This winter Air-Alpes has expanded its operation, adding an altiport, or high-mountain landing strip, at Val d'Is�re to those already existing at M�ribel, Courchevel and La Plagne. There are airports at Le Fayet, serving Chamonix, and at Meg�ve. Airports and altiports are indicated by circled planes on the map opposite. Ziegler has moved his headquarters and mechanics to Meg�ve and will keep one Pilatus there to serve the Mont Blanc region. Another still will operate from Courchevel. The price of a glacier flight ranges, depending on flying time, from $72 to $180 for six passengers—or from $12 to $30 per person. Air-Alpes also ferries skiers between ski stations and from Geneva to the resorts for an average of $20 one way. The company also does a big business in flights around Mont Blanc.
The visionary Ziegler is thinking in terms of scheduled flights from the capitals of Europe direct to the ski areas by 1970, with STOL planes carrying up to 60 passengers. His safety record is built on his skill and his caution. The glacier landing places, marked by the uncircled planes on the map, have all been carefully checked, first by guides who climbed to them, then by Ziegler without passengers and, finally, at his request, by the French national civil aviation service. It takes a year or two to certify a landing place. The run taken by the writer is indicated by the black line descending from Testa del Rutor.
The guides one skis with are familiar with all runs to which they are assigned. A glacier guide such as Blatg� gets $32 for his day's work, whether the party is one or six. Air-Alpes makes up the parties and endeavors to keep skiers of the same ability together. The skiing itself is not difficult—Ziegler does not fly when the snow is chancy—and an average recreational skier with the stamina for the altitude, the long run and the walk at the bottom will find the day one of the best he ever spent on skis.
The "season" for glacier skiing in the French Alps is from late March until June. Flights sometimes go as early as 5 a.m. to get to the snow before the sun is too high. Special eye protection is needed by anyone attempting the glaciers. Ziegler and all the guides use glasses, designed by Jean Vuarnet, that have gradient lenses of a smoky yellow. They are specially made to screen the intense high-altitude rays but are also good in overcast or white-out conditions. The skier also should use a mountaineer's skin-protection cream and should carry a rucksack with chocolate and fruit (oranges are a good thirst-quenching idea), an extra pair of socks and gloves and a scarf. As for ski clothes, the critical matter is warmth—it is better to take off a parka and tie it around one's waist than not to have it.
In France the glory of glacier skiing does not always end at the bottom of the snow line. Most of the glacier runs end in a mountain village such as Pralognan, at the end of the Chassefor�t, where, in a rustic restaurant full of copper pots and blooming geraniums, the exultant skier will be served a lunch of the splendid ham of Savoie and an omelet or a fondue with a bottle of Cr�py, the green-white wine of these mountains, while the patronne summons the taxi that will drive him back to the place where he started.