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

Friday, 26 December 2014

LE SNOW ART DES ARCS

BREAKING NEWS: The fast-improving Les Arcs Facebook page is now reporting the first sightings of what is quickly becoming an attraction in its own right: Simon Beck's artistic creations in the snow.  The slopes above Arc 2000 are his canvas...


For more on Simon's snow (and sand) art, click here.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

MOVING ON UP: La Plagne opens Les Colosses

Via www.perso-laplagne.fr, a trip up the new 8-person chair at Plagne Bellecote, which allows panoramic views of the perilously thin snow cover.

This new lift is the fastest of its kind, with the hope being it will eat into the notorious Bellecote queues.  For more background, click here.

La Plagne fans may still be disturbed to hear that the current site of Lowry-esque queues, aka the Roche de Mio gondola, will not be retired until 2020.  Their mood may be lifted when they browse the 10 year plan for improvements, which are set out here.   

Looking towards Pralognan from
the Champagny side of La Plagne's slopes
Click here for more on the resort, including
its history, summer walking, bobsleigh track...

Sunday, 21 December 2014

HIGH ABOVE LA PLAGNE: The Glacier

"A bit of an odd set-up"
"Feels like it needs more thought"
"A-MA-ZING views"

Some comments overheard on a visit last season to the summit of La Plagne's skiing...

Change is on the horizon.  There are big plans to further upgrade the lifts across the resort, and the Glacier is at the heart of these plans.

For now, the trip up there is not without its drawbacks.  Assuming it's open, of course.  It's closed for 35 days each season.

Coming from Les Arcs, the journey up there can certainly take a while - whichever route to Roche de Mio you use.  Even in low season, allow some time.

Once you get to Roche de Mio, there is the ancient lift to take to the start of the Glacier skiing.  You can't ski to it direct.

The pistes are not really for beginners.  The red from the top of the new Glacier lift gets bumpy, and many people take the easier (but narrow) track - which the gets very crowded. Persevere, however; if you are up for the fierce Derochoir piste, you have the chance to make a 2000m descent all the way down to Montchauvin, at 1250m.  There are also a couple of blacks up there which have recently been re-instated as pistes.

The fiddly "retro" gondola link to the glacier will be
condemned to the ski history books from 2016

The headache for the resort is that, despite it being (in theory) the jewel in the crown, just 1% of its skiers' time is spent on the Glacier.

From 2016, there will be a new 10-person telecabine, which will take 2,800 skiers an hour. And a new red piste will enable skiers (and piste bullies) to reach the slopes directly.  This will be followed by a second gondola in 2017; details here.

See www.perso-laplagne.fr for more

For more on the 10 year plan for La Plagne's pistes, click here.

Looking back, 2015 marks ten years since the glacier was open for summer skiing - more here.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

NO WEATHER BOMB FOR THE ALPS

It's beginning to look not a lot like Christmas....

French resorts have been able to make snow this week, but all that may be thwarted by high temperatures in the days to come - the latest update from Telegraph Ski sets out the sorry scene.

Les Arcs is currently registering a feeble 6cm at 1600m and 30cm at the top.  A small number of pistes have been opened above 1800 and 2000, but it's all looking very threadbare - see the webcam at Arc 1950 for an illustration.

This has prompted the newly formed Les Arcs Freeski Academy to decamp back to the gym at Bourg St Maurice for its training/auditions this afternoon.

The British students arriving in resort this week - including parties from Bath and Manchester - will not be happy.  They will have to make do with going to the cinema, courtesy of this week's Les Arcs Film Festival.

It all adds up to a low key launch for the new "Mille 8" development above 1800, centrepiece of a series of developments for 2014 and 2015.

Across the valley at La Rosiere the resort is "sur les starting blocks", but has delayed opening any lifts until next week.

That was then...
Above Arc 1800, 20th April 2014

Sunday, 7 December 2014

KEEP IN TOUCH: Social Media in the Tarentaise

Here's a guide (from a couple of years ago) to some of the main Tweeters of the Tarentaise.

A welcome new arrival since then is @tournavelles, tweeting from Villards in Arc 1800, often with the latest pictures of snow conditions etc.  And I try to RT news and comments about Les Arcs a few times a week @TweetLesArcs.

The Ski Adventures blog, from a company based in Les Arcs, will bring you the latest from the resort through the season.  Their latest post laments the 5% increase in lift prices and the lack of inclusion of any of the new "Mille 8" facilities.

For La Plagne fans, the excellent Perso La Plagne is now on Twitter.

Turning to Facebook, Les Arcs now has  51,000 "likes".  La Plagne is a little behind, with just under 40,000.

Meanwhile La Rosiere's Facebook page is pretty good, with loads of photos right through the year.

The border between La Rosiere and La Thuile.
Follow local ESF boss Simon Atkinson (no relation)
for the latest from this underrated area.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

LES ARCS 2014/15: Latest News

Opening dates are now confirmed: 13 Dec-25 April: more on what's coming up can be found at the newly revamped official website.

The season starts with what is now a regular fixture: the Les Arcs Film Festival.  The "special country focus" will be on Irish cinema.  This year the programme includes a Music Village, which will run from 12-15 Dec.

The big news is the transformation of the Chantel slopes at Arc 1800, which sees a new beginners area, luge track and swimming pool complex, served by the equally new Villards gondola.  In an audacious move, this new area, dubbed Mille 8 in the resort's press release, will allow skiing until 7.30pm.  The press briefing also confirms that December 2015 will see a new "Dahu" pedestrian lift introduced to serve the upmarket but isolated Chantel and Edenarc complex.  Not to mention an upgraded 6-seater Carreley lift which will provide direct access to Arc 2000.  And another restaurant.  It's all a bit too much to take in....

The top station of the new Villards gondola,
August 2014

Still on the snow, Les Arcs has a new Freeski Academy, which will teach young people aged 12-20 up to competition level.

The backcountry freestyle competition aka The Red Bull Linecatcher, runs from 17-24 Jan.  Last year there wasn't enough snow, so it was cancelled.

The Vanoise Express will no longer look like this, as JC/DC has been commissioned to decorate it with a new design for 2014/15.

Over in La Plagne, the new Colosses lift is ready for action - a mega-fast 8 seater which, it is hoped, will reduce the notorious queues of up to 50 minutes that have blighted Plagne Bellecote for so long.  For more on the background, including the Montalbert gondola, now due in December 2015, click here.

Meanwhile, Simon Beck's snow art continues to gain publicity, most recently through this piece in The Independent.

Click here for more

Sunday, 23 November 2014

SNOW (AND SAND) ART: Simon Beck

Les Arcs has always had a slightly eccentric streak, and Simon Beck's brilliant snow art is part of that tradition.  The British cartographer has a flat in Arc 2000, and much of his work can be seen on the slopes above the resort.  It takes him 6-9 hours for one of his masterpieces to appear - more here from  laplagnet.com.

Take a look at this video on how he does it, as well as this selection of pictures from the Telegraph and the Guardian.  There's another nice gallery here at plusmaths.org.


"Making these drawings is map-making in reverse.  
You start with the map, and you need to make the ground agree with the map."
Simon Beck


He has also been busy back home, taking to the sands off the Somerset coast armed with just a rake and a compass.  There's more in BBC report.


For the latest news, including the chance to buy a copy of his new book, check in at his Facebook page (complete with nearly 300,000 likes) and website.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

LES ARCS 2014/15: The Ski Schools

There aren't zillions of ski schools in Arc 1800, but there certainly is a choice.

Which to choose?  All the instructors have the strict French ski teaching qualifications. They all speak English (although they are always happy to help you with your French). Everyone's on the same mountain.  In some ways, it comes down to time of day:

For a quick lesson at 9am, choose  Privilege.  They only have a few instructors, but are very flexible and friendly.  Based out of a ski shop in Villards.  You can have an hour lesson with them and, after a quick refresh, you can be on your way.

If you have two hours, between 10 and 12, there is Arc Aventures.  Part of the ESI network, they run these handy sessions outside the absolute peak weeks.

For an hour over lunch, either 12-1 or 1-2, best to go to ESF.  They have more instructors than anyone else, and there is usually space.  Note: they do have a tendency towards being dull bureaucrats.  Last year, during the Paris school holidays, I tried to make a telephone booking while en route to the resort.  This rather modern approach was not permitted.  When I got to the resort they were booked up.  Make sure you take note of the French school holiday calendar: the February/March holidays for the various zones go on for quite some time.

There are plenty of options in the other Les Arcs villages of course.  For example, the New Generations school has a bases in Vallandry and Arc 2000; instructor JP McCarthy is happy to meet clients in Arc 1800.

If you want to explore the off-piste, the Bureau des Guides at Villards has a macho back-country vibe.  But they have very few actual guides.  If you want to book one just for your party, it's likely to be touch and go.  You might want to consider going to Ste-Foy or Tignes for such a trip.

Le Monal, Ste-Foy-Tarentaise


Thursday, 6 November 2014

HAPPY FAMILIES IN VALMOREL

Ambitious Valmorel is recognised in the World Snow Awards as most improved family resort.  It is praised, among other things, for the new piste to Doucy and its innovative family lift pass.

There is still some way to go.  In this year's ski brochures, for example, Crystal places it in the second tier - the resort is part of their internet offer but does not make the print version. And Inghams doesn't bother with Valmorel at all.

But the resort is certainly on the way up, with new lifts going in, a state-of-the-art Club Med and something completely different in the Celliers valley - more details here.  It's also much handier for Lyon and Geneva than its larger neighbours further up the Tarentaise.

This blog puts them in the Premier League of French resorts: the skiing equivalent of Crystal Palace...

Any resemblance to your ESF instructor at Valmorel is purely incidental


Sunday, 2 November 2014

A MINE OF INFORMATION: PERSO LA PLAGNE

Good news for La Plagne fans: the excellent Perso La Plagne site is now on Twitter. Follow @PersoLaPlagne for all the latest news about the resort.  It's the essential guide to the latest lifts and modifications to the piste network.

Their first tweet advertises a France 3 documentary about the lead mines which formed a central part of the local economy prior to the birth of the ski resort in 1961.

You'll find loads of articles (in French) and pictures on the site.

But for a bit of background in English, you can read a little more about the pre 1961 history here.  And this article picks up on the development of the resort since then.



Sunday, 26 October 2014

NO TOUR FOR THE TARENTAISE: #TdF2015

The Tour de France route for 2015 has been announced.

This blog is in an official strop, due to the continued absence of the Tarentaise.

No offence to our neighbours in the Maurienne valley, but the repeated presence of St-Jean-de-Maurienne and La Toussuire, is getting boring.

In 2010 we had St-Jean-de-Maurienne as a stage finish.  Modane was a start town in 2011.  Then we had St-Jean-de-Maurienne and La Toussuire in 2012.  And now we have St-Jean-de-Maurienne (twice), La Toussuire (again) and Modane (again).

In recent years, the Tarentaise has been restricted to the Col de la Madeleine and having Albertville as a ville départ.  Now, we know the Tour is all about business, but....

We love the Maurienne valley dearly, but we do feel it's time for a return to the cycling capital that is the Haute Tarentaise.  A stage finish on the Col de l'Iseran is mooted, so we look forward to seeing that on the 2016 parcours.

Rather than carry on moaning on about the 2015 route, therefore, we mark the announcement by publishing our favourite Tour de France maps:

The 1996 Tour was hampered by snow
in the Alpes, and notable for Miguel Indurain
running out of steam on the road to Les Arcs

The 2009 Tour saw Lance Armstrong struggle
over the border crossing between La Thuile and La Rosiere.
The riders then stayed in Les Arcs

For more on Le Tour in La Tarentaise, including epic visits to Les Arcs, La Rosiere, La Plagne, Tignes and Val d'Isere, click here.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

LAKE EXPECTATIONS: Tignes

A round-up of what's new, 18 months on from this update on Tignes (for its wikipedia entry click here).

1. Tignespace opened: "the most innovative sports and conference centre in the Alps", according to the website.  It is an example of how Tignes is always looking to innovate and try new things.

2. The X-Games have moved back to the US - much to the  irritation of resort bosses.

3. A shiny new Aeroski lift lift opened in 2013.

4. The new upmarket development billed as Tignes 1800 also opened for the 2013/14 season.

5. The Tignes dam featured centre stage in The Returned, which featured on British TV screens during Summer 2013: a new series is coming soon.

6. And the dam features in the Telegraph this month, showcasing April's visit to the drained dam by Andrew Aird of Ski Adventures.

7. Some of our nation's finest young minds will be in resort from 13 December - aka the Sussex Snow winter ski trip.

It's a fascinating place - less attractive than Val d'Isere maybe, but with bags more character.  The history is quite something: the flooded valley, the new resort built up at Le Lac, its embracing of everything "sportif", the fresco on the side of the dam.  If you've ever got time to kill, take a look at the exhibition at the Maison de Tignes at the heart of Lac.


Before the deluge.
Paris Match, 1952
Park at Les Brevieres and make
the Sache black run or Corniche blue
your last descent of the day, taking in
the unique Aiguille Percée 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

LA PLAGNE: The end of the Bellecote bottleneck?

The Perso La Plagne site notes that La Plagne isn't always very good at spreading the word about developments to the ski area - indeed that was one of the reasons why they up the site 12 years ago.

With the construction of the 8-seater Colosses lift, however, things are different.  Partly because it's such a bottleneck at Plagne Bellecote, it would be criminal not to put the word out.  And partly because the resort is dead proud that its own team from the S.A.P. has led the work.  La Plagne TV takes up the story.  And here is the coverage from TV Mont Blanc:


For more on the background to the latest upgrades in La Plagne, including the plans for the new Montalbert gondola click here.

The 1966 marketing poster.
Click here for some history

Saturday, 11 October 2014

NO LONGER NO 1: The French Ski Market

"France loses its No 1 spot as the world's top country for skiing" says the new press release from resort association Domaines skiable de France.

The release goes on: "...a place it would have kept had it not been for the new school holiday calendar".

The "reforms" to the French school holiday calendar have left the ski resorts foaming at the mouth.  Easter holidays now don't start until mid April at the earliest.

The result: business is down by 70% at this time of the year, and it now makes up just 2-3% of the season's business, compared with 8% before 2010.

Looking at 2013/14 specifically, skier days are down 4.5%. and away from the lifts, resort takings are down 2.3%.  The Vosges and Jura had a complete nightmare.

Also in the firing line are increases to VAT and dodgy weather during January and February.  The general decline in the number of French people going on holiday completes the gloomy picture.

The best the resort association seems to be able to come up with is that last season is broadly in line with the average for the previous four seasons (2012/13 having been better than normal).

The French border above La Rosiere
Their new report  includes loads of fine statistics.  For example:

  • The US now records 56.2m skier days (-1.2%)
  • France has 55.3m (-4.5)
  • Austria 50.8 (-6.3)

And:

  • For every €1 spent on lift passes, 6€ are spent elsewhere in the resort 
  • There are 120,000 seasonal jobs in France - 90,000 of which are in the Northern French Alps
  • 68.1% of skiers are French; 11.6% are Brits
  • French ski passes are apparently 11% cheaper than those in Austria and 17% cheaper than the Swiss.  (Not too convinced by this one!)

For the full stats fest, click here.

Seasonal workers at Les Arcs

STILL GOING DOWNHILL: The British Ski Market

The British ski market continues to struggle.  The latest Crystal report, summarised here by the energetic folk at Planet Ski, finds just 867,000 Brits making the journey to the slopes last year, down 3.6% on 2012/13.

Back in 2007/8 the number of British skiers stood at around 1.2m.  Click here for more on the long term trends.

Alongside economic woes (there are now 5m "lapsed" British skiers and indoor slopes in the UK are booming), indifferent snow and a late Easter are deemed to be important factors.

Independent skiers are down 5.8%, while the school market shows a small fall, at -1%. France and Austria continue to dominate the market, welcoming more than 60% of the remaining British skiers.

Switzerland is on the rise, albeit from a small base.  It has seen its share increase from 4.9% to 6.5% in two years.  But that is now under threat following new labour laws which have promoted some chalet operators to pull out.  More on that story here.

The Planet Ski summary finds many tour operators claiming to be bucking the trend - but it is very much a battle over share of wallet in a market which is static at best.

At Arc 1800, Compagnie des Alpes is investing millions
in reshaping the Chantel slopes below this point - more here.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

WINTER OLYMPICS 2022: A Two-Horse Race

Planet Ski reports that Oslo is the latest candidate to quit the race to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In doing so, the Norwegian capital joins Barcelona, Munich, Davos/St Moritz, Stockholm and Krakow.

This leaves Almaty in Kazakhstan and Beijing as the only two remaining candidates.

Perhaps there will be a French bid for the 2026 games.  Then again, after the shambles of the Annecy 2018 bid, perhaps not.

La Plagne (looking over to Les Arcs).  The resort's bobsleigh track
was wheeled out as part of the Annecy 2018 bid

Sunday, 21 September 2014

LES ARCS FROM THE AIR

Get ready for the season ahead with these fine views of Les Arcs from the air:


Here are some more videos showcasing Les Arcs, including (separate) special appearances from Miguel Indurain and the Top Gear cast...

The season starts on 13th December with the Les Arcs Film Festival, which this year has a special focus on Irish cinema.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

LA PLAGNE: An end to the "Bellecote Bottleneck"?

(Updated 14 Sept)

La Plagne will not be happy to see itself nominated by Where to Ski and Snowboard as having the "most persistent problem" in the form of the queues at the Bellecote gondola. Not least as change is on the agenda.

As the Perso-LaPlagne site documents, plans are well under way for the new 8 person Colosses lift, which will relieve some of the pressure.  Maybe it will alleviate the queues to the Roche de Mio too.

Apparently the La Plagne spin doctors have been busy publicising the news.  It will be the fastest 8 person lift in France, reports today's Le Dauphiné; this Wednesday a 350 ton crane will be ready to lift the gare du départ into place.  The capacity will be 4,400 skiers/hour, compared with 2,400 previously.  Etc. 

For more background on the ongoing improvements to the La Plagne lift system, including the delay to the new Montalbert gondola, click here.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

TRANSFORMATION: Building work at Arc 1800

There are big changes taking shape at Arc 1800.  Some see this as a necessary upgrade to help the resort complete with rivals like Tignes (which was recently crowned Europe's most improved ski resort.  Older proprieteres have been overheard worrying that the resort is losing its soul, and Val d'Isere-style prices will surely follow.

The development is certainly ambitious.  The Chantel slopes will see the installation of a new gondola, piste luge and beginners' slope.  Compagnie des Alpes is putting nearly €30m into the investment.  

And that's not all.  Out goes the defunct ice-rink.  Step forward a new indoor swimming pool complex, aka the centre aqualudique.  This has been funded by the local council. For more on the background, click here.

Timing-wise, it all seems to be on track, although it looks like the restaurant on the map will have to wait until the following year.  Below are some August 2014 pictures.

Click here for full details of the plan

The new Villards telecabine has replaced the old  chair

The summit of the new telecabine in the foreground,
with the next wave of Edenarc behind

The outside pool was closed this summer...

...to enable construction of the new centre aqualudique

Sunday, 7 September 2014

GATEWAY TO THE VANOISE: Peisey-Vallandry

Peisey-Vallandry needs little information - a resort of its own, reached by an extremely tough (for cyclists anyway) climb up from Landry, now reaping the benefits from being right at the centre of the Paradiski area.  The arrival of the Club Med is a sign of its success.

The Nancroix valley which divides Peisey from the La Plagne side is of course now spanned by the Vanoise Express lift.

In winter, it's the site of some of France's best cross-country skiing.

In summer, there is serious walking to be done, for example exploring the gateway to the Vanoise National Park from the head of the valley at Rousel.  The long-distance GR5 passes through, en route from Lake Geneva to the Med.

The classic one-day walk is the round trip to the Lac de La Plagne - a stiff 3 hour climb from the Rousel car park at 1550m.  Leave early, take plenty of water, and aim for lunch at the entre-le-lac refuge 500m higher up:

Looking back at Rousel, about one hour in

The gradient levels out slightly after a couple of hours
The Lac de La Plagne: an Alpine "tarn"

You can stay at the refuge for 38€ a night

Monday, 1 September 2014

NEW SKI SEASON: More Space to dine at the top of the Transarc

The restaurant at the top of the Transarc has traditionally proved one of Les Arcs' less satisfactory dining experiences.  The location is stunning, but the self-service restaurant tends to be crowded and over-priced.  And the toilets are horrid.

The saving grace is the view, and the owners are putting some more money into expanding the building ahead of the new ski season.  A new extension will reduce the size of the terrace somewhat; according to the chap on the roof (see below), the work will be complete by the end of September.



Monday, 25 August 2014

TAKING SHAPE: The Chapel at Arc 1800

Les Arcs' founder, Robert Blanc, described the lack of a chapel as "the missing link". Nearly 35 years after his death, a new building is now taking shape at Arc 1800.

It sits at a strategically important point - at the entrance to the Charvet parking and gare routiere.  The structure is in place, but it's difficult to see how advanced the association is in preparing the interior.

For more on the Chapel project, click here.

Charvet, Arc 1800, August 2014

Sunday, 10 August 2014

SEASON 2014/15: Football and Skiing

With the advent of the new football season, it's time to look again at which French ski resorts are the best match for the 20 Premier League teams.  (For 2013/14 and previous years, click here.)

Manchester City = TIGNES.  This sort of worked while Man City have been rising in prominence during these last few seasons, but feels less appropriate now somehow.  The idea was that the skiing at Tignes is arguably better than over the mountain at Val d'Isere (Man Utd), with the latter being better for lunch/executive dining.  But with City's giant cheque book, it doesn't feel that they are Tignes any more.  Maybe I can go over the border and say they are Zermatt: on the face of it they are very Swiss, with loads of history and character.  But these days it's basically owned/controlled by people who are not from round here.

Liverpool = CHAMONIX.  Fancies itself as the home of mountaineering/football.  Has loads of tradition, history, a real sense of place - everyone wants to go there at least once.  Other resorts tend to offer a more successful skiing package.

Chelsea = COURCHEVEL.  In many ways the easiest of all the pairings.  Money talks; the domain of well-heeled Russsians.  Oddly characterless.  Less affluent folk scattered in distant suburbs away from the centre.

Arsenal = MERIBEL.  Strong Anglo-French links, still very popular with domestic and international audience.  Some investment has been going into the lifts, but the locals aren't sure whether it's enough.  Lacks that little bit of altitude, but more resilient.

Everton = LA PLAGNE.  Can feel a bit retro at times, but great management means it is consistently near the top of the table.  Everyone likes them.

Tottenham Hotspur = LES ARCS.  Steady improvements in recent years, but just fails to qualify for the Champions' League each year.  Not out of the question though.  Glenn Hoddle probably would ski here.

Manchester United = VAL D'ISERE  Classic resort, famous around the world, popular with rich people from the south.  Expensive.  Overrated?

Southampton = LES 2 ALPES.  Has risen in prominence in recent years, although struggles to quite keep up with the really big players when the crunch comes.

Stoke City = LES SYBELLES.  Has no discernible centre, a modest kind of a place. But when you look at its record, this group of villages combine to form what is clearly a consistent player at this level.

Newcastle United = VAL THORENS.  Big stadium, good atmosphere, great nightlife. Very cold in winter.  Will always be with us.

Crystal Palace = VALMOREL. coming back to where they were in the 1980s. Surrounded by big neighbours, but has a lot going for it, good management (at last), very loyal support.

Swansea City = ISOLA 2000.  Remote geographically from the rest of the league. Was briefly in the top fight during the 1980s.  Can be good one day, and shocking another.

West Ham Utd = AVORIAZ.  West Ham may have its Olympic stadium, but Avoriaz has its own investment coming on stream at the moment. Neither ever really goes out of fashion.

Sunderland = ALPE D'HUEZ.  A bit harsh on Alpe d'Huez now.  Previous rationale was that Alpe d'Huez can be a bit ropey at the end of the season. But Sunderland are ropey all season, so may need to think on this one.

Aston Villa = FLAINE.  Actually this one is also a bit harsh on Flaine.  Villa increasinly punch below their weight, whereas Flaine is a bit of a hardy perennial, with one potentially dramatic developments in the pipeline - aka the proposed Funiflaine.

Hull City = ARECHES-BEAUFORT: Off the beaten track, quite well organised, patriotic locals.  Stronger than first impressions might suggest.

West Bromwich Albion = LA CLUSAZ:  Quietly goes about its business.  Has probably reached its limit, though has potential for a cup run.

Leicester City = VALLOIRE.  May not win a trophy, but when you look at what's there, it's good to see them both in the Premiership - see www.valloire.net for more.  Famous locals (Gary Lineker, Jean-Baptiste Grange).

Burnley = LE GRAND BORNAND.  Small place relative to others on the list, but the locals are absolutely mad on football/skiing, so let's see how they do.

Queens Park Rangers = LES CONTAMINES.  Close to other big players (eg Chelsea, Chamonix) but fiercely independent and likes to do things their own way.

125_news830_1301395417.jpg
Not seen in the top flight since the 1980s.
Oxford United's ski twin is Chamrousse, last seen in the 1968 Olympics
On the Grenoble Road, close to a major university, has potential.  One day....

Saturday, 2 August 2014

GIRO D'ITALIA 2015: In Liguria



Next year's Giro d'Italia's Grande Partenza will centre on a very special part of Italy: Liguria.

A bit like the Tour de France's Grand Départ from Britain, the three days have just about everything:

It all starts with a team time trial between San Lorenzo al Mare and the cycling mecca of San Remo.

Things then move on to a circuit finish in Genoa, taking in some of the Milan-San Remo route along the way.

And finally there is the ever-photogenic Cinque Terre, with some steep climbs along the way before finishing in the un-showy port that is La Spezia.

Here is Cycling Weekly's write-up.  According to Cycling News, the cost of bringing the race to Liguria will be around €1m, compared with the €6m price tag attached to this year's launch in Northern Ireland.

Completely oblivious to all this excitement, I cycled the route of the opening time trial in July.  It will follow the dedicated pista ciclabile recently created along the former coastal railway line.  The path is used by all sorts - walkers, runners, slow folk on "shopper" bikes (aka me), as well as serious road cyclists.

And it is absolutely beautiful:

Early morning above San Lorenzo al Mare

Km 0: San Lorenzo al Mare

Just outside San Lorenzo, appoaching a 1.5km tunnel

Riva Ligure

The beach at Bussana, just before San Remo


Monday, 28 July 2014

SUMMER IN THE MOUNTAINS: Round-up

Some stories from the mountains this summer:

Mont Blanc: The Italian side, as seen from Les Arcs

The dangers of Mont Blanc: 4 die over the weekend, but meanwhile an American climber takes his children up the mountain who duly encounter an avalanche: more here. (Via The Independent)

"An unsubtle game of brinkmanship": Verbier and its neighbouring villages have fallen out over revenue sharing which means that the 4 Valleys are is no more (at least temporarily).  (Via PlanetSki)

Still on lift politics, they've been talking about linking Les Contamines and Megeve for 30 years or more. But the new Mayor des Contamines is not keen at all, and seems more interested in linking the resort with the Espace Diamant (Les Saisies, Crest Voland et al) (Via Le Dauphiné)

Although the number of British skiers going to the Alps is down by a quarter since 2007/8, the market for indoor and outdoor recreational slopes back home is growing - by 23% over the last three years, according to this report.  Meanwhile Ski Rossendale is planning an expansion of its activities.  (Via Ski Club GB & PlanetSki)

September will see the verdict on the "British ski hosting" saga, which is a key test case. The Ski Club of Great Britain has suspended its own ski hosting service for the moment, pending legal advice.  On the face of it, this case is not connected at all to that of the British ski instructor Simon Butler who is apparently planning his appeal.

Alpe d'Huez is back on the summer skiing map, bringing the number of French resorts open in the sumer back to four.

On the other side of the valley, beginners and timid skiers in Les 2 Alpes will be pleased to learn that a new easy slope is planned as an alternative to the current treacherous return routes home:  (Source: Aurélien de Pierrefeu)



Saturday, 12 July 2014

IN TRANSITION: Building for the future at Arc 1800

The Les Arcs Paradiski Summer Facebook pages provide a guided tour of what's on during the short summer season.

This includes a series of summer photos, which range from horses grazing outside Notre-Dame-les-Vernettes through to a cluster of diggers at the Vagere lift in Arc 1800 - you can see them here.

The green slopes of Arc 1800 are subject to an onslaught of construction work this summer with a serious amount of money going in both from the town and the lift company to upgrade the "offer".  For more, click here.

Notre-Dame-les-Vernettes: A shortish walk from Plan Peisey
in summer; also accessible from the summit of the Vallandry lift.
Click here for more on summer in Les Arcs

Sunday, 6 July 2014

SUMMER SKIING: Alpe d'Huez

Alpe d'Huez in the summer is no longer just about the famous climb from Bourg d'Oisans.

Its summer skiiing is making a comeback.  For the second year running, the Pic Blanc Glacier is open for business.  Four pistes are available including part of the famous Sarenne run.  More background here from France 3 Alpes, which includes a video.

This brings the number of French ski resorts offering summer skiing to four.  Alongside Alpe d'Huez we have Val d'Isere, Tignes and Les 2 Alpes.  More background on the rise and relative fall of ski d'été here.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

WHITE-COLLAR HOOLIGAN OR NATIONAL HERO?

The latest development in the Simon Butler case sees the Megeve-based ski instructor given a 200 day jail sentence (or €30,000 fine) for working without the necessary documentation.  The case seems to cover not only Mr Butler, but the ski instructors he employs - who also do not qualify to teach on French slopes.  For some background, click here.

It's all unbelievably complicated, and this is seems to be one of the first times the rules have been tested in court.

Planet Ski's excellent round-up describes Simon Butler as "Marmite Man".  They quote an ESF director who calls him a "white collar hooligan".  On the other hand UKIP's Paul Nuttall condemns what he sees as "a blatant display of national discrimination by the French Government".

Boris Johnson is also outraged - and the whole controversy has not gone unnoticed in the French press - see, for example, these piece from Le Figaro and Le Parisien, and this report from France 3 News.

The British Association of Ski Instructors (BASI) is not supporting Mr Butler.  As The Independent asks: Is Simon Butler a national hero, or just a skier who breaks France's rules?

An appeal has been lodged, so the saga looks set to continue...

In a separate development, there is potential trouble brewing for the Ski Club of Great Britain, following the questioning of one of its hosts on the slopes of Val d'Isere last season - the Planet Ski report is here.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

WORLD CUP: A guide to the skiing

The following World Cup sides are from countries well known for their skiing: Argentina, Chile, Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, USA, Russia, South Korea

But there are a number of "World Cup" minnows, who, to a greater or lesser extent, are able to boast ski areas of their own:

  • Algeria, where skiers at Chrea are guarded by the military
  • Australia - for example Thredbo and Perisher (where it has just snowed)
  • Belgium, at Mont des Brumes, with a summit at 530m
  • Brazil, perhaps the most marginal of all the countries here, but it looks like you can put skis on at Sao Jose dos Ausentes
  • Bosnia - Sarajevo of course hosted the 1980 games. More on Jahorina here and on Balkan skiing here
  • Colombia, where the access road to Nevado del Ruiz rises to, er, 4900m
  • Croatia, where you can ski near Zagreb and Rijeka - guide here
  • Ecuador, where the 6270m summit of Chimborazo is apparently the furthest point from the centre of the earth due to its "equatorial bulge"
  • England - here's a video of Weardale, or you can ski at Raise near Helvellyn
  • Greece, where the mountains are high, and there are quite a number of ski resorts
  • Iran - as skied by Dom Joly a few years ago; more here
  • Mexico, where Monterreal offers skiing in December and January
  • Portugal, where Serra da Estrela offers 500m of descent

Chrea, Algeria. More on African skiing here

As far as I can see, there is no skiing available in the following countries:

  • Cameroon - although there are apparently occasional snowfalls on Mount Cameroon
  • Costa Rica (although the water skiing looks good)
  • Ghana
  • Holland
  • Honduras - apparently snow has never been seen here
  • Ivory Coast
  • Nigeria
  • Uruguay

SUMMER SKIING: North and South

Here's a great overview of summer skiing options, in both Europe and the Southern Hemisphere, via We Love 2 Ski.

The start to the season doesn't seem too be going too well in Australia - at Perisher the snow cannons have been called into action to get the season started: more here, or follow @PerisherResort.

Meanwhile a little bit on the history of summer skiing in France can be found here.  Val Thorens gave up in 2002 and La Plagne did likewise in 2005.  This leaves only Val d'Isere (for the early part of the summer), Tignes and Les 2 Alpes flying the summer skiing flag.

No summer skiing in Les Arcs, but snow is always visible :)
Click here for more on summer activities in the resort

Sunday, 8 June 2014

ARC 1800: All Change

Paradiski's YouTube channel has a new video setting the scene for the big changes planned at Arc 1800 (more on the background to this €30m project here).

Arc 1800 has been falling behind some of its rivals somewhat in recent years.  It has little for non skiers (no pool, for example), the beginners' area isn't the best, and links to the fancy Chantel and Edenarc appartments are a bit rubbish to say the least.  Meanwhile, the Chantel front de neige is inconveniently laid out, with no handy restaurant/bar meeting places and a lot of huffing and puffing up and down the slope as people trundle to and fro.

*DRUMROLL*  

Step forward "a new recreational area dedicated to the pleasures of snowsports".  It will include:
  • A beginners' area
  • A new piste decouverte
  • Toboggan track
  • Freeride area (by the Vagere lift)
  • The new Centre Aquatique
  • A new restaurant on the golf course pistes

It will be open from 9am to 9.30pm, and will be powered by new lifts, for example:
  • The new Telecabine des Villards (December 2014)
  • A new "Dahu" telecabine serving the Chantel/EdenArc accommodation (2015)
  • A revitalised Carrely lift, which will start higher up than the current slow lift - according to the plans published last year this will take skiers direct to the Arc 2000 valley (also for 2015)

A summertime view of the Chantel slopes

Sunday, 1 June 2014

SKI INSTRUCTOR MATTERS: An update

The Ski Club of Great Britain's summer magazine Elevation provides an update on "the Megeve Simon Butler case."

It notes that:

  • This is more complicated thatn "French v Brits".  For example:
    • Butler is represented by Jean-Yves Lapeyrere, "who represetns several French outdoor sports enthusiasts and would like to see the rules on qualifiacations relaxed, not just for ski instructors, but for several summer sports such as windsurfing".
    • Some British ski instructors who have achieved the highest level BASI qualification - Alpine Ski Level 4 ISTD - are worried about the implications for their pay and status if the rules are relaxed
  • Many French instructors have not had to take the "Eurotest", as they qualified before 2004, or are still operating as trainees.  (The Eurotest involves skiing a slalom course within 18% of that of a professional racer for men and within 24% for women)
  • A decision is expected on June 16

Friday, 30 May 2014

ELECTION SPECIAL: Européennes 2014

In France, the resurgence of the Front Nationale, which came top in the popular vote, is the story of this year's European Elections.  

The election is also notable for the success of Ipsos in predicting the outcome :-)

In the Alps, the most notable election stat is the result in Haute-Savoie, where 215,322 people voted (a 42% turnout).  This saw a near dead heat, with just 33 votes separating the UMP (48,883 votes) and FN (48,850).

Here's a round-up of what happened in Savoie, and in the Tarentaise in particular.  Savoie tends to vote for the right (see round-up from the 2012 Presidential Election here.  But there are still quite sigificant differences from town to town, as the following trip up the valley shows.

For example, the FN scores just 13% in Peisey-Nancroix, yet registers twice this level barely 20km away in Séez.  The Greens triumph in Landry (one of the few areas to have voted Hollande in round 2 of the 2012 Presidential Election).  In UMP stronghold Val d'Isere, les Verts come in a poor third:


SAVOIE: Top 3 (% of vote)
FN: 24.5
UMP: 23.2
Union de la Gauche: 12.0
Turnout 44%

Chambéry
FN: 25.7
FN: 16.2
Green: 13.8
Turnout 44%

Albertville
FN 27.0
UMP: 24.4
Union de la Gauche: 11.8
Turnout 38%

Moutiers
UMP 27.2
FN: 25.7
Union de la Gauche: 9.6
Turnout 42%

Aime (for La Plagne)
UMP: 24.4
FN: 22.5
Green: 11.3
Turnout 40%

Landry (below Peisey)
Green: 23.1
FN:17.7
UMP: 15.6
Turnout 43%

Peisey-Nancroix
UMP: 35.7
Union de la Gauche: 13.4
Modem (Bayrou et al): 13.4
(FN: 13.0)
Turnout 41%

Bourg St Maurice
UMP 27.6
FN: 22.4
Green: 13.2
Turnout 35%

Séez (La Rosiere)
FN: 27.7
UMP: 18.5
Green: 12.9
Turnout 41%

Montvalezan (La Rosiere)
UMP 38.3
FN: 28.0
Union de la Gauche: 9.7
Turnout 38%

Tignes
FN: 27.0
UMP: 25.7
Green: 16.1
Turnout 21% (absent proprietors??)

Val d'Isere
UMP: 49.0
FN: 19.7
Green: 7.3
Turnout 26%

Click here for the full results.

Away from it all:
The path from Les Arcs (Col de la Chal)
towards Peisey-Nancroix