Thursday, January 17, 2013

Underground Skiing

Le Tunnel

Does anyone remember the arcade game where you stood on skis? I loved that game, and one of the interesting tracks in the game goes through a cave. Ever since playing the game I have wanted to experience skiing underground. This week I was visiting Alpe d'Huez, France, and my wish was fulfilled. The "Le Tunnel" slope begins with a 200 meter tunnel through the mountain. And then continues as the most difficult black run the ski area has to offer.

The experience was interesting, albeit not quite like in the game. The tunnel is very narrow, and has only a 3% downgrade. So there was no high-speed skiing. More like pushing myself through. The tunnel is at an altitude of 3000 meters.

This way!


Val d'Isere

While Le Tunnel is man-made, VallĂ©e Perdue in Val d'Isere, France, is all natural. An off-piste not suitable for the claustrophobic, as this canyon is so narrow that it ends up closing up above you in a couple of places. Eventually you have to ski through a short cave to continue the route. And climb a few ice falls.

A ski-through cave

Climbing down a small ice fall

And if you are wondering about the skis and clothes, we skied this route a long time ago -- somewhere in the end of the 1990s.


But that is not all. Simon Christy's blog describes a ski run in Chourum de la Parza, a cave south of Grenoble. Here you can ski under the ground for real. There is only the small matter of a 50 meter abseil to reach the cave. I'd like to do this some day... Check out the video from Simon:

Other Tunnels

There are obviously plenty of tunnels to cross intersections or roads. Returning from the great after-ski at the Zoo Bar in Alpe d'Huez we spotted a skiable tunnel. (Hey! I had worked for twelve days straight before this weekend, so some after-ski was due.) It turned out that the tunnel is a route to allow the skiers on the Village ski run reach the lower parts of the village by going under a hotel.

Zoo Bar
Exit from the Village ski run at Alp d'Huez

Also, Alpe d'Huez sports another oddity: a chairlift that runs under an airport runway. The altiport (IATA code AHZ) has one downward-sloping runway that ends in a concrete block through which the ski lift goes. By the time the planes reach the end of the concrete block, they better be in the air!

But more about this airport in my next blog entry...

The end of the runway

Inside the concrete block and under the runway

Final Words

All in all, there's surprisingly small amount of underground skiing. I even asked Steve Duncan, an urban historian and underground explorer for hints. He didn't have any.

Is this really all underground skiing there is on this planet? Please tell me it is not so!

And while you ponder that question, maybe some of you will enjoy a video of Steve's explorations. It is off-topic for my blog, but I'd say that this is as close to the definition of ill-advised adventuring as you can get. Not to mention illegal and suicidal. But it is an amazing video, check it out:

Photo and video credits (c) 1998-2013 by Jari Arkko and Jarmo Ruuth. The Chourum de la Parza video by Simon Christy and Steve's video by Andrew Wonder. 


  1. That is very interesting, Magnus! I need to go test that some day. Thanks!

  2. Wow! That’s definitely one interesting experience. I’ve never tried skiing because of my fear of heights. It looks scary! But when I watched the video, I think it’s a cool activity, and it convinced me to try it sometime in the future. I just have to pick a date when the weather’s nice. Thanks for sharing this. :)

    Kayleigh Holton