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

Monday, 17 December 2012

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? New lifts for Les Arcs

It's more than 50 years since the first ski lift appeared in the area, linking Bourg St Maurice to Les Granges.  And the last 10 years have seen some big changes, with draglifts almost eradicated.  The whole Arc 1600/1800/Peisey flank of the valley can now be negotiated using fast chairs - more on the history here.

Before the Edenarc: The Chantel site at Arc 1800

The excellent Espace Arcadien site has carefully prepared a series of short essays on each lift.  Among the fascinating facts:
  • The Peisey Lift was the first Leitner construction in France, and isn't ageing well
  • The Pré-Saint-Esprit lift, at 15 minutes, is the slowest in Les Arcs
  • The Bois de l'Ours lift reduced journey times from 7 mins to 3, and waiting times from 20 mins to 5...

What next?

It seems the next developments will be at Arc 1800, with a chair and potentially a mini-gondola to serve Chantel and Edenarc.

Meanwhile, no-one is clear when the 32-year old Pré Saint Esprit will finally be pensioned off. Espace Aradien reckons maybe around 2015.

And some have dreams that the Col de la Chal (the slope facing the Nancroix valley on other side of the Transarc) will be opened up by a new chairlift.  Others - the mairie at Peisey, the départemet and "the ecologists" are less keen.  This projet is very very unlikely to ever see the day. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012


To bring you up to speed with all things to do with Les Arcs:

1.  Here's a bluffer's guide.

2.  Here's an A-Z of the area.

3. And here are the key dates in the resort's history:

1961: First ski lifts, at 850m, from Bourg St Maurice to Les Granges
1968: Arc 1600
1974: Arc 1800

THEN: Pierra Menta, Arc 1800 (Charvet), 1970s
NOW: Arc 1800 (Charmetogger): The site of the former
Aiguille Grive restaurant, now being developed
 as a hotel, 2011-12
1979: Arc 2000
1980: Death of Robert Blanc
1982: Link to VIllaroger opens
1996: Tour de France arrives at Arc 1800
2003: Arc 1950
2009: Les Arcs Film Festival
2011: Opening of stage 1 of Edenarc at Arc 1800

For more, see the Les Arcs Wikipedia entry, which includes the installation dates for every single lift....

Sunday, 9 December 2012

THE BIG SCREEN: The Les Arcs Film Festival

Les Arcs has a number of cinemas: Bourg St Maurice (which has a special architecture of the 20th century label), Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950...

But it has only recently had its own film festival.

It's never been a resort which opens really early, ie the minute December arrives and there's enough snow.  It's too far from Geneva & Lyon, and has no "special features" like the glaciers of Tignes or Les 2 Alpes.

The Film Festival has become a real focal point around the start of the season.  Without it, the slopes would be the preserve of Staffordshire, Surrey and Coventry universities (who are on the agenda for this season).

It started slowly, but seems to have found its niche.  More here.  The idea is that it is an opportunity for independent film from across Europe to get a good airing.  Each year there is a "special focus" (Belgium in 2012), and each year there are various meetings and workshops for film makers, producers, etc.

The official site is here.

Salle Bernard Taillefur - the Arc 1800 equivalent of the Millennium  Dome

Alongside the 14 Belgian films there are also French premiers for two British productions, namely I, Anna and Shadow Dancer.  Thanks to www.lesarcsnet.com for the link.

Along with all these films are some quite good posters.  La saison de ski, c'est parti!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

GOING DOWNHILL FAST: The Bobsleigh Track at La Plagne


Olympic Games fever: This month sees Ferrari spending time at the La Plagne track as they test their new 2-man bob for the Italian bobsleigh team.

Updated 22/12/12

The La Plagne bobsleigh track was built for the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games::

Albertville was awarded the Games in 1986, and the track was built between 1988 and 1990; more here.

It's the only track in France, and appeared as part of the disastrous Annecy 2018 bid. (Here's some footage of the anti-JO campaign celebrating, by the way).

Indeed, given that it is the only one in France, it also formed part of the Grenoble 2018 bid as well (the venue for the 1968 Olympics, along with Nice, losing out to Annecy for the right to be France's "candidate city").  It's worth a look at the Grenoble promotional video, as it's truly dreadful:

Annecy's loss was a big blow to the La Plagne track; 6m€ were spent on the track in 2008, and it costs 800-900,000€ to keep it going each year.  In an article in Le Dauphiné last year, the Mayor of La Plagne put a brave face on things, but did say that they will need to redouble their marketing efforts to attract people to the site - more here.

For the moment, the track doesn't seem to be falling into dispute.  Indeed it hosted a round of the Bobsleigh World Cup in 2012, and is open for business until 7 April.

Here's a link to the La Plagne bobsleigh club's site.  And from the official site, here's the "Bob Experience".  Last season's prices ranged from 39€ for a place in an automatic "bob-raft" (80km/h)  to 111€ for 3 people to go in the real thing, together with a professional driver, and reach 120 km/h....

You can read more about what it's like to take the trip in this Guardian article from December 2012.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

THERE IS POWER IN A UNION: L'Union des Propriéteres pour la Défense des Arcs

An isolated town, which has just lost its army base.  A large ski resort with a surplus of studio apartments, mostly owned by private individuals who leave them empty for much of the year ("lits froids").  The desire of developers to build on virgin sites.  A flat market for winter holidays, and a summer season that barely keeps things ticking over.   Here's an overview of some of the local issues and controversies.

Before Edenarc: The Chantel site

One voice in the local scene is the Union des Propriétaires pour la Défense des Arcs (UPDA), set up in 1992 by 30 propriétaires from Villards (Arc 1800).  They had become fed up with how their copropriétés were being managed, and increasingly clear that they needed to develop a common voice against the lift company, local council etc.

Today the UPDA boasts 1800 members (out of a total of 3,800 propriétaires in Arc 1800 and Arc 2000).  They say they are making progress in transforming Les Arcs into a station where the apartment owners are taking an interest in the future of their resort, and point to a number of successes in their various battles.  Here are some of them:

1. The La Maitaz plateau - victory has just been announced in the fight to stop a new hotel being built at the edge of Charmetogger, on the green piste/summer road to Vallandry.  This is a special site, beautiful in summer and winter, and its preservation is great news.

2. Clashes with the local mairie.  The UPDA is clear that all the electors are in the valley, while much of the money is collected at altitude, not least from the taxes paid by the propriétaires.  "Pay up and shut up" is the local maxim, it seems.  Some of this unhappiness was evident in the debates over the setting up of the new car parking charges for Arc 1800.  They continue to campaign for more transparence, and more of a neutral stance from the municipality.

3.  Dismantling the monopoly of the SMA (the former lift company, which controlled just about everything in the resort, including renting apartments, ski shops etc).  It claims some success here, pointing to an increase in property values (the arrival of Paradiski and investment by the Compagnie des Alpes, Intrawest etc may also have contributed here....).  There has been a long-standing dispute about who pays for the Golf course (now resolved), and there remains a lot of unhappiness about parking in Villards which I haven't quite fathomed out.

The shopping area at Charvet, Arc 1800

4. Moving the resort upmarket - the UPDA is campaigning for moving the marketing/positioning of the resort upmarket, and becoming more familial.  It points to its various plus points: the "avant-gardiste" architecture, the beauty of the site, the pedestrian villages.  And it is aghast at the "barbaric hordes" who show up on coaches with their "packs of discount beers", not to mention some "poorly chosen" seasonal workers - the result of the misguided mass-market strategies of the SMA and its successors Pierre & Vacances, Maeva etc.  (I'm sure the forthcoming visitors from Staffordshire, Surrey and Coventry universities do not fall under this category....)

5. Improving security - they have been unhappy with the lack of attention played by the local police notably the gendarmerie of Bourg St Maurice.


The founder of the Union, Gilbert Driancourt, died in 2009.  But the UPDA continues, for example in its work to ensure that the annual meeting of the copropriétes are quorate, and the views of the propriétaires are heard.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Updated 16 January 2013

This winter sees a new competition coming to the Alps - snow rugby.  Enter Le Tournoi des 6 Stations, which will take place during the rest period of the annual Six Nations tournament.  Official website here, and the latest news, including captains of the teams, here.

Rugby is no stranger to the area.  Tignes regularly hosts beach rugby competitions during the summer, and it is a favourite training camp for Stade Francais.

But this new competition, brainchild of @yanndelaige, will take place in the middle of winter, and indeed right in the middle of the French school holidays.  It is a "new, fresh and original" concept, says Yann.  A melange of slalom and rugby sevens is promised, and stars of rugby (including Marc & Thomas Lievremont, Serge Betson) and the ski slopes (Luc Alphand, Antoine Deneriaz) have signed up.  Orangina and Peugeot have signed up too:

Press Conference in Paris, November 2012

The event takes place between 26 Feb and 3 March, with the final chapter taking place at La Clusaz apparently.  The other participating resorts are La Plagne, Les Menuires, Courchevel, Valmorel and Chamonix.

One of the aims is to initiate people into rugby.  Of the "Top 14", only Stade Francais and Racing Metro are located outside its southern heartlands, so presumably the idea is that the sport has quite a lot of untapped potential.

There's more background here in the official video of the press conference, which include a heroic photo shoot in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

What is worth a look is the official trailer, which shows you what playing rugby sevens with crampons is really like....

Alongside the website, you can follow developments Le Tournoi's Facebook Page.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

LES ARCS v LA PLAGNE: Head-to-head

When it comes to Les Arcs and La Plagne, in many ways it really is too close to call.  La Plagne's ski area is very slightly bigger; Les Arcs is (according to Where to Ski and Snowboard) very slightly cheaper.  Both have skiing from over 3000m down to 1200m. Neither is particularly good for non-skiers.  Etc.

La Plagne has to win on its more creative marketing, and they did a good job at publicising their 50th anniversary last year.  More here.

Below are three further areas where I'd put La Plagne ahead of Les Arcs....

1. Loads more mountain restaurants

Cross over from the Peisey side, and the contrast is marked.  La Plagne has miles more places to eat than Les Arcs, and the Montchauvin/Les Coches area seems particularly well served.

2. A richer Tour de France history

The dramatic "it's Stephen Roche!!"arrival on the line in 1987 (in La Plagne) has to beat Les Arcs' claim to fame as the climb which signalled the end of the Miguel Indurain era. Click on the links for more on La Plagne and Les Arcs in Le Tour.

3. A more extensive glacier

The La Plagne glacier is more extensive than its counterpart at the top of the Aiguille Rouge, and was open for summer skiing until relatively recently.  There's investment going in here too, with a new lift for 2012/13.

And here's where Les Arcs has the edge:

1. Historic architecture

Yes, really!  Les Arcs had a "grand plan" which was followed reasonably consistently during the 1968-1980 period, as Arc 1600, 1800 and then 2000 took shape.  It's now got a "historic site of France" label, and you can treat yourselves to tours of both 1600 and 1800.  More here.

Hotel du Golf, Arc 180

2. Easier to get to, easier to explore

Bourg St Maurice beats Aime for having the bigger train and bus station, and of course for the funiculaire direct to Arc 1600.  Connections to La Rosiere, Tignes and Val d'Isere are easy even for those without a car.

3. A Premier League snowpark

La Plagne's park is OK, but the Les Arcs set-up is widely viewed as one of the best in France:

4. Vertical drop

The 2000m descent from Aiguille Rouge to Villaroger gives Les Arcs the lead here, at least in terms of official pistes (there are some pretty long runs down from the Bellecote glacier.....)

Villaroger in April

Saturday, 3 November 2012

LES ARCS v LA PLAGNE: Le Marketing

With the ski season approaching fast, it's local derby time.  Which one is best - La Plagne...or Les Arcs?  Here's a first installment....

Setting the two resorts head-to-head, there can only be one winner when it comes to marketing.  Les Arcs 0 - 1 La Plagne.

Let's look at the logos first.  You can still see the original "Les Arcs" logo in some parts of the resort, including on the Varet gondola.  It was replaced by the new version in the early 2000s - and both are pleasing designs....

I am less in love with the ghastly Arc 1950 logo, which lacks any character or subtlety whatsoever.  A bit like Arc 1950 itself, one might say:

Meanwhile, over in La Plagne we have THE classic logo.  On the one hand, it's deeply silly.  But it's stood the test of time, going through various reincarnations, and is a lot of fun.  There really can only be one winner!

La Plagne also wins in terms of having the best website.  

It's not quite as flashy as the Les Arcs site, but there's a lot more there.  Basically it's been given more love and attention, and it shows.

On the La Plagne site, take the "virtual flight tour" under "Guide", to get yourself salivating ahead of your next visit...

Another (non official) site is the excellent www.perso-laplagne.fr  which includes an "exhibition" of La Plagne's marketing through the years, including skipass designs etc here.

On the Les Arcs side, there is an excellent website called http://www.espace-arcadien.fr/ which is packed with history etc, albeit updated less frequently.

More on websites of the Tarentaise here.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

LES ARCS 2012-13: A Rough Guide

If you're in Les Arcs this winter, here are 10 things you can drop into conversations to impress the locals and/or bore your fellow skiers:

1.  The bond with Bourg St Maurice

It's more than just the funicular to 1600: Les Arcs IS Bourg St Maurice's ski resort.  They are marketed jointly as Bourg St Maurice-Les Arcs, they are part of the same local government commune, and there is a daily commute of workers up and down.  Aime's relationship with La Plagne is similar.  Bourg is not a particularly wealthy town, and the economic impact of departure of the Chasseurs Alpins soldiers during Summer 2012 is a big concern.  The locals are called les borains.  People "from Les Arcs" are arcadiens. Locals over at Peisey are peiserots.

Bourg St Maurice, looking towards La Rosiere

2.  Founded by Robert Blanc

The founder of Les Arcs was from a farming family based in Hauteville-Gondon (just outside Bourg), who spent the summers with their sheep in what is now the Arc 2000 valley.  His dream was to come back and see a ski resort above his home town.  Arc Pierre Blanche (now 1600) was duly launched in 1968.  Robert Blanc was killed in an avalanche looking for lost skiers on the road up to 2000 in 1980.  More here.

3.  The resort nearly went bust in the 1980s

It all went a bit horribly wrong for Les Arcs, and a landslide on the road to 1800 did not help.  This prompted a transfer of power away from Blanc's business partner Roger Godino and land was sold to other developers.

4.  A pioneer of snowboarding

Apocalypse Snow...

Les Arcs always fancied itself as a home of les nouvelles glisses, for example in being the capital of the ski evolutif means of teaching beginners.  The Apocalypse Snow films were filmed in Les Arcs during the early 1980s....

5.  The old ski area around Courbaton

When you arrive at Arc 1600 you will see a dilapidated building on your left.  This is the former cable car station from the "old", pre-Les Arcs ski area.  More here.

6.  Intrawest

Arc 1950 was developed by the Canadian developers Intrawest during the early 2000s.  It is much loved by the Brits and, increasingly, by Russians.  The introduction of the Bois de l'Ours and Marmottes lifts were a direct result of the "resort" opening.

7.  Mountain Biking

The Cachette piste above Arc 1600 is a racing (slalom) course during the winter.  In summer there is a serious MTB descent route down its western flank.  If you're driving up to the resort, comment on how difficult the climb is, and remind your friends that this was where Miguel Indurain met his end during the 1996 Tour de France.

The top of the Cachette

8.  Architecture: a national treasure...

Not everyone loves the original architecture.  But it was part of a broader vision, starting on a relatively small scale at 1600, and moving on to the mass-construction methods deployed in Arc 1800 and later Arc 2000.  You can go on a tour if you are staying in 1600 and 1800, and you can read all about it here and here.

Pierra Menta, Arc 1800 (1978)

9.   Paradiski

The new lift to La Plagne opened in 2003.  Although no-one ever actually admits it, traffic between the two stations is far lower than predicted, but Paradiski must go down as a success in being able to promote La Plagne and Les Arcs as one of the top ski destinations in Europe.  More on the link here.

10.  Local sports

When you drive through Bourg St Maurice, comment on FC Haute Tarentaise, which is based in both Bourg and Aime - two towns together etc.  You may also see the Isere bubbling away.  This is one of the best white water rafting sites in Europe.  On the slopes you may see the Les Arcs' Ski Club training in their day-glo suits.  They are one of the best development squads in France.  The most famous local skier, however, is a "Plagnard", namely Jean-Luc Cretier.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


James Bond didn't get where he is today without being a good skier.

This clip from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) credits Zermatt, but there's no mention of this in the Wikipedia entry for the film.

This may be the most famous clip of all.  From the top of Murren's Shilthorn, the Escape from Piz Gloria.  Includes some impressive descending by Bond on one ski:

The scene from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is apparently (mostly) shot in St Moritz:

For Your Eyes Only (1981), filmed in Cortina, includes the famous but tragic bobsleigh scene - it saw one of the stuntmen killed on the final day of filming.  More here.

This clip from A View To A Kill (1985) includes what may be the first appearance of snowboarding in a Bond film (after 0.46).  Although billed as "Siberia", it was shot in Iceland.

From The World Is Not Enough (1999), here's Chamonix, pretending to be the Caucasus:

Finally, from @coulson_tom, a "mash-up" bringing the whole bizarre set of scenes together:

Sunday, 30 September 2012


The economic crisis has brought with it a sharp decline in the number of Brits on the pistes, and some quite marked changes in where we go.  The clear winner in this difficult market is Austria - click here for a handy guide to the resorts.

The most comprehensive set of data over time comes from Crystal, who seem to be compiling the information on the market in a reasonably consistent way.  Here's the 2012 report.

The headline is that the total number of British skiers in 2011/12 was 894,700, a 1.8% decline on the previous season.  

However, this compares to 1,227,000 in 2007/8, so we are talking about a 27% fall compared with pre-crisis.  Indeed there are now fewer Brits going skiing than there were in 2000/01, when 921,000 hit the slopes.

Crystal's figures show 57% going with an operator, and 30% travelling independently. They also report a decline in the school market, something which @ernalow highlight as a cause for concern in their analysis of the data.

By county, there are some big changes.  Here's the Top 7 in 2011/12:

La Thuile, Piemonte

1. FRANCE: 34.6%
2. AUSTRIA: 27.9
3. ITALY: 15.4
4. Andorra: 6.5
5. Switzerland: 4.9
6. USA/Canada: 4.5
7. Bulgaria: 2.7

And, back in 2006/7:

1. FRANCE: 37.1
2. AUSTRIA: 19.0
3. ITALY: 13.8
4. Andorra: 11.1
5. USA/Canada: 7.9
6. Switzerland: 5.1
7. Bulgaria: 2.8

By my maths, this means that the total number of skiers going to Austria has risen, from 130,000 to 143,000.  Although their market share is down on 5 years ago, France has improved its relative position, and with the Compagnie des Alpes increasingly in charge of the show, and the quality of accommodation still improving, does look ready to hold its own at the very least.

The picture in Switzerland, on the other hand, is quite acute, with the latest release glumly reporting a 30% fall on 2008/9.  See this report from @Planetski, including details - and a promotional video - of what the Swiss are doing to fight back.  The North Americans, meanwhile, are having a terrible time, and investment in infrastructure is now at its worst for years.  Crystal do report, however, that Whistler is doing well.

Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs - looking towards Tignes

Another way of looking at this data comes from @skipedia, who recently reported on the total number of skier days - this being the metric used more in Europe as a benchmark. This shows a 17% decline since 2007/8, from 8.5m to 7.1m.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

WHERE TO SKI? Winners and Losers 1995-2013

The excellent Where to Ski and Snowboard 2013 is now available - it's easily the best guide to resorts, their rude comments about Les Arcs' architecture notwithstanding.

As its name suggests, it's an annual publication, which first appeared in 1995.  A look at that first book tells us which resorts have maintained and/or strengthened their position, and which are on the wane, at least in the British market.

One change, of course, has been in the title of the book - the original guide did not include the word "Snowboard", although there was a chapter devoted to the growth of "Le Surf", as the French used to call it.

"It is estimated that by the year 2000, 
one in three people riding the lifts 
will be a snowboarder"

Not sure if the snowboarder ratio ever got to quite that level; certainly in Les Arcs last year, the number wasn't getting much above 10%.

Back to the resorts.  Then - and now - the bulk of the guide is devoted to chapters on the main destination.  There were more chapters in 1995 than in the latest edition, with the net effect being there are more resorts who have "lost" their individual chapters than there are winners/newcomers.

In France, the winners - each now proudly boasting their own chapter - are Samoens, La Tania and Les Gets.  The losers are La Clusaz, Les Contamines, Valloire, Isola 2000 and Valmorel.

In Austria, the main winner this year is Soelden.  It was in the original guide, but then lost its place, and has now been rightly restored as "Austria's best kept secret", with its 130km of pistes, near-2000m vertical descent and, er, varied nightlife.

WTSS 2013 also gives good coverage to the Vorarlberg region.

A number of Austrian resorts are no longer covered in detail - the most notable perhaps being Zell am See, Zell am Ziller and St Johann in Tirol.  Each were mainstays of the ski brochures during the 1980s and 1990s.

Other Austrian resorts no longer covered include BKK, Fieberbrunn, Galtur, Innsbruck and Niederau.

In Italy, Bormio is out, with Passo Tonale and the Trentino region on the rise, each boasting a chapter for 2013.

Finally, Switzerland.  Arosa, Flims, Lenzerheide and Les Diablerets no longer justify a chapter.  The rising star is clearly the Val d'Anniviers, with four pages now devoted to Zinal, Grimentz et al.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


The verdict on the 2011/12 season was something like this: OK-ish in the French Alps, not too good in the Pyrenees and shocking in Switzerland: more here.  For the Austrians, the good news is that they are taking market share from their Swiss rivals.  The less good news is that Austria is down 2% on last year.

Les Arcs' lift system is part of the Compagnie des Alpes
portfolio,  and they're doing rather well.    See their results here

As the excellent @adepierrefeu has uncovered, the big news is that France has overtaken the US as the No1 ski country.  This is not the result of a stellar French season in 2011/12 (up a modest 3%); it's due to a drastic fall in the US numbers, down 16%.  The US saw the worst season since 1991-92.  Europe's poor snowfalls of 2010/11 were replicated last year in the States, with 50% of American resorts opening late and 48% closing early - particularly unwelcome when skier numbers will not grow as a "natural result" of growing incomes and optimism about the future.  You can read the release from the US National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) here.

Using these figures, it looks like the recent "evolution" for French skiing, measured by the number of ski days each year, are as follows:

2008/9:    58.5m
2010/11:  53.7m
2011/12:  55.3m

If the decline in France has been halted, things don't seem quite so good the other side of the border, if this summer's figures are anything to go by.  Via @snowslider, we find Swiss hotels registering a 7% fall in hotel stays during July compared with the previous year, with a particularly sharp fall in the Lake Geneva region.  Switzerland is being quite successful in attracting Russian and Chinese visitors, but the numbers remain small, and are yet to offset the decline in visitors from Europe.  It looks like this coming winter could be a difficult one for nos amis Suisses.

Cause for Lucerne?  Hard times for the Swiss tourist industry

Saturday, 1 September 2012


Here, in no particular order, are ten videos all about Les Arcs and its environs.

1.  The Beginning of the End for Miguel Indurain

Tour de France, 1996.  "Big Mig" has a jour sans on the road to Les Arcs.  Chris Boardman finds it a tad tricky too.  More here..

2.  Top Gear aux Arcs

Watch Hammond et al descend from Arc 1950 to Villaroger.  By car.  Racing against the locals.  On skis.

3.  Skiing Today

Courtesy of my daughter.

4.  Ski Joering:

Les Arcs seems to be one of the few places to practice this, er, unique activity.

5.  Tour de France 2009

Sadly, they stopped in Bourg St Maurice rather than making the climb up to Les Arcs.  And the winner of the stage was later tested positive.  More here.

6.  The 7e BCA

The Chasseurs Alpins have now left Bourg St Maurice - a big event, and one which will take some adapting to on a whole range of levels.

7.  Mountain Biking on the Cachette

The red run above 1600 morphs into a notable VTT descente in summmer:

8.  Panorama

This starts rather higher up, and gives a wonderful overview of Les Arcs' terrain during the summer.

9.  Welcome to Paradise

It's hard to love the official Paradiski branding but hey ho:


10.  The "LA Session"

I think the days of these February meetings have now gone, but they were quite something...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A WEEK IN ARC 1800: The Non-Skier's Guide

Updated 10 Feb 2013

Les Arcs cannot claim to be the best destination for non-skiers.  All is not lost, however. Here are some things to do if you are going to be in Arc 1800 for a week, and have some time to kill....


Take the bus to 1600 and then the funicular down to the market in Bourg Saint Maurice. The Grand Rue is quite animated, and the assembled stalls sell more cheese, ham and jam than you can shake a stick at.  There's even a horse butcher.  It starts at 8 and is over by lunchtime, so you'll need to be organised.  After lunch you could have a swim in the municipal pool, which is on the road to Tignes and Les Arcs.


To the top of the Transarc to see the Grotte de Glace.  This is actually quite good - each year there is a different theme.  During November they create an ice cave, and then expert sculptors do their thing.  The only downside is that the adjacent restaurant (La Creche) isn't Les Arcs' finest.  But it's a good place to meet skiers and the view from the terrace looking over to the Nancroix valley is great.  The Transarc is one of the lifts open to non-skiers (see below).


Snow-shoe walking.  This "snow art" below the Varet lift (below) was created by a gifted snow-shoer, by the way.  (Search for "Simon Beck" on Google to see his latest work). There are quite a lot of organised outings - Arc Aventures have a daily programme, as do the ESF in both 1800 and 1600.  Some outings go from the top of the Tranarc; others in the forests above 1800 and particularly in the 1600/Courbaton sector.


Les chiens de traineau are not cheap, but it is an amazing experience.  Their kennels have now moved from the Comborciere lift to Arc 1800, so the dogs can be closer to their clients.  More here.  



Check in at the Hotel du Golf.  You can get good deals out of high season if you book direct.  And they now have a small pool/spa complex which will be nice and quiet during the day.


Running out of options here, but today might be the day to take the bus round to Arc 2000 and meet your skiing chums at the Chalets de l'Arc (more on restaurants in Les Arcs here.)   Pedestrians can (just about) make it to the Varet lift, and onwards to the Aiguille Rouge at 3226m).

If it snows or rains, the option of going to see a film in Arc 1800 and Arc 1600 is sadly no longer available.  (The cinema in Bourg St Maurice on the main road is a listed building by the way).  Occasionally some of the big blockbusters are shown in "v.o.", with English subtitles.  Of course if you come before Christmas, you can immerse yourself in an entire film festival.


Connect with the "real France" by going back down to Bourg St Maurice and taking the train to Chambéry, which has a lovely setting, a fine old town and some good shopping.

Chambéry is, by some distance, the largest town in Savoie, is the capital of the department, a university town and one of the few places in the area to vote for the Parti Socialiste.  More on the town here.

It is also home to a noted handball team, which regularly records attendances of 5,000+.


The tourist and lift pass offices sell a special "pedestrian guide", which includes one or two other attractions eg the "luge run", which goes from the top of the Transarc down to Arc 2000.  A day's lift pass for pedestrians was €16.50 in 2011/12, with the following lifts on offer: Transarc 1 and 2, Arcabulle, Vallandry, Vanoise Express and the Funiculaire.

Monday, 23 July 2012

AU REVOIR: Les Chasseurs Alpins leave Bourg St Maurice

Earlier this month the 7e Chasseurs Alpins left Bourg St Maurice.

This marks the end of an era for the town.  For some background click here.

Soldiers leaving for a tour of duty in Afghanistan

Their new base will be in Varces, near Grenoble.  Here are two videos covering their departure:

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Tignes isn't really steeped in Tour history.  It's only been there once in fact, but the 2007 tour did stay on for a rest day when it did come to town.  The stage was won by the dastardly Rasmussen, who was later removed from the Tour by his Rabobank team - Wikipedia summary, including the Tour in London, can be found here.

Here's the Stage from another angle - a nice behind-the-scenes video, including the ridiculous-ness that is the publicity caravan, about 3 minutes in.

Tignes is a frequent base for altitude training of French sports teams.  Stade Francais are regular visitors, for example.  However the most notable recent guests were perhaps the French football team, who spent some "quality time" together in May 2010, before their disastrous South African adventure.  Look out for Franck Ribery, who looks particularly reluctant as the happy campers take to the chairlift with their snowshoeing kit in tow.

More on the skiing in Tignes here.

Monday, 9 July 2012


Given its fame, it's perhaps surprising that the Manchester United of skiing has only hosted two Tour arrivals, in 1963 (below) and in 1996, the day after Indurain's nightmare on the way to Les Arcs.

Here's some (silent) video of the 1963 stage, including the Col de l'Iseran at 5'40".  The stage was won by Spaniard Fernando Mazaneque.

1996 saw a relatively unusual mountain time trial stage, on what is (by Alpine standards) the pretty dull road between Bourg St Maurice and Val d'Isere.

The next day brought snow, which meant the planned epic stage over the Iseran and Galibier to Sestriere had to be shortened.  Riis won and went on to win the Tour - overview here.   Details of Riis's later confession to having taken drugs here.

Val d'Isere has also been a ville départ, in 1963 (to Chamonix) and in 2007 (to Briancon).

Sunday, 1 July 2012


The famous La Plagne logo. More on the history of the resort (and the evolution of the logo) here.

La Plagne has a more illustrious Tour de France history than Les Arcs.  It's been a stage finish four times, and at least two of those finishes are among the recent classics. More here.

Here's Laurent Fignon, winning in yellow, and on the way to victory in 1984.

"It's Stephen Roche"!  The famous comeback in 1987 (at 2 minutes in), followed by his collapse just after the finish line.

Alex Zulle wins in 1995 on the way to 2nd place.  This stage was one of  7 back-to-back mountain stages....

And Michael Boogerd was allowed the freedom to escape and win in 2002.  This stage finished 100m lower than the previous three:

According to www.salite.ch, the 21.4km climb from Aime, at 6.6.% gradient, with 1400m of climbing, has a difficulty rating of "130" which puts it in the same category as Alpe d'Huez....

Saturday, 30 June 2012

TOUR DE FRANCE: Les Arcs 2009

The Tour de France stage to Bourg St Maurice lacked the drama of the 1996 visit to Les Arcs (scene of Indurain's downfall - more here.

What could be better - a start in Switzerland, through Italy, down into Bourg St Maurice, via the Grand and Petit St Bernard passes, before a final climb up to Arc 1800.

Except the decision was taken for the riders to finish down in the valley in Bourg St Maurice - so that the suspense could continue right until the final Saturday and the climb of Mont Ventoux.  Here's the Wikipedia account of the 2009 Tour.

In the event, the Ventoux stage proved to be a bit of a let-down, and the stage to Bourg is little remembered.  Or at least remembered for the wrong things.  The winner of the stage, Miguel Astarloza, later tested positive for drugs, and the stage was awarded to Sandy Casar.

Here are the riders on the descent to Bourg St Maurice.

The finish line was in the road leading from the SNCF roundabout to the Funiculaire:

The following day the riders left from Bourg St Maurice.  Here they are on the very lower slopes of the Cormet du Roseland.

Lance Armstrong and co stayed - of course - in Arc 1950.  The Euskatel Euskadi team, on the other hand, stayed in the more modest environs of Arc 1800.  As did The Tour Doctor:

More on cycling in Les Arcs this summer here.  If you think the 1st category climb from Bourg St Maurice is too easy, go down to Landry, take the (much harder) climb to Peisey and up to Arc 1800 on the summer road, and then continue to Arc 2000.  The final climb from the Comborciere lift at 1800m to Arc 2000 (actually at 2100m) is a tough one....