The Vercors is a mountain range with deep caves and limestone plateaus in the French Alps. But unlike much of the Alps, it isn't just the gradients that prove popular with skiers: each winter the vast plateau is covered in cross-country tracks sprawling out to the horizon.
The Vercors Mountains straddle the Isere and Drome departments and overlook Grenoble. In fact, the 1968 winter Olympics ski jump can still be seen from the city. The Vercors plateau has around 1000 kilometres of cross-country ski tracks shared between 11 locations.
In the Drome department, Saint Martin en Vercors, Léoncel, [R2762R, La Chapelle en Vercors], Bouvante, Saint Agnan en Vercors, and Vassieux en Vercors all offer cross country terrain. The Isere department includes [R2096R, Gresse en Vercors], Presles-Rencurel, Corrençon en Vercors, [R2311R, Villard de Lans], [R2441R, Lans en Vercors], and the cross-country mastodons Meaudre and [R2350R, Autrans], which alone account for 230 kilometres of pistes.
Autrans has been hosting the popular La Foulée Blanche for 32 years and over time, this race has become one of the highlights of cross-country skiing in France. The event spreads over five days, beginning with a youth race, then a children's race, a day of festivities in an authentic mountain village atmosphere, the classic race (dedicated to classic cross-country style), and the Foulée Blanche race takes place on the last day. This race, with courses of five, 10, 20 or 42 kilometres is open to all levels and all age groups.
"This is an extremely large event," explains Michele Arnaud, president of La Foulée Blanche. "Serious competitors looking to express themselves are more than well served with the longer courses, while the shorter courses are accessible for skiers who simply enjoy the atmosphere and the fun of cross-country skiing."
This doesn't mean that the experts and amateurs are kept apart: it is this duo that makes La Foulée Blanche unique says Michele, "Everyone departs at the same time, from the same starting line, whether they are going for 42 kilometres or for five. Champions like Raphael Poiree and Benoit Gilles Dufourd have this mass of skiers who literally follow in their tracks." This year was a very successful edition, with redesigned itineraries through villages, good, solid snow, and perfect sunshine. The 2010 edition saw over 6000 skiers take off from the departure area.
When the Foulée Blanche isn't skiing all over Autrans, the resort offers 14 kilometres of green tracks, 15 kilometres of blue tracks, 19 kilometres of red tracks, and 7.5 kilometres of black tracks. There are even 10 kilometres of tracks classified as 'very difficult' and a skiable link to neighbouring Meaudre.
Elsewhere on the plateau, La Traversée du Vercors (the crossing of the Vercors) takes place in March. This event, open to the public, gives participants the opportunity to ski through parts of the Vercors that are otherwise off limits. "People sign up for La Traversée du Vercors for the magnificent landscapes," explains Norbert Ingold of Vercors Traversées. "They get the chance to ski sectors that are open exclusively for the event, sectors that aren't accessible the rest of the year."
The chance to ski over virgin territory isn't reserved for expert skiers either. La Traversée is for skiers of all levels, from children to grand parents. There are courses of different lengths with refreshment stands along the way, plus skiers have all day to complete the course.
Courses are five to 50 kilometres long, with varying degrees of slope. Skiers set off from Chaud Clapier and arrive at Col de Rousset on day one. Col de Rousset is the departure point for day two, with arrival at Bois Barbu or Herbouilly.
While the Vercors is home to several Nordic and cross-country events, skiers don't have to wait for one to get out and enjoy this ideal destination - its 1000 kilometres of trails are enough to keep even the most avid cross-country skiing fans occupied all winter long.