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Hiking above Peisey Vallandry

Saturday, 24 December 2011

WHAT'S NEW IN LES ARCS

Here are 6 things which are new in Les Arcs for 2011/12:

1.  Snow

After last year's debacle, the arrival of l'or blanc is THE big news.  Last year, there was no snowfall of note between the end of December and June (sic).  This Christmas sees snow depths of 300cms at the top, more than Val d'Isere and Tignes and far more than in Austria and Switzerland.  Here is Place Miravidi in 1800:



2. Changing hands (i): Hotel du Golf

The "anchor" hotel of 1800 has changed hands, and is now owned by the Groupe Temmos.  They are looking to change the ambiance a little, making it more "welcoming" and less formal.  Sadly this means the charismatic bar host and ace monoskier Pierre-Yves no longer appears to be part of the hotel's plans.  They seem to be having a promising start, and they have some quite competitive half-board deals if you book direct. Hotel du Golf's website here.


3.  Changing hands (ii): Aux Enfants Terribles

The restaurant formerly known as La Poudreuse, on the slopes above Peisey-Vallandry, is now re-named and under new ownership.  Indeed it is now under the same ownership as the Arpette restaurant below the 1600/1800 snowpark.  It boasts a newly wood-cladded exterior and "cosy" bar.



4.  Just open: Edenarc

The Edenarc development is now starting to come on stream, and it looks like Stage 1 is now open.  At least I did see some skiers going in there, and a light burning inside.  It does feel quite lonely and isolated at the moment, a bit like the kind of place Scooby and co would show up at on a stormy night.  If you've got the cash, I'd wait until a later phase, by which time the hot-tubs etc will presumably be bubbling away happily.

By the way, you can see the original Charlotte Perriand design for this site here:


5.  Coming soon: A new 4-star at Charmettoger

The much-loved Aiguille Grive restaurant is now long gone, and 2012/13 will presumably see the opening of this new hotel-restaurant.  You can have a sneak preview by turning left on the main run back to Arc 1800.  It looks like it will be a fair old size.  And it looks like the design will be at least paying some reference to the "Les Arcs" pointy style.


6.  Ride in Style: The newly "pimped" funiculaire

The funiculaire from Bourg St Maurice is proudly deemed to be "unique en France".  It has been given a new coat of paint, which proclaims its "environmentally friendly" credentials.

  


Friday, 23 December 2011

CA PLANE POUR MOI: 50 years of La Plagne

La Plagne celebrated its 50th birthday this week.  Le Dauphine looks back on the festivities here, with more than 2,000 people visiting the front de neige at Plagne Centre - as witnessed by TV Mont Blanc.
It all started as a regeneration project, pure and simple, with Dr Pierre Borionne, maire of Aime looking to stem depopulation of the valley.  Agriculture was no longer able to offer a living to the young, and the local mining industry was in crisis.  If you are keen, you can find out more at the museum named after Le Docteur, down in Aime.  The resort launched, with 2 drag lifts and 4 pistes, on 24 December 1961, according to its entry in Wikipedia.  Fifty years on, it is of course one of France's top ski resorts, linked to Les Arcs by the unique Vanoise Express.  More on the skiing here.



This 8-minute video, made by the Conseil General de la Savoie, includes interviews with the founders.  They remind us that in the early 1960s there was basically no such thing as skiing in the valley, and there were certainly no ski instructors.

The video also includes an interview with Herve Gaymard, president of the Conseil General, who describes the birth of La Plagne as "a big moment in the history of Savoie's ski resorts"; Courchevel and Val d'Isere were already established, but this was before the advent of Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Val Thorens, Valmorel etc.  He also goes on to look ahead to the next 50 years:
  • The focus will be on "sustainable development"
  • They will be looking to renovate the existing apartments
  • Any future building will be "hotels or gites" - ie they will only allow the building of "lits chauds" which will have occupants through the season.  There is a clear plan to move away from "lits froids" - apartments which are only used by their owners for a week or two each season, a concern which is also evident in other resorts like Les Arcs

2012 will see the 25th anniversary of one of the great stages of the Tour de France: "and just who is that coming up behind.....IT'S STEPHEN ROCHE!!!  It will also be 10 years since Michael Boogerd won in La Plagne in an epic solo breakaway.  And of course there was Laurent Fignon's victory there in 1984.  Forget La Toussuire - history suggests it's high time for a repeat visit to La Plagne in the very near future.

You can keep up-to-date with La Plagne at the excellent www.perso-laplagne.fr.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

THE BIG SOCIETY AUX ARCS: Heated Debates

We have endless books and articles in English about how much greener things are on the other side of the Channel.  "The quality of life is so much better, the pace of life is slower, people are happier.  Not like over here...."  The reality is of course rather more mundane.

Bourg St Maurice is an isolated and not particularly wealthy town.  Tourism is of course the key sector, offering loads of seasonal work.  But the ski market has peaked, at least for now.  And it faces the forthcoming closure of the Chasseurs Alpins military base. More here.

With all this comes the issues, controversies and political disputes - large and small - that we will all be used to.  Here are five of them.

1.  Parking

A big issue where I live in Barnet - and a big issue in Bourg St Maurice-Les Arcs too.  A couple of years ago the local council declared that it could no longer afford the several hundred thousand euros a year cost of clearing up the snow.  Outrage ensued as plans for a new peage-style barrier at Arc 1800 took shape.  There were brief celebrations as the technology failed shortly after opening, but now the system is well and truly working. And both locals and proprieteres are not happy.  More on the practicalities of parking here.

2.  Les Proprieteres en colere


As Billy Bragg says, "There is Power in a Union".  You can join the Union des Proprieteres pour la Defense des Arcs (UPDA) here.  They, alongside the ADS (lift company) and the mairie, form a triange of interests who do not always get on.  Recent debates have included a long-running dispute called the "Affaire du Golf" which resulted in money being returned to the proprieteres, parking at Villards (which has witnessed something of a saga around both the old and new car parks) and the more recent "save the Maitaz" campaign (see below).

If you do park at the open-air site at Charvet, you may find yourself walking along a desolate pedestrian tunnel, then taking a lift up to the centre station.  There has been a huge argument here re who is responsible for its upkeep, this time between the local authority and the residents of the Pierra Menta block through which the lift runs.  As far as I can see, the proprieteres emerged as winners.

3.  Chantel

This is only a minor dispute these days in that the Edenarc plans have been in place for many years, and development has only really been delayed by slow sales.  Some locals and fans of the original Les Arcs architecture are unhappy - Claudie Blanc, for example.

That said, there were always plans to build on the Chantel site, even though it means the destruction of some very beautiful tennis courts.  Charlotte Perriand's original design for the site is here.

4.  New developments

You can read more about current and future developments, including the new lift at 1600 here.

Today's heated debate is all about the future of the Maitaz site, which is on the green piste to Villandry.  The discussions surround whether it is such a good idea to bulldoze such a beautiful site at a time when so much of the resort is empty for so much of the year.  This time the villain in many people's eyes is the Landy mairie.  You can read more at the Sauver La Maitaz Facebook page, and see the impact on the Route des Espagnols (aka the piste) here.  It looks like a debate which will run and run.

5.  Politics

Bourg St Maurice and the surrounding valley is traditionally a right-wing stronghold - Sarkozy recorded 60% in the last presidentielle.

2011 saw a political crisis which resulted in a third of the local councillors resigning as the Damien Perry-Daniel Payot administration collapsed in a Savoyard version of the TB-GBs.  This saw an un-triumphant return of former mayor and Jacqueline Poletti in a landslide victory, registering 61% of the vote.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

THE STORY OF LES ARCS: The Old Ski Area

La Plagne, along with George Clooney, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.  Back in 1961 things were also developing up the road in Bourg St Maurice, albeit in a quieter way.

The Espace Arcadien website tells the story, with the aid of some great pictures, and then goes on to provide what is probably the only history of how the lift system in Les Arcs has evolved over the years.

Back in those snowier days there was a piste right down to 800m, the foot of the new chairlift, by the Montrigon bridge.  A second chairlift went from Les Granges up to Courbaton.  By the mid-1960s various draglifts had opened up skiing on the Arpette plateau (site of today's Snowpark; see below).



Some other highlights (!):

1.  A cable car was built from Bourg St Maurice to Arc 1600 in 1974.  It closed a year after the opening of the funiculaire, in 1990.  This suggests its return on investment was, er, not very good.  You can see the old gare on the left of the tracks as you arrive at 1600.  If, like me, you have nothing better to do, you can take a ride on the funiculaire here.

2.  The Espace Arcadien site also provides a photographic record of the construction of your favourite lifts, including the Transarc (1992), Varet (1999) and Vagere (2003).  They don't seem to be updating the site at the moment, but the new lift at 1600 means that fast lifts now cover pretty much the whole ski area, with Pre St Esprit and Comborciere the only weak links remaining.



Saturday, 26 November 2011

THE STORY OF LES ARCS: Interview with Claudie Blanc

Claudie Blanc, daughter of Robert Blanc (founder of Les Arcs) is a communications professional and the subject of an interview in this month's edition of the excellent Alpes magazine.  There's lots here to on the birth of Les Arcs - more in her feature-length book: Shepherds' Dream...

It's a very different story to that of neighbouring La Plagne, for example, which is documented (in French and with fab photos) here.

Here are some key points from the Les Arcs story.

* She spent her early years at Courchevel 1850, where family friends included a certain Jean-Claude Kily - "really sympa, a lovely guy".  The Blanc family was originally from Hauteville-Gondon - a small farming village just outside Bourg St Maurice.

* She was (and remains) uber-proud of her father - who at that time symbolised the spirit of the pulls rouges of the ESF - who knew how to trampoline and get the animation of the resort going just as as well as they knew how to ski.

* Robert Blanc's expeditions in the high mountains had another goal:

"My father was exploring the future ski area of Les Arcs, and looking to convince people to invest in his dream: creating his station on his mountains of the Arc.  My mother told me this was non-negotiable for him.  He just had to find the right partner".

* Enter Roger Godino, a brilliant mind, educated in the US.

"This is what appears to me to be extraordinary in the whole story - it's that at this time a shepherd-come-ski instructor and an intellectual machine like Godino [who became the promoter of Les Arcs] were able to get on as equals.  Each knew and admired the talents of the other."

* Once the resort was estabished, Godino encouraged Blanc to concentrate on what he was best at: innovation.  It was clear that management of the ski area was not really his thing.

"With another ski-instructor friend, they conceived the ski evolutif methd which got people skiiing in 3 days using short skis.  Les Arcs was 30 years ahead.  The spirit of Les Arcs was to dare and to enjoy oneself."

* And then the unimaginable happened: on the 4 Feb 1980, Blanc was killed by an avalanche during an operation on the road up to Arc 2000.

* Her cv includes:

- born 1959 at Albertville
- 1973-77: in the France "B" ski team
- 1983-6: took part in the "Apocalypse Snow" films, shot in Les Arcs
- 1986-91: journalist at Ski Francais
- 1991-2: worked on communications at the Albertville Olympics
- Since 1995, various roles in Savoie tourism
- Since July 2011: deputy mayor at Hauteville-Gondon

* * *

There's lots more on Robert Blanc in the book.  He's certainly THE father-figure of the station, with his photo present in many of the shops and bars.  It reminds me a bit of the photos of Tito I recall from childhood visits to Yugoslavia.

What's not in here is the story of the landslide on the Les Arcs road, how the dreams of Les Arcs came crashing down with the resort almost going bust, or indeed her strong views on the current Edenwest development!  For another day....

Saturday, 19 November 2011

LES ARCS IN PICTURES: The Architecture

Les Arcs comes in for some criticism, at least from British visitors.  There was, however, a very clear plan:

*  To build something which fitted into the scenery, particularly when you are above the resort (contrast the scene below with what you see from the Funiplagne above Plagne Centre....)
*  To become a viable rival to some of the other, more established resorts.  This meant attracting the "middle market" of people who were (at the time) not taking ski holidays
*  To build a "station integree", with everything close at hand, away from cars etc
*  To make use of the latest building techniques, and (at the time) some of the latest latest architectural thinking

The resort's founder, Robert Blanc, was supported in his mission by two of France's leading architects, Charlotte Perriand and Bernard Taillefer, who loved the mountains, and who led the design of Arc 1600 (Perriand) and 1800 (where Taillefer designed the buildings and Perriand the interiors).  More on Charlotte Perriand here.  If you are familiar with the Edenarc development, you may also enjoy a snoop at Charlotte's original design for the Chantel site.   Finally, there is a useful section on the Les Arcs website here.

There are a series of phases to modern-day Les Arcs: 1968 (Arc 1600), 1974 (Arc 1800), 1979 (Arc 2000), 2003 (Arc 1950).  Below is a shot of Arc 1800 in the summer.



Perriand and Taillefer were not involved in Tignes, by the way.  Here is Val Claret:


Here is one of the most celebrated blocks in 1600, with views back up the Tarentaise:


Also at 1600 are these smaller apartments, just beside the Cachette lift:


The main "historic" blocks at 1800 are Belles Challes (below), Lauzieres and Pierra Menta.  The latter two are (in the main) studios of 30m squared, and sleep 5 (at a push). Belles Challes is a little more modest.


If you are keen, you can take a "historic walk" around the Charvet area of 1800 - to learn more.  Apparently it is now part of the Patrimonie du XXc.


The blocks in 1800 are large, but cut into the hill.  Charlotte Perriand was keen that they were not overlooked by other blocks, so that, from the kitchen, you could look out at the mountain landscape.  Below: Pierra Menta, with Mont Blanc straight ahead and the Arc 1800 ecole on the right.


In the summer, or indeed in winter if you are an off-piste skier, you can compare all this 
with what has been here for centuries - the sanctuary of Notre-Dame des Vernettes
in the Nancroix valley.  This is accessible from the Combe run above Peisey.





The interiors of the Les Arcs projet are worth a look - but this is probably 
enough for one day!


Click here for The Architecture: Part 2

Sunday, 30 October 2011

LES ARCS: 2011/12

Les Arcs opens its doors to skiers on 10 December (review of last season here).  A few things to look out for this winter:

Things kick off with the not-exactly-world-famous Les Arcs Film Festival , which runs between 10-17 December.  There will be 60 films, with a special focus on Italy.  There's a bit of a debate about whether the Festival is proving to be a worthwhile initiative, but the commitment has been made, and it's into its 3rd year now.  And, although early season snow has been patchy in recent years, it's a good excuse for pre-Xmas visit.  Tignes will also be open.

At Arc 1800, the big news this season is the opening of the long-awaited (by some, anyway) Edenarc apartments at the top of the Chantel lift.  It took a number of years to sell enough units off-plan, but now the chantier has begun, and stage 1 will be open in December, apparently.  Lots more on this at the Edenarc web site which includes a new webcam, showing where they've got to with the works, as well as the beautiful tennis court which will soon fall victim to the bulldozer :(

More noticeable to skiers will be the new lift at 1600, which will replace the old Mont Blanc chair, and open up the Deux-Tetes area.  The entire 1600-1800-Peisey Vallandry flank of the mountain (by far the most rewarding part of the ski area) is now covered by fast lifts.  For more, see the Building for the Future in Les Arcs posting.

Les Arcs wouldn't be the place it is without Paradiski and its wonderful marketing.  You can see this year's delightful "Lord of the Rings" promo here.  And, perhaps more to the point, we now have the opportunity to take advantage of the newly launched app.

To "reach out" to fellow Brits with news and views on Les Arcs, you can join the SnowHeads ski forum for Les Arcs here.

Finally, some more links to the various websites around the valley.  The official site is at www.lesarcs.com.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

BOURG ST MAURICE: The skiing

There are a few valley towns in France which are great bases for skiing: Embrun (Les Orres, Vars, Risoul etc), Briancon (Serre Chevalier, Montgenevre), Bourg d'Oisans (Alpe d'Hues, Les 2 Alpes, La Grave), Sallanches (Megeve, Flaine etc), Barcelonette (Pra Loup, Sauze).  Bourg St Maurice is perhaps the least attractive of these, but might claim to have the best access of all to nearby resorts.  For example:

0km: Les Arcs - see here for a review of 2010/12 and here for a quick drive up the mountain and view of the slopes.

8kmLa Rosiere - free bus from the Funicular (underneath the pedestrian bridge) 3-4 times a day to the Les Ecudets lift - includes access to La Thuile in Italy: see here for more.

18 km: La Plagne (from Les Coches).  Worth a trip over to the Champagny side for views towards Courchevel etc.  Nowhere near as good as Les Arcs, mind.  More on La Plagne, here, and on the Vanoise Express which links the pistes to Les Arcs here.

20m: Ste-Foy - still on my "to do" list, but everyone who goes there loves it: good snow conditions, interesting off-piste including the famous run to Le Monal, large vertical drop, small ski area - the antithesis of Les Arcs and L'Espace Killy.  Website here.

30km: Tignes, which of course includes access to its self-satisfied neighbour, Val d'Isere.  I suggest park in Les Brevieres or Les Boisses rather than drive into town - more here.


Plus, not too far away:


32kmLes 3 Vallees - my favourite area is the St Martin de Belleville/Les Menuires sector, including the under-rated and under-frequented La Masse.  You can drive up to St Martin, or leave the car in the valley at Brides-les-Bains and get the gondola up to Meribel.  There is also a cunning way in via the 4th valley and the Orelle lift, but this is only really for those staying in the Maurienne or day-tripping from Italy.  Website here.

40kmValmorel - really quite an easy day-trip and an interesting resort, which includes ski access to the celebrated (for Tour de France fans anyway) Col de la Madeleine.  Includes a link to St-Francois-Longchamp, over in the Maurienne valley.  You can get into the ski area from Doucy-Combelouviere, which is a little lower and has free parking on the main street.  A few pointers here.

80kmCrest Voland - I only include this (a) because I have been there and really like it and (b) because it is ideally placed for a day's skiing if you are then going on to an evening flight in Geneva.  It's a fast round all the way to Ugine, and you can park at Crest Voland, or indeed various resorts along the valley, including Megeve.

And, much closer to home:

0km (ie from your sofa): Local Websites: You can find a selection, including a great site devoted to La Plagne here.



Sunday, 16 October 2011

BOURG ST MAURICE: A Rough Guide

Bourg St Maurice rightly markets itself as the gateway to the local mountains, summer and winter.  Although it has some picturesque parts, it is unlikely to satisfy anyone looking for a cute town to base themselves in.  However, it does have a number of things going for it - Les Arcs, La Plagne, La Rosiere, Ste-Foy, Val d'Isere and Tignes are all within easy reach, and it's not too far to Valmorel, the 3 Vallees, or indeed the resorts near Albertville (eg Crest Voland and Areches Beaufort).

The town itself has seen its population rise in recent years - from 6750 in 1999 to around 8000 now (more facts and figures here).  It does face some "challenges" though, as the local army base, home to the Chasseurs Alpins, will shortly be closing, with the troops moving to Grenoble.  The town beat off competition from Chamonix to be the site of the new National Ski Training Centre for young skiers coming through the ranks, but the net effect on the local economy will clearly be negative.

There are endless arguments up the mountain about the management of Les Arcs, and indeed the local politics can be a bit tasty.  Bourg St Maurice council put its foot down and put an end to free parking at 1800 a couple of years ago, given that it was cositng several hundred thousand euros a year to maintain.  This did not go down too well with the locals and proprieteres.  Like Macot and Aime down the road, there are lots of discussions around long-term plans (Bourg St Maurice 2020); it's clear that Les Arcs is the "anchor brand" which will be at the centre of the area's PR and marketing.

On to more practical things.  You are likely to pass through if you are visiting the Haute Tarentaise, so here are a few tips:

1. If renting a car from a French airport, you can do one-way hires and leave the car/collect at Europcar in the main street (opposite the cinema).  You may find you can save money by doing this if you are staying for a week or so.  The downside, if hiring from Geneva Airport, is that you have to fiddle around going through customs to the French side, won't have a vignette for the Swiss motorways (cost is about 40 Euros), and will have feeble summer tyres rather than Swiss winter ones!

2. Parking at the funicular is free - they tried to introduce charges a few years ago, but the locals took the payment barrier down.

3. If you are passing through, stop for a French lunch at Le Tonneau on the roundabout by the bus station, or indeed for an American lunch at McDo's just a bit further on.  There is a v large sports shop by McD's, as well as Intermarche, Super U etc over the roundabout.

4. There are loads of buses of course to Tignes and Val d'Isere.  But there is also a free bus to La Rosiere which leaves from the funicular 2 or 3 times a day.  It drops you off at Les Ecudets lift - click here for more about La Rosiere.

5. If arriving/leaving on a Saturday, a quick tour of the market (from 8am) and coffee in one of the bars on the main street provides a reasonable interlude.

Bourg St Maurice is online here.

Also, one of the locals has set up a "TV station" which will give you a feel for the area, including summer activities.  There's also more about the area once the skiers have left here.

Eurostar to St Pancras during winter weekends

Sunday, 9 October 2011

FRENCH SKI RESORT LEAGUE TABLES (3): "Bien-etre et detente"

The final league table published by Alpes magazine looked at "bien-etre et detente" - again the translation "well-being and relaxation" feels a bit cumbersome.

Anyway, what the authors said they were looking for are:


...resorts for whom skiing is not everything, places where it's just as important to be close to nature, or simply to relax.  We've chosen resorts situated below 1500 metres, where it's the way of life, often symbolised by the small village and its clocktower, that is sought after - a certain "authenticity"...

The resorts were rated under the following categories:

Kms of snow-shoe walking trails
Sport
* Dog sledding
* Toboggan tracks
* Organised snow-shoeing activities
Whether or not they have a spa
Historic events
* Evening presentations etc
* Visits to the farm (!)
* Museums
Culture/activities
* Art galeries
* Markets
* Concerts
* Cinema
Other activities (eg guided tour of station, thermal baths)
Price of lift pass
Price of accommodation

And the winner is....Serre-Chevalier...which also came in 7th on the Grand Ski league tables, which makes it probably The Best All-Round Resort in France?  I've only been in summer, so can't comment.

The full listing includes some familiar names - and indeed all offer "Grand Ski" as well, in the form of a local area of 100kms plus:
1.  Serre-Chevalier (scores consistently: the ski-joering/horsey things and thermal-type baths seem to have won it)
2.  Megeve (would have won but marked down on price...)
3.  Chatel (the judges like the "famille-montagne" badge; again, marked down on price)
4. Valmorel
5. Saint-Gervais
6. Combloux
7. La Clusaz
8. Chamonix
9. Crest-Voland (click here for more on CV)
10. Brides-les-Bains
11. Saint-Martin-de-Belleville
12. Meribel

Sunday, 2 October 2011

FRENCH SKI RESORT LEAGUE TABLES (2): "Extreme Glisse"

This is the second category used by Alpes Magazine in their "Palmares des Stations" league table a couple of years ago.

I think the literal translation of "Extreme Glisse" is "Extreme Sliding", which falls a little short of what they mean.

What they are looking at is:

...stations which serve clients who are looking to discover a variety of things, with the emphasis on the technical....they place their accent on offering a range of different activities, for example off-piste, snowparks, boardercross...or indeed other activities away from the slopes like diving under the ice, parapente, ice climbing....

The categories they use to judge the winners are:

* Altitude
* Vertical drop
* No & variety of events
* Range of on-slope activities
* Range of off-slope activities
* Price of lift pass & accommodation

Alpe d'Huez wins its second award, offering the following delights: night skiing, telemark, snowpark, boardercross, helicopters, ski rando training, avalanche survival training and organised off-piste.  It falls down on its lack of kite-skiing and scuba diving under the ice (if you like the latter, you can go to Tignes, Orcieres and Chamrousse).

The full league table is below.  Some notable exceptions - for example La Plagne doesn't even make the long list!

1.  Alpe d'Huez
2.  Tignes
3.  Chamonix
4.  Les Arcs
5.  Les 2 Alpes
6.  Orcieres 1850
7.  Saint-Gervais
8.  Vars
9.  Chamrousse
10. Val d'Isere
11. La Clusaz
12. Les Contamines
13. Val d'Allos
14. Les Menuires
15. Risoul

Saturday, 24 September 2011

FRENCH SKI RESORT LEAGUE TABLES (1): "Le Grand Ski"

A couple of seasons ago, Alpes magazine ran a special issue called "La Palmares des Stations".   This ranked the different resorts under a series of categories.

The first is "Le Grand Ski" - ie an Ofsted-style league table aimed at those for whom the skiing is everything.

The magazine devised a complex scoring system which included:

- Height of top lift
- Vertical descent
- Range of pistes (see below)
- No of pistes
- Access to big ski area
- Events, competitions, etc
- Price of lift pass
- Price of accommodation

Perhaps the most interesting stat is the one on range of pistes.  They calculated the % of reds and blacks as a % of all pistes.  The higher the %, the greater the score - I've set this in brackets below.

Anyway, the winner is.....Alpe d'Huez, which got maximum scores on both height of top lift, vertical drop and number of pistes, as well as on price of accommodation (Serre Chevalier, Le Corbier, Chamrousse and Villard-de-Lans all did well here, too.  Courchevel, and indeed the Trois Vallees generally, did not.

Here is the full ranking (% red/black pistes):

1.  Alpe d'Huez (44)
2.  Les Arcs (48)
3.  La Plagne (33)
4.  Val Thorens (52)
5.  Vars (45)
6.  Chamonix (49)
7.  Serre-Che (50)
8.  Val d'Isere (44)*
9.  Tignes (47)
10. Les Menuires (51)
11. Meribel (43)
12. La Clusaz (37)
13. Chamrousse (48)
14. Avoriaz (43)
15. Courchevel (36)
16. Montgenevre (58)
17. Le Corbier (25)
18. Allos 1800 (51)
19. Villard-de-Lans (51)
20. Chatel (45)
21. Isola 2000 (26)

* Clearly, this assumes that all piste gradings are the same, which of course they aren't - cf the savage "blue runs" around Val d'Isere....

Sunday, 18 September 2011

WEBSITES OF THE TARENTAISE

All of the resorts have their own sites of course (my favourite is www.pralognan.com). The Les Arcs official site looks quite smart, but loses marks for not being kept up-to-date.  For example (on 27/12/11) the link to the piste map is for 2010/11 rather than the new 2011/12 version.  Here are some links to some other places on the web:

For Les Arcswww.espace-arcadien.fr.  The content is a tad out-of-date, but has good links to local webcams.

Also for Les Arcs: www.lesarcs.net will sell you chalet/apartment accommodation, but has lots more.

Finally, a bit more of a collector's piece: the Les Arcs film festival.  Oh yes.  There's still a bit of a debate about whether the investment has been worth the while (the idea was to extend the season, as part of a more "diverse" offer of activities....)

For La Plagnewww.perso-laplagne.fr.  This is a great site - lots about new developments, history of the resort, etc etc.  La Plagne fans who don't speak French will still enjoy the pictures.

For the weather: Meteo France.  This is the local forecast, with "previsions" for the next few days.

For getting excited/depressed about local snow conditionswww.snoweye.com.
This has just about every resort in Europe, with various cameras in the big reports...

For cyclingwww.grenoblecycling.com.  This is based further down the Isere valley, but includes descriptions of most of the main cols in the area.  Recent posts include video, which makes it doubly exciting.

To improve your Frenchwww.bourgstmaurice.tv was set up this year by an enterprising local.  And the regional newspaper www.ledauphine.com is worth a browse/a follow on Twitter.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

LA PLAGNE

La Plagne is one of France's best-known resorts, but arguably falls short of being one of THE best....

It has glacier skiing, but it's a pain to get to it.  Les Deux Alpes, Tignes and Val Thorens beat it here.

It has lots of skiing above 2000 metres, but not that much above 2600 - again unlike most of the other "big league" resorts.

It has a great area of easy skiing above the main centres, but gets very crowded above Bellecote in particular.  

It has numerous villages, each with different styles and strengths, but does feel a bit like a ski-conurbation, certainly in the main bowl.

It's linked to Les Arcs via the Vanoise Express, but it's a bit of a slog to get back.

Arguably it had a stronger position in the 1980s than it does now.  The advent of Paradiski aside, there hasn't been massive investment in the lifts.  It is the Everton of skiing.  Instead of Bill Kenwright, La Plagne can point to the literary folk and academics from Paris, who were instrumental in the development of the resort in the early 1960s, alongside the local movers and shakers in Aime and the valley below.


Like Everton, La Plagne still has a lot going for it:

1.  Loads of mountain restaurants, for example in the Montchauvin sector, or above Champagny.  Far more than Les Arcs.
2.  A proper "snow front" at Plagne Centre, with handy restaurants for mixed-ability parties to meet at.  Again, a big contrast with Arc 1800, which can't really compete in terms of handy foot-of-the-slopes rendez-vous points.
3.  New investment in lifts - see the fabulous perso-la plagne website here.
4.  Upgrading of the dilapidated shopping centre at Plagne 1800 - also documented in detail at the above website.
5.  A bobsleigh track, used during Albertville 1992 and earmarked for use in the doomed Annecy 2018 bid.
6.  A logo which has, er, stood the test of time.  Its history is documented here.
7.  200km of pistes, including some great areas away from the main bowl - Champagny, Montalbert, Les Coches.

Arguably Les Arcs has better views, on average.  But there can be few better places to stop for lunch and survey the scene than on the south-facing Champagny side, looking over towards Courchevel.

www.la-plagne.com








Thursday, 18 August 2011

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE: New Developments aux Arcs

Three developments in Les Arcs for this Winter and beyond.  Unless I am missing something, these are very separate initiatives, rather then part of a grand masterplan.

1.  A new lift at Arc 1600



This replaces the ancient Mont Blanc lift and effectively opens up an area of the mountain that has been little visited in recent years.  It should virtually eradicate queues from 1600.


2.  Edenarc

A development on the beautiful Chantel site above 1800 was first mooted by Charlotte Perriand and co, and those designs can still be seen in architecture archives.  She would not be impressed by the rather more conventional approach adopted by the Edenarc developers.  The first buildings look like they will open in December 2011, with more to follow.  For the moment the most beautiful tennis courts I have seen have survived, but their days are numbered....



3.  Aiguille Grive

A new 4-star hotel or residence "de grand standing" is planned on the site of the much-missed Aiguille Grive restaurant at the foot of the Charmetogger slopes in 1800.  A very large hole in the ground has duly emerged.  One for 2012 I think.

Friday, 29 July 2011

SUMMER IN LES ARCS: THE TOP 10

1. Cycling - it's where Miguel Indurain cracked in the 1996 Tour de France. Never the same again... 
2. Spot the development opportunity #1.  Capitalism in action: Gilles and Annick had to move out of the much loved Aiguille Grive.  It is now demolished and "the future site of a 4 star hotel".  Hmm  :(
3. Spot the development opportunity #2.  Probably the most scenic tennis court I've seen.  It will now have a wider market, as the site of the new "EdenArc" development...
4. It is always warmer inside this pool than out
5. At the top of the Transarc (2550m)
6. Remembering the ski season: Top of Cachette lift, Les Coches in the background (2100m)
7. L'urbanisme (1800m) et Le Mont Blanc (4810m)
8. Looking at Marmottes (2400m; below Transarc)
9. Le Golf: Les Arcs' nursery slopes
10. The Architecture.  Arc 1600 (opened in 1968)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

IS THE VANOISE EXPRESS THE HUMBER BRIDGE OF SKIING?

This may be a little harsh on the Vanoise Express, but there are times when one wonders whether, like the Humber Bridge, there really has been a return on investment.....


No doubt the Compagnie des Alpes, owners of the lift system in both La Plagne and Les Arcs, would disagree.  Its opening, in 2003, saw the creation of France's 3rd largest ski area, in the rather blandly titled Paradiski.  And its closure for the 2007-8 season was certainly met with gloom and despondency by local shopkeepers and traders.

You can read more about the technical specifications associated with the 4-minute ride across the Nancroix valley here.  And here's a link to the Lord-of-the-Rings-inspired Paradiski website.

The prevailing view seems to be that more go from the La Plagne side to Les Arcs than the other way round.  That said, it never seems to be particularly busy.

Rather than the Humber Bridge, perhaps the better analogy is with the Gateshead-Newcastle "Winking Eye" bridge: it links the two cities in a powerful and iconic way, without ever having too many making the crossing!

In this vein, here are some mountain bikers doing some very silly tricks earlier in the summer.

Looking back at Peisey Vallandry

Saturday, 16 July 2011

VALMOREL

Valmorel is the poor relation of the big Tarentaise resorts.

It seems to have lost its way somewhat, and is now competing against southern French resorts like Risoul or Puy St Vincent, rather than the Premiership resorts further up the valley.  It's more of a Nottingham Forest, or a Leicester City.  It's certainly part of the history of skiing (born in 1976, aiming to be more human-scale than the big purpose-built resorts, jobs to stem the rural exodus).  But it's no longer in the spotlight, and investment in the lift system over the years has been patchy.

That said, it has a big ski area (called, appropriately enough, La Grande Domaine), with more than 150k of pistes, shared with St Francois Longchamp, over in the Maurienne Valley.  It is not entirely forgotten - Crystal feature the resort as one of its 33 French destinations in their 2011/12 brochure.  And it's not entirely down-at-heel.  Club Med are building a new 5 star, 1500 bed, centre, which appears to have divided the locals.  To read more, see the French Wikipedia entry for Valmorel.  To see more, click here:
The facilities will be open in summer - a big deal for resorts these days.


Just a few tips about Valmorel:

1.  It's barely 30 mins from Albertville, so one of the handier resorts for a short trip
2.  It's close to a very special valley (Ceillac), which is for ski rando only, has a couple of small hotels and, unusually, a gondola straight into the skiing.  This would be a short ski stay with a difference.  Locals advised me that the road up to Ceillac would be narrow and icy, so I went to...
3.  Doucy-Combelouviere - a satellite suburb of Valmorel.  The road up there was narrow but not icy, and it is a bit closer than Valmorel centre, with easy parking on the main road and a semi-fast lift into the skiing
4.  St Francois-Longchamp.  The more interesting skiing is on this side.  The village isn't very appealing visually, but friendly.  Do not expect to see many Brits.
5.  Col du Mottet, on the Valmorel side.  This is proper, high(ish) skiing.
6.  Tour de France lovers will like the Col de la Madeleine.  You can find the summer road sign.  (I didn't).

www.valmorel.com

Sunday, 10 July 2011

TIGNES

Tignes is, of course, one of France's biggest and best known resorts - a skiing equivalent of Manchester City, perhaps: French Ski Resorts: The Premiership

It's white for most of the year - and, if you are keen, you can track the arrival of the season from about mid October onwards by visiting the Tignes website.  It rarely gets too hot here.  Here's a summer scene:




Tignes is clearly no beauty.  It's improving, though the austere setting means that a makeover will only go so far.  But it has a lot to recommend it, and in many ways is feels a lot more genuine than Val d'Isere, its show-off neighbour the other side of the hill.


If you're visiting Tignes, here are six good things about the resort:


1.  Parking at Les Brevieres (1550m) gives you direct access into the skiing - the drive from Bourg is less than 45 mins, and saves you another 600m vertical and having to find/pay for a spot in Lac.  Parking is free, although low marks for having no WC facilities at the main lift.  


2.  Parking at Les Boisses (at 1850m) is an alternative and you can either get a bus (15 or 45 past the hour) or lift up.  Be careful about the snowy car park if you don't have snowchains or winter tyres.


3.  The runs down to Les Brevieres (Black as well as the easier alternatives) have an away-from-it all feeling you don't get, for example, on the motorways between Tignes and Val.


4.  The Lagon sports centre in Lac is excellent (includes water slides etc and a gym used for "stages d'altitude" by French sports teams eg the very pink Stade Francais).  For a young family, including some non-skiers or kids who don't want to ski all day, this will add an extra dimension - worth staying close by though.


5.  The museum in the Maison de Tignes, charting the flooding of the old village and the history of winter sports in the area, is excellent.


6.  The ESF at Tignes does excellent one-to-one off-piste lessons, and the area is of course renowned for having lots of untapped territory.  Perhaps more interesting, though, are the collective "grand ski" courses the school runs, which include off-piste.  This is unusual, in my experience, and, like the Lagon, could give a week here a very different dimension.


Tignes claims to be the "most sportif" town in France, by the way.  It does always seem to be up to something - eg rather odd summer "beach rugby" tournaments.  The French football team trained here before their ill-fated trip to South Africa.  You can see the happy campers here.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

CREST VOLAND



Crest Voland (pronounced "Crevollon") is a small village in the Val d'Arly, on the road from Megeve to Albertville.  Despite (or maybe because of) its proximity to such an illustrious neighbour, it's fairly low profile.  But it is well worth a visit for anyone on a tour of resorts, as well as those looking for a family offer.


It's now part of a much bigger ski area - the slightly cumbersomely branded "Espace Diamond" being arguably only marginally less silly than Paradiski.  This gives 180kms of pistes, however, which is the equivalent of Les Arcs sans La Plagne.  You don't get the height of the "big league" resorts, but you do get:


1. Great views of the Arly valley and Aravis range beyond
2. A good sense of travelling from village to village
3. Good value prices: eg 26E for a Crest Voland-only pass
4. A genuine French alpine village - this means v fast lower slopes!
5. Good conditions for the height - in Feb 2011 there was quite a lot of snow at 1200m. Les Granges, below Les Arcs, for example, was utterly green at this time.


Definitely not a place for late holidays - there's very little skiing above 2000m.  Worth thinking about if you're looking for something more traditional but want to avoid the traffic and town-ness that comes with a Megeve or similar.


www.crestvoland-cohennoz.com

Saturday, 18 June 2011

LA ROSIERE

UPDATE: 19 January 2013. The future is bright...



Things are changing quite quickly in La Rosiere.  The British Chalet companies like it, there is a new fast lift for 2012/13 to replace the old and slow Fort lift on the way over to Italy....and expansion is planned for 2016/7, with two new lifts scheduled for the Les Eucherts area, along with an additional 40km of pistes.  Bringing the "Espace San Bernado" up to 200kms, this will take La Rosiere right back into the Premiership.

Here are some shots of the area from a January 2013 visit.  Once on the La Thuile side a recommended route is the "Tour" - it brings you onto the "main road" (aka the piste), with a couple of options for lunch.

The Les Arcs pisteurs recommend "La Grotta", which involves being picked up at the foot of the La Thuile lifts apparently.



The green run from the top of the Ecudets chair (1)
The green run (2)
The border.  Take the long red (No 18,
 then No 6) to La Thuile:
1200m of descent
Going back to La Thuile along the "road"
(Piste No 7)
Back in La Rosiere: the restaurant above the Eucherts lift


18 June 2011

La Rosiere's profile seems to have been on the wane in recent years....


Villaroger on the right, Tignes in the background

Without wanting to over-stretch the comparisons with football clubs, it's probably on the Premiership/Championship borders.  Earlier in the year I thought it was probably Birmingham.  And they got relegated.  It has some good lifts, varied terrain (if you include the Italian side) and decent vertical descents.




But it's the views, I think, that make me very, very keen on La Rosiere.  

Coming from Bourg St Maurice, take the N90, go through Seez and its various suburbs and then after a few kms take a left and park at the Les Ecudets lift.  This is at about 1100 metres and means you can avoid the long drive right to the top. You can buy a ticket and get a coffee here, but you can't rent skis.  There are occasional buses from the Bourg funiculaire to Ecudets - one leaves at 9am for example.

The resort itself is modern but feels more of a "place" than its purpose-built neighbours.  The more upmarket accommodation seems to be at Ecudets, which is a suburb slightly away from the centre, served by its own fast lift.

The area above La Rosiere is very flattering - easy red cruising as you look down the valley towards La Plagne or up towards Tignes.  It doesn't seem to get too busy - eg in February half term it was much more fluid than Les Arcs.

Going over to Italy does feel like a trek.  There are two seemingly endless drags while still (just) in France which do make you wonder if it's all worthwhile.  Then there are basically two routes into Italy: take the summer road and weave your way down, or take the higher route.  I'd recommend the latter.  Once over the top, go down via Pontelles and Nuova – this red run is a minor classic – it goes from 2600 to 1400m, away from the lifts, taking you from big open pistes close to the glacier and then down through the trees on a fast and bumpy piste.

The big issue I have when over on the Italian side is that I’m always nervous about getting back (the Col du Petit St Bernard is notoriously windy and prone to generally iffy weather).  I need to go back, relax, and explore the Italian side some more.  It has a good-ish lift system and feels away from the crowds.




Close to "the border", at the top of La Thuile

Restaurants on the Italian side are generally described as average, though friendly and vaguely Italian.  I'd agree with that.    

For some people – eg a real mixed ability party with some adventurous intermediates and some beginners - it could be perfect for a week.

Keener folk could get bored, but definitely worth a day trip if you are staying in one of the big Tarentaise resorts.  You do get much more of a sense of adventure than in a Tignes or Val d'Isere.  And those views...


www.larosiere.net