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

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.