Chartreuse Cross Country Skiing

The Chartreuse mountains are located in South East France and stretch from Grenoble in the south to Chambery in the north. The high point is Chamechaude at 2082 meters altitude. Part of the pre-alps, they are limestone mountains consisting of high plateaus, challenging summits and deep gorges largely covered by forests.

The area is known for its stunning natural beauty, and it is an interesting destination for cross country skiing enthusiasts. There are six cross country ski areas: le Sappey and le Col de Porte in the south of the mountain range, le Plateau des Petites Roches on the eastern flanks in the Gresivaudan valley, St Hughes en Chartreuse in the heart of the mountains, le Desert d’Entremont in the north near Chambery and la Ruchère on the western side. The cross country skiing trails are suitable for skiers of all levels, from beginners to experts. The trails wind through dense forests and valleys, offering spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. However due to its mountainous nature all but the beginner trails can involve both climbs and descents, some steep on the more challenging, routes requiring good ski technique.

Le Sappey en Chartreuse Nordic Trails

The 42 km of trails at le Sappey en Chartreuse cater for all levels. When the snow is good you can ski to Saint Hugues via the Emeindras pass on a trail that passes close to the Col du Coq with stunning views of the east rampart of Chamechaude and the Dent de Crolles. The ski area features 2 green pistes, 2 blue pistes, 2 red pistes and a night floodlit training loop of 700 meters. Unfortunately the area is low, around 1000 meters, and not very snow sure. The best area for beginners is the Saignes wetlands but these require good snow and a few days of sub zero temperatures to be skiable. Something that has frequently been lacking in recent years. The trails above le Sappey have a bit of a camber and can be tricky to ski but offer great views over the southern Chartreuse mountains. The long climb to the Emeindras barns is not to be missed for expert looking for a challenge. Never too steep it can be tackled on both classic and cross country skis.

Habert d'Emeindras

One of the most popular places to cross country ski in the Chartreuse mountains is the Col de Porte area due to its proximity with Grenoble and its long ski season, generally starting with the first snows of December and lasting through to early April. The ski area is located on a high mountain pass between the town of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse and Grenoble. It offers around 35 kilometers of cross country ski trails suitable for both classic and skate skiing as well as a biathlon stadium. In summer there is a rollerski track situated around the biathlon area. The grooming is regular and of a very high standard. There is a link to St Hughes en Chartreuse and a long, challenging climb (12km return) to the Charmant Som pastures at 1750 meters altitude. In the spring, when a crust forms, it is even possible to ski on the pastures or for experts even as far as the summit of the Charmant Som.

Col de Porte, Charmant Som

The Col de Marcieu is located above le Touvet in the Gresvaudan valley and the main Chambery to Grenoble autoroute. It offers around 24km of ski runs divided into two areas. It is easily reached from both Grenoble and Chambery. At the col there are 4km of green and blue runs on rolling terrain with a lot of turns. Not entirely easy with a tricky descent from the col to the main cross country loop. There is an old chapel to visit. At the top of the ski area there are 20km of expert trails that traverse over to St Hilaire du Touvet with a long climb, a false flat then a rapid descent to St Hilaire. Both are marked for classic and skate techniques.

The area at the col is suitable for beginners and young children. You could even have a piste pic-nic as part of the experience. The ski over to St Hilaire and back is a real adventure for more advanced skiers. There are views over the mountains in places include le Mont Blanc.

St Hughes en Chartreuse offers 57km of cross country trails. When the snow is good the road to the col du Coq is pisted, occasionally to the Col de l’Emeindras and down to le Sappey there is also a link to the Col de Porte ski area (9 km return) which is regularly prepared in the winter. The village, or that of St Pierre de Chartreuse, with numerous hotels, is a good base being central to all the Chartreuse ski areas.

La Ruchère, plateau d'Arpisson

La Ruchère, located in the western Chartreuse mountains, boasts 35km of pistes. The trails start with a very wide piste which gets used by school groups. This climbs to a first plateau at 1250 meters where there is a blue and red. You can then take a steep black piste (10% over 2km climbing) to the plateau d'Arpisson. At the head of this area is a viewpoint over the Southern Chartreuse mountains and the Chartreuse monastery. If the climb is hard, the descent is less steep but you need to be a good x-country skier as there are a few turns. It is a charming resort and for the less sporty the climb to first plateau for a picnic in the sun is a real be a pleasure. The gite at the start serves food and craft beers.

le Desert d'Entremonts

The Desert d'Entremonts has around 45km of cross country runs split over two linked ski areas. The southern Cluse sector is more sheltered in a north facing bowl with trees providing shade and is good for beginners with generally flatter terrain and views of le Mont Blanc. The Poeliere trail offers a challenge to good skiers. At the top of the ski area you can climb on foot another few meters to the Col du Cucheron (1215 meters) for superb views across the Chartreuse mountains. The northern Mollard area has south facing slopes and the red and black pistes both feature steep climbs of around 200 meters vertical. The 13km Montfred piste gives expert skiers a real workout, the descent is not too difficult. The top of the trails are at the Col du Mollard (1320 meters) with views into the Chambery basin.

So should you plan a cross country holiday to the Chartreuse? Beyond cross country there is excellent but confidential ski touring and snow shoeing is also well catered for. St Pierre de Chartreuse has a large alpine ski area and there are lifts at le Sappey, St Hughes, le Col de Porte and the Desert d'Entremonts/le Granier. However the mountains are fairly low, most of the ski areas are around 1000 to 1300 meters and snow can be unreliable. In a good year the season starts at the end of November and it is often possible to ski to the start of April. However booking a long time in advance is difficult.

The nearest airports are Grenoble, Lyon and Chambery and there are high speed rail links to Grenoble and Chambery or even Montmelian.