The Jandri Express gondola whirs mechanically in the early morning, lifting people out of the small alpine village of Mont-de-Lans in south-east France and into the warm air.
It’s 8am, but already the temperature is pushing 18C.
The only noise is the soft hum of the ski lift and the shuffling of a steady stream of skiers and snowboards filing into the Jandri’s little white cabins.
Inside, the panoramic windows give an incredible view of the Les Deux Alpes resort, which was built in 1946 on the former high pastures of Venosc and Mont-de-Lans, two parish villages in the Isère where the northern and southern Alps meet.
As the Jandri rises steadily, Mont-de-Lans is laid out along the valley, where it drops off the step cliff towards Venosc, nestled deep in the Veneon valley. Further off, the twin peaks of Aiguille de Venosc and Roche de la Muzelle soar above the horizon.
The destination is Les Deux Alpes glacier, at 11,811 feet. It is precisely because of its impressive altitude that we are here on the solstice for some snowsports.
And it is worth clarifying that I mean summer solstice, June 21, the longest day of the year.
You see, Les Deux Alpes is one of only a handful of resorts that offers wintersports in summer.
Its 17 pistes and snowpark with halfpipe draws the world’s best skiers and snowboarders to the glacier, which reveals itself like a giant amphitheatre as we step off the Jandri.
It’s a strange experience to stand on a ski run this high up as the hot summer air swirls around you.
I immediately have to strip off a number of layers to feel comfortable and briefly consider pulling on shorts but, for reasons of decency, decide to stick with the ski trousers.
At the top of the button lift, the mighty vastness of the Alps can be appreciated, with the Mont Blanc massif rising among the peaks in the distance. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
It has been a long time since I skied so I am more than a little rusty. Chaperoned expertly by Helena Hospital from the local tourist board, I tentatively ski my way down the glacier.
But it isn’t just snowsports on offer in the resort. Back in Mont-de-Lans, we swap our ski gear for electric mountain bikes and head off into the trails on the opposite side of the valley.
Aided by the electric bikes, each turn of the pedal accelerates us smoothly and effortlessly into the mountain. This is the kind of exercise I could get used to.
We stop briefly to drink in the panorama – it’s a view you would never tire of.
Speaking of drinking, we have worked up quite a thirst so head to Le Trappeur, a traditional mountain restaurant that serves the best local cuisine.
We share a raclette, a huge block of cheese that comes with its own hot grill so you can melt it over cold meat, potatoes and vegetables.
It’s enough to feed at least four but after the skiing and mountain biking, we’re famished and wolf it down.
Stuffed, and ready for bed, we walk the short distance to our hotel, Le Côte Brune.
Its décor is similar to Le Trappeur, lots of wood and very Alpine.
The rooms are a great balance of traditional and modern and from my huge balcony, the peak of Aiguille de Venosc dominates the skyline.
Next morning, we are back in the saddle, this time for some downhill mountain biking. After a quick tutorial from our guide, Julien from Bike Infinity, we throw our bikes on the chair lift and head up the hill. As we climb, we can hear music pumping out from the new skatepark as skateboarders enjoy a competition.
Closer to the village, kids are playing football, while the adults are running, hiking or doing a yoga class.
Everywhere you look, a physical activity is taking place. Directly below, mountain bikers snake their way through the twists and turns of the downhill run.
It looks amazing fun.
Staring down from the top, however, it doesn’t seem so easy. However, Julien remains cool and his confidence is infectious.
Soon, we are bombing our way down the mountain. At the bottom, and despite a few spills, we are all itching to get back up and go again.
When we arrive for lunch at Chalet Mounier, we are all a little hot and bothered. Standing at the end of the village, Chalet Mounier radiates history and class. The picture-postcard wooden building was one of the first built in the resort.
The staff at the family-run hotel and restaurant are quickly on hand with refreshments.
The food is fantastic and, after a couple of glasses of local French rosé, the pool that looks out over the cliff towards Venosc seems very inviting.
The activities aren’t over, though, and we walk the short distance to the far side of the cliff. There, three paragliders check over their kit.
Perhaps fortified by the wine, I soon find myself strapped to Didier, a paragliding pilot from Air Ailes Parapente who has been flying for 20 years.
“I want you to run as fast as you can, then, when I say so, lift your legs,” he says in heavily accented English.
I do as instructed and we hurtle towards the cliff. Within seconds, we are off, gliding peacefully into the abyss above Venosc, hundreds of feet below.
From here we get a fantastic view of the Alps and the now tiny villages in the valley. The only noise is from the warm air rushing by our ears. Sitting back in my harness, it’s strange to imagine, but I could nod off for a nap, so relaxing is it.
That night, long after the sun has disappeared behind mountains, I am back at the cliff face, looking out, exhausted. Far below, the lights of Venosc are twinkling, while above, the stars are doing likewise.
A car silently twists its way down the valley, its headlights briefly lighting up the slumbering rock giants above.
In the stillness, the muffled sounds of revellers drifts up from far below.
Even at night, this resort never rests.
Linked to Les Deux Alpes by cable car, Venosc provides a peaceful valley location for either winter or summer trips. A seven-minute gondola ride brings you up to the main resort. The village sits in the Veneon valley next to the river and at the bottom of a sheer cliff under the resort.
Les 2 Alpes is a French alpine resort easily accessible from the UK by plane (Lyon and Geneva), train (Grenoble) and car. The resort is open until August 31 and is one of the only resorts in Europe to offer summer skiing – as well as a very wide range of other activities (mountain biking, trail running, hiking, paragliding, white water rafting, swimming). les2alpes.com
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