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Guide to UCPA Centres

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
OK, following an interesting few days over the weekend, where I basically did no research and had a good time but not what I'd expected, I thought we don't really have useful Snowheads-type feedback on the UCPA centres, and the same questions keep coming up about the same stuff (every season we seem to see a dozen different threads asking if one centre or another is better, worse, older, newer etc than somewhere else) despite loads of us using the centres every season.

So, in the spirit of helpfulness, having seen a few centres, I thought we would put it all in one thread with some important basics covered, if you can keep to this format:

Resort
Location in Resort (near to slopes, buses, town centre)
Room Sizes, Size of Centre
Age of centre (new, old, knackered)
Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced
Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options
Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?)
Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips.

If we can get feedback on all the centres we can potentially make a sticky that can be updated over time.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Resort: Val Thorens

Location in Resort (near to slopes, buses, town centre): Down the hill from main town centre, approx 15 min walk, but ski in/out

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: Most 4 bedroom, one of largest centres (366 beds) can be very busy in popular weeks

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): New, only few years old, whole centre purpose built

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: Pretty good for all, but a better option for beginner and intermediates than some other UCPA options, three valleys has got enough skiing for even the most advanced for a week.

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: 3hr transfer from Geneva, or train to Moutiers Salins SNCF train station, and bus (next to the SNCF station) to resort. Parking available in VT, but don't need a car in resort.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): Mixed, quite a lot of young people, due to size fair number of older people too. Abilities range from complete beginner to seriously experienced inc off piste courses and good skiers.

Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips: Due to sheer size get up early to collect ski pass and equipment hire. They deal with the volume well but inevitably on day one there will be a queue if you are 30 mins late. Another advantage as it is ski in/out hot lunches are provided in the centre and accessible enough to drop in, eat, and ski out again without losing a lot of time.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Resort: Flaine

Location in Resort (near to slopes, buses, town centre): Short walk to town centre and main lift

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: Some twins available, others triple and quads. 360 beds, this is a big centre.

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): Old, quite a few things in need of modernisation in rooms, but standard hostel quality. Bar and restaurant have both been refurbished more recently than rooms.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: Beginner and intermediate, not a lot for the most experienced compared to other centres.

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: One of closest resorts to Geneva at 1.5hrs, good for weekend trips as a result.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): Quite a few families, depending on school holidays, but a few options nearby in town for drinks. Not the most lively resort in the world generally, and centre is similar. Found some large school groups on our visit, which can be less sociable than normal mix of singles, couples and small groups.

Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips: Definitely an older centre, but close to Geneva makes it good for weekend trips. Lower altitude than VT, Tignes etc so early and late season can be more of a gamble.
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 You need to Login to know who's really who.
You need to Login to know who's really who.
Resort: Serre Chevalier

Location in Resort (near to slopes, buses, town centre): Piste side and next to a couple of decent lifts and close to the village centre - we enjoyed the in house bar so werent out a lot.

Room Sizes, Size of Centre:Some twin rooms available and some bigger rooms (only stayed in a twin which was basic but more than okay- shared a shower and toilet with one other twin)

Age of centre (new, old, knackered):The bar and restaurant area are in good condition and fairly modern. The boot room is large and effective. Rooms are basic but perfectly adequate, some twins are in the eaves with limited head room.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: Excellent for the inexperienced and intermediate with loads for them to do. If you are advanced and want to spend your time off piste then its also a mecca in my opinion so really can work very well for a mixed ability group.

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: Two hours from Turin - dont know about other options.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?):Mainly a slightly more mature young person in their thirties I would say but the off piste groups definitely have a wider age range.

Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips: A great location for the mixed ability group wanting a trip away with easy access skiing but also near to La Grave etc. Dont let the off piste image scare off people new who want tree lined great skiing
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Resort: Chamonix

Location in Resort (near to slopes, buses, town centre): There are two UCPA centres in Chamonix area, one in Chamonix town and one at Argentiere. This is Chamonix centre, which is approx 400m walk to the buses to the lifts, and close to the town centre.

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: 200 beds, this is a smaller centre, bedrooms 4, 5 and 6 people. Apparently double rooms exist and can be booked, we didn't see these and imagine these will sell fast.

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): Built in 1965, this is an older centre. Bar, restaurant and rooms all have been refurbished but clearly some years ago. Comfortable enough, but not as luxury as the bigger newer centres.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: This is really an advanced centre. Designed as a base for off piste groups, and experienced skiers, this is not a good centre for beginners, and even intermediates may find some runs challenging. While we were there another visitor suggested the bigger Argentiere centre gives you access to the same ski area (and is much closer to the bus stop) and is more suitable for intermediates and those who want to socialise more.

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: Close to Geneva, lots of transfer companies do cheap buses and minibuses from the airport. Trains run to Chamonix station, it is a fairly long walk from station to centre.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): The crowd is older than any other UCPA centre I've visited. I suspect this is because of the type of skiing available, more focused on exploration and off piste, also meant the bar was fairly quiet after dinner, social groups often focused around the offpiste groups they have been in through the day. I'd recommend this centre if you want that kind of skiing as part of a group, I wouldn't recommend it for those expecting a sociable hostel environment after dinner. Great centre for those who are focused on off piste, touring and exploration.

Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips: The beer in the bar is really not great. Heineken or Grimbergen Lager, worth buying a bottle of wine for the evening or exploring the bottled beers in the fridge. The centre is close to the main square, which may explain the limited social scene in the bar as many will venture out for drinks in the evening. Best beer in town was Beer o'clock, which has pay as you go pour your own pumps and a huge range. Worth bearing in mind that crawling in at 2am after partying likely to be frowned upon by others heading out early morning for a tough day of skiing, quite a contrast to other centres where I've found this to be positively encouraged!

The resort buses are the major downside to this centre for me. Most of the UCPA centres I have used were ski in/out or at least a short walk to lifts, and the nature of Chamonix as a resort means that you could easily lose 10 mins walk, up to 20 mins waiting for bus, 20-30 mins on the bus, and 20 mins on a bubble before you get your skis on in the morning. Added a bit of faff, and buses at 8-10am and 3:30 onwards can get very full. With a car it would be much easier to get around, but no parking seemed available at UCPA centre. They seem to use minibuses for organised off piste groups, which would make this much easier.
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 You'll need to Register first of course.
You'll need to Register first of course.
Resort: Argentiere

Location in Resort: 5-10 mins walk to Grand Montets lifts, ski bus stop pretty much outside to get you to other parts of the valley (buses every 30 mins).

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: I think most of the rooms sleep 4 - ours did. Doubles are available and presume a few bigger ones too. Big centre, not sure how many in total.

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): Old building, recently refurbed.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: Prob best for int to adv. Quite heavily focused on touring and off piste (although we didn't take any of the UCPA course options).

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: 1hr 30min ish from GVA, very straightforward. Also, Argentiere train station is right next to the centre.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): Didn't seem party central - although always plenty going on in the bars. Most people seemed pretty serious about there skiing rather than partying. We're in our 40s and plenty of folk older than us around.

Other useful stuff: Food pretty good (especially the buffet to make packed lunch), house wine very cheap (6 euros a litre carafe) and quite drinkable but not sure it had much alcohol in it! Take ear plugs (although not generally a noisy building) and flip flops or similar for common areas / showers etc. Only down side was the cleanliness of the cutlery / crockery in the restaurant - lots of rejects from the dishwasher and you had to hunt for a clean plate / knife etc. Would go back! Savoy bar across the road and office bar about 200yds up the hill both do good happy hour drinks (4-6pm I think and around 6 euros a pitcher).
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Resort: Les Contamines

Location in Resort (near to slopes, buses, town centre): Bus required to lifts, but short ride and bus stop 50m from centre.

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: 200 beds, 2, 3 and 4 bed rooms

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): Average, not particularly new but nothing noticeably knackered.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: Beginner and intermediate, resort potentially too small for advanced skiers for a week.

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: Transfers not easy, I struggled to find a transfer company that would do Geneva to Contamines for a sensible price, rented a car at Geneva as there is on site free parking at UCPA. It is possible on public transport but requires changes or taxi ride from other nearby resorts. Les Contamines is close to Geneva though, just 1hr drive on clear roads so good for short breaks (especially as a smaller ski area) if you can sort transfers.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): Mixed. A fair number of "normal" UCPA customers, younger people who were happy to socialise, some school and family groups. No "expedition" type groups as there is off piste skiing but this isn't a centre focused on it. Quite a few very early intermediates having a good time and tuition groups seemed smaller than in some of the big centres during our stay.

Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips: Check transfer costs and logistics before booking this one. It nearly caught us out especially for short breaks, but is worth the effort. A nice centre and ski resort, which is rarely very busy and the food and drinks were good. Also has a downstairs late bar with music, probably as the town is small and limited options for party animals outside the centre.


Last edited by Then you can post your own questions or snow reports... on Sun 8-04-18 17:03; edited 1 time in total
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Dashed wrote:
Resort: Argentiere

Location in Resort: 5-10 mins walk to Grand Montets lifts, ski bus stop pretty much outside to get you to other parts of the valley (buses every 30 mins).

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: I think most of the rooms sleep 4 - ours did. Doubles are available and presume a few bigger ones too. Big centre, not sure how many in total.

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): Old building, recently refurbed.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: Prob best for int to adv. Quite heavily focused on touring and off piste (although we didn't take any of the UCPA course options).

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: 1hr 30min ish from GVA, very straightforward. Also, Argentiere train station is right next to the centre.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): Didn't seem party central - although always plenty going on in the bars. Most people seemed pretty serious about there skiing rather than partying. We're in our 40s and plenty of folk older than us around.

Other useful stuff: Food pretty good (especially the buffet to make packed lunch), house wine very cheap (6 euros a litre carafe) and quite drinkable but not sure it had much alcohol in it! Take ear plugs (although not generally a noisy building) and flip flops or similar for common areas / showers etc. Only down side was the cleanliness of the cutlery / crockery in the restaurant - lots of rejects from the dishwasher and you had to hunt for a clean plate / knife etc. Would go back! Savoy bar across the road and office bar about 200yds up the hill both do good happy hour drinks (4-6pm I think and around 6 euros a pitcher).



Not a lot of hooks or places to dry kit in the 4 dorms. We'll worth taking some thin cord and pegs to rig a line.

Good sauna but can get busy.
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
Resort: La Plagne (Plagne Centre, there's also a UCPA in Plagne 1800 I think).

Location in Resort: Plagne Centre. The centre is part of "Le France" building, which is built over the top of a piste. There's underground access to the main Plagne Centre buildings, or about a 2 minute walk across the piste front.

Room Sizes, Size of Centre: We only saw the double, en-suite rooms. They are reasonable in size with plenty of storage. Single beds can be pushed together to form a double. The en-suite WC/shower room is standard, with a large shower cubicle and a good, powerful shower that always had plenty of hot water. Half the rooms look out onto the piste-front (we were lucky), the other half look out onto the village and the valley below, which is also a fairly good view. Part of the UCPA deal is that you clean your room when you leave...I don't think the previous occupants had.

Age of centre (new, old, knackered): An old 60s style building, but has been recently refurbed internally. All parts of the UCPA are therefore clean and modern. Don't judge the building by its external appearance.

Good for beginner, intermediate, advanced: I'd say good for intermediates, reasonably good for beginners and good for off-piste. Not many black runs. We did find the main areas busy, but the fringe areas (particularly Montalbert) were lovely and quiet with some great tree runs.

Transport Options, distance from major airport, which airport, other suggested transport options: Booking through Action Outdoors you have the option of transfers from Geneva, Grenoble, Chambery or Lyon. I didn't enjoy the transfer to or from Geneva - it took 8 hours on the way and around 6 hours on the way back. This was early March, outside of UK holidays but the final week of French holidays. There are simply too many people trying to get to Paradiski/3 Valleys etc. for the roads to cope with. I'd consider getting the train to Aime (which is a town at the bottom of the valley) in future to avoid the main road queues. Even then, it took us around 90 minutes to get down from Plagne Centre to Aime on the way back.

Average Customer (good for families, party central, older SHs?): We saw a couple of young kids in the centre with their parents, a few party animals but mostly people in-between. Most common seemed to be groups of friends 20-40 years old who were there for the snow but also enjoyed a few drinks in the evening. The vast majority of guests were French, with only around 10 or so English people. I think there were a few Scandis too.

Other useful stuff that a potential SH might want to know to avoid asking the same questions and also to help planning trips:
- The building spans the green piste which leads to the top of the Melezes lift/bottom of the Bergerie lift. It's well located for accessing all areas on the la Plagne side of Paradiski. We also skiied over to the Vanoise Express linking with la Plagne within an hour or so, so it'd be easy to explore some of Les Arcs too although we didn't as it wasn't included in our lift pass and we felt we had plenty in la Plagne for the week.
- I found Plagne Centre pistes busy, but other areas were quieter and easy to access from the centre. It was French holidays.
- There's a bar with games and a pool table.
- The food was pretty good - buffet service, always a few different main course options.
- The centre is predominantly French and not as focussed on English speakers as some other UCPA centres anecdotally are. You'd struggle to take part in any activities unless your French was good enough.
- Our instructor was excellent. The first day of instruction felt like a waste of time whilst they adjusted groups, but after that it was really worthwhile. We had read that UCPA instructors' English is sometimes too limited to be effective, but we didn't find this a problem at all. Of course, it's down to the individual.
- We've also read in old reviews that the centre manager is a grumpy man. He must've left, as the centre manager was a very helpful woman.
- There are ski lockers on the ground floor, with each room having their own locker. There are also boot heaters in one of the locker rooms on the ground floor - we didn't find these at first as our locker was in a separate room. The heaters were excellent and there seemed to be enough for all guests.

All in all, we thought the whole experience was excellent and very good value for money. Everything about the centre exceeded our expectations.
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