January is traditionally a quiet month on the slopes in the French Alps: school holidays are over and everyone is recovering financially from Christmas, leaving the mountain to the locals and the seasonnaires to play on as a result of all their hard work in December, when staff often get no days off for weeks or work very long days. To compare the two months quickly, the tailback of cars in La Clusaz at the end of the day can last for around two hours as the stream of traffic from La Balme meets the stream from l’Etale, and then they both hit town and meet more traffic, and the snake continues down through St Jean de Sixt. In January, it’s third gear all the way through with few cars on the road.
However, last weekend, La Clusaz went from quiet to car carnage due to three different events being held — each appealing to different audiences. Over at l’Etale, the Radikal Mountain event was being held, where freeride skiers bomb down cliff-faces, jumping metres of rock in the process, to a panel of judges below. Also at l’Etale, on the racing piste just next to the freeride event, were kids from all over the region competing in a slalom event. That meant parents and lots of cars in the already overflowing car park full of Radikal Mountain media vans. Meanwhile, no wonder the display for the La Balme car park said “FULL”: the lower car park had turned into a tent city with snowboard companies showing off their 2012 stock for industry workers to test as part of the Snow Avant Premiere event.
So, on the weekend, we had cool dude skiers, their fans and media people, plus a huge influx of kids and parents and all the staff required for a slalom event, as well as every snowboarder who works in a ski shop in a 200km or more radius! Also add in the usual weekend crowd from Annecy, bolstered by the sunny, spring-like weather. The result? A snake of cars from all directions trying to get out of La Clusaz at the end of the day.
If I saw any of the benefits of any of these events, I wouldn’t mind so much, but the Radikal Mountain day-time event is so distant it’s like watching an ant, the racing kids filled the snack bar I was in and made a racket, and the snowboard event is only open to shop workers. Radikal Mountain did also have a freestyle jib session in town on Saturday night, but it’s stupidly early at 7pm, so by the time we got there after dinner, the whole thing was over, and of course, the pub nearby, which was rammed, including a heated outdoor area, was only for invited people. The bouncer pointed us to the ‘bar’ (a black stand with a keg of beer and a man looking bored) for the public: apparently, we’re meant to enjoy drinking alone in the cold with no outdoor heaters and in full view of the cool dudes who are nice and warm. The four of us shrugged and walked away. La Clusaz, can you make things a bit more public — or at least spread out — next year?