“As far as I could see, like demanded skills I didn’t have”Susanna Kaysen – Une vie volée
“Grépin” or “Garbaye” are the French words which are used to define the pine needles carpet in the Landes forest. So, it’s quite common to read about the “ski on grépin”! Yes, you read it correctly: ski! You thought you could only ski on snow or water? But in fact, you can ski on a lot of things like sand and pine needles!
It’s an old tradition in France where you have pine trees forests like in the South West of France and in particular in Arcachon. Since the early XXst century, the children could experience a very unique activity: luge on grépin.
Indeed, the Ville d’Hiver was created in Arcachon in 1862: 110 hectares in total on a hill. It was a “sanatorium”: a medical center where people could come to fight against tuberculosis. Arcachon is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the sea breeze was very good for health. Combined with the oil of turpentine found in pine trees: it was considered as a good remedy. Children were brought in the forest to smell the pine trees to calm down. The pine needles track was there to keep them busy: they were able to relax with the luge. A fun activity you can imagine! You even had races!
The first official track opened in 1938 in Arcachon. The track was 200 meters long and had a steep incline of 50 meters thanks to the dune. We needed 5 to 10 cm of pine needles to really slide: the fastest could reach 60km/hour. The dry or wet pine needles were the best to slide fast. But you could also do “fartage” which is to wax the ski. Different techniques were used like paraffin or candle wax.
People were doing luge but also slalom and ski jump (15 meters long jump). The Ski-Club Arcachonnais was introduced the 14thof October 1938 and in 1960, the club had 420 members. It was really famous in the area.
In 1947, the track welcomed every year an official competition “Grand Prix d’Arcachon”: it was on the official ski calendar like Chamonix. The French Federation of Ski recognized officially the track and the Ski-Club Arcachonnais. Some very famous ski champions came in our region to participate.
Usually, people needed to walk on the top with their skies. But in 1963, a ski lift was created! The track was also extended to reach 250 meters long.
Sadly in 1970, an incident occurred on the ski lift and some volunteers left Arcachon: the track closed. Some passionate people like Jérôme Maitrot, of the Association des Amis de la Piste de Ski sur Aiguilles de Pins d’Arcachon (APSAPA) tried to re-open the track in 2007 but the project stopped in 2013. A lot of money was necessary like the support of the politics. But there is always hope!! The wish is to create a “grépinpark” like a “snowpark”. The Ski-Club Arcachonnais still exists today but is dormant… Until…
Here is a little video of the Ski on grépin.