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Hiking above Peisey Vallandry

Sunday, 20 January 2013

LE GRAND BORNAND


Le Grand Bornand offers something very different to the "ski factories" of the Tarentaise.

An old village, at the heart of Reblochon country, with more than 400 traditional chalets, set at the foot of the striking Aravis range.

Parking at the main village (1000m)

It's very close to civilisation - a little over an hour from Geneva, with regular ski buses direct from Annecy.  If you get the early flight from Luton or Heathrow, you will be on the slopes by 11.30 (with a following wind).

"Le Grand Bo" has been developing quietly over the years.  Its population has risen from 1,500 in 1960s to 2,000+ now, making its current population now above 1807 levels (for more, see the wikipedia page).  It actually has more inhabitants than its better-known neighbour, La Clusaz, which boasts 130km of pistes.  There has been talk about linking the two areas via Le Danay since at least 1974/75 apparently.  The reasons for this not having happened yet appear to be as follows:

1. Local rivalries between La Clusaz and Le Grand Bo
2. Low natural snowfall - apparently there was a draglift there until 1950 but it got taken down because there wasn't enough snow, even then...
3. Environmental concerns associated with developing a virgin site
4. Environmental concerns associated with having to build a mega neige de culture facility to keep the link open (see 2 above)
5. Would it be worth the investment - it's a moyenne montagne area, very familial, people coming here aren't into the motorway piste-bashing experience you get in the Tarentaise.  Etc

I can't find much recent by way of debate about the proposals.  So, for the foreseeable future, you need to rely on what seems to be a reasonably well organised network of ski buses to access the 200km+ of Aravis pistes.

The skiing

It won't keep you going for a week, but Le Grand Bo's 90km of pistes are a lot of fun. There are a whole series of areas to explore, including a real "away from it all" valley below the Col des Annes.  It has one of France's leading snowparks.  There is a great kids' area at the top of Le Rosay gondola.  The area is peppered with restaurants.  And at 31€ for a day pass, you have money in your pocket for a plat du jour, when compared with Les  Arcs' €46...

Col des Annes (1)
                          
Col des Annes (2)

Ski geeks will find just about everything they'd wish to know about the ski areas of both Le Grand-Bo and La Clusaz is on the excellent www.ski-aravis.com site.

Day-trippers can stop in the old village where there is a car park by the two gondolas and some street parking (1000m).

At the top of Le Rosay gondola

This is probably neater than driving up to Chinaillon (the summer gateway to the Col de la Colombiere).  The pistes at Chinaillon (1300m) are great for second week skiers:

Above Chinaillon

Le Grand Bornand has been trying to brand itself as a real "sporting town" in recent years. For example, it has been very assertive in investing in its role as a regular Tour de France location.  The 2013 Tour will finish at Le Grand Bo for the fourth time in a decade - you can read more about its TDF history here and see a profile of the 2013 stage here.

                            



Sunday, 6 January 2013

THE SEASON SO FAR...

Although temperatures have warmed up things over the last week or so, the season has started well, with snow conditions good or better in most French resorts.

La Rosiere from Clocheret lift, Les Arcs

For a good overview of some of the snow depths in key resorts, click here.

And to look in a little more detail at your favourite resort, you have the strangely addictive www.snoweye.com at your disposal.

Nightmare start to the season goes to La Giettaz in the Aravis.  The two new chairlifts planned for this season did not open in time for the Christmas and New Year holidays...

In Les Arcs, there's not too much new to report, although the upmarket Edenarc development is continuing its slow move up the slopes.

Les Arcs is of course one of the many resorts whose lifts are controlled by the giant Compagnie des Alpes, and they have declared war on the so-called lits froids, and plans to buy up ageing apartments ready for renting out or re-sale.  Les 2 Alpes, Serre Chevalier and Les Menuires are also on the hit list here.

At La Plagne, there is much change at Plagne Centre in terms of both lifts and an upgraded shopping centre: see www.perso-laplagne.fr for regular updates.

And there are more developments on the way....

Further up the Tarentaise, La Rosière will truly be a Premiership resort when 40kms of new lifts open in 2016/17.

Meanwhile, €140m of investment is going into 10 new lifts at Courchevel and La Tania; more here.

Away from the Tarentaise, Avoriaz is udergoing a significant makeover.  Again we see a move towards bigger apartments.  In contrast to Les Arcs, the original architect is still overseeing things.

At the other end of the spectrum, Saint-Hugues in the Chartreuse is up and running, with its bargain €10 day pass offering something completely different.



Saturday, 5 January 2013

OFF THE PISTE: The Red Bull "Linecatcher"

   Updated 19 January 2012

Here's what happened:



And there's another video via Atomic Skis here.

Updated 12 January 2012

January sees a serious off-piste/backcountry ski competition come to Les Arcs. "The best free-skiers" in the word on the Fond Blanc slopes", proclaims the Dauphiné.

The "stade" is off-piste - at the Cirque du Fond Blanc, on the Arc 2000 side of the mountain.  You get there by climbing the improvised steps from the top of the Clocheret lift.  But this is not particularly encouraged; pictures will be beamed back to Place Miravidi in Arc 1800, for example.

Previous "host resorts" have included Vars and La Clusaz.

The official opening is today, with the competition proper starting on Monday.



Armchair off-piste skiers like me enjoy looking at the various options in Didier Givois' Les Clés du Paradiski, available in resort.

Le Dauphiné's preview also covered a "bluffer's guide" to the various words used in "freeski" circles, given that they all have English origins:

Rider: a name given to both skiers and snowboarders.  Only skiers are participating in the Linecatcher.

Le Freeride: The practice of ski or snowboard on a virgin (off-piste) slope.

Le Freestyle: Also for skiers and snowboarders - involves acrobatic displays of various types.  Style counts for everything.

Le Backcountry: A hybrid of freeride and freestyle, taking place on virgin slopers.  This is the discipline of the Red Bull Linecatcher.

Glad we've got that sorted!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

WHAT'S NEW IN LES ARCS

Updated 13/1/13

A couple of weeks into the season, the main news in Les Arcs - as across the region - is that there is A LOT of snow.  The resort is completely full for the New Year holidays, and there are February-esque queues at the main lifts (Vagère, Arcabulle).

Belles Challes, Arc 1800, 29 Dec 2012

What's new in Les Arcs?  Well, not a lot, in reality.  There's more change going on at La Plagne - see www.perso-laplagne.fr for regular updates.  But here are 5 things the keen visitor to Les Arcs may notice during the 2012/13 season:

1. The next phase in the Edenarc development above Arc 1800 is now open

There are now two apartment blocks on the Chantel site, and plans to extend the development up the hill, including a new hotel.  It's fair to say that the units have been slow to sell (I have marketing emails from them dating from 2007, and they are still miles away from completion.  Apparently the original developers went bust).  According to the website, work will start in "December 2013" (sic) on the new hotel, but it hasn't been updated for a while.  A "telecabine" of some description is also planned, which will replace the ancient Chantel chairlift, and give a more direct link between the Edenarc satellite and the main resort.

For more on Charlotte Perriand's original design for the Chantel site click here.

Left on the drawing board.
 Perriand's design for Chantel Haut

2. The Aiguille Grive hotel has NOT opened



This new 4 star hotel/chalet development is on the site of the much-loved-and-now-demolished Aiguille Grive restaurant, formerly run by Gilles and Annick.  It cost 5.3m € to build, and promises a luxury that is rare in Arc 1800.  The website is up, they've had a bit of press coverage.  But the doors are closed.  To be continued...(13/1/13: apparently there is an issue with the electricity certificates - there were people on site last week).

3.  The Arc 1800 cinema is CLOSED

This is a real blow, taking away one of the few non-skiing activities.  Given that Brits are at least 30% of visitors, the management didn't help themselves too much by ignoring the wonders of English subtitles and showing Hollywood blockbusters in the dubbed French versions only.  But it's a big shame, and an online petition has been launched calling for it to be saved. (13/1/13: one stumbling block appears to be the costs associated with upgrading the cinema to digital format).

4.  The Aux Enfants Terribles restaurant above Peisey has been extended

It now has a new "lower deck" including a self-service bar.   A good move, as it's a popular spot, and these latest changes open up a "budget eating" option.  For more on eating on the slopes click here.

Aux Enfants Terribles 

5.  Famous visitors

The Aux Enfants Terribles management also run the Arpette restaurant above Arc 1800. This was the location for the sighting of disgraced French politician Dominque Strauss-Kahn this Christmas.  "DSK" was spotted eating at this "très simple" establishment, queuing up along with everyone else.  More here.