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Aiguille Rouge, by Pete Caswell. Click on the painting to visit his site

Saturday, 28 January 2012

L'ARMEE ET LA VALLEE: The Chasseurs Alpins Leave Town

This summer sees one of the bedrocks of Bourg St Maurice leaving town.  The 7th Brigade of the Chasseurs Alpins (7e BCA) are moving to the Grenoble area.  They are the French army's elite mountain troops, with many currently in Afghanistan.

The departure of the BCA caused quite a stir when first announced - the impact on the local community and economy of several hundred families moving on, the loss of an emergency service in case of disasters, etc.  And it remains high up the list of concerns at the start of 2012 - they are one of the anchors of the local economy, and with the ski industry flat, there is much to think about.  The French government have sweetened the pill slightly by awarding the new national advanced ski training centre to Bourg St Maurice rather than Chamonix, but it certainly makes initiatives like Bourg St Maurice 2020 all the more relevant.

So this will be the last season you will see the chasseurs on the local pistes.  They have guarded my hire car at Les Ecudets (below La Rosiere), and at Les Brevieres (below Tignes).  And they have scared me, with their "we do not stop for civilians" armoured car convoys on the Cormet de Roselend.  You will still see them training - for example on the Les Granges piste below Arc 1800:


Here's the local news coverage where they talk about the departure from BSM:



More on the background, history etc in the Wikipedia entries, in English and (with much more detail) in French.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

THE BUSINESS OF SKIING: The Season So Far

It's true that many of the ski instructors we see are actually farmers, plumbers, shopkeepers etc in the local villages.  The second part of this video gives you a "day in the life" of Les Arcs.  But, aside from the small resorts with a drag lift or two, the lift systems need investment, and therefore are serious business propositions.

The bulk of the French Premier League resorts are owned by the Compagnie des AlpesLa Rosiere, Les Menuires, Meribel, Chamonix, Avoriaz, Les 2 Alpes, Valmorel, Val d'Isere, Tignes, Serre Chevalier, La Plagne, Les Arcs....

Arc 2000

They are also into theme parks: the portfolio includes four "Parcs Walibis" (whatever they are), Parc Asterix and (scene of various Tour de France stages), Futuroscope.

The story of the season so far, announced in CdA's latest results, is a bit mixed, really:
  • Late snowfall which meant everyone was on edge until the second week into December
  • Having Xmas Day and New Year's Day on a Sunday
  • The heavy snowfalls in the first week of Jan (see below, en direct from Bourg St Maurice...)


    The result: skier numbers are down 1% on last year.  The CdA pronounces itself "satisfied", at least for the moment.  If this is how well the big reports are doing in these uncertain times, one wonders how the smaller ones are faring.  Certainly the news from small resorts in the Pyrenees hasn't been great.  The Crystal Ski Report 2011 reported a 5% fall last year in the number of Brit skiers, on top of 13% and 11% falls in previous years, but claimed the market was "set to rebound".   It will be interesting to see if the record snowfalls do prompt some "floating skiers" to go, or indeed whether it's the economy, rather than the snow, which plays the upper hand.  We'll see.

    On the other hand, all is good for the theme parks: revenues up 13%, and lots of plans for the future.  Onwards and upwards!

    Tuesday, 17 January 2012

    LES ARCS IN PICTURES: The Architecture (Part 2)

    The architecture of Les Arcs is much maligned.  At least that's my view.... There was a vision, an overarching idea, which the founding fathers took very seriously.  More on the background here.

    Arc 1800 formed stage 2 of the development.  Like the much smaller Arc 1600, there was an emphasis on the design, and Charlotte Perriand took the lead on the interiors.  But this chantier was on a much larger scale. Here's the plan for the Charvet site:


    The blocks were built during a tight building window.  Everything had to fit within a seven month timetable.  The emphasis was on large numbers of studio apartments.  Here's the design for Pierra Menta.  These apartments are 30m sq.  They follow the slope of the hill, so that, from above, there is no hint of the scale of the immeubles that lie below.


    Here's the inside of the Belles Challes block, in Charvet.  This links directly with the Lauzieres building, which is slightly up-hill (and slightly up-market).  


    Although the blocks are large, great importance was placed on two factors.  First, having an integrated kitchen/living area (not sure there is much option given the size of the studios).  And second, ensuring that there is no "vis-a-vis" - ie the flats open straight onto views of the valley.



    The final third of the following video includes interviews with some of the architects, and a Grand-Designs style overview of the construction of the blocks, including the pre-fabricated bathroom/kitchen unit produced off-site and loaded into place using a crane:



    More on the background at the Charlotte Perriand Pompidou Centre exhbition from a few years back, as well as in the Carnet de Montagne book, available in resort.  The tourist office do guided tours during the season, if you're in Les Arcs and want to know more.....

    Saturday, 14 January 2012

    THEN AND NOW: The Les Arcs ski area 2002-2012

    Without wanting to stretch any metaphor too far, Les Arcs has certain similarities with Tottenham Hotspur: one of the best known resorts in France, yes.  But perhaps not always seen as among the best.  Click here to see which resorts are Manchester United, Chelsea etc...

    Both have seen pretty rapid progression in recent years, and both now can make claim to a Champions' League place.

    A glance at the 2002 lift map for Les Arcs is a reminder of what's changed.  Lots of this development was powered by the Arc 1950 development, and the Compagnie des Alpes, which now has a near-monopoly on the big resorts, has continued to invest.


    In 2002:

    • There was no Vagere chairlift at 1800.  The "Vagere" lift(s) were drag lifts, at the top of the golf course
    • There were two slow old chairs going out of 1800 - the Chantel and the Carreley: the latter has now been taken down
    • There was no Droset lift to bring you back to Arc 2000 from Villaroger - you had to ski round to Pre St Esprit
    • The Marmottes lifts in 2000 were drag lifts; there was now Arc 1950 at this time!
    • There was no Grizzly lift; there was a chair from the middle of the Peisey-Vallandry mountain, which is now no more
    • There was a Gollet chair out of 1600 - an old 2 man.  This was taken down a few years ago, much to the irritation of some of the proprieteres
    • Various lifts which were slow have now been replaced by detachable fast chairs.  These include:
      • Grizzly
      • Peisey
      • Marmottes
      • The Derby
      • Bois de l'Ours
      • Mont Blanc
      • Arcabulle
      • Mont Blanc
    • Indeed, the entire mountain is now covered by fast lifts, with the only weak links really now in the area below 2000: the Pre St Esprit and Comborciere are agonisingly slow.  Other slow lifts remain (eg Renard, Villards) but they play a supporting rather than pivotal role.
    • This is of course leaving out the arrival of the Vanoise Express and Paradiski...

    View from Montchauvin, January 2012

    More on the history of the ski area in the 1970s and 1980s here.

    And for a potted history of each lift, click here.

    A Note on the Piste Maps

    In 2002 the piste map was presented on two sides - the 1600/1800 on one side, the 2000 area on the other - which amplified the size of the ski area.

    Today's "Freestyle Park" was called the "Espace Surf".

    The map was presented "avec Playstation".  It still is.

    There is a lovely blue from the bottom of the Combe run in Peisey.  This has been decommissioned for 2011/12, which is a shame - a new, slightly less interesting, red run has been created slightly higher up.

    The 2011/12 map includes La Plagne's pistes on the other side - which works better than the unreadable "Paradiski" map.  A month into the season, the Les Arcs website has yet to put the new map on the site.  So, here's the 2010/11 map.


    Sunday, 8 January 2012

    LES ARCS: Ski Season Calendar

    A summary of the various events and competitions taking place in Les Arcs this winter:


    15 Feb: 20 years since the Olympics
    Les Arcs (Arc 2000) was the venue for the speed skiing at the 1992 Albertville Olympics (the "kilometre lancée").

    The day's programme will include initiation in "mini KL", exhibitions of films and photos, speeches etc by those involved, as well as a torchlit descent and fireworks display.

    The event was marred by the death of a Swiss speed-skier before the start of the race.  More here.



    17 Feb: Le Grand prix de France jeune de skicross (Arc 1800)

    This will include a "pro-am" competition for 11-14s, so budding young skiers can have a go.  Various ski-clubs from across France will be participating, as well as skicross champions like Enak Gavaggio.

    23 Feb: "The L.A. Session by Pull-In" (Arc 1800)

    This is well worth seeing - "le grand show freestyle" which takes place at the front de neige at 1800 after the day's skiing is over.  Last year's was cancelled due to lack of snow.  Here's the video from the 2010 session:


    29 Feb: Rallye Robert Blanc

    From memory, this is a race, open to all (including families), from the top of the Grand Col chair down to the car park at Pre St Esprit.

    1 April: La Course du Coeur Paris/Bourg St Maurice

    A long-distance fund raising event which involves a marathon walk from Paris to Bourg St Maurice and then up to Arc 1800.  Its aim: to raise the profile of organ donation among the public.  More details here.

    13-15 April: French Speed Riding Championship: The Final

    Speed riding is a mixture of skiing and paragliding.  Or something like that.  Arc 2000 seems to have become a bit of a centre for it, in the fine traditions of Les Arcs being among the first to try out new disciplines.... Here's some footage from the top of the Aiguille Rouge:


    14-20 April: Les Hors piste du cirque (Arc 1600)

    There will be various training sessions and shows ope to the public, courtesy of the students of the Centre national des arts du cirque.


    Source: Le Dauphiné Libéré, 4 Jan 2012; www.ledauphine.com

    Saturday, 7 January 2012

    LIFE AFTER 50: Next Steps for La Plagne

    Over Christmas, La Plagne celebrated its 50th birthday - it has an interesting history, launching after the early resorts like Megeve and Courchevel, but before Les Arcs, Val Thorens etc.  More on the story of La Plagne here.

    Yesterday's Dauphine reported on a visit by Richard Broche, Mayor of Macot-La-Plagne, with his councillors, to Plagne Centre.  Here they reflected on the past year: the improvements to the ski area (including the new Verdons Sud lift), various sporting successes, and indeed the 50th celebrations.

    What happens next?  There are two big projects for 2012:

    1.  Completing the renovations of the shopping centre - work on this has already started - www.perso-laplagne.fr has the details.

    2.  Reorganisation of the front de neige in the Becoin sector.  This will include a new fast 6-pack lift for 2012 (see below).

    New Becoin lift: The bottom
    New Becoin lift: view from the top (4 Jan 2012)

    Finally, La Plagne - like neighbouring resorts - is worrying about what it can do to boost the summer tourism season.  The Mayor reported that La Plagne will be "bien representee" in a commission looking at the subject which will involve all the Tarentaise/Vanoise resorts.

    Sunday, 1 January 2012

    THE LES ARCS A-Z: A Guide for 2012

    Here's an attempt at a guide to Les Arcs and the surrounding area....

    Architecture - 3 sites in Les Arcs have been awarded the label of "Architecture of the 20th Century": the sites of Arc 1600/1800, the town hall and cinema in Bourg St Maurice and the Aiguille Rouge cable car station - overview here

    Bourg St Maurice - "la montagne dans la ville", gateway to Les Arcs

    Cycling - Les Arcs was the scene of Indurain's downfall; La Plagne of historic performances by Roche, Fignon and Boogerd

    Domaine Skiable - here is the 2010/11 plan des pistes; the Les Arcs website has been a bit slack and hasn't put up the new 2011/12 one up yet - and there are a few changes, for example in the Mont Blanc area above Arc 1600

    Edenarc - you can buy your new flat here and look back at what might have been, with Charlotte Perriand's original design here

    Funiculaire - "unique in France", with a new makeover.  Timetable here

    Golf des Arcs - a beautiful site, 32 holes, open from June until les premieres neiges


    Arc 1800 runs to resort, on the golf course


    Hauteville Gondon - home village of Robert Blanc, founder of Les Arcs

    Infos practiques - on the Les Arcs website

    Jeux Olympiques - the speed skiing was at Les Arcs, and saw a tragedy on the morning of the event

    Killy - as in Espace Killy - about 40 mins up the road from Bourg

    League Tables - Alpe d'Huez beats all the Tarentaise resorts, and is a brilliant all-rounder, summer as well as winter - see rankings here

    Manchester United - cf Val d'Isere.  France's best ski resorts are matched with their Premiership equivalents here

    News - @ledauphine gives comprehensive coverage and will improve your French

    Off-piste - there is a Bureau des Guides at 1800, and Arc Aventures also have specialists.  Here's a book for the armchair expert, in French but with some English summaries.  It's available in resort

    Aiguille Rouge summit: 3220m
    Plagne - as in La Plagne - Les Arcs' local rivals...

    Quecha - the low-cost Decathlon range.  The shop in Albertville (just off the RN90) is very good and sells ski de fond, ski rando equipment etc, which can be hard to find in the resorts



    Rosiere - as in La Rosiere - distinctly under-rated - my favourite (apart from Les Arcs, of course).  Great views in both directions towards both La Plagne and Tignes, as well as the link with La Thuile to explore


    La Rosiere: looking up the valley towards Tignes
    Society and Politics - against an uncertain economic background, the area is not short of heated debates about which direction/s it should take in future - overview here

    Tignes - just up the road.  Park at Les Brevieres

    U - as in Super-U on the Route des Arcs at the edge of Bourg St Maurice

    Valmorel - a resort on the up, with a new Club Med, new lifts, and handier for the airport than the Haute Tarentaise - quick review here

    Websites - official Les Arcs site is more style than substance, but others compensate

    X-ray - main cabinet medical is close to the Cachette lift in Arc 1600.  Will cost you several hundred pounds to be taken down the mountain by a hunky pisteur

    Y - La Grotte du Yeti appears to be a chain of bars - with branches in Arc 1800, Les 2 alpes, St Francois Longchamp etc

    Z - As in Zinedine Zidane - the France football team often train at Tignes, for example before their ill-fated trip to South Africa....