Bourg St M Town Hall, Dec 2017. Has "Architecture of XX Century" status, alongside cinema & Arc 2000 cable car station. Click on photo for more

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