OBSERVATIONS ON WINTER SKIING TRIPS

Thanks to David Jobson for this:

General Points

  • If it is cold enough for good snow it is cold enough to freeze your water systems
  • "Winterisation" varies in efficiency!
    • In my experience salesmen do not understand what they are talking about. 
    • Lagged outside tanks will freeze in persistent temperatures of below 0 deg C; it is possible to drop to lower altitudes each night to avoid this. Water heaters can be fitted inside tanks but I think their energy requirements must be prohibitive unless on an electrical hook up. Lagged tanks are not suitable for skiing - full-stop.
    • The best winterisation provides a double skinned floor which contains both the fresh and grey water and is heated and the outlet grey water valve is within this compartment. At the 2003 Stratford show several manufacturers told me this was planned for 2004 - but only after I had pointed out the problem.
      Many motorhomes have the outlet valve outside and this will freeze solid even if the tank is still liquid. I have seen blowtorches and generator driven paint strippers proving that the salesmen are wrong!
      Many people leave their grey water valve open and drip into a bucket, emptying this frequently, which is still possible even when a solid lump of ice. Caravan type waste water collectors are no use as you can not empty them. Some people, regrettably, drip onto the road and form a patch of ice. 
      With frequent small discharges of waste water there is still a risk of the outflow valve or pipe freezing solid.
      Larger pipes are less likely to freeze.
    • Look for internal water pipes attached to the outside skin - these are the most likely to freeze - happened in my toilet flush this year at -15 0C and I plan some bubble wrap insulation on the inside of the cassette door.
    • Good winterisation also means thicker insulation on the walls - I don't know the figures though.
  • Central heating  
    Central heating is essential - without it you will be cold and damp and miserable.
    Keep it on at night though lower the thermostat to save on fuel. I aim for 8-10 0C
    Turn off your water pump in case the frost discharge valve on the central heating is released during the night.
    If the frost valve does release, pull it up and use a peg to hold it in place until it has warmed again.
  • Gas
    Propane is essential. Do not use butane which freezes at zero, 0 0C
    (In France they do have a propane-butane mixture which I have been told is OK)
    Do not use cookers for comfort heating because of the carbon monoxide problem.
  • Calor is not available on the continent
    Most supermarkets sell a 28 mBar butane regulators - these work fine with propane. (EU standardisation on 30 mBar is due very soon) Mine was labelled "Butagaz" and fits both "Butagaz" butane and propane bottles. It is reverse thread as in UK. 
    It has a ridged ring for tightening rather than a nut, so a variable width wrench is useful
    I have been told this regulator also fits other makes of gas. The regulator has a safety valve on the underside; this needs pressing in when the cylinder tap is first opened - it hurts with colds fingers! Most garages and supermarkets sell at least one type of gas.
    Take some spare tubing and spare jubilee clips. Warm tubing in a cup of near boiling water before pushing onto regulators.
    Plastic sledges can be used to pull heavy bottles.
    I am planning to look into a larger fitted LPG bottle that will take 30-60 litres of LPG and fill at petrol stations. 35 p/l in France.
    Only expect to make 13kg last 3-6 days if it is cold - price of a bottle of gas is roughly the same as UK Calor.
  • Cooking
    at 1600m water boils at 95°C. Eggs and pasta take a bit longer to cook!
  • Sleeping
    Summer sleeping bags and low tog duvets can be used if you also have available a reasonable weight, relatively impervious layer to put over the top to trap air - thick blanket, patchwork quilt etc., but make sure it is big enough to tuck round your neck.
    Thick socks and extra clothes help.
    The head will now account for 90% of your heat loss. A hat can help enormously as our Victorian forefathers knew.
  • Warmth and Drying of Clothes
    Save on fuel by wearing two or three layers of clothes in the van - don't listen to teenagers who think it should be warm enough to enable just a thin tee-shirt to be worn inside!
    After skiing, clothes are often damp but will dry easily, but not in the wardrobe. Have plenty of hooks for gloves, hats, lift passes, sunglasses etc..
    I have a pair of fingerless mittens - invaluable for quick outside jobs.
  • Front screen protection
    Condensation and cold will be major problem without insulation. Firms that make such protection say that external screens are best - unless they have a zip in them you miss out on some good views. Sun creeping into valleys at 08.00 is fantastic.
    For my new (to me) van this year (2003/4) I used thick bubble wrap (garden centre) duck tape and stick-on Velcro with great success and for less than 20.00!
  • Snow Chains
    These are a legal requirement in the winter season over about 1400m.
    You may be stopped and asked to show them even when the roads are clear.
    Chains for cars are much cheaper in France and very easy to buy at garages and supermarkets. I suspect that motorhome sized chains are less easy to get quickly. 
    I used http://www.snowchains.co.uk/ some years ago and they changed my old, but unused, chains for new ones for my newer van this year. Good postal service.
    I see the web now has lots of hire places.
    Practise putting your chains on in the UK - when it is dark, snowing and blowing is not the time to try them out!
    Carry a large mat or piece of plastic to lie / kneel on as the when you need chains it is often slushy.
    A pair of washing up gloves helps with the fiddly bits that can not be done with thick warm gloves.
    I take knee pads too - roads are very cold, often have poor surface in the mountains and are covered in grit and my knees are ageing!
    If you have a front wheel drive vehicle try and load forwards.
    Consider snow / mud tyres when you next change; they were the reason that my old van never used chains.
    Carry some galvanised wire for emergency repairs to chains, and a pair of pliers man enough to snip the wire.
    Do not drive on chains if you don't have to - without snow they are bad for your tyres.
    Make sure your continental warning triangle is easily available.
    The locals with light cars and snow tyres rush about the mountain roads - let them past, some of them may even thank you.
  • Diesel - "Gasoil"
    Don't fill up in UK - it is cheaper in France. There  is a 24 hour petrol station 1.5 km from the docks at Calais at the first major round-about - "Elf". In the day it is cheaper to go into town. Several wine superstores are very close, Eastenders being open 24/7.
    Fill up in the mountains just before resort; the diesel is better diluted for colder temperatures. In Dec 2003 I had problems even then with sludging when the temperature fell to -15 0C. Garages sell a diluent (clearly labelled with volumes), but I gather paraffin (kerosene) and petrol can be used too.
    As in UK prices on the motorways are high, and much cheaper in the supermarkets.
  • Brakes
    Leave the hand-brake off! I have made this mistake. If it does lock, forward and reverse in quick succession usually clears it, but on an ice packed Aire it can be stubborn.
    Use your engine going down hill to break when possible. A 1000m drop can causes some very hot brakes.
  • Windowscreen Wipers and Washers
    Make sure your washer water has additive in it - easily bought in resort, but meths and water 1:4 is very good.
    Cars leave their wipers sticking up off the screen to stop icing with snow and melt. Can be dangerous to others with motorhomes.
  • Shovel
    Long handled, light aluminium shovels are easy to buy in France. Avalaunch shovels are excellent as they are so light and easily stored, but they are expensive.
  • Brush and mat
    A mat for outside on which to remove boots can be helpful and also have to hand a stiffish brush to bang and brush snow from boots. The brush is also good for clearing window screens when snowing.
    If you get snow on the carpets brush it off before it melts!
  • Batteries
    Daylight is only from 08.00 to 16.30 in the skiing season so you will use much more electricity than on a summer holiday, especially with central heating fans blasting away. Cold reduces your batteries'  efficiency.
    Check them before you leave the UK!
    Honda eu10i generators are very common in the skiing Aires as they are so light, small and quiet.
    Starting the motorhome is much easier at midday when temperatures have risen a little.
  • If your engine won't spark it is probably sludging in the fuel pump.
  • Water and Hosepipes
    Carry spare water containers for filling with fresh water as you may not be able to get a hosepipe attached. If in doubt about your winterisation keep one of these spare containers filled inside the van.
    Traditional plastic hose becomes very stiff at low temperatures - I covet the thin collapsible orange hose that is made by Gardena and Black & Decker and available in Belgium  --  perhaps also in the UK, but I have never seen it.
  • Thetford Cassettes
    These tend to get cold and whilst they do not freeze (in my experience) an off putting mountain appears - a good shake when outside is helpful!
  • Peage - Motorway fees
    Most French motorways are toll roads (except around towns).
    Calais --> Moutiers in Dec 2003 with a 7.5m twin axle setup cost 85.00 for one way. One way cost more than other - beats me why! Motohomes (including twin axles) are counted as class II.
  • Aires
    Two types of Aires are relevant to this article.
    • Motorway Aires
      France has so much more space than UK, that they provide wonderful rest areas on motorways every 5-15km. You can park and sleep on any of these and there are always toilets. Try and use the caravan spaces if there is no "camping car" sign.
      Many service stations will also have a camping Car sign with a pictorial drain underneath - this means that emptying facilities are available.

    • "Aires de Services"
      These are special Aires for "Camping Cars" where facilities for fresh water and emptying of both grey and brown/black waste are provided. Many will also be areas where you can spend the night. These are found throughout France and are listed in the book:
      "Guide National des Aires de Services"
      (Larivere) which is published annually in about May.
    • "Flot Bleu"
      Some of these Aires are just a blue fibreglass structure about three times the size of a parking meter. One euro opens it up for the services and, rather quaintly, ten minutes of electricity.

Resort Information

  • Aires in the French Skiing Areas

The following links come from  http://campingcar.enliberte.free.fr/ an excellent French site

Region Rhone Alpes

Ain - 01
Hte_Savoie
- 74 -Tignes and Val d'Isere (no listing but see below), Chamonix, La Clussaz, Megeve
Isere - 38   Alpes d'Huez, Les Deux Alpes, Vizelle [NB - this does not include Val d'Isere!]
Savoie
- 73 - Includes Three Valleys, Moutiers, Bourg-St-Maurice, La Plagne, Les Arcs

Provence Alpes C. Azur

Hautes_Alpes - 05
Alpes_de_Haute_Provence - 04

A convienient map and list of the Provences and Departments can be found on the same site at  link 

  • Three Valleys Area - personal observations

    There is a good supermarket with large car park about 3km out of Moutier on the Brides les Bains road. Gas and reasonably priced fuel.

    Courcheval 1850

    The highest of the Courcheval resorts, poshest and most expensive, and best access to lifts. Some of the big hotels allow public use to their swimming pools.

    1850 leaves polite notes on your window saying parking in the day is OK, but for night you must go down to park at 1550 beside the summer swimming pool.

    400m after you enter 1850 the road splits. Turn left away from the bubble lift that goes over the road. Carry on up the winding hill and park either at the second drop off point of the Jardin Alpin lift (where there is a fairly flat car park) or go on up and park on the grass verges near to the Pralong chair lift. This is particularly convienient for lunch in the camper and this lift gives good access to the slopes.

    Courcheval 1650

    No easy parking here so far as I know - and lift access not good to main three valleys.

    Courcheval 1550

    On the main road just past the higher of the village entrances there is a car park beside the outdoor swimming pool and opposite the tennis courts. This is the designated parking site for camping cars but a few years back there were no services, buses running generators all night and it has no access to lifts!

    We have parked in the village of 1550 and not been moved on. Reasonable bubble up to 1850 which runs until late at night, but the ski run from 1850 to 1550 can get slushy in warmer weather.

    Le Praz - aka Courcheval 1300 (Olympic ski jump village)

    The lowest of the resorts so less likely to have freezing problems, but the only runs down are red and black and are often closed or in poor condition. You can come back down on the bubble though.

    I have seen camping cars in the day on the main lift car park but more on the flat car park just out of the village going up the mountain, on the left hand side below the road. This seems a long walk to the lift to me, but you can, in good conditions, ski back to the van via a black run.

    La Tania 1350

    Purpose built, modern, but small resort with slopes well protected from sun, so holds its snow well for its altitude. There is a small green beginners slope in the village not shown on the piste map. Good modern lift out of resort, but after that you need to take a chair up the Col de la Loz or a steep button.  I rate the blue back to resort as "easy blue" - unless icy, but the top of the bubble (10 person) is very easy to reach in order to take a lift down if you have beginners.

    La Tania welcomes motorhomes with a Flot Bleu and free parking. The higher car park is encouraged, but take levelling wedges. Not many restaurants and only one supermarket with unsurprisingly highish prices.

    Meribel - 1450

    I have seen motorhomes on the car park near end of the Brides les Bains (Olympe) lifts -- no facilities I think, and about seven years ago I met some Brits who were dumping their black waste in plastic bags and letting it freeze ;-(

    Anyway, Meribel is is a sun trap so slopes back down to the village are either icy or slushy. Big public swimming pool for showers.

    Meribel Campsite open all year - Le Raffort

    At a village about 3km short of the resort village. £20.00 per night for four seven years ago, but that included free washing machine, showers etc. Close (200m) to Bride les Bains (Olympe) lift. The camp-site building also houses a bar and excellent public restuarant much frequented by the locals. 

    Le Martagon, Caravaneige
    Le Raffort
    Tel 04 79 00 56 29 - Fax  04 79 00 44 92
    [15 places]

    There is a large and flat public car park beside the campsite where vans also park. At the end of the car park is a lift (Olympe) coming up from Brides les Bains, which goes right to the centre of Meribel. Personally I don't like the lift from here as when you get to the end it is another 3-400m walk to the main lifts. You can hire a ski and boot locker at the main lift if you want, but I can't get my boots on unless they are warm, and the lockers are not properly heated!

    Mottaret - 1750m

    I have never seen vans up in Mottaret where there is little flat parking anyway.

    Les Meuniere - 1800m

    Vans can be seen on car parks just below the main building complex where there are services. In 2003/4 I heard this was getting busy and that height barriers had been put on the other car parks.

    Val Thorens - 2300m

    Its about 2300m so very high, cold and barren as it is above the tree line. I have never seen any vans up here.

    Bellvue St Martin - 1400m

    I have never seen the car park here as it is not in sight from the main lift. There is an official Aire and I gather the village is pretty. A new bubble lift was put in a year or so back and has improved access.

    Brides Les Bains - 600m

    Attractive but expensive spa town on the river in the valley. This was the site of the olympic village and a four man bubble carries you right up to Meribel.

    I have seen vans on the car park here, but do not know if they are allowed to stay overnight - the lift is about 800m out of town though.

    Further north on the local Brides road back to Moutier are pleasant off road, river view, areas where we have parked when descending to unfreeze in a non-winterised motorhome!

    Orelle - 900m

    Orelle is not known to 3 Valley afficianados, but is due south of Val Thoren in the next valley of Maurienne. It links to the back of the Cime de Caron and Breche de Rosael with a long high speed gondola.

    The Maurrienne valley should be worth exploirng for motorhomers as they boast 24 small resorts (+ 3 valley access) masses of pretty villages and a poverty of Brits, and the Orelle link into the three valleys.

    Espace Killy - Tignes and Val d'Isere - personal observations

    Tignes les Brevieres

    The lowest of the resorts - I have seen vans parked on the car park here. The well marked camp-site is, I think , a summer site only.

    Tignes les Boisses

    Free Aire on left opposite the Church. Loos and hot water. But, it is a bit of a hike to the slopes that only go down to Les Breviere.

    I note that the 2003/4 piste map shows a putative lift from Les Boisses car park to high above Tignes le Lac. This will dramatically change the usefullness of this aire.

    Tignes le Levachet and Tignes le Lac

    The major shopping area but undercover car paring.

    In the summer I have spend a pleasant couple of days beside the lake though and used the water from the fountains.

    Tignes La Claret

    The highest of the resorts, at about 2100m. They permit campers to park on the flat car park here for 12 euros a day, but no overnight sleeping and this is enforced. In the summer it seems free with several vans around - this is the base of the funicular for summer skiing on the Grande Motte glacier.

    Val d'Isere - la Daille - 1785

    Good aire on the right at base of funicular - ski right to your van. Over Christmas 2003 there were some 30 vans here with some rather selfish parking, some empty vans and too many mini-buses. Campers parked in the lay-by at the entrance to the official parking were not moved on. Excellent community spirit and many thanks to several Belgium people who helped us with battery chargers and water.

    Water and brown/black disposal, but the latter is simply the sewer cover at road level and would send a British Health and Safety inspector into apoplexy.

    There are plans supply electricity here and early work was visible in 2003.

    There is a list of charges (approx 10 euros per day) but in early season there was no attempt to collect this.

    Overflow parking is another 300m up the road in a bus car-park where we found another 20 vans. When parked in the middle of this car park we were blocked in by three layers of cars - charming smiles, gallic shrugs, and claims of innocence met our protest when the French Ski instructor returned from the pub! The nearest bus stop / train-rouge is equi-distance north and south!

    There is a swimming bath for showers in the main town. (Which I have heard is free for lift pass holders)

    Val d'Isere main village

    Avoid

    Val d'Isere - la Laisinant

    About 0.75km past the main village several vans park on a small level car park at the bottom of a blue run and at a "Train-Rouge" bus stop.

    Train-rouge and train-vert are a brilliant, free and frequent bus service to all of Val d'Isere and its component hamlets.

    Other Areas

    I have seen many motorhomes in small Italian resorts such as Aprica and Passa de Tonale. I have no idea of facilities and would welcome feedback on any other sites in Europe.
    Email David Jobson  

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