This winter the Olympic torch not only will light up Grenoble, it will illuminate what until now has been a fairly well-kept secret: France has Europe's best skiing. The Americans who have discovered this fact would scarcely fill the Jackson Hole tram. American skiers have shied away from French resorts because of their reputation for being costly and for being—well, frankly—French. They are more costly than Austria, though hardly more than Switzerland. And they are French, all right—only five of Courchevel's 136 ski instructors speak English. France developed its elaborate ski complex for 1� million ski-crazed Frenchmen, not to attract the American dollar and the British pound. In this respect French and U.S. skiing have a lot in common. Can you imagine a non-English-speaking French skier coping in Stowe or Aspen? If you plan to go to France this winter, leave your preconceptions behind and you will find in the kaleidoscopic scene reflected in Ernst Haas's photographs on the previous pages the ski adventure of a lifetime.
First, if you want to go to GRENOBLE and the Games, it is nearly but not hopelessly too late to make arrangements. They open February 6, close February 18. The sole U.S. agent for tickets is Don Travel Service, 375 Park Ave., New York 10022. Don will send you a detailed schedule for the 12 days and ticket order forms. Only the ice events take place in Grenoble. Everything else is miles out of town, up on one mountaintop or another. No private cars will be permitted at any of these venues on race days, but theoretically nonstop circulating buses will take spectators to Chamrousse (Alpine events), Alpe d'Huez (bobsled), Autrans (Nordics) and Saint-Nizier (90-meter jump).
GETTING THERE: On November 1, Air France inaugurated a daily New York-Lyons service, leaving New York at 7 p.m. and arriving in Lyons at 9:50 the next morning after an hour's stop in Paris. The 14 to 21-day excursion fare is $359. Full first-class fare is $792.30. The fare includes a connecting service with Air-Alpes, the French ski-plane company, to Alpe d'Huez, Courchevel or M�geve. Grenoble is 1� hours from Lyons by bus or car. Air Inter, a small feeder line, begins direct Paris-Grenoble flights twice daily on January 2.
Geneva is the other principal port of entry for pilgrims to the French Alps, and Swissair has direct flights leaving New York on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 6:55 p.m., arriving at 8:15 a.m. TWA also flies nonstop New York-Geneva on Fridays. The fare is the same as New York-Lyons, and the same Air-Alpes service to the mountains is included. Grenoble is 91 miles south of Geneva, two hours by train, longer by car.
STAYING THERE: Hotel rooms in Grenoble proper and in the Alpine venue of Chamrousse are almost impossible to find. Don Travel has several Olympic tours which include rooms near Grenoble as part of the packet. The most basic, for the Games only, is $399. Near Grenoble means rooms in small hotels or private homes up to half an hour away from town, or hotels in Aix-les-Bains, the lakeside summer spa, which will open 48 of its hotels for the period of the Games.
Aix is 45 miles away, an hour by special Olympic train. Don Travel also has rooms in the ski resorts of Alpe d'Huez and Deux Alpes, both about 1� hours from Grenoble. Steve Lohr of General Tours, 532 Madison Ave., New York 10022, last week still had 60 rooms available in Grenoble. Sylvia Sherman Travel, 6404 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, who booked Olympic tours for the Far West Ski Association, has 100 beds left in Annecy, a beautiful lakeside town, and in La Clusaz, a ski area. Both are 60 miles from Grenoble. From Montreal, Atlas Tours and Air France has a hockey-fan tour escorted by Maurice Richard, with rooms in Aix-les-Bains, transportation and hockey seats for from $633 to $759. Atlantic-Pacific Travel of Montreal has 66 rooms in Chamrousse, the Alpine venue. If nothing avails, try your luck writing directly to the Olympic welcoming bureau, Office National d'Accueil, BP 517, 38-Grenoble, France. This organization has a list of 1,000 rooms in private houses and apartments in Grenoble, all of which they have inspected. They rent for from $5 to $12 per day. Many require one week, others two weeks minimum.
I trust that Mayor Hubert Dubedout will not take this personally, but anyone who spends the entire 12 days of the Games at Grenoble, other than teams, press and officials, is either a figure skater's mother or a masochist. Grenoble probably will be cold and foggy—it always is in winter. Restaurants will be jammed, and shuttling in and out of town to the events will be exhausting. None of the ski areas on the map on page 61 is more than two hours from the Olympics. People who prefer participant to spectator sports can go skiing, pausing from time to time to check television to see what's happening in Grenoble. There will be from two to eight hours of live coverage every day in France. For variety the skier can take an Air-Alpes flight, a bus or his own car, and drop in on, say, the opening ceremony on February 6, the women's figure skatingon February 10 or the men's slalom on February 17.
If you elect to try this combination experience, buy a membership in the F�d�ration Fran�aise dc Ski as soon as you reach France. An FFS card costs $3.15 and entitles you to about 15% reduction on most lifts and some accident insurance. Ski-school prices in France are nationally controlled—about $7 for 12 hours of class and about $4 per hour for private instruction.
The skiing itself is superb. Forty miles from Geneva—the most northerly of the ski areas on the map opposite—is AVORIAZ, a place that should shatter the myth that ski architecture means Bavarian hearts and flowers. You leave your car below, and Europe's largest, fastest t�l�ph�rique takes you up a sheer rock-faced ravine to a plateau surrounded by mountains. On this plateau a Franco-Belgian syndicate, three young architects and Jean Vuarnet, Squaw Valley downhill gold medalist, have built one of the most visionary ski villages in the Alps. Shingle-sheathed condominiums (see color), chalets and hotels are rough-faced, truncated cones with all lodgings and balconies facing south to the sun and to the north facing ski runs. The hotel Les Dromonts ($11 to $19 per person full pension) has a stage-set lobby with not a straight line in sight, cozy sunken pits around fireplaces, a fur-walled discoth�que, a dining room floating above the lobby and bedrooms that arc cocoons of comfort—the baths have heated slate floors. There are no cars, just reindeer-drawn sleighs. A series of chairs and Poma lifts takes one 2,000 feet above the village, and you can run all the way down the gorge to the tram station, four miles below. In this, its second season, Avoriaz will have 1,000 beds.
Flaine, when it is finished, will be another architectural tour de force. The whole town, above the road from Geneva to Chamonix, has been designed by Marcel Breuer, architect of New York's Whitney Museum. It will be built of prefabricated concrete sections, cast in a factory below and taken by t�l�ph�rique to the site. Breuer's town will not be ready until next year, but Flaine is opening December 15 for adventurous skiers. Here is what they will find: 300 beds in comfortably furnished workers' barracks, two to a room (no private baths), a cafeteria, a bar, a 60-passenger cable car and five Poma lifts and T bars, 270� of open-slope skiing, 20 miles of trails and a ski school. The price: an incredible $7 per day for room, meals, lifts, classes. The reason: Flaine wants skiers to help lay out its runs.