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Lac des Moutons, close to the Grand Col ski piste

Thursday, 29 December 2016

EARLY SEASON IN LES ARCS: Could be worse

It's now the 3rd disappointing start to the ski season in a row. This week sees:



Cyclists can get their bikes out of the garage and
have a go at the Col de la Colombiere. Le Dauphiné says the
locals have seen nothing like it since the 1960s

Against this backdrop, things are looking quite good in Les Arcs.  Val d'Isere & Tignes are also skiing well, as are the Haute Maurienne resorts.

The November snowfalls were basically big enough to enable the pisteurs to protect the pistes above 2000m, while snowmaking has meant that you can still ski down to all the resorts.  

The upshot is that:
  • Conditions in Arc 2000 are pretty good, while some of the slopes on the Peisey/1800/1600 side (such as Reches and Renard) are in decent shape.  No skiing below Bois de l'Ours, which is near-unprecedented
  • You can ski over at La Plagne, where again the pistes in the main bowl above Plagne Centre/Bellecote are mostly open and skiing well.  All Les Arcs ski passes for 3 days or more now include a day in La Plagne so this excursion is well worth considering...
  • ...provided you can confidently ski red runs.  The slopes in La Plagne are busier and more crowded, with skiers of varying abilities jostling for position.  And the run down to the Vanoise Express is icy and downright dangerous at the end of the day

Snow is on the horizon for next week, but it's not clear yet whether it will provide much by way of respite.

Arc 1800/1600 snowpark is up and running, 26 Dec

Arc 1800 front de neige, 24 Dec

Mont Blanc from Aiguille Rouge, 24 Dec

Panic on the slopes of La Plagne, 27 Dec

Thursday, 22 December 2016

BACK TO BASICS: La Grave

A resort worth watching this season is La Grave.

For years it has been known as an epic off-piste destination - the complete opposite of its neighbours Les 2 Alpes, Alpe d'Huez and the ski factories further north.

It's just received recognition from National Geographic, who have placed it among its Top Seven resorts.  There are any number of YouTube videos where you can inspect the skiing from your armchair: here is an example to give you a flavour.

But its future is now in question: the ancient gondola lift is now in need of renovation - and the contract to run the set-up is now up for grabs.

Many fear this will lead to a takeover by one of the big lift companies, such as Compagnie des Alpes, heralding the end of its cherished status as THE unspoilt place to go.

A campaign has been launched.  Although their bid to be on the list of bidders invited to put in a tender has failed, their mission to protect La Grave continues.  Follow Signal La Grave on Facebook and Twitter for more.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

NEW SKI SEASON: 10 Things To Know

Not long now until the start of the new season at Les Arcs.  By way of an update:

1. The Snow 

It's here.  Take a look at the Arc 1800 webcam.  At this time of the year the first snow can come too soon, then melting away to leave the resorts scratching around for snow.  But one can be cautiously optimistic this year, as La Plagne already has 75cms on top: follow Perso La Plagne for all the latest news on goings-on on the other side of the valley.

2. The Film Festival

It's the 8th year of the annual season-opener - this time things kick-off on 10 December: all the details on the website.  There are some good accommodation deals as well.


3. The Pisteurs

The Facebook sensation of Les Arcs over the last year.  Their tails are now officially wagging, and there have been various updates in recent weeks.

Click here for the Pisteurs' Facebook Page

It's well worth getting up early and joining them for the First Tracks tour - which runs once a week in season.  Being up there before everyone else is quite something.  Plus you can pick up some useful facts: they have 7 dogs and 26 piste bullies working on the slopes.

4. The Pistes

Ski map and timetables are here.  It annoys me that you have to look at the Paradiski map all the time, even though you are likely to be only skiing one resort.  So here's an old map as well.  This season will see increased snowmaking in the Villaroger area; there may also be a new lift at Pre Saint Esprit below Arc 2000: more on future plans for here.  

5. LA Radio Station

Also worth following on Facebook.  R' Les Arcs provide regular updates including some super photos.  You can even listen to them at home, thanks to the internet.  The DJ likes The Cure.

6. Le Marketing

This will be the first season for the new Les Arcs' logo.  It's much better than the new Peisey one, and has tried to keep close to the resort's heritage.

It's said that 200k€ was spent on the rebranding

7. The Artist

Pete Caswell has painted scenes at many European resorts, but is a particular fan of Tignes and Val d'Isere.  And his online gallery includes a range of pictures of Les Arcs - such as this one charting the Grand Renard from the top of the Transarc:



8. The Snow Artist

Simon Beck takes art one step further by leaving his prints in the actual snow.  Les Arcs is where he creates his masterpiece.  And the area just to the left of the Varet piste is a particular haunt of his.  More on his work, including his sand creations in Somerset, here.

"The Most Famous Snow Artist in the Word". More here.

9. The Ski Racer

David Poisson is a member of the Peisey-Vallandry club.  His career has been marred by injury, but he has had some real success, including bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships in Schladming.

Click here to watch David achieve 6th place
at the Lauberhorn race in Wengen, Jan 2016

10. The Snow Park

Les Arcs' snow park, located on the slopes between 1600 and 1800, gets better and better.  It's just been recognised as the 3rd best venue in France - see this report from L'Equipe.  They write:


When it comes to snowboarding, Les Arcs tends to be more associated with the backcountry.  
But its snow park has been growing in influence over the last 2-3 years - driven on by local skiers who are full of good ideas.  The John Doe session at the end of the season is 
the high point of its annual calendar.

Les plus: Originality of its layout, enabling you to ride in various different ways
Les moins: Queues at the T-bar during peak season

Philippe Gillot in front of his machine
Source: Le Dauphiné

The snow park is kept in order by piste-bully driver Philippe Gillot, 36.  A native of Bourg Saint Maurice, he has been working the pistes for 20 years.  He was one of the few to show much interest in organising and shaping the park.  He now follows in his father's footsteps by working the summer at top Chilean resort (and Les Arcs lookalike) Valle Nevado.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

TICKET TO RIDE

By way of a post-script to this blog's important guide to pop videos filmed on the slopes::

The Beatles' Ticket to Ride, filmed on the Austrian slopes of Obertauern, sees the fab four on skis, I believe for the first time.  Amateur instructors will approve of their can-do attitude, and developing technique.  I am sure there is a Stem Christie turn in there somewhere.



Click here to see the video

Forty years on, the place to re-live such an ambiance is of course Les Arcs.  Here is le pianist des neiges at Arc 1800 a couple of years ago:


ARMCHAIR SKIING: Mountain Blogs

With the season not to far away, a handy guide to ski blogs has duly appear on the IGoSki site.  It sees ski writers nominating their favourite blogs: a big thank you to our friends at Skipedia for nominating this site.

Out in front is the backcountry WildSnow blog (@wildsnow).  Its focus is on North American slopes; for some wild skiing closer to home, you could do far worse than start in the Tarentaise and strike out from the wonderful base station that is Sainte-Foy!

 

Saturday, 17 September 2016

LA Radio Station

Les Arcs' fans will enjoy the R' Les Arcs Facebook page - which this week has been going back in time with these snowy retro pictures of Arc 1800.



I didn't know that the iconic L'Etranger bar (previously the Gabotte bar) was at one point called Le Grenier (the attic).



For more on the history of Les Arcs, including the story of Robert Blanc and the architecture of Charlotte Perriand, click here.

Back to the radio station.  If you are very keen, and can cope with its mixture of current Europop and 1980s hits - you can listen live from the comfort of your own living room.

Monday, 5 September 2016

WHAT'S NEW IN LA PLAGNE

La Plagne's piste map for the coming year is now available online via the ever attentive Perso-LaPlagne site.

It sees the realisation of further developments to the ski area, as per their long term plan.

On the agenda for the coming season:
  • The new "Envers" chairlift
  • The retirement of piste bullies from the Glacier - the pistes up there will now be "Natur" slopes, with 10 new itineraries created in the process
  • A new fun slope in the Arpette area
  • Some tinkering around with piste names at the margins
The website now has its winter skin, including prices for ski passes.  At 59€ a day or €259 a week, the price is exactly the same as over the road in Les Arcs - where the lifts are also run by Compagnie des Alpes

The creation of the "Natur" ski slopes on the Glacier makes my favourite La Plagne descent - all the way down to Montchavinn - even more enticing.  You do have to do a bit of poling on the flat Bauches track, but it's worth it, and is a worthy rival to Les Arcs' more famous Aiguille Rouge run.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

This week sees the arrival of the French national canoe & kayak championships in Bourg St Maurice.

The action takes place by the Isere, just outside Bourg.  Apparently the course is uber-technical. The new Les Arcs site provides the novice with a briefing on the sport.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

WHAT NEXT FOR LES ARCS: The resorts

Linking with the developments coming soon for the ski area, here is an update on what the Bourg St Maurice town hall has in its plans for the coming years.  Again, info is courtesy of the Avenir et Animations des Arcs association.

On the agenda:

Arc 2000
- a new 5* hotel, opening December 2016, courtesy of the Schonauer Group
- 150M euro investment in a new 60m X 40m ice rink (Dec 2016 also)
- Upgrades to the shopping areas

Arc 1800
- renovation of the Villards parking area, including new bus station, baggage store, welcome area.  Similar improvements are planned to the Charvet "bus station"
- improvements to the dilapidated Place Basse at Villards

Arc 1600
- New Club Med (2018)
- Construction of 15 luxury chalets between the UCPAand the former Beguin Hotel (to the left of the Mont Blanc chair)
- Project (private investors) to turn the Beguin Hotel into apartments

Bourg Saint Maurice
- Extension of the medical centre (currently nearing completion)
- The start of works on the new tourist developments at the former army base
- New youth hotel
- Completion of the renovations of the pedestrian bridge linking the funiculaire with the town

That was then:
1970s marketing literature


Saturday, 28 May 2016

WHAT NEXT FOR LES ARCS? The Ski Area

The latest update from Avenir et Animations des Arcs summarises some of the changes coming up in Les Arcs over the coming years.  There's going to be a fair amount of activity both on the mountain and in the resorts.

On the mountain, the lift company's plans include:

Summer 2016
- Further improvements to the area around the Le Lodge restaurant
- Free access to the Villards lift to take you up to Mille 8
- Inauguration of the new club house on the golf course; the idea being that this becomes a focal point for summer visitors
- A new mountain bike track at Mille 8
- Improvements to key footpaths including the balcon sentier at Villaroger and the route to Notre Dame des Vernettes at Peisey

Sumer walking below the Grand Col

Christmas 2017 (sic).  I assume this means the forthcoming season, but not sure...
- New investment in the lower part of the Arc 2000 valley, centred on the replacement of the ancient Pré Saint Esprit Lift
- Remodelling and widening of some of the pistes
- Artificial snowmaking at Villaroger

Programme 2018-2020
- More investment in snowmaking
- Modernisation of the Transarc
- New carriages for the funicular
- Replacement of the Comborciere and Vallandry lifts

The Villards lift to Mille 8 will now run summer and winter

This is all part of what appears to be a reasonably coordinated plan also involving the town hall and private investors, who are putting money into improving the infrastructure and boosting the numbers of visitors.  The battle against the "lits froids", apartments occupied for only a few weeks a year, continues.

These investments - in the mountain and in the resorts - amount to some  €450-€500m between now and 2020.  More on the plans for the resorts soon.



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

THAT WAS THE SEASON THAT WAS

Loads of useful information in this update from the Avenir et Animation des Arcs proprietors' association.

Despite the variable whether, unpredictable from the start of the season (not much snow) through to the end (a snowy/grey spring), Alain Giraudo reports that the season has been reasonable for local businesses, and indeed for the ADS lift company.

This winter of course saw the launch of various projects, including the Mille 8 development, the Le Lodge restaurant, the new Yuge app, modernisation of some of the pistes.  Apparently the net result is an extra 90,000 skier days: objectives met for ADS, it seems.

At Mille 8, the piste de luge did very well, the new beginners' slopes have been well received, and there has been success for some of the animations, including 6,000 people present at the site's inauguration earlier in the season.

More on plans for summer 2016 (and beyond) soon.

Le Lodge, Mille 8

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

THE INTERSEASON

The lifts have finally closed in the Tarentaise.  Even those in Val Thorens have stopped running.

Val Thorens, 8 May 2016
Source: VT Facebook page

Ski addicts have to leave their equipment in the garage until 25th June, when Tignes will open the Grande Motte glacier for the summer season.  For more on the history of summer skiing, including its slow recent decline, click here.

Over in La Rosiere, the rather good Espace San Bernardo Facebook page has some good shots of the mountain as it makes its transition from white to green.

Meanwhile the Les Arcs site has its summer skin - with its new branding now in situ.  More on the resort's updated look and feel here.

At the foot of the valley, the big news are the rockfalls on Mont Granier, emblematic mountain of the Chartreuse, which will be familiar to regular users of the motorway from Albertville to Chambéry.  This is the 3rd major incident of the year.  Noone has been hurt this year - in contrast to the disaster of 24-25 November 1248: that rockfall resulted in c1,000 deaths and the mountain's current distinctive shape, including its striking 700m deep cliff.

Mont Granier (1933m)
Source: @ChamberyFrance


Sunday, 1 May 2016

BACK TO THE FUTURE: A new logo for Les Arcs

The Les Arcs marketing team has decided time is up for the resort's logo - a design which has served the resort in various forms since 2002:



Step forward the new logo.  On the resort's Facebook site, it is presented in red, with a grey angle at the top right hand corner.  But apparently that's because it's currently sitting on the Facebook page, which has a red design.  There is a more simple grey and white version as well, so perhaps that will become the preferred version.  It's a bit early to tell - for example www.lesarcs.com has yet to update things.



As sen on Facebook

The resort's Facebook page says that they are looking to bring back the historic Les Arcs logo in an updated form, in order to re-centre attention on the resort's DNA, and its values. They hope it will provide a way to help new generations learn about the history of Les Arcs.

Here is the old logo in action:




Facebook reaction seems mixed - in general people seem to like its respect for the resort's tradition, but is it a little sombre?  Or should they have just completely gone back to the old version?  There is a reference to a 200k euro budget, but I haven't any more information on that.

Perhaps the most telling comment so far asks whether there is an agency to give the resort's branding a "wake-up call".  It observes the wide range of different brands/logos that can be seen across the resort - it's all a bit all over the shop: Mille8, Snowpark, ADS, Arc 1950, Radio Les Arcs, Bike Park, Film Festival, etc.

For my part, I'm just pleased that the resort has indeed kept this link with its past.  I was worried they were going to do something silly like Peisey-Vallandry.



Perhaps this will be a springboard to harmonise at least some of the other brands referred to by our Facebook correspondent.  It's probably too much to hope for, but it would be nice to see the bland, we-could-be-anywhere presentation of Arc 1950 consigned to the rubbish bin...






Tuesday, 26 April 2016

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT

To round off the season, the Pisteurs des Arcs have been busy posting some jolly end of season pictures and videos on their Facebook page.  It includes a stunning video of the now virgin snowfields of Arc 2000, as the final piste markings are removed.

Now on Twitter: @PisteursArcs

Meanwhile, the official @LesArcs Twitter page has posted this video of the season - starting with the Film Festival:


Less than a couple of months until the lifts start working again at the weekends for the MTB community in particular:


Monday, 18 April 2016

HARD TIMES: The ski season in figures

Le Dauphiné's Ski Chrono reports on this week's get together of French mountain bosses in Val d'Isere, where a series of depressing figures have been released.  The disappointing results raise the question as to whether France will lose its cherished No 1 title in terms of skier days to Austria.

The season in numbers:

-5%: the decline in revenues for the Domaines Skiable de France (DSF), with Savoie (-3%) and Haute Savoie (-2%) doing only slightly better

13: the percentage of French who go skiing each year

44: the percentage of French skiers who've been going for more than 20 years; raising questions about whether they are being sufficiently replenished/refreshed by skiers aged under 25

1/3: the number of pistes with artificial snow.  In Italy it's 2/3 and in Austria it's 8/10

47%: the number of visits that are "short stay", a number which continues to rise

4%: the ESF is apparently growing in Haute Savoie (and by a similar proportion in Savoie)

-1%: the decline in revenues in the ski shops

Up to 4% rise: in nights stayed in resorts above 1800 metres.  Below 1800 metres, it's -1 to -3%


Good times in Peisey Vallandr, where
the resort's marketing bosses have been busy with
rebranding exercise this season



Sunday, 10 April 2016

GOOD-BYE TO SPEED SKIING

One of the USPs of Les Arcs for many years has been the Kilometre Lancé speed skiing piste, on show every March and April below the Aiguille Rouge.

Speed skiing was briefly an Olympic sport

Les Arcs and Vars have traditionally been the two main French venues for this niche sport.  But it's been a number of years since the piste at Arc 2000 has been used, leaving the way clear for Vars, venue for this year's Coupe de Monde.  In the words of one ESF instructor I spoke to last month: "the resort has chosen to invest in other things - the ski de vitesse piste is just too expensive".

It still remains an important part of the resort's history - not least in the various posters you will see in local cafés and restaurants.


Les Arcs has not given up on being the host for competitions, however.  The coming years are likely to see more serious slalom races following the investments at the Arc 1600 Cachette piste: more on that here.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

SPRINGTIME IN THE SNOW

It's the end of the season in the Vosges - follow @SkiNeigeVosges to keep in touch with one of France's smaller ski areas.

From the Ski Vosges Facebook page, 20 March 2016

Meanwhile, there's a month of the season still to go in Les Arcs - and the Easter Weekend concludes with a limited-spaces-only party in the Vanoise Express:



Next Wednesday 30th March sees the chance to go uphill under your own steam at La Plagne, with the Rando by Night event:


April sees the arrival of the Course du Coeur race, which sees teams travelling from Paris to Bourg-St-Maurice over a 5 day period.  The event is aimed at increasing awareness of organ donation:


And throughout April, Les Arcs has various events taking place as part of its Spring Final campaign to make the most of the final weeks of the season.  Given the controversy around the increasingly late French Easter school holidays, the emphasis is on attracting a younger, more "international" audience:


Sunday, 28 February 2016

BRAND MATTERS: All change at Peisey Vallandry

I've always quite liked the Peisey Vallandry logo:


It complements the Les Arcs one nicely, but reinforces the smaller resort's separate identity.


But the marketing bosses at Peisey Vallandry have decided it's time to change.  Step forward the new logo:

Click on the logo to see it displayed in the
resort's new look website

I have to say my initial reaction is that I prefer the old visual identity.  Let's hope it doesn't prompt Les Arcs to change the current look and feel, which marks a fine upgrading of the original designs (pictured below).


For more on the Tarentaise resorts' marketing strategies, as they bid to out-perform a flat market, click here.  The Val Thorens United case study is perhaps the most noteworthy.


Saturday, 6 February 2016

UP AND DOWN: Pierra Menta

The Pierra Menta race is just a month or so away - the FA Cup of ski alpinism, if you like.  If you want to go and watch, the chairlift opens at 5am.  A crowd of 2000 is expected.  Spectating is at your own risk of course.





The whole set-up really is quite something.  Here's the video from last year.

For more on Areches-Beaufort, click here.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

SMALL AREA, BIG MOUNTAIN: Areches-Beaufort

If you're looking for a base to explore a number of different ski resorts, Albertville is certainly an option.  But an attractive alternative involves basing yourself 20km in the (to Brits anyway) low profile Beaufortain valley.

From the super little town of Beaufort you can:

  • Ski the Espace Diamant from Les Saisies (our visit to Crest-Voland is here)
  • Visit Les Contamines from the back door entrance at Hauteluce
  • Ski the local slopes above the town at Areches-Beaufort.  Which is what we did

The resort isn't particularly high (slopes to 2300m) but then it's not that low either.  And the ski area is small.  But it does have two (loosely connected) mountains, and so it feels bigger than you might expect.  Here's the official blurb from the tourist office, which includes some videos.

All in all, it's well worth a look - a good mixture of moyenne montagne and haute montagne, with serious views across the valley and towards Mont Blanc.

Park at Le Planay (1200m), and take the lift up.
Looking back into the Beaufortain

The slopes around the Col des Combettes (2100m)
feel higher than they actually are.
Taken from the cosy restaurant half way down

The point about it being a serious mountain is a serious one.  Areches hosts the famous Pierra Menta ski alpinism race every March, and has been making real efforts to build its credentials as a base for ski randonée.  For example, there are a couple of avalanche-secured tracks now in place on the mountain that you can now follow.

It's nothing like the ski in, ski out convenience you get in fancier resorts.  For example, the link from the Le Planay side to the Le Cuvy area at Areches involves a walk through the car park that would get some mollycoddled skiers seriously aerated:




Then again, you are rewarded withthe spectacular Perches red run back to Planay, far from the hum of any ski lifts:

The Perches run from Le Cuvy

It's about 2 hours from Geneva (take the Annecy lake road for a scenic introduction) and for a day trip or a weekend should be a real contender - particularly for the more experienced skier who wants to try something with a more "traditional feel" without wanting to compromise on being in a "proper" ski area.