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

Saturday, 21 December 2013

DREAM OR REALITY? The Fast Track to Flaine

As the Vanoise Express celebrates its 10th birthday, plans for another similarly ambitious project are resurfacing.

Le Dauphiné, 17 October 2013

Step forward Le FuniFlaine.  This new link would take skiers from Magland (down in the valley, just 45km from Geneva) to Flaine in 15-20 minutes, creating 80 jobs in the process.

It's been muttered about for decades, indeed for some 40 years.  A rudimentary cable car was set up to transport materials up the mountain during the constuction of Flaine, and apparently an electricity pylon remains to mark the spot.

The engineering challenge is making sure the lift
can cope with the steep cliffs and wind on the Magland side

Middle station at Les Carroz (1100m)

From a technical point of view, the plans seem to be well advanced.  The route would take in 1,350m vertical, with 6 pylons.  There would be several large cabins, rather than a gondola-style lift.  It would use some of the latest technology (along the lines of that recently deployed at Avoriaz, apparently).   Meanwhile, the latest economic feasibility studies are positive, despite the crisis.  That said, funding from regional and national government would be needed, given the €80m cost.

Perhaps more importantly, it does not appear to have universal support locally. Politicians from rival ski areas (eg St Gervais) are not particularly keen, while those from the valleys (eg Sallanches) are rather more positive about the idea...



For more on what to expect when you do get up the mountain, click here.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

NEW SKI SEASON: 10 Things You (Possibly) Need To Know

Here are some fascinating facts you can use on the chairlift to impress/bore your companions:

1.  We have lost 300,000 British skiers since the start of the recession.  Last year just 900,000 of us hit the slopes.  France remains the market leader, with Austria in the ascendency and North America in freefall.  More here.

2.  This has contributed to a pretty flat market in France.  The financial results of lift operator giant Compagnie des Alpes are disappointing, and the French ski resort association is in open revolt about changes to the French school holiday calendar which mean the Easter break now starts after many resorts have closed.

3.  Even if a slow recovery has started, the concern is that skiing, never a cheap activity, is losing market share to other travel destinations/pursuits.  This has been the spur for various rebranding initiatives, for example Méribel, Chamonix and, most notably, Val Thorens (United):


#WantToSki: Website here.

4.  Other resorts are looking to build their share of the wallet by developing new products.  The 100% freeride area below the 2877m Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees looks a neat idea, not least if it is accompanied by a night in the observatory at the summit.



5.  Swiss Connections No1: 2013/14 sees resorts coming together in bids to enter the premier league.  Lenzerheide joins with Arosa in a CHF50m project which will create a 225km area.  It opens in January, apparently.

6.  Swiss Connections No2: The Val d'Anniviers is celebrated by all those who visit. This year the previously separate Grimentz and Zinal ski areas will be linked by a new cable car.

7.  The original and best?  The Vanoise Express celebrates 10 years of Paradiski with a makeover of the cabins.

8.  On the Les Arcs side, there are some new developments for 2013/14.  There is a new roundabout at the foot of the climb, a new 4 star Aiguille Grive hotel, and a new mountain restaurant on the golf course.  More here.

9.  And there are BIG CHANGES planned for Les Arcs over the coming years. The masterplan for Arc 1800 includes a reorganisation of the Chantel slopes, a new indoor pool and new links to both Edenarc and Arc 2000.

The Alpages du Chantel and Edenarc developments
will (finally) be linked to Arc 1800 over the next few years

10. The "British ski hosts banned" row rumbles on, with Crystal now having done a deal with the Evolution 2 ski school.  The ESF is starting to respond/think about the implications of all this, for example offering free hosting in La Rosiere on Sundays - more here via Planet Ski.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

10 YEARS OF PARADISKI

Paradiski is 10 years old this season:



To celebrate, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac has given the Vanoise Express a makeover.

There will be tightrope walking on 16th December, again at the Vanoise Express.  A "world premiere" is promised, with a 60m walk between the two cars:



It's also the 10th anniversary of Arc 1950, whose arrival marked a complete departure from the original Les Arcs' approach.  (See interview with Claudie Blanc for some history).  I personally find it hard to love the place, but it certainly means that Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry can offer a pretty full range of accommodation options, for all budgets and tastes.  And it certainly has helped fund the transformation of Les Arcs' lift system.

Here's the official Les Arcs press release on Paradiski's 10 years.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

YES WE CANNES: Film and the Mountains


Some of the best film and TV moments were of course shot in the mountains, for example many of the best James Bond scenes and unforgettable pop videos by Wham, the Police and the Jacksons.  Not to mention the, er, iconic Apocalypse Snow, shot on Les Arcs' slopes in 1983:



But a number of resorts have developed their own niche in hosting film festivals, as part of their bids to broaden their appeal - for example in Les Arcs.

The season kicks off above Bourg St Maurice with the  Les Arcs Film Festival which runs from 14-21 Dec.  This year includes a special focus on film from  "Yugoslavian countries", for example the 2011 Serbian/Macedonian production "Punk's Not Dead":



Prior to all this excitement, next week sees the 30th Mountain Film Festival taking place at Autrans, over in the Vercors:

Click here for the official Autrans site

Over Christmas, Autrans' neighbour Lans-en-Vercors will be holding its own festival, this time centred on childrens' cinema.

It looks like some of the new Belle et Sébastien film was shot in the Vercors - in cinemas from 18th December:



Finally, at the end of January, Alpes Magazine will be hosting a 3 evenings looking at alpine cinema, including this classic film from 1944:

28-30 January, Palais des Congrés, Chambery

Sunday, 24 November 2013

ALBERTVILLE: Gateway to just about everywhere

It's now 21 years since the Albertville Olympics, and it's not hard to see the legacy (for example the upgraded RN90 through the Tarentaise or indeed the La Plagne bobsleigh track).

Albertville may struggle to make a claim to be a ski resort in its own right, but has options stretching out in all directions - more here.

Its setting, at the confluence of the Isere and Arly, is a beautiful one.  But one would struggle to describe the town as attractive.  With one exception.  The medieval city of Conflans, just above the town, is quite something:

The Wikipedia guide to Conflans is here.

The Auberge de Costaroche sits just below, and is a budget base for visiting some of the following:

  • 30 mins: Brides-les-Bains, with direct access to Méribel and the Trois Vallées
  • 30 mins: Areches-Beaufort.  Here's an appreciative write-up in today's Sunday Telegraph
  • 35 mins: Valmorel - if you want to be a bit different, you can access the skiing via access via Doucy-Combelouviere or (even more daring), Celliers
  • 35 mins: Crest-Voland and the Val d'Arly
PS: If you are buying ski equipment, the Decathlon, just off the RN90, is well worth a stop - both for the range (including ski rando and ski de fond) and the prices.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

REBRANDING MATTERS: Méribel, Chamonix and Alpe d'Huez

Val Thorens isn't the only resort having a good think about how it markets itself to a population of skiers that is showing little sign of growing.

In Méribel, there is a move to rationalise things, highlighting the merits (and location) of the various villages in the valley - the excellent Skipedia sets out the background:

The "retro" logo.  Recent versions
have used a more "modern" font

The new identity has an air of Arc 1950 about it

Meanwhile in Chamonix, powered by its ex-Danone marketing director, it's out with the two logos which had previously been sitting side-by-side:

Out

Out

In comes the new, "One Valley, One Brand" concept.  It's one which the smaller local resorts (eg Vallorcine) are able to sign up to.  Again, there is lots more on this via Skipedia.

Click here to see how Vallorcine is using
the new brand identity

Further south, Alpe d'Huez appears to be getting rid of the Domaine des Grandes Rousses label.  It is now boasting about the merits of its "grand domaine Ski".  This has been criticised both for its irregular use of upper and lower case lettering, and for creating potential confusion with Valmorel's Grand Domaine.



If the official website is anything to go by, it looks like the new branding for the ski area will sit alongside the rather good (and rather longstanding) Alpe d'Huez visual identity:


Back in the Tarentaise, a bit of background to what Les Arcs and La Plagne have been up to when it comes to marketing themselves can be found here.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

REBRANDING MATTERS: Val Thorens United

"If you're not clear about where you want to position yourselves, 
others will do it for you"
Gregory Guzzot, Director of Val Thorens tourist office

Val Thorens has been thinking carefully about what it is all about, and where it wants to be.  The results is an ambitious rebrand.  Out with the old:


And in with the new: Val Thorens United:

Launched for the 2012/13 season

Gregory Guzzo sets out the thinking in this Skipedia interview, pointing out (i) that the ski industry is reaching maturity and (ii) that it is losing market share to other activities, as the world travel market develops.  

In thinking through what Val Tho was all about, they decided to move away from focusing on being "the biggest" or (in their case) the highest.  Their review included a survey of 5,000 recent visitors:
We didn’t want to define our resort in terms of one group over another.  
The survey showed that Val Thorens combines the best of skiing with the best atmosphere, and that gave us our message.
We are a melting pot of activities, emotions, lifestyles, pulled together by a team spirit.  
We are a unifying, united resort – Val Thorens United. 
Gregory Guzzo (Source: Skipedia)


You can read more about the background in this action plan (in French).  But the Slideshare presentation, given a couple of months ago at a tourism conference, is more accessible.  It's in French too, but in a sort of franglais-management-speak.  Val Thorens United is now a registered trade mark.

As www.valthorensguide.co.uk points out, some things can be lost in translation.   The la neige en couleurs slogan has been translated by the tourist office as "multi-coloured snow".  Ahem.

And the resort's marketing busy-ness does not stop here.  This season, @Val_Tho is laying claim to the #wanttoski hashtag.  It even has a series of YouTube videos to go with the campaign:



The excellent Skipedia site tells the full story.

***

More about Val Thorens:

Here's how to drive there, via Nick Trend in the Telegraph.

Summer skiing on the Peclet ended in 2002.

Its Premier League partner is Newcastle United.

In December 2011, it was the site of the "Nazi Salute" stag party, attended by Tory MP Aiden Burley.

It is hardly a cycling mecca, but did feature as a Tour de France stage finish in 1994:

Sunday, 3 November 2013

NEW SKI SEASON: Dates for the diary

Regular visitors to Les Arcs will see one or two new things in and around the resort, including the new Aiguille Grive Hotel and a mountain restaurant above the golf course. And there's more to come - with a transformation of the slopes above 1800 planned.

Back to this season...

To celebrate 10 years of Paradiski, the Vanoise Express has been given a makeover by designer JC de Catelbajac.  I am not sure that everyone is going to like it.

It's also 10 years since the opening of Arc 1950 - much loved by British travel writers, but not by all the "pioneers" of Les Arcs who see it as out of step with the original vision for the resort.

Les Arcs has taken the plunge and updated its website.  It looks much better, but still feels a little difficult to find your way around.  For example to find the opening dates for the season (14 Dec - 26 April), it's easier to find the information via www.france-montagnes.com.

Key dates for 2013/14 include:

1.  The 5th Les Arcs Film Festival, which runs from 14-21st December, this time majoring on Yugoslav cinema.  A "movie pass" costs €28, although it's not clear whether this will be enough to entice the various British student ski trips (including @SussexSnow) who will be present in Les Arcs during this pre-Christmas week.  (For a bit more background to the film festival, click here.

Sadly, the cinema over the hill in Arc 1800 is no more

2.  The Red Bull Linecatcher "back country" ski competition runs again - I can't find the exact dates but according to the Les Arcs Press Office it will be in January, and one assumes it will be around the middle of the month again.

Bad weather delayed the 2013 event
for a number of days

3.  School Holidays.  Beware.  Here's a guide to how to avoid at least some of the February crowds.  The big half term week for British skiers is likely to be w/c 15 February, the same date that French Zone C (Paris, Bordeaux...) hits the autoroute for their vacances.  And be careful about assuming there will be no-one about in late Feb - the French school holidays continue until the first weekend of March.

4.  The scarily titled GMX Gavaggio Monster Cross will be in town between 4-7 March. This is basically the French youth skicross championships, and will be based in Arc 1800.


The competition will take place on the
Arc 1800 home slopes


Friday, 25 October 2013

MOUNTAIN HIGH, VALLEY LOW: The Price of Skiing

Skiing has never been cheap.  Not least for British skiers, given the distance involved and therefore the need to spend a few days in the mountains.  Witness the sharp fall in Brits taking to the slopes, from 1,227,000 in 2007/8 to 899,000 last year.

In the Telegraph, Peter Hardy finds "budget" chalets for the package holiday skier in Peisey Vallandry, Val d'Isere and the Sella Ronda.  In terms of resorts, he recommends Baqueira-Beret (where you may still see the Spanish royal family), Madesimo and, in the Maurienne Valley, Aussois.

Meanwhile, Where to Ski and Snowboard has taken a systematic view in recent years.  It calculates an a "RPI" for each resort, based on a basket of indicators.  The "average" score is 100, with Ste-Foy (85) and Val Cenis (80) emerging as the best value of the bigger French resorts.

A week's Paradiski pass will set you back €277

For short breaks, the cheapest option is to stay down in the valley.  Bourg St Maurice, is one of the most obvious options, with funicular railway or easy bus access to Les Arcs/La Plagne, La RosiereTignes and Val d'Isere.  (That said, the choice of hotels is limited).  Albertville may not be everyone's idea of heaven, but it's very close to ValmorelCrest Voland and Areches-Beaufort.  Annecy is a more mainstream and probably sensible base, with Le Grand Bornand, La Clusaz and Le Semnoz close by.

And for the day-tripping skier, the enterprising www.ausommet.fr has put together a handy guide.  The chart the prices being charged by the various resorts.  Note: a significant proportion are owned by Compagnie des Alpes, who, by clever pricing, managed to increase revenues by 3% last year, thereby outpacing the modest 1% rise in skier numbers - more here.  In that vein perhaps, we see that prices are still rising, particularly in Les 3 Valleés, at 57€, beats Chamonix to the "most expensive" prize by 50 centimes.

The costs may be eye-watering, but generally the hierarchy seems reasonable (eg Valmorel's Grand Domaine and La Rosiere's Espace San Bernadino are priced similarly). Bonneval sur Arc comes in perhaps as best value: 24€ for a ski area with slopes from 1800-3000m.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

ARC 1800: The Masterplan

This year, Arc 1800 welcomes a new mountain restaurant to the lower slopes above the golf course.  But this is just a starter for 10.  Big changes are on the way, it seems.

Planning permission is being sought for a new Télécabine des Villards, which in turn is part of a master plan involving a new luge track, new restaurants, improvements to the swimming pool and the dismantling of ageing ski lifts.  It's all rather exciting.

The full details can be found via the Avenir et Animations des Arcs page, which includes the plans and timelines the lift company want to work towards.  Here are some details:

Background
- Need to improve the offer of Arc 1800: client needs have changed so must adapt accordingly
- Hence this "unique multi-activity" concept, designed to boost the summer as well as the weinter season
- ADS (the lift company, part of the giant Compagnie des Alpes is investing €28.6m in the plans

Objectives
- Give clients more options in the 17h-19h window - they expect this now
- Reorganise the front de neige to better manage skier flow
- Better organise facilities for non-skiers and beginners
- Develop this multi-season, multi-activity offer: all types of snowsports, swimming, restaurants, golf, tennis, VTT...
=> Attract a wider public...a place where nature is preserved...where one can be active or contemplatif...a place full of life, a lung for the resort....

What will it include?
- A piste de luge
- A new covered Centre Aqualudique - this is being funded by the commune rather than ADS.  It will include waterslides, sauna, snack bar etc.  The outdoor pool will stay
- A "zone ludique" - basically a sort of snowpark with rails, jumps, runs through the trees
- Beginners' area just below the summit of the new télécabine
- Zone ski tranquille - which will follow much of the current home run from the Transarc mid station, but taking a more winding route
- A restaurant "base" - again just below the summit of the Villards télécabine.  This will include various facilities including HQ of the Golf des Arcs in Summer
- A kids' area at the front de neige in front of the Tournevelles building below the Vagere

Arc 1800 front de neige

Integral to all this are a number of new lifts
- The Télecabine des Villards
- At last...a new "liaison interurbaine" lift to the Chantel/Edenarc (I imagine this means it will be a covered lift like the Telemetro at La Plagne rather than a conventional ski lift)
- Another link (from the Vagere lift) to take people the short distance up to the Centre Aqualudique

The outdoor pool survives, but will be joined by an indoor
facility with water slides, sauna, snack-bar etc

Avenir et Animations des Arcs point out that summer 2014 holidays could well be disturbed by building works.  Alongside the construction of the new lifts, the current Villards and Carreley telesieges will be withdrawn from service.

It only gets a couple of lines, but perhaps the most exciting thing in here for keen skiers is the plan for a new Carreley lift, which will take Arc 1800 skiers directly to the Arc 2000 valley.  This is scheduled for December 2015.

I'm trying to find more details of the likelihood of these plans all happening, and whether they will run to what looks like quite an ambitious timescale.  There is nothing on the official Les Arcs site, and there appears to be little or no web chatter (for or against) the plans.  But given the commune is down to put its money into the new pool, a new restaurant is already in place on the site for this season, and that the ADS are clearly ready to invest so much in the scheme, it must go down as probable rather than improbable.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

SKI SEASON 2013/14: The French Market

Last season was the year when the British ski market finally halted its decline, although it remains well below pre-Crisis levels.

France remains the most popular destination for skiers this side of the Channel, and of course it has not been immune from the market conditions - for example in Les Arcs, the Edenarc development has taken an age to get off the ground.

Here are some of the current dynamics in the French market:

New Developments
Many of the larger resorts are continuing to invest in their infrastructure, for example in La Plagne, where there will be a new Montalbert telecabine for December 2014.  Ste-Foy has a new fast lift going up from the village this season, in Valmorel there are a number of new lifts and a new Club Med as well.

OK, but...
The Compagnie des Alpes, which owns the ski lifts for many of the big resorts, including Les Arcs, reports total skier days rising by 1% last year, with revenues up by 3%.  This of course was against the backdrop of a very good season snow-wise.  The view at the Paris Bourse is that these results are disappointing.

Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry's ski area
is now combined ina single entity: ADS.
This in turn is owned by Compagnie des Alpes

For Sale
France of course has many small ski resorts, and one of them is a vendre.  For €550,000, you can become owner of 3 teleskis, a chalet at the foot of the pistes and - drumroll - a piste bully.

Closed
The Pyreneean resort of Puigmal is €5m in debt, and is closing.

Angry
The French school holiday calendar has recently changed, and Easter hols are now much later.  This year, for example, the first zone (C) to break up for Easter holidays does so on 12th April, by which time many resorts will have closed.  Meanwhile, Zone A pupils will be waiting until the 26th until their holidays start.  The French ski resorts assoication is fuming about this and is lobbying the Government strongly.  They say that they are now only getting 2% of their revenue from the Easter season, compared with 8% before 2010.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

SKI SEASON 2013/14: THE BRITISH MARKET

The most comprehensive survey of the British market comes courtesy of the annual Crystal Ski Report, which is now building up a really useful set of trend data.

The good news this year is that the worst appears to be over.  The total number of skiers last season is put at 899,700, up 1% on the previous year, and the first rise since 2007/8.

This will prompt a glass of crémant de Savoie rather than champagne; the numbers remain far below pre-Crash levels.  Back in 2007/8, some 1,227,000 Brits went on skiing holidays.

Still building in Les Arcs...
Big changes to the Chantel area are
planned for 2014/15

France remains its prominent market share, with Austria consolidating and the Swiss starting to get their house in order.

North America is down, although apparently this is the result of a decline in attractiveness of the US; Canada is apparently improving, on the back of some marketing "momentum",

The student market is up slightly; school ski trips are going in the other direction. Bulgaria is down, following Inghams' withdrawal from the country.

The market share figures are as follows (2011/12 in brackets):

FRANCE: 34.8 (34.6)
AUSTRIA: 28.2 (27.9)
ITALY: 15.2 (15.4)
Andorra: 6.6 (6.5)
Switzerland: 5.5 (4.9)
N. America: 4.0 (4.5)
Bulgaria: 2.4 (2.7)

The trends since 2006/7 are instructive (more here).  In a declining market....

  • North America's share has halved, from 7.9% to 4.0%
  • Austria is up from 19.0% to 28.2%
  • Italy is also up, albeit to a lesser extent: from 13.8% to 15.2% 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

VALMOREL: Upwardly mobile?

Compared with the big resorts further up the Tarentaise, Valmorel has a different feel. Although the ski area is still pretty big by most standards, it can't compete with the mega resorts beyond Moutiers, and in recent years has been marketing itself to skiers from southern France and Spain.  

In many ways the area is now more noted for summer pursuits.  The Col de la Madeleine is a regular on the Tour de France, most recently in 2013.


Valmorel used to be a mainstay of the brochures in the 1980s and 1990s, but these days doesn't merit a full chapter in Where to Ski and Snowboard - although there is a useful online write up here.

But there is certainly some investment going into the area.

Five years ago, the new Celliers gondola was opened, linking this remote valley with the Grand Domaine:


Two new lifts opened on the Valmorel side last season, and a new "Soleil Rouge" lift over in St Francois is coming on stream for 2013/14.

And the recent arrival of Club Med suggests that investors are willing to put their money into the future of the resort.  It boasts about being the nearest Tarentaise resort to Chambery, Lyon, Paris - and its accessibility is certainly a plus.

We likened Valmorel to Premiership team Reading, who were then duly relegated.  Will Valmorel make a return to the big league during the coming years?  The signs are promising...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

NEW SKI SEASON: Where to Ski and Snowboard 2014

The new edition of the skier's bible is out - full details on the Where to Ski and Snowboard website.

Looking at the book's editions through the years enables us to chart the winners and losers - as measured by which ski resorts have been awarded a chapter of their own, and which are relegated to the appendix.

This year's winners - promoted to having their own chapters - are:

France
Les Carroz.  For more about the Grand Massif, click here.
Val Cenis - on the other side of the Col de l'Iseran.  Here's a trip taken by the Telegraph in January 2012

Austria
The little-known Rauris
Zell am See, which makes a welcome return to the big league

Meanwhile, Puy St Vincent (FR), Alpbach (AT) and the resorts of the Trentino (IT) have been relegated to the back of the book.

Other highlights include the heated debate about piste length, with many resorts having been exposed by new analysis showing significant over-reporting of the true size of their ski area.  The most extreme case is apparently Courmayeur, which reports 100km, of which some 64km are, er, off-piste.

There is also an enjoyable rant about the re-branding of various resorts (eg "Val Thorens United, the abolition of the name "Courchevel 1850".  The new "Alpe-d'Huez grand domain Ski" (sic) is the subject of particular ridicule.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

A CHAPEL FOR LES ARCS

Updates on new developments in ski resorts inevitably centre on the replacement of Lift X with a new fast 6-pack, or perhaps a new MGM or Club Med development.

Les Arcs has something completely different under construction: a new chapel, due to open next summer at Arc 1800.  It will be on the bend in the road at Chantel, between the covered car park and the Centre Bernard Taillefer.

The idea of a chapel is nothing new.  Back in 1979,  Les Arcs' creator Robert Blanc was clear that the chapel was the missing link in the developing jigsaw.  Recent years have seen open air masses taking place in Place Miravidi at Christmas, and more recently at the Centre Taillefer.

But now the funding is in place, thanks to various benefactors.  And the Chapelle de St-Esprit, designed by Robert Falcoz, is starting to take shape.  Robert Blanc's daughter Claudie Blanc is closely involved.

Local painters are working
on designs for the interior

Full details can be found on the chapel's very professional website.



Sunday, 8 September 2013

NEW SKI SEASON: More new things in Les Arcs

In addition to what's here, a few more things to look out for this season, courtesy of the excellent www.peisey-info.com.

The Les Arcs Film Festival isn't exactly new, but deserves a plug as the anchor event of the first week of the season, from 14 December, with "Yugoslav" films under the spotlight.  Much to the delight of the manager of the Spa in Charvet, various British university ski trips are also expected in Arc 1800 this week...

To celebrate Paradiski's 10th anniversary, there will be a tightrope walk between the cabins of the cable cars, by what are billed in the press release as "the world's greatest": Julien Millot and Tancrede Melet.  They will be 380m above the ground, and it may look something like this:



The two Vanoise Express cabins will also have a makeover, in the form of designs by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac which will be in place all season.

Apart from that, the only other "nouveaté" is in the form of a small draglift above the Replat lift in Villaroger and some behind-the-scenes work to the artificial snow-making. The big changes this year are over in La Plagne, which sees defunct black pistes re-appearing and a reshuffling of the lifts ahead of the opening of the Montalbert telecabine in 2014: more here.

Panic on the pistes of La Plagne:
The black Derochoir piste
Big changes are being planned for Les Arcs, however, with the Chantel area due for a complete overhaul.  Here is the planning permission application for the new "Telecabine des Villards".  But this  is only part of the story...

Saturday, 7 September 2013

NEW SKI SEASON: What's new in Les Arcs

Regular visitors to Les Arcs will notice a number of thrilling new developments this season...

At the start of the Category 1 climb to Les Arcs, there is an exciting new roundabout, complete with snowchain-assembly area.  The powers that be have also decreed that the official way to the N90 is along the (newly resurfaced) minor road by the river, rather than going via Super U and the McDonald's roundabout at the entrance to Bourg.  This seems a little odd, as the road is very narrow as it approaches the Isere.

The "new"way back to the N90

One of Les Arcs' drawbacks is that the front de neige is set back from the foot of the pistes, which means there are no convenient hostelries where big groups can meet up during the day.  It lacks the equivalent of a Bissac at Flaine, or indeed the cluster of restaurants at Plagne Centre.

Although not on the front de neige, the new mountain restaurant on the golf course is going to really help - and it looks like it will be ready for December:

Just above the golf course on the home runs

And at the foot of the slopes, the new Aiguille Grive hotel/restaurant will (finally) be open. Les Arcs legend (and former landlord of the old restaurant on this site) Gilles ready to welcome guests.

Pierra Menta (2714m) in the background

Meanwhile, just by the Vagere lift, a sign informs us that planning permission is being sought for a new "Telecabine des Villards".  To be continued...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

LA PLAGNE SKI AREA: What Happens Next?

Update: 9 December 2013:
New 2013/14 plan des pistes, including the new black runs below, and a new "Eldorado Park" piste between the Arpette and Bellecote is here.

***

An update on the changes in and around La Plagne, courtesy of the diligent perso-laplagne site:

The are five pieces of news:

1.  New 4-person chairlift at Les Bauches.  Actually it's not a new chairlift - it's the Coqs lift from the Montalbert, still in good condition, which is being moved over to this area. This links in with the plans for the new Montalbert telecabine, scheduled for December 2014.  The whole Glacier-Les Bauches sector has been growing in popularity, and the Carroly and Chalet de Bellecote chairlifts are also earmarked for replacement during the next few years.

2.  Still in this area, the opening of the gruesome Derochoir piste, as well as the new lift on the glacier, have prompted a return to the piste maps of two black runs: the Bellecote and the Rochu.  These were removed in 2009, but are being extensively used anyway, and this is therefore seen as a logical plan.  It means you can ski on black runs from 3100m down to 1800: see www.la-plagnenet.com for more.

(To avoid lifts, and complete a 2000m descent from the Glacier right the way to Montchauvin, requires a little poling.  It should be on your shortlist: more here.)

3.  Plagne Bellecote can still suffer from Lowry-eqsue queues, and plans are now under way for a new 8 person Colosses lift for December 2015.  This is the strategic link between Bellecote and Plagne Centre and so will make a big difference.

4.  The renovation of the Telemetro between Plagne Centre and Aime 2000 continues, with a new station/access point at Centre which is deemed to be a real improvement.

5.  The seemingly endless revamp of the galeries at Plagne Centre continues. 

For more links to all things La Plagne, click here.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

FRENCH SKI RESORTS: The Premiership for 2013/14

The 2012/13 season saw Wigan (Areches-Beaufort), Reading (Valmorel) and QPR (Les Gets) relegated from the Premier League - which means we need to identify the French ski resort partners of the new teams.

Looking at the three promoted clubs, it seems reasonable to say that Hull City are Areches-Beaufort: off the beaten track, quietly doing some good things, strongly patriotic locals.

And Crystal Palace are Valmorel: getting back to where they were in the 1980s, but still not entirely convincing.  Just as Palace market themselves at their south London catchment area, Valmorel targets its marketing at the south too (of France, that is).

Cardiff City is a tricky one.   I don't really see them as Les Gets.  So I've opted for Montgenevre, mainly because there seems to be some serious money going in there, but (until now) nobody really talks about them much.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LA PLAGNE: 1961-2013

The transition from virgin site to the biggest ski resort in the world has been a progressive exercise, over more than five decades.  It's all chronicled in this video, created for La Plagne's 50th birthday.  Here's the timeline:

1961 onwards: Plagne Centre, with its galeries now receiving a long awaited makeover
1965: The Grands Rochettes lift, later destroyed by fire
1968: Aime 2000 - aka the "snow liner"

Aime 2000
1971: Champagny: 77% of the locals voted "yes" in a referendum on whether to join the La Plagne ski area.  Access was via a very long telesiege for many years
1972: Plagne Villages
1972-73: Montchauvin - an enterprise which centred on renovating old sheds/barns etc in this traditional village
1974: Plagne Bellecote and the opening up of the Roche de Mio
1977: Les Coches
1980: Montalbert - where a new telecabine is due for 2014/15
1981: Belle Plagne
1982: Plagne 1800 - ex mining site
1984: Tour de France - won by Laurent Fignon
1990: Plagne Soleil
1987: Tour de France - "it's Stephen Roche!"
1992: Albertville Winter Olympics
2002: Tour de France - Michael Boogerd

2003: The launch of Paradiski, courtesy of the Vanoise Express

For more on La Plagne before 1961, click here.

For more on La Plagne in the Tour de France, click here.



And, for links to other sites and articles about La Plagne, click here.

Friday, 12 July 2013

MONT VENTOUX: Le Ski

It may be seem unlikely as we watch the Tour huff and puff its way up the mountain in scorching temperatures, but there is skiing in them there hills.



On the south side (the route the riders are taking this year), look out for Chalet Reynard, 6km from the summit, at 1,435m.  A lift pass at its small ski area costs 12€ during the season.  It's open on Wednesdays and at weekends:









As may be expected, there is more skiing on the north side, at Mont Serein.  It's still tiny, by Alpine standards, with 12km of downhill pistes, and 7km of ski de fond:



Saturday, 29 June 2013

BIENVENUE DANS LE YORKSHIRE

This time next year will see the Grand Depart from another fiercely independent-minded part of the world: Yorkshire.




Stage 1 sees the Tour take in the Dales, en route from Leeds to Harrogate.  Stage 2 is York-Sheffield, which will be a "mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege" including a fearsome looking climb up Jenkin Road, just before the finish.





Stage 3 sees the tour leave Cambridge for the capital.  Boris will be no doubt be seen beaming as the peloton passes the Olympic site and then all the central London landmarks.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LA PLAGNE: 1939-61

More than 50 years since its opening in 1961, where next for La Plagne?

This winter's Alpes Loisirs magazine looks at the history of the resort, and talks to some of the locals.

It may not quite be a rag-to-riches story, but it's some transformation: from declining mining area (for lead and silver) to what is the biggest ski resort in the world in terms of turnover.

Today's La Plagne ranges from the famous "snow liner" at Aime 2000 - "la montagne facon banlieue" to the protected village that is Champagny-en-Vanoise.

Rewind back to the second world war, when the local mines saw the French resistance using them as a base.  The Mont de la Guerre piste is a direct reference to the fighting seen in the area - more here.

By the 1950s, the area was losing its young people.  Agriculture was in decline, and the mines weren't going to last forever (they closed finally in 1973).

Those were working in the mines had been able to make a living, but at the expense of their health.  Step forward Dr Borionne, mayor of Aime, who saw all this first-hand with his patients: "It's hell on earth in there - a cemetery".

Dr Borionne appears to have been a charismatic chap, very good with people, and able to interact with les paysans, his fellow mayors and the developers who would help finance the new resort.  He was able to bring the diverse communities that are Aime, Macot, Bellentre and Longefoy to come together behind the plan.

Inside the "snow liner" at Aime 2000
They needed help in order to work out exactly what to do in terms of starting a new ski area.  "At that time, a good skier wasn't taken seriously - they were seen as layabouts", says La Plagne pioneer, Gilbert Vivet Gros.

In 1960, ski champion and technical director Emile Allais came to look at what was then a virgin site.  "La Plagne has some amazing possibilities" he said.  "Sun and snow are guaranteed".  The plateau above what is now Plagne Centre was ideal in terms of allowing skiers to move from one part of the mountain to another while staying in the sum.  The glacier at Bellecote provided access to slopes over 3000m and even summer skiing (now defunct).  And there were forests down below, providing a natural fridge.

Michel Bezancon was the young Parisien architect (and keen skier) brought in to develop the site.  His first plan involved 7 sites and 36,000 beds.  "You'd better hide that, it'll make everyone scared!" said Dr B.  Today it has 10 sites and 53,000 beds...

Fifty years later, Bezancon is used to people calling it "Sarcelles des Neiges".  He comes back regularly to Aime 2000, where he is a proprietor.  "La Plagne has evolved in line with the needs of its clients", he says.  "In the 1960s, the middle classes were dreaming of the modern world.  This was the generation which had rebuilt France.  They were looking, above all, for a functional environment".  Here's a link to a video, created for the 50th anniversary, which charts the history of La Plagne in photos.


Sarcelles

The functional environment the tourists of the 1960s were looking for can be seen in Plagne Centre, with its commercial galeries (now being renovated - see story here from 7 June).  People could walk around in their slippers and pick up their croissant and paper....mingling with the morning's skiers as they left for the lifts.  "This was the time for pioneers", says the author of the Alpes Loisirs piece, Jacques Leleu.  "People felt part of it.  Holdaymakers could pass from the pistes to the cafe utterly seamlessly."


For another overview (in English) see www.laplagnenet.com

For a very detailed history (in French) see the excellent www.perso-laplagne.fr site

And here's a "fact file" covering key dates, published at the time of La Plagne's 50th birthday in 2011