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FEATURED
This year's festival runs from 16-23 Dec. Click on the photo for more

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