How to be entertained in a French ski resort

Wendy Hollands, 15/4/2012
The launching ramp in the distance, with the icy Lac de Confins in front of it

The French ski resort of La Clusaz hosts a special competition at the end of the ski season. In French, it’s called the Défi Foly, which translates to the ‘madness challenge’ in English. Contestants do have to be a bit crazy to participate, as the competition involves a freezing cold lake and trying to ski across it further than anyone else.

And by the end of the ski season, there are lots of crazy people. Why? Because the month of April brings with it a rush of seasonal workers and locals trying to squeeze in their last full days on the piste before the snow melts away. At the same time, the end-of-season parties begin. Workers find themselves working in the morning, skiing in the afternoon and partying at night, leaving very little time to rest or sleep. By the end of April, they’re exhausted.

Wendy Hollands, 15/4/2012
A man on a monoski shows how to glide across the lake

In their tired state, they sign up to throw themselves down a snowy ramp for the entertainment of others. Presuming they survive the slide down the ramp, they then land in the icy lake at the Les Confins area of the resort, often tumbling at full speed as they hit the surface of the water. Even if they glide across the water, they eventually sink into the lake. They can choose to slide down on skis, a snowboard, a monoski, or anything similar that they construct themselves.

Wendy Hollands, 15/4/2012
Two monoskis made into one, but this guy still didn’t win

This competition is unlike most typical alpine competitions. It doesn’t involve a fastest time or extra points for difficult tricks. This one is all about water, monoskis and distance. Whoever goes furthest wins. The current record is 155 metres, which Philippe Troubat managed in 2010.

Wendy Hollands, 15/4/2012
The falls provide great entertainment

The competition is followed by plenty more entertainment. Demonstrations of acrobatic paragliding and wingsuits are often features, as are birds of prey on display for the public to get close to. Before the day ends, the ‘alternative’ competitors line up to slide down the ramp. Homemade floats are launched with one or more persons attached with some of the floats breaking before entering the water.

What I love about this competition is how non-commercial it is. There are no rows of fast food vans selling mediocre food at this event. There is no ban on bringing a BBQ and cooking a long lunch. There is no fee for parking the car or for admission. The atmosphere is festive despite it marking the end of the winter ski season. These aspects help to make the day even better. For those nearby, I recommend this as a top day out for the entire family.

This year the Défi Foly was held on 28-29 April.

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Wendy Hollands

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