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

Friday, 29 March 2013

LA PLAGNE: An internet tour

UPDATED 2/10/14: 

No visitor to Les Arcs should go home without spending some time over at La Plagne. It's apparently the world's most frequented ski resort, with 2.5 million visitors last season. And it's feeling happy:



The resorts are in some ways very similar to Les Arcs, but do have a different atmosphere, terrain, history.  And, despite recent improvements on the arcadien side of the valley, La Plagne wins hands down on having many more places to eat.  Plus, we have the epic logo:

Click here for a quick overview
of the resort's history


Here are some links:

Official website (English version)

http://www.perso-laplagne.fr/ (in French). A wonderful site, full of news, history, photos

Accommodation in Plagne 1800. Along with Champagny this is arguably the nicest place to stay - very handy, but slightly away from it all

The Where to Ski and Snowboard guide to La Plagne

The We Love 2 Ski guide to La Plagne

Summer Walking via The Independent newspaper


Plus, from this blog:

New lifts for La Plagne, including the Montalbert gondola - now delayed.  For an April 2014 update, click here, and to read about the criticism the resort has received for the Bellecote queues click here.  Update Sept 2014 here.

Guide to La Plagne, the Everton of skiing

La Plagne, No1 in L'Equipe's Top 50

La Plagne's 50th birthday

A brief history of La Plagne (Part 1)

A brief history of La Plagne (Part 2)

The bobsleigh track below Plagne1800

La Plagne's 2000m descent, from the Glacier to Montchauvin

Les Arcs v La Plagne: head-to-head

Les Arcs v La Plange: le marketing

The Tour de France and La Plagne

The Vanoise Express


PISTE-SIDE DINING AT ARC 1800

Not a topic which brings with it a lot of material to write about, it has to be said.

We have the Arpette, and the Blanche Murée.  There is the Altiport café, and I suppose you could include the restaurant at the Chantel complex.  But that's pretty much it.  (For more on food in Les Arcs, click here.)

The closure of the Aiguille Grive Restaurant, run by Les Arcs' legends Gilles and Annick, was a big loss.  This was quite a few years ago now.  The building was demolished, rebuilt as an upmarket hotel, but its opening has been delayed.  It will be coming back next season - website here.

The Aiguille Grive, 11 March 2013
The good news for the remainder of this season anyway, is that Gilles is back!  The restaurant attached to the hotel is open, and a review, courtesy of the Avenir et Animation des Arcs site, states:

"The Aiguille Grive restaurant has reopened.  The decor is more contemporary, 
but still in the 'spirit of Les Arcs'.  The ambiance is the same, Gilles Christophe returning to welcome his clients.

At lunchtimes, simple food is served either on the south-facing terrace 
or in an airy dining room with great views of the mountains.

In the evening, with a fire burning, there's the chance to dine in a friendly and relaxing atmosphere.

To reserve, call 04 79 40 20 30."

Season 2013/14 will also see another restaurant on the home runs to Arc 1800 - its foundations are already in place, just below the Transarc middle station.  I imagine there may also be more happening at as Edenarc takes shape.  At the moment it's almost disarmingly low key and quiet.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

ARC 2000: The Wembley of Speed Skiing

Speed skiing is apparently the "sport of going downhill in a straight line as quickly as possible".  

Vars and Les Arcs are the two remaining French courses

It certainly goes down as something of a niche sport, but does have a history going back to the 1930s.  The French Wikipedia site gives a more detailed overview than its English language cousin.  The first races were held in Switzerland, in Murren and St Mauritz, with the Austrian Leo Gasper achieving 137km/h in 1931.

During the 1970s the Italians appear to have been the keenest on the sport with the kilometro lanciato course in Cervina hosting an annual event.  In the southern hemisphere a course was established at Portillo, and here Steve McKinney reached the 200km/h barrier in 1978.  

Unsurprisingly, the big shadow hanging over the sport is safety.  In 1978 two fatal accidents at Cervinia prompted the FIS to take speed skiing out of its portfolio altogether. Speed skiing races continued to be organised both in North America (Silverston), in Les Arcs and at La Clusaz.  These events, coupled with improved security, prompted it to be included in the 1992 Albertville Olympics - the one and only time it has been included in the winter games.  That event (which drew the second highest viewing figures of the games) saw the death of the Swiss skier Nicolas Bochatay during training.  More recently, 2007 saw the death of British speed skier Caitlin Tover, who fell from the start area.

The courses at Les Arcs and Vars are still going. But Les Arcs is no longer marketing scaled-back versions of the course to holidaymakers.  I think it is just being left to the people who really, really want to do it.  I am told that there is only one ski maker still producing the 240 metre skis required to take part.

The Vars course has a 98% gradient at the start

Les Arcs does appear to be the Wembley of speed skiing, and both the male and female records were set there (251 km/h by Simon Origone and 242 km/h by Sanna Tidstrand). It starts at 2710m, below the Varet lift, and finishes, 1.7km later, at 2145 metres, at Arc 2000.  You can watch it all unfold from the Chalets de l'Arc restaurant.

                           

The top speeds can only be achieved be gliding on the thin watery layer above the melting snow, and so the records tend to have been set right at the end of the season.  And, from 6 April, the piste will be back in action, during Les Arcs' speed week.  This will see attempts at the world record on skis, monoski, handiski...and mountain bike.  It's the brainchild of Eric Barone, who will be getting back on his bike with a view to breaking the 200 km/h barrier again.... 


Sunday, 17 March 2013

VILLARS

Villars may no longer be in the Premier League of Swiss ski resorts, but is a pretty strong proposition for day trippers or people on a short break.  It's handy for Geneva airport (allow an hour and a half) and is very close indeed for anyone staying in Lausanne or Montreux.

The resort is marketed jointly with its neighbour Gryon (website here), and also forms part of a wider Alpes Vaudoises offering 225kms of pistes, or indeed 420kms for a mega-pass which includes Gstaad.

The local ski area gives access to a respectable 100kms, and is linked to Les Diablerets via a strange old two person chairlift: here's a nice write-up on the area via the Daily Mail.  There's a certain quirkiness about the place; the lift pylons include quotes from Camus, de Beauvoir and...Woody Allen.

Skiing in the area has a fine history, and visiting today feels a bit like going to a museum of ski lifts.  Cog railways, gondolas, slow chairs, fast chairs, T-bars, pomas...all are on view:

(A short) T-bar linking Villars with Gryon's ski area

The quickest entry into the ski area is to park at the Roc d'Orsay lift at the entrance to the village.  (If you want to ski the Diablerets glacier you'd be best just to go there directly and park at the Col de Pillon.  There are buses from Les Diablerets village, but the service is pretty limited.)

Avoid the Vers l'Eglise area if you dislike draglifts.  Instead ski down to Les Diablerets village and have lunch at the Les Vioz restaurant at the foot of the main chairlift.

It's a fun area to explore, with skiing on a number of different mountains.  The Croix des Chaux area above Gryon has some fine open slopes, and a long and beautiful run down through pastures and chalets to the village - around 1000m of descent.  There's an annoying walk from the bottom to the gondola back up, but a more direct route to the lift is probably possible (visibility was not good on my visit).

Croix des Chaux, 2000m

Foot of the slope at Gryon

In March 2013, they have excellent snow conditions, and could certainly carry on longer than the 7 April closing date: the south facing nature of the pistes and low altitude do mean that this is probably never going to be a mecca for late season skiing however.

This week the British Ski Academy was holding a training camp, and a party of 40 Chinese skiers was in town.  Apparently the Chinese have already overtaken the Dutch in visits to Switzerland.  The Swiss tourist industry clearly has high hopes of further building its presence in the Asian market in the wake of its loss of market share to Austria and France.

On your way home, do make sure you take the exciting fast blue back from Bretaye to the telecabine.

There seems to be an ongoing debate about linking Les Diablerets with Chateau d'Oex to form a "mega resort", as well as uncertainty about the future of the Isenau area.  If you want to explore the skiing there you'd probably be best driving straight to Diablerets rather than striking out from Villars.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

THE SEASON SO FAR

It's been a pretty good season so far - snow depths are looking healthy, with La Plagne reporting 102/102 lifts open, and the Ski Club of Great Britain giving piste conditions an "excellent" rating.

And the skiers have duly arrived in resort to enjoy the snow.  Pierre et Vacances report a better season than 2011/12, and Odalys say they are 95% of the way to reaching their targets.  "We are surprised.  Everyone is surprised" they say, bearing in mind the depressing economic backdrop.  It's a bit early to know what this means for the British ski market, or indeed whether the Swiss are starting to recover.  Another barometer is the performance of the giant Compagnie des Alpes, who run the lifts for most of France's Premier League resorts.  The first part of the season was "satisfactory" - we need to wait until 25th April to see if they upgrade their assessment.

Les Arcs is one of the resorts run by
the Compagnie des Alpes

From a British ski business point of view, the big news is the "banning of ski hosts" by the Albertville court.  It's a complex issue - more here - and one which the tour operators have vowed to keep on fighting.  Twelve ski holiday providers, including Inghams, Crystal and Thomson, met last week, although they are pausing until they've seen the written judgement.  A useful update from the Telegraph is here.  And here's another perspective on the issue from The Good Ski Guide.

The abundant snowfalls also bring reminders of just how dangerous it can be.  Le Monde reports that 8 people have died over the last week in avalanches, including a guide and their client in Tignes.

Looking to the future....which resorts should we watch out for?  La Rosiere is clearly on the up, but watch out for more coverage of Montgenevre in your Saturday travel supplements.  There's been a lot of investment in accommodation, it's reasonably easy to access via Turin, and is having a marketing push aimed at Parisien and Northern European skiers.  It could do with a new website though...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

DECKCHAIRS IN THE SNOW

Apparently, there is a history of folding chairs in Northern Europe which dates back to the Bronze Age.  Wikipedia reports that the first deckchairs were patented in the 1850s, and that it is not entirely clear as to whether they are a US or British "invention".

They are of course an excellent way to sit and reflect.  Here, for no particularly good reason, are some spotted in and around the Tarentaise:

Aux Enfants Terribles, Peisey-Vallandry
Hotel de la Vanoise, Plan Peisey

La Cordée restaurant, just above Plan Peisey

Le Solliet restaurant, above Villaroger

The last deckchairs in France: La Rosiere,
next to the new "Fort" lift
The first deckchairs in Italy

The first deckhairs in Italy (2)
The first deckchairs in Italy (3)

The Snowpark at Les Arcs (1)

The Snowpark at Les Arcs (2)

For more on eating in Les Arcs, click here.

For more on La Rosiere and La Thuile, click here.