Cross Country Skiing in the Haut Bugey, French Jura

The Bugey is situated largely in the French department of Ain in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, between Lyon and Geneva and at the southern end of the Jura mountain range. The mountains are the home of a number of excellent cross country ski areas as well as a couple of small Alpine sites. The principal domains are the Plateau de Retord and the Plateau d'Hauteville. The area is generally more wooded than the northern part of the Jura.

The calm, little village of Belleydoux offers 12 km of cross-country ski trails. It benefits from good snow conditions; the forest routes ensure that the snow holds well. There is not too much climbing and there are trails suitable for everyone. The 4k Pré Tardy green trail is ideal for beginners with a beautiful view of the protected site of the Roche Fauconnière. The 8k Prairie blue is a mid-level with some technical sections in the forest. The route crosses the magnificent and renowned "Prairie d'Echallon". Finally the 9km Bosse is an advanced red with some technical sections in the forest, a descent and a steep climb. The route follows the magnificent and renowned "Prairie d'Echallon".

The Apremont is a small, family oriented ski area close to lake Lake Genin to the north of the Geneva / Lyon autoroute 7 kilometres from the town of Oyonnax. The cross-country skiing centre offers ski and snowshoe hire and has a picnic room. There is a 1.5km yellow track (classified as green) 1.5 km, a 5.5 km green track, a 7 km blue track, and a long 13 km red track.

When the snow is good the village of le Brenod marks out a small loop for cross country skiing but it is aimed at local clubs and opening is not widely published.

The Lachat mountain centre has 46 km of marked and groomed cross-country ski trails for skating and alternative skiing. For beginners and kids there are 2.5 km, 5.5 km and 9 km loipe in the middle of the Moussières forest and around the old farms of the plateau. Good skiers can try the more technical and physical 12 and 16 km trails that will take you up to the Belleroche pass and into the most remote parts of the area. There is a fair bit of vertical but the gradient is never difficult so the area is ideal for skiers wanting to cover a lot of ground and get a good workout. There is a rental shop where you can hire equipment at affordable rates and you can ski directly from the shop. If you already have gear you can park directly next to the slope pass hut and find out about the day's conditions.

With over 150km of marked trails the Plateau de Retord is a reference when it comes to Nordic activities and a paradise for Nordic skiing. Set out for a 25km adventure around the Retord plateaux with its splendid landscapes visiting three nordic sites: les Plans d'Hotonnes, Lachat and Cuvéry. It is also possible to ski around each entry point. The tour of the plateau features a lot of climbing with a long descent into Hottones.

The Plateau d'Hauteville, la Praille is located between 850 et 1234 meters altitude with the nordic site located at la Praille above the village. It is a multi-activity site offering 53 km of marked and groomed cross-country ski trails in skating and classic, 25 km of marked trails for snowshoeing, a beginners area with rope tow to discover cross-country skiing while having fun, a toboggan run, Nordic Cross, a wellness area (Nordic baths and sauna) on reservation at the tourist office. There is also a small but interesting alpine ski center at the nearby Terre Ronde site. The pistes actually descend to la Praille. You can hire gear at la Praille as well as take individual and group lessons. There is also a bar/restaurant at the trailhead.

The cross country trails head out from la Praille in a series of concentric loops apart from the Guichard blue to the south. The loops get more difficult the further you ski from the center with the black covering around 20km through tree lined forests. The climbs and descents are short and not too difficult but the forest means that there are few views of the surrounding area but the tree cover at least keeps the snow in good condition. Heading south on the 6.8km blue you can stop at the Ferme Guichard, a typical mountain restaurant having passed through the col de la Rochette (road crossing) then the route des Crêtes to arrive at the col de la Clye before descending back to la Praille.

The town of Hauteville-Lompes can be reached by bus from the Amberieu en Bugey.

The Sur-Lyand / Grand Colombier Nordic Domain is located between 1,250 and 1,350 metres above sea level. In summer the spectacular Grand Colombier climbs are frequently used in international cycle competition such as the Tour de France, it is one of the toughest climbs in the alps. The ski area offers 17 km of cross-country ski trails (including a beginner's trail), both classic and skate skiing. There are also 32 km of snowshoeing trails and a toboggan run. The area may be small but it offers breathtaking views of the entire Alpine chain including le Mont Blanc. The Sur-Lyand Nordic center offers rental equipment including Nordic Ski Touring gear. There is a picnic room.

Nordic Ski Touring

Traverse of the Haut Bugey*

This section of the Jura is usually omitted when skiers do the Grande Traversée du Jura / Haute-Route du Jura. A mistake as it is typically Jurassien with a variety and excellent views of the Alps. It is possible, with taxis, to use public transport for access, from the train station at Bellegarde in the north to Culoz. Allow two days for the tour with a night in the Hôtel Berthet at the Plans d'Hotonnes.

The route

Catray -> Sur le Jay -> Pra Devant -> la Charney -> descent towards la Platiere -> la Grange a Lucien -> le Tumet -> Cret du Nu (1351m) -> Plan des Hotonnes (various hotels)

Plan des Hotonnes -> la Cotiere -> Col de Richemond (1060m) / Combe a la Done -> la Combe Merlin -> la Grange d'en Haut (1268m) -> Grange de Falavier -> Source de St Arthaud -> la griffe du diable -> Col de Charbemenes (1317m) -> Col du Grand Colombier (return to the summit) -> Fromental -> Vireu le Petit


From Bellegarde then taxi to Catray near the col de Cuvery. (Alex taxi) Culoz using a taxi from Virieu-le-Petit. (Taxi Dom)

Pick of the Pistes of the Bugey

La Vézéronce at Cuvéry at the northern end of the Plateau de Retord (circuit n°8) is a 4 km, blue trail starting from the trail head just before the Col de Cuvéry is ideal for skiers who have learned the basics and want to discover the pleasures offered by cross country skiing. The short descent into the combe de la Vézéronce is the first sensation. The loop passes by the chapel of Retord which is worth as stop and is usually open before returning to Cuvéry.

At the southern end of the Plateau de Retord is les Clarines (circuit n°6) a 16.4km red trail. Starting from the Plans d'Hotonnes ski center. It is the perfect loipe to "visit" the vast expanse of the plateau and its small isolated barns and summer farms. More advanced skiers can add a 5km detour via the Ferme de Retord: after the Grange à Lucien, go left to reach the combe du Tumet with its magnificent view of Mont Blanc. You can reach the Retord farm by going up on the left after the Charnay farm (green track n°10).

La Prarie d'Echalon at Belleydoux lets you discover the best of the Haut-Bugey. The 7km blue trail traverses the magnificent and renowned "Prairie d'Echallon" and its monument to the resistance.

You will probably spend more time stopped on La combe Giret at Lyand taking photos of the magnificent chain of the Northern Alps, it is the ideal viewpoint. The trail is 4.9km and classed as blue, so you will not need to hurry. There are two moderately difficult descents towards the end.

La Valorse, Plateau d'Hauteville is a 10.8km red trail. Start from la Praille following the main runs out of the ski center on a long but gentle climb passed the Croix de l’Orme to the "Borne des 3 cantons" through the Combe à Brazier bowl with a nice, technical descent. The return is via the hilly Col de Valorse with views of the Valromey and Alps. The track passes close to the "avion" memorial cross which remembers a crash by a Royal Airforce Plane on the 4th February 1945 while supplying resistance fighters. 7 airmen died.

Should you visit the Haut-Bugey?

The area is the less frequented compared to the other Jura cross country ski areas. The snow cover is also less certain. In 2022/23, admittedly one of the worst seasons on record, it was only really possible to ski from the second half of January through to the end of February. A season of around 5 weeks. It is therefore difficult to plan ahead. However the proximity of the train station of Bellegarde en Valserine and the airports of Geneva and Lyon make last minute trips a possibility. It is probably more flexible to hire a car although there are bus services. Accomodatioin, if you have a car, is not difficult to find last minute.

The area also offers snow shoeing and limited alpine skiing at the Plateau d'Hauteville and the Plateau de Retord.


The nearest airports are Lyon, Geneva and Chambery. Train access is possible from Bellegarde or Amberieu en Bugey.