5 Pulse-Pumping Summer Adventure Activities to Try in the French Alps
French Alpine resorts Tignes and Courchevel are much more than winter ski destinations, says Ben Mitchell
11 August 2019
All credits: PA
Every year some of the most exciting racing of the Tour de France is fought out on the slopes of the mountainous roads of the Alps.
The race may be over for this year, but the vibrant green hillsides of resorts such as Tignes and Courchevel, best known for their winter skiing, are increasingly becoming a magnet for sporty summer adrenaline junkies too.
Activities from downhill mountain biking to vertigo-inducing via ferrata climbing and acrobatic waterslides are sure to get the heart pumping just as much as their winter counterparts.
High above Courchevel, a cycle-only path has been created leading a wriggly and, at points, extremely steep path up to Col de la Loze at 2,304m and down to neighbouring resort Meribel, setting a challenge fit for any professional cyclist.
But this smooth asphalt path, built on an old ski route maintenance track, is not restricted to elite pedallers; the latest generation of electric bikes can help take the bite out of the ascent, making it manageable for almost anyone who can ride.
I take on the challenge of riding 22km from the bottom of the valley at Le Carrey, winding up endlessly through 1,510m of elevation to the mountain pass.
As I hit the first slope – with some trepidation at the feat ahead of me – I simply push the button to turn the electric motor on and my face breaks out into what a friend has called the “e-bike smile”.
Magically and almost silently, the bike, which still requires you to pedal, glides up the steep bend in the road at a speed that Tour de France winner Egan Bernal would be envious of.
At one point I pass two Lycra-clad riders on road bikes who look at me rather shocked and frustrated. As I speed past all I can do is call out my apologies.
It is on the last 6km to the top as I leave the road for the new traffic-free path that the experience comes into its own.
By this point the climbing ramps up with slopes of 16% gradient, which would soon wipe out the pleasure on a normal bike, but by putting the e-bike into boost mode I am sent flying up the steepest hills, meaning I can pedal along and enjoy the ride with none of the pain.
As I turn the final corner and climb the final section, I pass through a rainbow arc inside the cloud-covered path and ride into the sunshine, with a 360-degree view all around me of the mountain peaks rising above a sea of cloud. It leaves me gasping for all the right reasons.
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Electric bikes can be as challenging as you want them to be; adjust the amount of assistance provided from none (with the motor switched off), to eco level – giving a gentle push, through to boost, which will get you up any slope.
The length of ride before the battery needs charging depends on how much assistance you use, but a full battery should give you a half-day of riding, or more, if you just use it to roll you up the harder hills.
Ride on many off-road trails around Courchevel as well as the new Les 3 Vallees cycle route linking to Meribel via the Col de la Loze with a planned future path linked to Val Thorens.
How: E-Bikes from €40/£37 for a half-day. Visit izibike.fr.
2. Via ferrata
The concept of via ferrata originated in Italy during the First World War, to allow troops to manoeuvre through the mountains. Nowadays, it involves a steel cable which you clip on to while you make you way along a series of rails, steps and bridges.
The age limit for this terrifying activity at Lac de la Rosiere at Courchevel Moriond is from eight years old – but the older you are, the harder it is to take the leap of faith and embark on the 600m course.
You are kitted out with a helmet and harness with two carabiners, which ensure you are always attached to the steel cable. Despite the presence of your guide and the knowledge you are safely attached, clambering around cliff edges will still get your heart thumping with a great sense of achievement when you reach solid ground. Just don’t look down!
How: Via ferrata with Les guides de Courchevel costs €35/£32 (with guide and equipment) for a two-hour experience. Visit guides-courchevel-ete-com.webnode.fr.
3. Hot jumping
If you walk around the lake at Tignes on a sunny day, any peace is sporadically shattered by the screams of someone flying past in a wetsuit before crashing into the water.
Several 35m slides were invented by freestyle skiing specialist Henri Authier to enable beginners and experts to practise ski jumps and acrobatics with the knowledge they would have a safe landing in the water.
But you do not need any such expertise, as you can slide down on your front or back wearing a wetsuit, helmet and lifejacket before being thrown into the air and plunged into the water. There is even the option to jump with a BMX or rollerblades.
How: Acroland is open from July 6 to September 1, costs €12/£11 (or included in the My Tignes multi-activity scheme) and is open to those aged over 14 with height restrictions in place. Visit en.tignes.net.
If you thought skiing was just for winter, you’re in for a pleasant surprise at Tignes, where the 3,456m Grande Motte Glacier provides enough snow to keep you on the slopes well into July and even August.
A new upgraded 17 million Euro cable car, with a panoramic terrace to enjoy the lunar-like views at the mountain top, has just been opened to take skiers up to the snowpark with its 20km of slopes.
But first you take the Perce-Neige funicular, which speeds you up through the inside of the mountain like something out of a science fiction movie.
If you don’t ski, it’s also possible to enjoy the breathtaking views and learn about the glacier and the impact of climate change, which is rapidly depleting the ice.
How: A ski pass costs €35/£32 per adult; pedestrian access costs €20/£18 plus €10/£9 for the panoramic roof. Visit esf-tignes.com/ete.
5. Downhill mountain biking
Of all the activities on offer, downhill mountain biking is the closest to being the summer equivalent of skiing.
Once you have collected your full-suspension bike and put on your helmet, take a cable car specially adapted to carry bikes up the mountains to enjoy all the benefits of gravity without suffering the climb.
Instructors, such as life-long enthusiast Fred of Mountain Story, can demonstrate how to best use the motorbike-style disc brakes to ensure a safe flight down the 160km of dirt tracks that criss-cross the hills above Tignes.
How: There are five ski lifts at Tignes bike park, open June 29 to September 1. Access costs €10/£9 for a day (or included in My Tignes multi-activity scheme). An instructed ride with Mountain Story (mountainstory.fr/en/home) costs €65/£60 euro for two-and-a-half hour tour including bike rental.
How to get there
Rooms at the Hotel Langley (langleyhotels.eu) in Tignes cost from €75 per night (two sharing), including breakfast.
A My Tignes Card, which covers multiple activities and gives unlimited access to the bike park, costs €10 per day. Activities available from June 22 to September 1. Visit en.tignes.net.