How To Avoid Changeover Day Road Snow Chaos In The Alps

With over 35,000 vehicles travelling in and out of the Tarentaise on a busy Saturday – often in driving snow – making sure everyone arrives as smoothly and safely as possible is a top priority.

Last year the Tarentaise hit the headlines during Christmas/New Year when changeover day went wrong. A sudden snowfall, larger then usual traffic volume and several accidents took the authorities off-guard. The main road to Tignes – Val d’Isere and Paradiski resorts ground to a halt leaving around 29,000 vehicles stranded, thousands stuck at airports overnight and hotels full to bursting point providing emergency shelter.

Cool Bus transfer company owner Rob Forbes recalls:

There we all were moaning about the lack of snow and then it came, seemingly in a matter of minutes… At around 3.30am on Saturday morning drivers were setting out to work from Bourg Saint Maurice up to nearby resorts, snow-free roads all the way, only to be met by carnage on the way back down the valley en-route to the airports. Quite frankly, we’ve never experienced roads like it.

So what are resorts doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again? And how can we all play our part in getting everyone to resort and on the slopes on time?

Snow Chains

One of the major problems last year was motorists blocking the road as they stopped to fit snow chains. Heed this advice from Tignes resort officials: “Snow doesn’t fall on the pistes only, unfortunately. The sun may be shining on your arrival but it might be snowing when you leave resort. Don’t forget your snow chains and make sure they are easy to access. Try to stop on the snow chains areas only to make sure you do not interfere with the traffic. In bad weather, snow chains or snow tyres are compulsory and police will stop you driving up to resorts if you don’t have them.”

Road Improvements

We can all look forward to spending less time queuing to get up the mountain as Tarentaise officials have committed to investing €300m over the next 12 years in routes in and out of resorts.

Social Media

All resorts are improving the way they use social media to get messages out to drivers quickly – so make sure you check their Facebook and Twitter pages. Tignes has set up a dedicated ‘Traffic Info’ page on its website (www.tignes.net). Traffic notices will be displayed in all Les Arcs’ tourist offices and some hotels and chalets, for advice on peak travel times and road conditions. Traffic officials have set up local command posts that will be able to relay information from the roads more quickly and accurately to people in resorts.

Flexible Travel

Try to avoid the busiest Saturdays of the season – around Christmas, New Year and the French school holidays in February.

Some useful advice from Cool Bus: “If you are absolutely unable to avoid travelling on a Saturday, then you can still time your journeys to miss the bulk of the traffic. Generally, if you can get into the valley before midday that can help matters a lot. If you’re driving out from the UK, this might mean setting off on Friday evening and stopping en-route – but on the plus side you will arrive in resort early with loads of time to pick up hire skis, do some shopping and have a good night’s sleep ahead of your first days skiing!

If you travel on Sundays instead, you can have the roads almost to yourself. Look out for a holiday deal that’s flexible on days – this can have multiple benefits as Ski Bonjour, who offer Sunday-Sunday packages at their chalets in Tignes and Val d’Isere, explain: “Not only does it help reduce the chance of being caught up in heavy traffic – not a single Ski Bonjour guest missed a flight due to the chaos – but you can also take advantage of skiing the resort on the Saturday when everyone else is busy leaving and arriving.” For advice on other hotels/chalets that offer flexible days, contact accommodation specialists Simply Val d’Isere (www.simplyvaldisere.com).

In Les Arcs, major accommodation provider The Village Club du Soleil has switched to Sunday-to-Sunday packages and the resort is encouraging more to do the same.

Local knowledge

The local knowledge of experienced transfer drivers can be crucial in getting you out of a jam. Whiterides’ Dan Barnett says: “With our local knowledge of the area and a few shortcuts our drivers know, in last year’s jams we managed to get past a lot of the traffic and get all of our clients to their destinations.”

Bus Services

There are now lots of new, convenient bus services available, so it makes sense to book on these instead of adding to the changeover day road clog. Ben’s Bus has this year launched extra services from Lyon and Chambery airports, plus they’re adding to their usual Geneva and Grenoble routes AND operate on Fridays and Sundays too. So you can take advantage of a whole range of cheap flight offers, then get a connecting bus ticket from £21 one-way.

Simply Transfers offer regular shared transfers, which are perfect for individuals or small groups going from Geneva airport to any Tarentaise resort (€59 one-way). They operate all weekend, with limited options on Fridays.

Check your vehicle

Here are Mountain Rescue’s tips for keeping your vehicle moving in extreme temperatures:

  • Have at least a quarter of an inch left on your break pads and make sure your antifreeze is topped up.
  • Check your battery is fully charged and carry some jump leads just in case.
  • Your vehicle should have winter tyres with plenty of tread.
  • Give yourself a quick refresher on using snow chains and bring a knee mat and head torch.
  • Keep your windscreen washer loaded with plenty of -40 fluid and your windscreen itself super clean inside and out. Leave your wiper blades up at night to avoid them sticking to the windscreen.
  • Make sure you have a strong scraper and some de-icer handy.

Know the law

Under French law, you must have these in your vehicle:

  • A Hi-vis jackets (one for each passenger)
  • Spare bulbs
  • Warning triangle
  • Beam deflectors on your headlights
  • GB sticker
  • Breathalyser
  • Documents – passport, driving licence, MOT certificate, V5 logbook, insurance.