This time in 2011, I was living, working and training in the Alps. This is my pick of the top 5 places to run all year round in La Plagne, salvaged from my old blog at morelivinglessironing:
When I moved to the Alps last year, I soon found that running at 2000m is very different from training on the Thames Path and the Ridgeway back home. Alpine ascents and descents can be steep, punishing and very, very long, and it doesn’t make sense to base your training programme on distance covered when the terrain is so extreme. It can be hard to find a route that allows for any kind of running rhythm at all, when many trails involve clawing up a lung-defying ascent or picking your way down the side of a rocky cliff, and dogged determination soon replaces any thought of speed.
After a year of training on the tracks of La Plagne, Meribel, Courchevel and Alpe d’Huez in snow, ice, frost and the dry summer heat, I’ve come up with a few tried and tested all-season favourites. These are trails that I’ve tackled before work, after work or at lunch time; they can be linked together to create longer runs; and on a clear day, they all offer views and scenery guaranteed to take (what’s left of) your breath away. So, here’s a mix-and-match selection of the best of La Plagne:
1: Dou du Praz
Season: All seasons
Terrain: Marked trails (n.b. the ascent route is slightly different in summer and in winter; follow the markers); ski de fond piste; descent via trail/blue ski run in winter
Time: 35 mins-1 hour, depending on trail conditions & fitness
Route profile: Steep wooded ascent of around 300m to the top of the Dou du Praz departs from behind the petrol station in Plagne Centre and passes the quarry; undulating figure-of-8 loop follows the ski de fond trail, from which you may branch off to climb to Col de Forcle for views over Courchevel; descent past the Beaufort cheese cooperative, dropping behind Plagne Soleil and Plagne Foret to the snow front in Plagne Centre.
Start points: Plagne Centre, Plagne Villages, Plagne Soleil
Mix & match options: continue to Route des Balcons (+30-45 mins, see route 2); descend via marked path to Bellecote and return by road (+20-40 mins, see route 4); descend via Bellecote and return by trails (+40mins-1hr, see route 5); linear detour to Col de Forcle (+30-50mins, pisted in winter); add hill sprint session by Plagne Foret (approx 200m of steady climb)
Best for: Refreshing sunrise or sunset views of Mont Blanc; marmot spotting in spring and summer.
2: Route des Balcons
Season: Summer, autumn
Terrain: Marked trails. Crosses several pistes; snow machines and skiers make it impassible in winter and spring.
Time: 45 mins – 1 hour 15, depending on trail conditions & fitness
Route profile: Steady ascent of around 300m on road or track from the base of the Plagne Centre slalom piste to Aime 2000; undulating marked trail passes reservoir and foot of Verdons Nord chairlift before skirting the top of Plagne Soleil & Plagne Villages beneath La Bergerie restaurant and past the Beaufort cheese cooperative; descent via Dou du Praz. Can be very exposed in rain or wind. The route can be done in either direction, and links well with route 3, below.
Start points: Plagne Centre, Aime 2000, Plagne Villages, Plagne Soleil
Mix & match options: Return via Plagne 1800 (+20-40 mins, see route 3)
Best for: Views over all of La Plagne’s ‘altitude’ villages – and for stocking up at the Beaufort cheese manufacturing cooperative in July & August.
3: Plagne 1800-Aime 2000-Lac Vert
Season: All seasons
Terrain: Marked trails, crosses pistes in winter
Time: 40 mins – 1 hour depending on conditions & fitness
Route profile: Steep descent of 100m from behind the Plagne Centre ‘chaufferie biomasse’, just below the garage, to Plagne 1800; marked route through the village to the base of the chairlift. Steep ascent of 400m on winding forest tracks to Aime 2000; descent of 350m, retracing ascent as far as signs to Lac Vert and then branching off to contour around past restaurant La Mere Grand, crossing pistes in winter, to the chaufferie biomasse; 50m ascent on the road to Plagne Centre. Largely sheltered; snow can drift thickly on the paths in autumn and early winter. Option to join route 1, Dou du Praz.
Start points: Plagne Centre, Plagne 1800, Aime 2000
Mix & match options: link to Route des Balcons (+30-45 mins; not possible in winter)
Best for: A tough hill session! Wooded, with occasional views across the valley.
4: Plagne Centre-Bellecote-Belle Plagne
Season: All seasons (but beware ice in winter)
Time: 35-50 mins depending on conditions & fitness
Route profile: Undulating, linear there-and-back route following the road from Plagne Centre, through Bellecote to Belle Plagne. Be ready for around 2k of steady ascent at either end, and be warned – the roads can be slippy in winter!
Start points: Plagne Centre, Belle Plagne, Bellecote
Mix & match options: Return via Dou du Praz (+20-45 mins, see route 1); return via Plagne 1800 (+30-40mins)
Best for: A not-too-challenging pipe-opener, where you can get up a bit of speed and don’t need to concentrate too hard on where you put your feet.
5: Route des Frasses
Season: All seasons (deep snow in late autumn/early winter)
Terrain: Road, trails (ski de fond piste in winter)
Time: 1hr-1.5hrs, depending on fitness
Route profile: Undulating, linear there-and-back route on road and trails. Follow the road from Plagne Centre to Bellecote, branching off just beneath the Bellecote outdoor car park to pick up signs for the Route des Frasses. Follow the forest trail to Plagne Bois, where there are cafes & restaurants open in winter. Signposted option to loop up to Mont St Jacques in summer/autumn; option to return from Bellecote via marked forest tracks that leave from the start point of the Route des Frasses. Both are steep in parts and prone to ice, and become treacherous underfoot in winter.
Start points: Plagne Centre, Bellecote (subtract 20-40mins depending on fitness)
Mix & match options: Loop up to Mont St Jacques (+30-40 mins); return via Dou du Praz (+20-45 mins, see route 1); return via Plangagnant/Plagne 1800 (+1hr-1.5hrs with a long ascent to finish)
Best for: Getting away from it all – the Route des Frasses feels a thousand miles away from La Plagne, even in the height of the ski season.
5 top tips for Alpine trail running
1: If you’re trying a new route, set off up hill. Running downhill can be challenging too – but there’s nothing worse than getting half way round and knowing that the climb is still to come!
2: Alpine walking route markers work by time, rather than distance. As a rule of thumb, if you’re running you can expect to cover the distance in 1/3 the time.
3: Don’t run alone – or, if you must, take a phone and/or tell someone where you’re going.
4: If you’re running out of season (i.e. September-November or May-June), beware: the tracks are not maintained at these times, and deep snow, fallen trees or piste work may make the paths difficult or impassible.
5: If the terrain is steep, don’t be afraid to walk. A brisk walk can be just as quick and effective as a slow jog up a steep slope.