Sainte Foy first appeared on my radar in around 2010, when I heard it was great for a freeride snowboarding holidays with a vast area of lift accessible off-piste. So when we started planning a french ski resort road trip I set aside a couple of days to conduct a review of Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding.
Please note this article was originally published this in February 2015 after a trip in January that year in which we drove a Kia Sorento from the UK to explore four French ski resorts..
Just to clear up the name, for years I pronounced it the English way Saint Foy, however it should be pronounced the French way San Foi. The full name is Sainte Foy Tarentaise – the latter after the valley it’s accessed from. It is worth noting the Sainte is often abbreviated to Ste if you are trying to find it on a map or in a guide book.
Introducing Sainte Foy
Sainte foy has just four lifts and 25 miles (40km) of piste from 1550m up to 2620m. So it is a very small resort, particularly compared to its Tarentaise valley neighbours of Les Arcs, La Plagne, Val d’Isere and Tignes. However the mountain guides from those bigger, more famous resorts often visit Sainte Foy for the freeride.
With about half the vertical below the treeline there are some lovely, impeccably maintained, red and blue runs into the village. Above the treeline there are mainly red and black runs although there is a nice blue near the Marquise lift. There is a enclosed beginners area with a tow and a magic carpet servicing a green run at the base in the town.
Currently the Gran Plan six seater chair is the only one out of town, it links up with the Arpettaz which takes you to the top of the treeline. From there it is a short run to the Aiguille which takes you to the top of Col de l’Aiguille, or a longer run to the Marquise which opens up the second area above the treeline. Work on a new chairlift is planned for this summer which will link from the Bataillettaz side of town to the Marquise lift.
The town itself is tiny, but has a small selection of bars and restaurants plus a convenience store. The accommodation is fairly spread out and is almost exclusively chalets, with everything is build in the traditional savoyard style. Without overcrowding or any big hotels the town has a relaxed and traditional feel, despite everything being fairly new – the resort only opened in 1990.
According to Where to Ski and Snowboard Sainte Foy has the cheapest ski pass of all 1000 resorts they cover. At 160 euros (approx £120) for a six day pass it is a substantial £100 saving on it’s neighbours. The good news is if you decide to visit Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne) or Espace Killy (Tignes and Val d’Isere) you only have to pay 25 euros a day to upgrade your Sainte Foy ski pass.
Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding heaven?
Like the mountain guides from neighbouring resorts we weren’t visiting Sainte Foy for the pistes. The resort planners have clearly decided not to cram too many runs in as there is plenty of open space that is ripe for freeride. They have included three off-piste zones (Morion, Crystal and Shapers Paradise) that are avalanche controlled where the runs are closed if conditions are unsafe.
In Shapers Paradise you are allowed (and encouraged!) to use the natural features to build kickers and to create your own freeride paradise. With the lack of a snowpark this is a great alternative and is a big plus point in this review of Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday.
The marked off-piste areas and between run off-piste is only a small part of the freeride available in Sainte Foy. From the top of both the Marquise and the Aiguille lifts it is possible to head along the ridge in either direction opening up large areas of terrain that drop back into the ski area – although please go with a guide and all the avalanche gear.
There is also some much more serious off-piste available. From the top of Aiguille lift there are fantastic runs down through Vallon du Clou either via Minot back to Sainte Foy or all the way down to the road to Val d’isere (you can get a bus back). From Aiguille you can also take the North face of La Foglietta into the next valley over and the village of Le Crot.
From the top of the Marquise there are routes down through Vallon Du Mercuel to the village of Miroir. It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) you need to be experienced, have the right gear and a guide for any of these routes.
Review of Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday
Freeride snowboarding is always weather and conditions dependent. If we had arrived in Sainte Foy a few days earlier there would have been no off-piste available as there had not been enough snow, but luckily we arrived on the back of around 50cm of fresh stuff. Although this meant we would be able to explore the off-piste the base layer was very thin and many rocks that normally would be under a lot of snow were still visible, so unfortunately it wouldn’t be a full on Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday.
We had guides booked for each day with ESF on the first day and Evolution 2 on the second. Our ESF guide had been teaching and guiding in resort since it opened 24 years earlier, and the Evolution 2 guide had grown up in Sainte Foy.
It is fair to say they both know the area like the back of their hand. They also both know each other and we had a few beers with them and the other guides in the funky Chez Leon (it is compulsory to visit if in Sainte Foy) in the Plan Bois area. From this we got a feeling of a strong local community which was refreshing compared to bigger resorts.
Unfortunately the avalanche risk was too high to do any of the routes over the far side of the mountain. In fact there had been a big avalanche on the north face two weeks before that caught six people, although all survived. So we stayed on the Sainte Foy side were the avalanche risk was lower, but we still wore full avalanche equipment.
On the first day we did a couple of runs that required a short hike and traverse across a ridge from the top of the Aiguille lift towards La Foglietta. Although the drop in was a little sketchy (icy, rocky and steep with a drop if you got it wrong) it soon opened up into a wide powder field that was in great condition and relatively untouched. We did top to bottom of the Aiguille lift twice barely touching the piste and most of it through almost untouched powder – a great start!
In the afternoon we headed over to the Marquise lift and played off to the right hand side (as you look at the piste map) of the blue from the top. This off-piste was a lot easier to access and less challenging – which of course means you can go a bit faster and start trying tricks. Cue clipping a rock and my first big powder fall of the trip and a reminder that the snow is not as deep as it would normally be.
On the second day we again headed up to the top of the Aiguille lift. We took the red a short way down and where it turns sharply to the right we ducked under the ropes and started a long traverse below Rocher de Pierre d’Arbine. The first half of the traverse was fairly easy however I clipped a rock and fell, then couldn’t get up in the deep powder unless I went switch which made the second half very tricky – I came out about 30m below the others.
The effort was rewarded though as we had traversed further than anyone else and so enjoyed untouched powder. We took an extremely technical route down, passing through a range of gullies and rock gardens (normally they would all be covered) that meant it was not about pace but riding well and turning where you have to, a lot of fun when you get in the flow. We pretty much boarded all the way to the bottom of L’Arpettaz without touching a piste with the last part through trees.
After lunch it started to snow and the wind picked up meaning the Aiguille lift was shut. We headed over to the Marquise lift and our guide took us on a 30 minute hike from the top towards Vallon de Mercuel. We dropped in a couple of ridges over and again found plenty of untouched powder, although with the change in conditions a crust had formed in places.
We joined the Grand Solliet about three quarters of the way down. The off piste this side was less steep but had nice undulations that if visibility had been better would have been perfect for tricks. What amazed me was this was now three days after it had snowed and there were still plenty of fresh lines to be had which is perfect for a Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday.
Review of Black Diamond Lodge in Sainte Foy
We stayed at the Black Diamond Lodge which is run by Venture Ski a British company specialising in Sainte Foy. It is a large luxury chalet with a bar and restaurant that are open to the public. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful, in my opinion are the best I have ever encountered in a chalet. The bedrooms are big, comfy and nicely decorated with a modern feel.
In the evenings the dining room is open to the public as a top class restaurant – it should be as the food is fantastic. The head chef often popped around the tables chatting to the guests, and was actually pleased to be catering for a vegetarian as it meant he could impress with his creativity. With both meat eater and veggie full and satisfied after four delicious courses washed down with tasty wine we then enjoyed the large communal area reserved for chalet guests.
Breakfast got a cheer from me as a full English (meat or veggie) was offered. For those less inclined to partake in a heavy breakfast, porridge, pastries, fruit, cereal and juices etc are provided. Whatever your preference there was more than enough to fuel a day on the slopes which – conveniently start right outside the front door.
However there is one obstacle between you and the piste – a hot tub. We spent a little time in there testing it out and I can confirm it is hot, and a tub. It is so close to the piste that you could probably jump into it if you built a little kicker. We settled for a muscle relieving soak with a few relaxing beers, my wife was certainly impressed when I phoned home from the hot tub….
Venture Ski properties have a number of properties in Sainte Foy all of which are nestled together in the Bataillettaz area. The complex includes a spa with a 10m swimming pool and on onsite massage and beauty therapist. There is a creche, with the option of all day childcare – so you can enjoy the slopes in the knowledge that you little one is being well looked after. I had a peak at the penthouse and presidential suites which come with private hot tubs and some serious luxury.
Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday: Conclusions
To conclude this review of Sainte foy freeride snowboarding, although we didn’t have perfect conditions we found (with the help of guides) ample fresh lines a few days after the last snow. When conditions are good I am sure the the freeride would be epic and unlike nearby larger resorts it won’t quickly get tracked out.
Almost as strongly as I recommend Sainte Foy I would also recommend staying with Venture Ski. Their staff are brilliant, the food amazing and the chalets are gorgeous with all the facilities you could want for a luxury ski break. Although it was the smallest resort we visited on our freeride road trip it made the biggest impression on me. If you are serious about your off-piste then a Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday is a must. My only regret is we didn’t stay longer.
I hope you found this Review of Sainte Foy freeride snowboarding holiday useful. For more information visit the tourist office website: www.saintefoy-tarentaise.com or the Venture Ski website: www.ventureski.co.uk