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

Monday, 27 May 2013

LA ROSIERE: Round-up

Official website here

Brilliant vistas of the Tarentaise.  A big ski area, with flattering runs on the French side and steeper reds over in Italy.  Big vertical descents on both sides.  La Rosiere is a bit of a hidden gem.

The defining point is the border on the Col du Petit St Bernard, which marks the watershed between the Mediterranean (Rhone) and Adriatic (Po).  Here's a weary cyclist arriving, buffeted by the ever-present wind.

And here's the Tour de France climbing the Col in 2009, prior to its arrival in arrival in Bourg-St-Maurice:

More (from this blog) on La Rosiere here, including a brief note on plans to expand the resort - something which is not going to go unchallenged.

For more on the rather excellent skiing, have a look at the We Love 2 Ski and Where to Ski and Snowboard guides.  And during the season you can keep in touch with what's happening on Twitter via my namesake @SimonAtkinson66 - aka the Brit who runs the local ESF.

TIGNES: Round-up

Click here for English language website

Tignes needs little introduction to regular skiers.  It may not be beautiful, but for me has much more character than Val d'Isere.  If you're day-tripping, park at Les Brevieres. There is also a snowy car park at Les Boisses, although make sure you have chains or good tyres if you park here.  Les Boisses is the site of the giant Tignes dam, which feeds the power station at Bourg St Maurice (and the electricity needs of some 350,000 people).

Some links from this blog:

Tignes in the 2007 Tour de France

6 good things about Tignes

Other links:

ESF at the Lac de Tignes.  One of the rare ski schools to offer collective off-piste ("grand ski") lessons

The We Love 2 Ski guide to Tignes

The Where to Ski and Snowboard guide

Le lac webcam via www.tignes.co.uk

Tignes has really made an effort with its various events, with the X-Games really growing in stature in recent years:

Saturday, 25 May 2013


The history of Les Arcs takes a bit of piecing together - the pages here try to provide something of a guide.

To add to the excitement, here are two new sources of information...

The first is a video from a great series of documentaries about grands travaux.  You can find it on the Daily Motion site here.  (There's also an account of the building of the Tignes dam as part of the project to meet France's post-war electricity needs).

It covers quite a bit of ground, including:

- the mountain before Les Arcs - very little activity
- the compulsory purchase of properties by the developers (Blanc, Godino et al.  Roger Godino is interviewed at 7')
- the design of the apartments at Arc 1600, which looked to avoid "vis-a-vis" in terms of the flats being overlooked etc (11'45)
- a tour with some of the original proprieteres at Arc 1800 (14')
- the story of Radio Les Arcs (17')
- an interview with Bernard Jafe, one of the original commercants, who runs the photo shop next to Chez Boubou at Arc 1800 (19')
- archive shots of a family in one of the Perriand-designed interiors at Arc 1800 (22')
- "Le Disneyworld" at Arc 1950 (24')
- the Les Arcs pistes today: some 250,000 skiers a year

The prefabricated bathroom/kitchen units
designed by Charlotte Perriand helped meet the
target of getting the Arc 1800apartments
built between May1 and November 20

The second exhibit, from the www.alpissime.com site, pays homage to the early proprieteres of Les Arcs.

Pierra Menta, Arc 1800

Some headlines:

- many of the early buyers bought the flats off-plan
- the personal touch of Robert Blanc played a role in some cases, for example bringing some of the people he met in Courchevel over to invest in Les Arcs
- Arc 1600 remains 80% proprietere-owned
- the early lifts included the now-dismantled Gollet lift at 1600, as well as a steep drag following the course of the current Comborciere chair
- helicopters used to drop off off-piste skiers at the Altiport, these being the days before the ban on heli-skiing

Saturday, 18 May 2013

STE-FOY-TARENTAISE: Part 3 - On the Piste

Season 2013/14 update, including news of new restaurants here.

Update 21 Sept: The Grand Plan chair out of the village is being replaced by a fast lift for 2013/14.  The new Where To Ski And Snowboard guide reports that there will also be a new restaurant at the foot of the Marquise lift.

For years, I've been looking across at Ste-Foy's ski area from Les Arcs' Villaroger pistes, without ever making the effort to get over there to see what all the fuss is about.

They say it's where the Val d'Isere instructors go on their day off.  That the ski area, though small, packs much more of a punch than a look at the map might suggest.  That the off-piste is quite simply Premier League.  And that the resort is developing in a gentle, vaguely up-market kind of a way, with a loyal band of British visitors.  I can't vouch for the Val d'Isere instructors, but all of these seemed to be true this March.

It's only about 20 minutes from Bourg-St-Maurice.  First, you pass through Ste-Foy village at 813m.  It boasts a Logis de France, and is well placed for back-door access to Les Arcs via Villaroger.  Then you take the next set of hairpins towards Val d'Isere and then turn off to the left - the road up to the resort is not bad at all.  You can read a little bit more about the commune on the modest wikipedia page.

The lift pass, at 27€, makes a change from the 46€ Les Arcs price.  Indeed, the resort gets into the Chris Gill and Dave Watts Reasonably Affordable Ski Resorts guide.

This is one of the few resorts not owned by Compagnie des Alpes, but there is some money going into the system; there will be a new detachable lift in place from the resort for 2013/14.

The runs are long and there's a good mixture of open and tree-lined skiing.  There are a couple of cosy restaurants half-way up - they get quite crowded, as indeed does the restaurant at the foot of the slopes next to the ESF office.

Back on the slopes, the La Marquise lift is the newest, and has opened up a fine area of mountain.  The prospect of the ski area expanding beyond its current 35kms now look remote - more details on the background here.

The local mairie wants to expand the area.
"Non" say environmental campaigners -
and the French Ministry agrees

For more, see the We Love 2 Ski guide - or watch the videos below, which weave on and off the pistes:


For Ste-Foy Part One, which covers the debate re the resort's expansion, click here.

Part Two looks at the off-piste; more here.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

STE-FOY-TARENTAISE: Part 2 - Off Piste

Ste-Foy may be a small resort in terms of piste skiing, but it is clearly in the Premier League for off-piste.  There is skiing from 3000m (if you're willing to take a hike from the top lift) down to about 1200m.   (For more on the debate on extending Ste-Foy's ski area click here.)

Ste-Foy offers off-piste slopes for all abilities (easier on the south side; more challenging on the northern flank).  Along withe La Rosiere, it also makes a bit of a thing about heli-skiing.  This is banned in France, but they "cheat a little" by dropping skiers off over the Italian border for their descent back.

In honour of these possibilities, the local ESF has set up a special "pole hors-piste".  

Some links:

1.   The White Room Chalet guide, which covers the special off-piste areas which are secured from avalanches by the pisteurs, but otherwise left to nature.

2.  Premier Neige also gives a pen picture of the various runs.  

3.  And here's the guide from pistehors.com

Meanwhile, here are some shots of the run to Le Monal:

The start: Col de l'Aiguille

Looking down on Le Monal, with
Tignes in the distance

Le Monal: many of the chalets
are being renovated.
Deserted in winter

Le Rocher de Pierre d'Arbine

Looking back from the track to Ste-Foy

To see some real skiers take the route, have a look at the video below.  It's from the Quebecois Plaisir de Skier series, with our presenter taken round the local slopes by local monitrice Marian Bréchu.  In addition to the run to Le Monal, they take to the north face and ski down for a meal at Le Miroir, just above the road to Bourg St Maurice.

Monday, 6 May 2013


Presumably this will be a one season wonder, but the Harlem Shake has duly made an appearance in the mountains.  

The ESF liked it so much, they set up a competition.  Type "ESF Harlem Shake Community" into Youtube if you are keen.  Here are the moniteurs of Arc 2000.

First among equals are the ESF at Risoul, whose efforts are notable for actually including some skiing:

More below:

1. The "skipass girls" at Arc 2000:

2. Over at Plagne Centre:

3. ESF Praz sur Arly:

4. ESF at Val Thorens:

5. ESF Isola 2000:

6. ESF Les Gets:

Saturday, 4 May 2013

STE-FOY-TARENTAISE: Part 1 - Le Vallon du Clou

The debate has been going on for some time.

Should the tiny resort of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise be allowed to expand its ski area into the beautiful and islolated Vallon du Clou?

This week, we appear to have closure.

There's a full report in Le Dauphiné on the decision to give the valley protected status.  Here is a belt-and-braces translation:


Ste-Foy will not be extending its ski area into the vallon du Clou.  The site, at c2000m, has just been given protected status - in its entireity - by the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.  The two new lifts which the ski resort wanted to install in the north of the valley will therefore not be happening.


With this addition to the list of Savoie's "sites classées", the Ministry is looking to protect "the quality and riches of this savoyard countryside".  "It's a remarkable location, which still features traditional pastural activities....with amazing scenery all around: lakes, glaciers, the high mountains".

Further down, at entry of the valley is the famous hamlet of Le Monal, which was given protected status in 1987 (and is a mecca for off-piste excursions by the way).

Off-piste above Le Monal.  The entrance to
 the valley is on the left

For the mayor of Ste-Foy-Tarentise, if this decision "isn't a surprise", it's still bad news:

"We were only looking at the highest part of the valley", says Raymond Bimet.  Just 150 hectares out of the 2,692 which make up the site.  For us, this is not incompatible with the site having protected status, because it would only have had minimal impact on the eye. In addition, we were ging to build an "entry point" to the site which would show visitors the differeent features, flora and fauna of the site".

That's not enough, say the environmental associations (Vivre en Tarentaise, Frapna, Mountain Wilderness, Club Alpin Francais...) who have been battling for several years for the site to be protected from development.  "When you classify a site, you are talking about a complete geographical area" says André Collas, of Frapna Savoie.  "It's as if you wanted to protect a church but you are only taking into account the majority of the building.  It just doesn't make sense" argues Vincent Neirinck, of Mountain Wilderness.

In the future, walkers wil therefore be able to enjoy the whole of this high valley without seeing ski lifts in front of them or on the horizon.  But Ste-Foy's town hall hasn't given up quite yet - they are planning an appeal against the decision to classify the whole of the valley as protected.