be around 8€ for the day. Few people will be out for more than a couple of hours, this means a half day pass won’t save you much. Usually about 1.5€!

For those who will be XC skiing more than a couple of times, buying equipment will make sense. At the most basic level everything can be bought from Decathlon for less than 300 €, beyond that the sky is the limit. A season pass for the whole of the Haute Savoie is available for €120, for the northern Alps at €150 and for all of France €210.

Below I have written a guide to places to go XC skiing around the Haute Savoie. I’ve listed these areas from the most extensive areas first, to the smallest at the bottom. This does not mean you should ignore the suggestions lower down, especially if you are new to the sport. For many a 5 km circuit is just fine!

Aravis (The altitude of each site is in brackets)

La Clusaz / Confins (1420m), 9€, 50 km+ of pistes probably the most extensive area in the Haute Savoie, snow-sure too. They stock snow (snow farming) from one season to the next to ensure an early start.

Manigod / La Croix Fry (1600m) 9€, 36 km, AKA Espace nordique du Plateau de Beauregard

Grand-Bornand (1250m), 9€, 58 km with 2 biathlon areas (so with shooting ranges) at “Plans” in the vallée du Bouchet and at the stade Sylvie Becaert near the centre of Grand-Bornand village. Full details here  The Grand Bornand is big news in the world of biathlon at the moment, it has recently hosted a round of the World Cup twice and has plans for more. The next one being in December 2019.

World Cup Biathlon in Le Grande-Bornand Dec 2017

World Cup Biathlon in Le Grande-Bornand Dec 2017

Grand-Bornand / Chinaillon (1300m), free, 27km, accessed from the centre of Chinaillon.

Plateau des Glieres (1450m) 7.80€, 50 km+, an extensive and important site for the French. There is a huge memorial here to the WWII resistance fighters who took refuge on the plateau, supported by British air-drops but finally massacred by the Germans. Snow-sure and with an early start to the season thanks to snow-farming. Access is possible from Le Petit-Bornand but if you want to start from the foyer you will need to access it from the Annecy side and Thorens-Glières.

Praz de Lys with Mt Blanc in the background

Praz des Lys / Sommand (1500m)

8€ a day, 60 km of tracks, all levels. Extensive, snow sure and well known. 15 min drive from Les Gets and 25 min from Morzine.

Grand Massif

Samoens (950m), 8.40€, 30 km of XC pistes, it goes by the name of Vallee-du-haut-giffre, with good snow it extends from Verchaix all the way to the end of the valley at Sixt-fer-a-cheval, however the foyer is at the end of the valley so you will probably start there.

Joux Plane (1700m), 8.40€, 12 km of tracks, snow sure and picturesque. Quite a drive up from Samoens. More information about both sites here.

Flaine (1844m), free 2.5 km, an early season venue thanks to its altitude.  Also known as the Col de Pierre Carrée

Agy (1260m), 8.40€ , 35 km, a big centre tucked away behind Saint-Sigismond, good foyer with lots of hire kit available and a welcoming bar/restaurant.

Alpes du Leman

Foyer des Moises (1100m), Only 4.30 €, an extensive 46.5 km of ski de fond pistes, situated between the Col des Moises and the Col de Cou, on the site of the summer gliding centre. More information here:,

Espace nordique des Mouilles (1083m), 8.40€ 20 km pisted + 20km itinerie  between the col du Terramont and the col de Jambaz.

Plaine Joux, Les Brasses (1200m), about 30km, situated in the Vallée Verte half way between Geneva and the Portes du Soleil (35min from the centre of Geneva).

Portes du Soleil

Chatel (1000m), 8.8€ it’s not really in Chatel it is just 5 km down the valley in La Chapelle-d’Abondance, when the snow conditions are good there are 40 km of tracks. Also above Abondance there is small, free, snow-sure and flat spot at Lac de Plagnes. All the information can be found here:

Morzine – Valle de La Manche (1100m), free, bus or car access from Morzine, often trashed by walkers! Most often in condition is from L’Erigné and up towards Chardonnière. Once you get to the valley around Chardonniere it’s very snow sure and quite flat, however getting there involves an ascent of almost 200m!

Top of the Pleney / Chavannes (1500m), so this could be termed Morzine or Les Gets. Free, take the lift as a pedestrian (you’ll need to pay for this), walk across the piste to a blue run, this is a 5 km circuit that runs over to Chavannes and back. You can also access this by driving to Chavannes above Les Gets which saves on the lift pass!

Les Gets – Mont Chery (1300m), free, a couple of 5 km circuits from the Belvedere to Mt Caly and back, lift access required again.

Avoriaz (1700m), free, accessed from the Supermorzine télécabine or by car to the parking at Séraussaix or the Col de la Joux Verte . 30km or snow-sure skiing at 1700m.

Mont Blanc

Chamonix (1050m) 10€, 20 km of fairly flat pistes to start with, supplemented with snow making equipment. As you get closer to the Argentière end of the valley they start to get a bit hillier.

Argentière (1300m) 10€, 15km, can be linked with the tracks at Chamonix.

Vallorcine, (1300m) 10€, 11km, compact and not accessible from the other areas.

Biathlon in Les Contamines

Biathlon in Les Contamines

Les Contamines (1170m), 4.30€ 25 km, and excellent area, heavily shaded and somewhat of a snow trap. Can be kept quite flat. Soon to be the venue of the only summer roller skiing track in the Haute Savoie.

Megeve (1400m), 8€ 38 km. An extensive and well looked after area. It’s up at the Altiport, varied rolling terrain.

I have mostly stuck to areas that are linked to ski resorts. The are a few other Foyer ski de fond I have not covered. Orange (near La Roche-sur-Foron). Semnoz (near Annecy). Saleve (near Geneva) and Chapelle Rambaud (in the middle of nowhere).

The various French websites that cover this subject are: (for the Haute Savoie) (for the 2 Savoies)

There is a great map that covers the area here. 


The Cheeses of the Haute Savoie

Recently a local friend offered me some Abondance cheese. Although I love cheese, I normally avoid Abondance as I find it too acidic. However this Abondance was different, much smoother, creamier and less likely to remove the inside of my mouth. I asked if he knew why this cheese seemed so much nicer. He replied that it was because it was made from the milk of a cow that had been fed over winter. He explained that I had to go to the local market and explain to the artisan what I was after. It was a surprise (although perhaps it shouldn’t have been), that a cheese will taste different, depending on what the animals have been eating. Another sign we have lost the connection between the land and our food.

The changing seasons effects the flavour

Understanding how the changing seasons are reflected in the evolving flavours of the local cheese can be a real eye opener. Mountain cows spend 5-6 months indoors, normally being fed on grass cut locally and stored from the season before. This is a high calorie diet that leads to a rich creamy cheese. After the snows melt, the animals emerge from the farms and return to the fields for the new grass. The resulting spring milk sees fat and protein content drop. Spring cheeses tend to be lighter bodied. In late spring and early summer the grasses and wildflowers go crazy, and the grazing animals have a rich and varied diet. It should not be a surprise to note a floral taste in these cheeses.

At the end of September (or earlier if the weather dictates) they’ll be brought back down into the valleys for a short time before going back into their sheds

in November. It’s a system of farming known as transhumance. These changing flavours are not apparent in mass produced cheeses, the manufacturer’s adjust the fat and protein content to maintain a constant product. Local mountain producers make their cheese from the milk provided by their animals each day. To experience this seasonality you need to seek out a smaller, artisan cheesemaker. It’s the same with many foods such as honey and even bottled water. The trouble is we are fed blends of all these items from the supermarket and the subtle flavours disappear.

There are plenty of people in the Haute Savoie to whom the supermarket is a last resort, they may produce some of their own food, share and swap what they have with their friends, purchase from local producers at the farm door or in the market. For some cheese, ham, saucisson and various alcohols never come from the shops.

The cheeses you will find around the Haute Savoie.

Abondance, from the Vallée d’Abondance and the Abondance cow. Dates back to the middle ages and the Cistercian monks. The name of this cheese is protected, so it can only come from the Haute Savoie. The milk is first warmed in a copper cooking pot known locally as a “marmite”. Think of a pot of Marmite.

Beaufort, really a Savoie cheese, it comes from around Beaufort, but also extends through the Tarentaise right down to the Maurienne valley. The summer version of this cheese “Beaufort d’été” is easy to identify as it will be marked on the rind. It comes in huge 40kg “ronds”, made from lait cru, so unpasteurised milk.

Chevrotin, goats cheese from across the two Savoie’s, rich and creamy, comes in much smaller 300g packages.

Reblochon, from the Aravis in the Haute Savoie and the Val d’Arly in the Savoie, it dates back to the 13th century. Apparently the farmers in Thônes would milk their cows in front of their lords and pay their taxes on the milk produced. However they would not milk the udders dry, when they returned to their farms they did a “reblocher” (which in French means a second milking) and used the milk to make cheese. It is the main ingredient in Tartiflette.

Raclette, probably the most famous local cheese, but originally from our neighbours in the Valais, Switzerland. It is now not only produced all across the Alps but in the Auvergne, Franche-Comté and Bretagne regions of France as well as in Québec and even Australia! Raclette is made from cow’s milk, unpasteurised or pasteurised. It melts beautifully and has a mild flavour. Originally the farmers would cut one of the 6kg ronds in half, warm it over their wood fire and scrape the melting cheese onto their bread and potatoes. This is where the name comes from: “Racler” is the French for “scrape”.

Tomme, a mountain cheese, so found all across the French and Swiss Alps. Made from cow, sheep or goat milk. It’s identifying characteristic is that it is made from skimmed milk, the fatty milk having been used to make butter. Soft in texture and lightly flavoured with a distinctive ‘croute’.


Electric vehicles and solar panels; they aren’t really that green anyway?

Fake News and Myth buster

The first thing to understand is that all transport has an environmental cost. However some forms of transport have a higher cost to the environment than others.

There is a lot of mis-information going around on social media at the moment, trying to claim that electric cars are not a “green” form of transport. Remember what they are up against. Oil companies and the car lobby, both huge and neither play fair. The reason the oil companies hate EV’s is obvious. You might wonder why the car manufactures have an issue though, it’s because in the short-term they can’t make any money from them. They’ll change their tune in time when they have re-tooled for the job. It is starting, but has taken years. The lead has been taken by Tesla, Nissan/Renault and to a smaller extent BMW, that is it though. And between the last 3 they only really have 3 models available to buy!

It is true that a new EV has a higher cost to the environment that a new IC vehicle (so a vehicle with an Internal Combustion engine). This remains the case if the vehicle is not used. But as each vehicle is used the environmental cost of the EV quickly catches up with the IC car. That’s because the IC is continually adding CO2 into the environment. The initial cost to the environment for an EV is mostly in the manufacturing of the battery.


The same goes for making the photovoltaic panels (PV’s), that has an environmental impact, however over their life they pay back the environment many times over. They are due to last 30 years, perhaps more. Then what happens to them? Well they are mostly glass, and like glass can be recycled. The same goes for the batteries. They can either be re purposed, so used in a house, or recycled. I’d be very keen to buy some old EV batteries to add to my house, if only I could get them at a good price.

Here is a great infographic that explains about recycling PV’s. It’s from these guys.

Recycling: A Solar Panels Life after Death [infographic]

If everyone had an electric car the grid would not cope / we’d have to build 20 new nuclear power stations.

This is another one that I see a lot. It is mainly based on erroneous calculations. Generally assuming that everyone will use their EV to full capacity every day and then they’ll all plug in at the same time. If that did happen then there would indeed be a problem. However.

  1. It will take a very long time for people to covert to EV’s, currently only 3% of new cars sold are pure EV’s.
  2. On average we don’t drive very far each day, something like 30 km for each car each day. We don’t all plug in at the same time either.
  3. The way we use electricity is changing fast, our biggest issue in the future is going to be storing the power we generate during the day from PV’s and wind. The EV battery could be the answer to this. It is early days but a combination of EV’s being used to store power and discharge it to others at peak times could be a real revolution.

This last argument is being put about by the big energy firms. However, they have a history of trying to kill new technology to protect their position. Salter’s duck is an example.’s%20Duck.htm

Some more resources on the subject.

Solar Panels in the snow

3 years ago I wrote about an Electric Car in the snow. I still have an electric car, it looks just like the last one, however it goes further and charges more quickly. I want to use the greenest form of transport I can, so the next logical step is to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. If you don’t think EV’s (electric vehicles) and PV’s are as green as some people make out, then check out my thoughts here.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels do not produce electricity when covered in snow!

I finally got around to working out if I could make photovoltaic (PV) solar panels pay their way. Although I like to try and be as green as I can, I’m only really that interested if being green can save money too. If you compare the payback of anything today to what you’d get from money saved in the bank. Any sort of payback wins!

But first, I can confirm that PV’s don’t produce electricity when covered in snow. This is a non issue for a number of reasons. In the depths of winter the PV’s don’t produce much electricity anyway. If you look at the table below, you will see that in December they only produce 20% of the power of June. Secondly, although I live at 840m altitude in the Alps, I don’t think they will be covered with snow for that may days. Because even when it does snow, once the sun comes out the snow will slide off the same day.

The calculations

First of all I wanted to know how much power my EV needs in a year. I drive 12,000 km/year. That’s 33 km/day, the car has a real world efficiency of 12 kw/100km, so that means I need 4kw of power for an average day’s driving. This real world figure is available on my car’s dashboard, it’s like your IC (internal combustion) car’s fuel consumption figure. So it takes into account the hills, the type of driving you do, and a particular issue for EV’s, the cold temperatures.

Next, you have to work out how much power you can generate where you live. This is quite easy to do. Thanks to the EU there is a web-based calculator that takes everything into account. Your local weather, days of snow cover, even shading from the surrounding mountains.  You will need to know which direction your panels will face, use a compass, (or your phone). This is dictated by where you are going to mount them, in my case that is my garage roof. The angle at which they will be mounted (inclination), use a protractor (or your phone). Then you will need to know how many panels your roof will take. You can use this excellent calculator for that, in my case that was 11 panels.

Panels produce between 250-300 W each, the best value panels (not necessarily the prettiest) are currently 270 W, so 270 x 11= 2.97 kw

So the numbers I needed

Power of system 2.97 kw
PV type Crystaline Silicon
Inclination 30°
Orientation 230°, which seems to translate to 50° on this site
Location (use Google maps) 46.231, 6.647

Plug the numbers into the updated site

This is the result I got, the new site has more pictures!

So from this you can see that the average daily yield is 7.76 kWh, I mentioned before my car would need 4 kWh, which means that for the space I had available I could almost power two cars (or drive twice as far).


You need permission off the grid, so in France that is Enedis. I had decided that I wanted to keep the process as simple and the best value as possible. I think the best way to do this is install the system yourself and not to sell any excess power back to the grid. In other words to set the system up so you can use all the power produced. To sell excess power back to the grid you have to use a professional installer, in which case the purchase costs double, which destroys the value of the whole proposition.

This is the site which explains about the permission, you’ll see that at the top it says you’ll need to ask for permission from the local mairie, that’s not planning permission. But a déclaration préalable de travaux (DP), which is easier than planning permission. You pick the forms up from the mairie. If you have got this far, then you’ll find they are not hard to fill out. Hand them back and wait for a decision from the council. It’ll depend how long it is to the next meeting. For me it was a month. Once you have the permission, you need to go back to the Enerdis site, create an account, upload your forms and a certificat de conformité  for your equipment (available from your supplier). They will create a contract (Convention d’auto-consommation sans injection) for you to sign digitally. I had to wait a week for this.

Fitting the PV’s

Then it was time to get started! I started this process in June, it took until October to get to this stage. It would have made much more sense to start the process in January, however life doesn’t work like that does it?

I had chosen the garage, not because of its proximity to the car, but because it was more accessible to an amateur like myself. It’s closer to the ground for a start!

The first job was to trim back the obvious tree. PV’s really do not like shade.

Then I ordered the equipment. It all fitted onto one pallet.

A friend lent me some scaffolding. I had thought that I could just use a ladder. That was a dumb idea. You will need scaffolding, and for most of the fitting, you will need a second pair of hands!

Fitting the rails and panels took 2 people two afternoons. Here you can see one of the inverters (onduleur in French). With this system there is one inverter for 2 panels. These little devices convert the 20 V (ish) DC power the panels produce into 230 V AC power that the house (and car) use. As an aside, it’s a shame to do this, as the car then converts it back to DC power to charge its batteries. Oh well . All the wiring on the roof is “plug and play”, all waterproofed and no screwdrivers required.

Working on a roof in the mountains, during a sunny autumn is a joy.

The wiring

Not much to do here. In this case we just plugged them into a socket! There is an isolator switch in this picture, though in this case you can isolate the panels by unplugging the socket. We were supplied with a meter too, it’s not strictly necessary, however it is nice to know how much power the panels are producing. I have checked the numbers against the calculations and they match very closely. You can go to town on the monitoring. I could be monitoring electricity produced compared to electricity consumed in real-time from my desk. However it is all extra cost.

One point of note. When the panels are unplugged from the mains, the inverters switch off. So you can’t be electrocuted. If this did not happen, and the power to your house went off, the panels would still be producing electricity and you, your electrician or even a grid worker could be in danger

The finished job, complete with electric car. The car is not plugged into the panels themselves. The car is plugged into the domestic electricity system. The panels are plugged into the same system. The car could be using the power produced, but then so could my fridge, computer, lights or whatever, and as I work from home there is always power being consumed during the day.

Further considerations for your solar installation

I have used polycrystalline panels. The panels have an electric blue colour to them. They don’t look too bad on the metal garage roof, they are not overlooked by anyone either. However if I was to do the same thing on the house roof I would consider a matt black panel. It’s possible that in a few years the panel to use will be “thin film”, especially with a large area to cover.

My house has a 3-phase electrical system. This makes using all the power these panels produce harder to sort out. There are various things that could be done, it’s not particularly complicated. It is worth thinking about in advance though.


Two fascinating real-time breakdowns of where you electricity is coming from, hour by hour One for France and another for the UK

A simple power calculator

Some chat on how to deal with 3-phase power

3-phase again, in French

Immersion controllers, the simplest way to store excess power

This could be the future however it is expensive at the moment. A great way to store excess summer generation for the winter.

This could be a very interesting addition to the system however it might make more sense if I was selling power back to the grid.

Fully charged has spent 10 minutes reviewing it.



Thanks to Mark Chewter at he supplied all the equipment. His advice on the type of fixings to use on my roof was invaluable too. 54 emails in the end. Thanks to Ady for the scaffolding and first days help with getting the panels up, also for his skills as measuring up to drill the holes. That’s the hard bit, drilling the holes is easy! Steve for the second afternoon of panel fixing and Richard for the finishing touches and all the final electrics.

Snow Farming in 2018

Snow Farming in ski resorts is a catch-all term that refers to all the various methods of putting snow on  a piste that would not arrive there naturally. It has piqued my interest because local to me Chatel and Les Gets have recently installed a “Snow Factory”. I have wondered how environmentally friendly it is! The obvious answer is that it is not great for the environment, however the fact that they have become so popular must mean they are cheaper and thus more eco than other methods available.

I’m no expert on the environmental impacts of creating snow, however I have tried to quantify it a bit

Pistes are created by natural snowfall.

Obviously this has to have the least environmental impact. There is not much to say here, apart from the fact they need to groom the piste with a piste basher (Snow groomer in the US and Dameuse in French)

Snow is scraped up from areas around the piste.

The is “snow farming” in it’s most basic form. The environmental impact comes from running a piste machine. Some ski areas are preparing these areas to be farmed (so removing trees, or clearing shrubs). There is also some shaping that can be done to the piste to help, shading too.

Wind fences

Wind blown snow is collected by snow fences, either permanent or temporary. You’ll have seen these on various parts of the mountain, especially in Scotland. These have a fairly low environmental impact, however the snow that has not collected on the piste will need moving with a piste basher. There is an article on this here

Snow storage

It might seem like a mad idea but this is one of the cheapest (read eco-friendly) and oldest methods in use. It’s also frequently used. Many of our local ski areas use it, especially the cross country ski areas, possibly because they find it easier to pile up a large stock and keep it somewhere shaded. And that is the trick, make a huge pile of snow, ideally somewhere shaded, cover it in 30 cm of wood chip and there should be 70 or 80% of it left come the following Autumn. Mikko Martikainen has made his living doing this of the last decade. He’s been busy too, Sochi was a full time job and last year Pyongyang used his skills too.

The image below shows the results in the Haute Savoie. A round of the World Cup Biathlon was scheduled for early December, you can see there is no sign of snow in the background and the racer is wearing a T-shirt!

Permanent snow making equipment.

We are all used to these. The cheapest form is a lance, that mixes pre-cooled water with compressed air to form a mist, this is ejected from the lance 6-12m from the ground to give the water droplets time to freeze before they hit the floor. The air has to be below freezing (-1C or less) and the humidity of the ambient air is important, practically the air temperature needs to be <3C. The environmental conditions are crucial. Which is why when they are right, a resort will make snow whether they need it that day or not. Because it will be used to build a base that will extend the season possibly weeks away. In addition to the wands are “fan guns”, that look a bit like the turbines off an aeroplane. They can produced twice as much snow as a lance, but at twice the running cost.

Snow Factories.

These are simply refrigerated units, snow is created inside and then pumped out into the surrounding environment. The manufacturers claim that snow can be made at almost any temperature. It’s a bit of a fib, but hey, that’s the marketing. They are now being installed everywhere, pretty soon you will see them at every resort. However they are almost the most expensive way of making snow, so they’ll only be installed at the crucial spots.

Transporting snow by truck and helicopter.

I assume this has to be the last on the list. I’ve seen a local resort use the truck option to ensure they could hold a crucial event. It was late season and they had scheduled the race at the end of one of the local valleys. There was insufficient snow cover so they had to truck in 100 truck loads from somewhere else.  That’s not all, ski areas will go to even more extreme steps, using helicopters to carry snow to crucial areas to keep things going. They justify it as it keeps the business going. However the irony is no longer a joke.


Properties to rent in the Alps

One of the big selling points of a second home in the Alps in the excellent rental potential available. Around 16 weeks in the winter and up to 10 in the summer. And as time goes on there are more and more opportunities available inter-season too.  The rental side of the business is so crucial that many estate agents have their own rental arm. However beware, running businesses isn’t getting any easier and having a clear focus generally means you can do a better job. Here at Alpine Property we decided from our inception that we would focus on selling properties. We would then partner with specialist rental companies in each village. This article is about one of those partners.

We have worked with Tom and Ali Ward-Lee from Alps Accommodation in Samoens for over 10 years now. They started out by doing all aspects of the rental business. Marketing the properties, dealing with the bookings, cleaning and maintenance, seeing the guests in and dealing with any issues as they arise.  This is the usual setup, it is however quite limiting. A business will quickly reach capacity and the owners find they don’t know which way to look! Tom and Ali felt these pressures and decided to concentrate on certain aspects of the job instead. They focused on the systems, marketing and sales. So finding the customers and dealing with their bookings. They have partnered with other local business to deal with the other facets of the job.

I interviewed Tom to get some insights into his business.

The history

Tom and Ali had a dream to run their own business, they had already spent 3 skis seasons working in the Alps and decided they could combine the two. They searched for a suitable base. Somewhere that offered a friendly family atmosphere, was affordable and offered some growth potential. They settled on Samoens. The Grand Massif Express had just been installed which had precipitated a building boom. It was an ideal location. They sold up in the UK and started out running a catered chalet. They soon realised that this would not be enough to sustain them and started managing other people’s rental properties. After several years they grew the business to 50 properties!

Chalet Toubkal, 4/5 bedroom chalet for rent in Samoens

The change of focus

The first change was to start to focus on their core market, mostly families and professionals who tend to want to rent at the premier end of what is available. As time has passed this focus on quality has increased and Alps Accommodation have to reject more properties than they take on! They now have 85 properties on their books and have to keep upping their game to deal with the demand for luxury. No one can sit back and expect rental returns to roll in from year to year without putting in effort to maintain the standards. The main competitors who are leading the way with 5* apartments to rent are MGM and Club Med. Both have invested huge amounts in the area over the last few years. Alps Accommodation ensure the guests receive a high level of service from their property management companies. Everything is included in the price such as welcome hampers and luxury toiletries, in-resort support, in-resort discounts, many unique to Alps Accommodation such as maximum discounts on lift passes.

The ups and downs

Starting your own business is hard enough. You inevitably have to wear a number of hats. It can be like having 4 jobs at once! Add to that a French administration system that they have not grown up with and the whole process can be quite overwhelming.  Tom says it is the factors outside of his control that are the most difficult to deal with; such as building works right next door to a chalet, or a problem with a leak which means the property can no longer be rented. Families that run businesses in holiday areas have the added problem that they can only take a break themselves outside of the main holiday periods. This is when Seb, their 7 yr old is at school so finding time away from it all is a challenge.

The Future

All of our businesses are effected by so many variables, many of them out of our control, the weather, the market (the economy, exchange rate), legal issues (Brexit). Tom is currently focused on slow, organic growth, staying ahead of his competitors offer. However, watch this space, Alps Accommodation is a very scalable name! The next move might be out of Samoens and into the rest of the alps!

Chalet Le Strange, 5/6 bedroom chalet for rent in Samoens




Land for sale in the Alps

So you have decided you’d like a chalet in the Alps. You have chosen the area you would like to be and have made a couple of visits looking for suitable properties. Unfortunately all the chalets you look at seem to be compromised in some way; either too old, badly built, overlooked by the neighbours etc.

So that leaves….looking for land to buy!

“Why don’t we build our own?” Good question, lots of people have. Individual chalets are being built around the Alps all the time. We “just” find a bit of land and the estate agent says she can put us in touch with a good builder. She’s shown us chalets that she has had built by the same firm in the past. So “why not?”

Land for sale near Morzine

Land for sale near Morzine, more information at the bottom of the page

Pro’s of building a chalet from new

  • You choose the location which suits you.
  • You specify everything to your requirements; from the design of the chalet to the quality of the fittings.
  • You can pay in stages. Ideally you have enough put by to pay for the land, the bank should lend the rest (in theory).


  • You’ll have to wait (at least) 2 years for the finished property.
  • You think you will know how much it will cost before you commit, but in fact it is only an educated guess.
  • You think the builders will do a good job (because they have been recommended to you) but in fact it’s more “hope”.
  • If you change your mind and want to pull out half way though you’ll be left with an unfinished chalet. Worth only slightly more than the original piece of land. Full value will not be realised until it is finished.
  • You will be working in French, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t speak French but if you don’t the project will cost you more thanks to inefficient decision making and poor communication.

OK, so in my list there are more Con’s that Pro’s, this is deliberate, you know this is not for the faint-hearted don’t you?

Land for sale in Les Gets,

Land for sale in Les Gets, more info at the bottom of the page.

Choosing The Land.

What will the chalet be used for? A permanent residence / holiday home / rental investment? The answers to these questions are crucial in choosing the correct location. Alpine Property has 15 or so plots of land for sale. This includes examples of good locations for each use.

The key point is that there will need to be some compromises made when looking for the plot on which to build your “dream” if the price of the land is to remain reasonable.

A permanent residence doesn’t have to be close to the slopes and bars, it can be out of town. It would be good if it were reasonably large to allow you to build a decent sized home for your family.

An investment property doesn’t have to be on a large, sunny plot, it can be shady with a small garden, as long as it has good access to the skiing.

It is interesting to watch locals choosing land. They frequently prioritise sun exposure when making their decisions. This comes from generations of experience of the mountain winters.

The Locals Will Say:

South facing is good. Some south-facing slope is excellent, it means the land will act as a solar panel allowing the sun to warm the house and surrounds. I live on flat land, it’s great for the kids, 50m away the slope starts, all the houses there lose their frost and snow earlier than I do. There is only 50m in it!

Beware of frost hollows and the bottom of valleys, cold air sinks and when there is no wind it stays! For days sometimes. Frost hollows are easy to spot in the winter but harder to identify in the summer.

Look around you, where does the sun track through the sky? Carry a compass. Is the sun blocked by the alp on the other side of the valley? Is it blocked by trees on the neighbours land (you may be able to apply to have these cut down) or is it blocked by the neighbour?

Think about the access, although you cannot be held to ransom by neighbours trying to prevent access to your land you might have to go to court to secure access rights. Though saying this it would be rare to find a plot for sale with access issues. We certainly would not advertise a plot that had no access. How steep will the access road have to be? How wide will the planners demand that it should be?

So, you have visited the land and you like it. What do you do next?

Ask the estate agent some questions.:

  • Have you got a land plan (bornage)?
  • Can we walk the perimeter?
  • Please show me the access.
  • Where are these main drains that you have mentioned in the particulars?
  • What are the environmental hazards here?
  • What “zone” is the land in?
  • Do you know what sort of chalet I could build? The size? How high? What distance from the neighbours?

It’s quite possible that towards the end of the conversation your estate agent might not have the answers to hand. They are easily obtained, this can normally be done straight away. Ask your agent to accompany you to the local planning office, it will be situated in the local Mairie. They will be able to provide you with all the bits of paper you need, including the planning regulations that refer to this particular plot of land. It is quite possible the planning office could be very helpful and may raise issues the estate agent is not aware of.

To give you an example of the sort of issues you will encounter, consider the “zoning”. For instance a common zone is “UC”. To determine how large a chalet you can build, you must ask for the CES (coefficient emprise au sol) for the zone. As an example the CES is could be 0.2. It can be much higher in centre of town situations allowing for denser housing. You must multiply the size of the constructible land available by the relevant COS. So for land of 1000m2 multiply by 0.2 which means you can build a chalet with up to 200 m² of surface area, ample for 4/5 bedrooms. The regulations about this are in flux so be sure to check thoroughly what applies to you. An internet search will not cut it.

“Why isn’t all the land constructible?” You ask. The council worker chuckles and responds. “Some of the land is non constructible because it is in a risk zone, I’ll print off a map to show you the at risk areas”.

Risk zones

You are reminded of the fact that when it comes to environmental risks the mountains really know how to upset the apple-cart. It can be seen from this map that many plots are in a “safe” spot but still surrounded by risk from avalanches (from both sides of the valley), from flooding from the streams that run off the mountain and from rockfall and landslides too! You might decide to look at this map and run a mile. OR you can look at it and reassure yourself that your plot is in a small hamlet has been existence for over 200 years and that in those days you could trust the inhabitants of a valley to build with respect to the risks. Nowadays it is another matter. 30km away (as the crow flies) an event took place that illustrates the dangers well. The following link will take you to a long article on the subject. Well worth a read.

After everything you have learnt you decide to make an offer for the land. This is accepted on the phone the same day. Things are moving along nicely.

The estate agent announces that she would like you to sign a binding contract (a Compromis de Vente) and that for the deal to be sealed you will need to deposit with the Notaire 10% of the asking price. This is easily done as you have the cash ready to be transferred for just this occasion.

Questions and Answers

(Q). We have the money to pay for the land, we have assumed we can ask the bank to lend us the money to build the chalet. Is this assumption correct?
(A). Your estate agent helpfully offers to put you in contact with a variety of possible lenders and mortgage brokers.

(Q). You need to apply for planning permission, you are fearful that if this is not granted you will end up with a piece of grass of interest only to the cows. What can you do?
(A). You need to ask the Notaire to add a clause to the Compromis which states that you do not have to complete the sale if planning permission for your proposed chalet is rejected. In this case your deposit will be returned. Demand that this ins and outs of this clause and subsequent consequences are made clear to you by the Notaire.

(Q). How will you apply for planning permission?
(A). The estate agent offers to put you in contact with a local architect well versed in the planning procedures for the region. Time is of the essence here.  Deadlines set in the Compromis must be met (you normally get 1 month for the “depot de demande”, 2 months for the “response”, 3 months for the “recours”, so 6 months total. You must try to meet them, particularly the first one, to keep your deposit safe.

Next stages

Now up until this point you have been fairly impressed with how things have gone, you have made some preparations but they have been fairly minimal, within a few hours of setting foot on the land you are within a few days of having a legally binding contract that will lead to full ownership and the construction of a chalet? So why the emergency appointment? We don’t need to rush do we?

You do. A bit. You will need to get the planning process rolling as soon as you can. In theory planning permission can be granted in 3 months but in practice 6 months is the minimum required. You cannot leave your “get-out clause” in the Compromis open ended, the seller will want to insist on a time limit. This may well be 6 months. A long time from their point of view, no time at all from yours!

To get you started, here is a link to all the plots of land we currently have for sale. It’s always up to date.

We’ve just published a video on this subject too

Golf in the Haute Savoie

The Haute Savoie is known for its lakes and mountains, though rarely for it’s golfing opportunities. Despite this there are a number of excellent golf courses available in the area. We have reviewed them here.

Chamonix : an interesting and very playable golf course set in stunning scenery. A short season, open from the end of June until mid September. Not that posh in comparison to some of the others. Really nice restaurant and friendly staff. 56€ to 91€

Golf in Flaine, courtesy of Flaine OT

Megève : definitely posh but less interesting as a golf course, thanks to its altitude (1320m) the greens are often in poor condition. 40€ to 75€

Annecy : two courses around the lake : Talloires : expensive in high season, a short but hilly mountain-type course kept in excellent condition, especially the greens (which are notoriously small). Giez : longer and more playable “parkland” course, worth a visit, friendly atmosphere and decent pro-shop (a rarity). €59 to €75

Evian Masters : open February to November, a splendid championship course with fantastic practice facilities. Best time to play is just after they’ve had the Ladies Masters in September. €55 to €105

Esery (near Bonneville along the M40 motorway) : really nice and fairly challenging parkland course, super fast and very big greens, superb club house, shop and restaurant. Absolutely worth a try.

Golf in Flaine, courtesy of Flaine OT

Divonne : (just about in France, and technically not in the Haute Savoie either! 30min north of Geneva), open all year, rumour suggests it might be better than Evian. 50€ to 100€

Bossey :(at the foot of the Saleve, near the cablecar), mostly open all year very challenging course, Jean Van de Velde is a regular! Only available to non members during the week.

Aix Les Bains: (in the Savoie, 30 minutes from Annecy), old parkland course with character and in good condition. Playable throughout the year.

The following are not really comparable to the others, but then they don’t pretend to be, they are often half the price. Thanks to their altitude they have short seasons (sometime in June until sometime in September)

Flaine : At an altitude of 1900m, 42€

Les Gets : 1400m of altitude, a personal favourite, very hilly and fairly difficult too, take some snacks and plenty of balls. The TripAdvisor reviews tell all. 33€

Avoriaz : 1700m altitude, the only 9 hole course here. 25€-30€ for 9 holes, 40€-50€ to go round twice!

Supporting the Patrouille des Glaciers

The Patrouille des Glaciers is a gruelling ski mountaineering race between Zermatt and Verbier. Teams of 3 compete to traverse 53km and climb 4000m, it’s a tough race that some claim to be the hardest team event in the world. It’s huge in Switzerland and gets a lot of coverage. The fastest time is just under 6hrs, but this is superhuman, most teams are happy to finish within the 16hrs cut off. The event I supported saw half the teams fail. Due to its popularity the PDG is now held twice in the same week. Nowadays there are always a few British teams that compete, the most famous of which included Pippa Middelton in 2016.  This meant the race was featured in all the major newspapers in the UK. The best article was written by one of the team for the Telegraph, though if you want to see Pippa from every angle the Daily Mail is the place to go.  But for a less showbiz write-up and probably the best pictures then have a look at Ben Tibbetts blog.


Supporting the Patrouille des Glaciers

This article is not about the race itself. I’ve written it to help anyone that wants to offer support for a team at the halfway point in Arolla. The organisers do provide water, Coke, tea and chocolate apparently there are some oranges towards the end so support is not strictly necessary. But many people appreciate something a bit more personal and also the possibility to sort out any equipment issues (forgotten suncream?). I had received conflicting reports about how easy it was to access Arolla on the night of the race. The local tourist office had said I could not. However others thought that I could, so I set the satnav and aimed to arrive at 1am. This would mean I could grab a few hours kip in the car and be ready by the piste at 5am.

Driving up from Sion on ever narrowing roads that night I immediately felt the presence of the race. I had managed to get myself sandwiched in a convoy of Swiss Military logistics trucks!  After you pass Evolene the road is very rough, narrow and precipitous, there are even some sections of single-track tunnels. Thankfully these were rendered safer by military personnel stationed at either end. If the weather is good there will be little to worry about. Otherwise don’t forget that Arolla is at 2000m altitude. If any snow is forecast make sure you and your vehicle are properly equipped! On arriving at Arolla much of the town will be occupied by military vehicles and logistics equipment. The Swiss military must treat this event as one of their major logistical exercises. Thousands of them are involved. Near Arolla they had set up a helipad, refuelling facilities and even a field hospital.

Despite this civilian supporters are welcomed. They had provided parking, toilets and had plenty of people on hand to advise. Once the parking is full then the sides of the road are used.  I parked about 15min walk from the checkpoint, and walked the full distance a couple of times but also used the military transport vehicles that were shuttling up and down the road.


Arolla checkpoint

The Arolla checkpoint is 28km into the course, the competitors will have climbed 2000m. In theory it is almost halfway, in practice the second half of the race will be harder thanks to the effect of the sun and fatigue. There is mandatory time cut off at 06h30 here and as you can imagine there will be no negotiating with the organisers! The competitors choose when to start the race the night before, so anytime from 22h to 02h in the morning. You should be able to do a basic calculation to estimate what time your team(s) will arrive. There is also the PDG App available on Google and Itunes, this will give you real time data for the location of each team. There is a good phone signal at Arolla too. However the App seems to struggle from time to time so it can’t be relied on.

Finding your team

This will be much easier if it has been discussed beforehand. It’s not easy though, there will be 1,200 competitors that squeeze past in a 3 hr period, more than half of them will have people offering support. Add darkness into the mix and the fact supporters are not allowed onto the course and some thought is required. The support was fairly tightly packed along the fence. Take a look at what I have marked on the enclosed plan. To help my teams find me I had elected to bring along a multicoloured flashing led strip. I was the only one to have done that, everyone else had flashing bike lights and orange warning lights. There were also flags, banners, balloons, tables and even a BBQ. You can imagine what the competitors are faced with!


Most of the teams that stop for help spend at least 15min sorting themselves out. Then they are off up an icy piste. Every half hour they end up mixed in with 500 or so setting off in waves on the “A” race start; something which is probably worth avoiding. Once 6h30 is reached everything calms down significantly. I caught a lift back up to my car in one of the military transporters and set off home. Again no grief on the road at all. If you want to drive around to the finish in Verbier, you will have plenty of time. It’s a 2 hr drive and for most teams you will have at least 6 hrs in hand!