Winter Driving in The French Alps

By: Lewis Williams (member of the Mountain Rescue Team)

We love snow! Goes without saying if your coming to the French alps in winter. But, as fun as the ‘good stuff’ is, it can also cause a heap of problems if your driving. 

Here at The Mountain Rescue we regularly deal with snowy road conditions. We are experienced drivers who would love you to book your ski transfer with us in our lovely fleet of comfy vehicles

But, if your driving yourself, we would like to share some of our knowledge with you so you too can safely drive through the wintery wonderland of the snowy alps. 

In this guide to winter driving we offer basic information on what vehicle accessories you need to get up those mountains and when and where to use them.  

Snow tyres

Snow tyres are awesome! The improved grip on snow and ice is considerable and noticeable. Normal tyres get harder with lower temperatures, the tread fills with snow and you loose grip. Snow tyres stay softer in the cold, which enables snow to fall out of the tread so they can re-grip the snow on each rotation.

Our fleet is equipped with Nokian snow tyres and we highly recommend them.

At present snow tyres are not a legal requirement in the alps, but life, or at least the snow, is easier with them.

Socks and Chains (…or Studs?)

Wether you have snow tyres or not you still need to carry snow chains or socks. It is useful to have a pair of snow socks tucked away in your car because they can be easily stowed as they fold flat and take little space.

Unfortunately snow socks are less suitable for prolonged driving in snowy conditions. Snow socks may help you get out of a sticky situation but may struggle to handle the punishment when the big dump of snow arrives and your driving 30km up a mountain to Val Thorens. With excessive driving snow socks can ‘walk’ or slip from the tires as you drive, or catch on the bodywork and tear. We use and recommend snow chains.

There are many varieties of snow chain, too many to cover here. You’ll need to check your vehicle handbook to see what is suitable for your vehicle or seek advice from a dealer. We prefer ‘traditional’ snow chains, they are fitted to the two drive wheels and then tightened up after 50m of driving. Once they are securely fitted they will give great traction and reassurance as you trundle on your jolly way up the mountain.

But what about studded tyres so you can race up those crazy switch-backs? Think again! Studded tyres are only permitted from December to late March (dates subject to change) and are not recommended unless you live at extreme altitude and won’t ever be driving on tarmac.

Check it out  

Delays are created by drivers getting stuck in the snow and putting snow-chains on, or abandoning vehicles in unexpected places. On busy weekends be prepared for a little chaos, especially if it snows heavily.

It is well worth spending some time to practice putting the chains on before you make your trip. All our drivers refresh their chain ‘putting-on-skills’ at the beginning of the winter, because there is nothing worse than being at the side of the road in -10 °C, in the dark, getting splashed by slush as you frantically get entangled in snow chain. It’s an art to fit snow chains quickly and calmly and well worth the practice.

It also useful to pack a head torch and thin water proof gloves to aid you in attaching the snow chains.

Where and When? 

Snow chains and socks limit your speed to approx 40 km/h maximum. If there is no snow on the road you don’t want to be ambling along the motorway at such a low speed, for safety’s sake. But neither do you want to be stuck half way round a snowy hairpin trying to put your chains on. Luckily there is a way to judge this. The French road signage uses a few signs to help us out.

French mountain roads display a blue sign of a wheel with a chain on the tyre. This denotes that in snow you will require snow chains.

You may see ‘pneus neige admis’ written below the sign, in this case chains are not required if you have snow tires fitted. But, even if you have snow tires, use your judgement as to wether you should put your chains on.

The sign ‘équipements speciaux recommandes’ may be displayed on electronic signage as you enter the mountains. This sign indicates that it is likely you will encounter the need for chains (or socks) as you gain altitude, so keep vigilant. When there is snow on the road you should make a judgement as to wether you should put the chains on.

Alternatively you may see ‘équipements speciaux obligatoire’, this sign may be displayed as you join a specific road to a ski resort or mountain pass. It means when you encounter snow on the road the use of chains is mandatory and you should put chains on.

French mountain roads display a blue sign of a wheel with a chain on the tyre. This denotes that in snow you will require snow chains.

You may see ‘pneus neige admis’ written below the sign, in this case chains are not required if you have snow tyres fitted. But, even if you have snow tyres, use your judgement as to wether you should put your chains on.

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Most major roads in the French alps have specific areas for putting on chains. The ‘Aire De Chainage’ is where you should stop and put your chains on.

Similarly on the descent there are areas marked ‘Aire De Depose Chainage’ and, you guessed it, thats where you should stop to remove chains once there is no snow.

Bonne Route!

Most journeys in the French alps can be made relatively stress free on clear roads. But the weather in the mountains changes quickly and around ski resorts, at peak periods, traffic can become heavy. Every year there are delays and times of heavy snow, so it really is necessary to be prepared. 

Like us, you should check your route, give ample time, have chains to hand and equip your vehicle with quality snow tires for any snowy mountain adventure. 

This is by no-means a definitive guide but we hope it gives an idea of what to expect and what to look out for as you enter the beautiful snowy mountains. Bonne route!

Skiers on glassier in Tignes

Geneva Airport Transfers to Tignes

Geneva Airport Transfers to Tignes

By: Simon Wilkinson (member of the Mountain Rescue Team)

When looking to travel from Geneva airport transfers to Tignes we recommend you use our private transfer service. It’s by far the most relaxed and comfortable way to travel. You can pre-book our service online and receive an instant confirmation of the travel plans.

The day before you travel our system will send you an automated email and SMS giving you the confirmed meeting time and the drivers direct mobile number.

Once you have landed and collected your luggage our driver will be waiting with a sign with your booking name on, he/she will help you to the vehicle and get you on your way. Our private transfer service gives you sole occupancy of one or more of our comfortable Volkswagen Caravelle minibuses.

The route from Geneva airport to Tignes takes you onto the Swiss toll roads for around 20 minutes. All our vehicles have the Swiss road tax to take advantage of using the most direct route. Once in France you will head in the direction of Lake Annecy. Annecy is a beautiful town nestled next to one of Europe’s cleanest alpine lakes (Lac Annecy) and a great place to spend a weekend if you get the chance.

It’s a popular stopping point and if you have time a wonderful place to visit. We often collect customers from Annecy as it’s a great stopping point on route to the Alps and only 30 minutes from Geneva thanks to a recent improvement in the roads.

The next town you reach is Albertville home of the 1992 Olympics and when many of our local resorts where used to hold events. Courchevel, La Palgne, Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Tignes and Val dIsere all did their part, Albertville itself held the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the figure skating.

After Albertville you reach Moutiers the gateway to the Tarentaise valley. Moutiers gives you direct access the the 3 Valley ski area. Meribel, Courchevel, Les Menuires and 3 valleys.

But we are heading onto Bourg St Maurice the largest town in the Tarentaise Valley. Known as Bourg to locals is the shopping centre and is the regular hang out of hordes of chalets hosts stocking up their chalet kitchens at Super U.

The Eurostar also reaches the end of the line here so if you decide to snowtrain it into the Alps this is your last stop. From here its possible to hire Mountain Rescue to collect you and whisk you up the hill to your accommodation.

Transfer time from Bourg to Tignes is about 45 minutes and this is the point you start to climb into the mountains. Passing Seez and St Foy Tarentaise, one of our vehicle hubs you really start to get the ski holiday feeling, this part is usually covered in snow and the roads get windy. Don’t worry, our vehicles are ready for it, we partner with Nokian Tyres to get the best possible winter tyres and our drivers are all experienced professionals.

You reach Tignes Les Brevieres first, the oldest part of the Tignes ski resort Tignes Les Brevieres sits next to the very impressive chervil dam, holing back a lot of very cold water. It’s a stunning location and the chalets sit on the side of the mountain giving cracking views of the pistes and imposing mountains.

Tignes Les Brevieres is home to many great chalets and is a great spot for restaurants and bars to spend afternoon lunch in before you hop back on Le Sache cable car to head back over to Tignes Le Lac.

Tignes Les Lac is situated at 2100 meters and is directly linked to Val d’Isere to make the Espace Killy ski area. Tignes Le Lac is a modern looking ski resort with all the facilities you need for a great holiday. Tignes Val Claret is a few minutes’ drive past Le Lac and again is a modern ski resort with mostly high rise blocks and modern architecture. Tignes Val Claret give you direct access to the highest point of Tignes the Grande Motte topping off at 3100 meters!

Overall the Tignes ski area has to be one of the best in the world it has skiing for every level and lots of it. It’s a lively entertaining place to visit with lots of bars, restaurants, event and big parties.

For more information about the resort visit: http://en.tignes.net/

Mövenpick Hotel & Casino Geneva Airport

The Best Geneva Airport Hotels

Our airport hotel guide

By: Simon Wilkinson

Traveling to and from the Tarentaise valley is defiantly made easier if you know a few little tricks and staying the right side of the traffic is one of them. We have put together this little guide of the best Geneva Airport hotels, the hotels that are all close to the airport and all include free taxi shuttles.

The Tarentasie is around 2 and a half hours from Geneva and Tignes and Val dIsere almost are almost 3 hours away. With this type of distance its often nice to break up the journey if you are flying in very late or have a very early flight out in the morning.

It’s a question we get asked a lot, “is it better to stay overnight in Geneva and head to the alps early the next morning?” well it certainly breaks up the trip and can help you avoid traffic if your on the road to France before 10 or even earlier. The roads only really get busy on the peak weeks but staying overnight in a hotel can give you a head start feeling well as being rested, fresh and ready for an early morning ski.

If your coming to the Alps for a ski weekend then why not fly into Geneva late stay the night at a airport hotel and get a transfer first thing (07:00am) and be in resort Saturday morning by 09:30 or so.  You will be the first in the ski hire shop and most of the people in resort will be packing to head off back home.

Mövenpick Hotel & Casino Geneva - 5-star hotel 

Google maps: 20, route de Pré-Bois, 1215 Geneva, Switzerland

Offering what is hailed as celebrity level treatment the 5 star Mövenpick is defiantly at the high end of our little guide. It’s a fantastic hotel and a great place to relax between transit. As the name suggests its not just a hotel but it also has a casino to while away a little time and money.

The hotel is situated only 700 meters from the airport and offers a free shuttle service running every 20 minutes between 05:30 and 23:40.  There are two very good restaurants on site The Mövenpick Restaurant offering a range of foods including international and traditional Swiss menus and The Japanese show-cooking restaurant, Kamome offering a stunning selection of Japanese cuisine.

All the rooms are very modern with free Wi-Fi, flat screen TV, safety box and tea and coffee facilities.

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Nash Airport Hotel  - 4-star hotel 

Google maps: Chemin de la Violette 11, 1216 Geneva, Switzerland 

Situated in Cointrin a 10minute drive from Geneva centre but only a short free shuttle ride from the Airport the Nash hotel is an extremely popular location for many traveling ski fans. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, a business corner, sauna and even a fitness room to get the legs warned up for the weekend ski trip.

There is a traditional Swiss style restaurant and the hotel bar is open until 01:00am for late arrivals. Room service is also available. The hotel opened for business in 2009 and retains a very modern and comfortable feel.

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Ibis Genève Aéroport - 2-star hotel 

Google maps: Chemin de la Violette 10, 1216 Geneva, Switzerland 

With only 2 stars the Ibis is very good value for money, all of the rooms have been renovated recently, air con comes as standard and free Wi-Fi is available around the hotel.

The Ibis also runs a free shuttle service to and from the airport and being located in Cointrin is also only 10 minutes from Geneva Centre. This is defiantly our best budget rest your head type of hotel and its been rated as the best value Geneva airport hotel on Booking.com.

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Crowne Plaza Geneva  - 4-star hotel 

Google maps: Avenue Louis Casai 75-77, 1216 Geneva, Switzerland

Only a 3 minute drive from the airport the Crowne Plaza is a 4 Star hotel that was built in 2007 and renovated in 2014. The hotel has 2 restaurants and a bar and offers a Club floor with spectacular views and the guests can enjoy the little extras such as complimentary breakfast, snacks, newspapers and books.

The hotel has a free shuttle to the airport as well as having a taxi rank and bus stop outside the hotel. The hotel is situated just a 10 minute drive from the city centre.

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Holiday Inn Express Geneva Airport - 3-star hotel 

Google maps: Route de Pré Bois 16, 1215 Geneva, Switzerland

A pleasantly decorated hotel with all the facilities your require for a short break. With easy access from the main route to the airport the Holiday Inn is situated only 300 meters from the A1 motorway and 800 meters from Geneva airport train station.

As with all the Geneva airport hotel the Holiday Inn provides a free shuttle for all its guests running every 20 minutes between 05:50 and 23:30. The rooms are all air conditioned and offer TV, hairdryers as well as tea and coffee making facilities.

The hotel has free parking, Wi-fi a very comfortable bar and has been reviewed as have wonderful staff which is always nice.

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