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|Resort: Les Arcs
Date: 14-22nd Jan 2006
Our holiday: Mrs NBT and Me, plus two mates. All experienced but by no means expert skiiers
Website : http://www.lesarcs.com/
Basics : 2 to 3 hours southbound transfer from Geneva, in the Haute Tarentaise region of the Fench Alps. Shorter transfer from Chambery, and Jet2 now fly there from Manchester. Be warned if you fly Jet2 that they're quite strict on luggage - however even taking into account the excess baggage, it was still cheaper and easier than flying to Geneva! We used Aarthur taxis for our transfers rather than renting a car, as we didn't want the hassle of driving and didn't think we'd need the vehicle during the week. As it turned out we were right, the inter- and intra-station navettes (free shuttle buses) ran regularly and frequently and enabled us to go shopping and to eat out without any problems at all. Pascal (owner of Aarthur taxis) speaks English well enough if your french is limited.
Lift system : Les Arcs is a big domain in and of itself, but when taking into account the link to La Plagne to form Paradiski the lift system is stupendous. We bought a Les Arcs lift pass, with the intention of hopping over to La Plagne one day. In the end we skiied the whole week (7 days on snow) in Les Arcs, and still didn't ncecessarily cover every run, although some runs were so good we ended up doing laps up the chairlift and back down the same piste!
I can't recall seeing any surface lifts outside of the beginner areas, with the expection of a single drag lift at the far (Peisey-Vallandry) end of the domain. There are still a few slower fixed grip triples around, but many of the chairs are detachable quads and even six packs. Often where there's a choice, the pistes served by the slower lifts are in much better condition as they're less well used. There are also a couple of gondolas and a big cable car up to the Aiguille Rouge, the highest point of the domain, and a funicular linking the resort to Bourg St Maurice down in the valley.
As mentioned abve, free shuttle buses run regularly and frequently (and from early in the morning till quite late at night, I think they finish at around 11pm) linking the major areas. The exceptions to this are the villages at either end - if you;re in Peisey Vallandry or Villaroger when the lifts stop running, you're in for an expensive taxi ride down to Bourg St Maurice, and if you're not there by the time the Funiclar stops at 7pm then another expeisive taxi ride up to Arc 1600! At least from there you can get one of the free navettes which run till around 11pm.
The terrain :
Les Arcs is divided into four main Areas. Most of the skiing is open, bowl skiing, with the main exception being the forest above Peisey Vallandry and to a certain extent the lower slopes below Arc 2000
Arc 1600 is the area at the top of the funicular, and from here one can also catch a shuttle bus accross to Arc 1800, or round the mountain to Arc 2000. There are a few slow lifts serving the local terrain and one high speed lift out of Arc 1600 which allows you to ski down to Arc 1800 (further right on the piste map), or to catch a second lift over into the Arc 2000 bowl.
From Arc 1800, again slow lifts serve the lower areas while High speed lifts take you higher, allowing you to head back to Arc 1600 (left on the piste map), over into the Arc 2000 Bowl, or down to Peisey Vallandry (further right on the piste map).
From Peisey Vallandry, the Vanoise Express double decker cable car allows you to reach La Plagne, or you can ski back to Arc 1800. I seem to recall all the chairs here are high speed. Here too the terrain is forested, whic makes it a good choice when visibility drops. the forest is quite sparse in places allowing for a bit of tree skiing if you;re adventurous enough for that kind of thing.
Arc 2000 is a big bowl over the ridge from the other three areas, and contains the Aiguille Rouge, the highest point of the domain, from where you can ski the 7KM Aiguille Rouge red piste all the way down to Villaroger, lowest point on the domain (I think). This is certainly worth doing as it's a fantastic run. A word of caution though, although thepiste map shows a blue run heading from Le Planay down to Villaroger, in actual fact the run drops down so far the last few hundred metres are back uphill - a good few minutes walk
I did notice a marked lack of "green" runs, although maybe that's because there are beginner areas marked out instead. Many of the blue pistes (especially those linking the different areas) look suspiciously like they're roads when the snoe has melted) and make me think that boarders may not be quite as fond of the area as skiiers.
The snow : When we arrived it hadn't snowed for a couple of weeks and was getting thin and bare in places. On day 2 it started snowing and over the next 48 hours laid down around 12". This absolutely transformed the whole resort and made things far far better
Off-piste : There's bags of off piste skiing in the area, but we didn't do very much of it. One morning was spent doing laps of an off piste run under the vagere chairflift - what had previously been a huge mogul field turned into a beatiful field of bottomless powder - then the piste markers appeared, it turned out to be the "golf" piste!
As mentioned above, there's tree skiing in Peisey Vallandry, and there are quite a few places where you can cut corners to get just a little taste of off-piste (but as the local safety guy said "a little bit off-piste is like a little bit pregnant - there's no such thing, you're either on piste or not). I know that you can ski from the top of the Transarc down to Peisey-Nancroix, from the top of the Grand COl chairlift you can hike a few minutes, and from almost anywhere on the ridge between the Aiguille Rouge and Villaroger you can drop down into tVillaroger itself
A book called "Les ClÃ©s du Paradiski" offers much more detail, but be aware - at the top of the "Lanchettes" lift in Arc 2000 we saw one group going off piste into the Villaroger nature reserve on the other side of the Aiguille Rouge, but later heard two had been killed in an avalanche. If you're going to go off piste, make sure you know what youlre doing or have a local guide, and make sure you aren't being followed by people with less idea then they ought to have! We'd considered a half day off piste but the fatalities were a little offputting, so we stayed on the pistes for the rest of the trip.
The resort : We stayed in an private apartment in the upper reaches of Arc 1800. Arc 1800 is most definitely a purpose built resort, but it's nice to see that in the past few years the developers have been making more of an effort to build in keeping with local tradition, using stone and wood rather than concrete. The same really applies to both Arc 1600 and Arc 2000, but both Peisey and Vallandry are "real" villages and thus less abrasive to the eye, while the new Arc 1950 development just below Arc 2000 is being built by Intrawest and is almost disney-like in the way it seems to fit into the local style.
There's very little in the way of "front de neige" in Arc 1800 - either you need to know how to ski down to it (round the back of the nursery and cut down a footpath), or you have to take skis off and walk up. We only tried this once and having eaten a reasonable lunch in a smoky bar stuck to on-mountain lunches after that. Arc 1600 is somewhet the same, but the bars of Peise-Vallandry and Arc 2000 are easier to reach.
The Arpette, between 1600 and 1800 was excellent. Ther place above the top of the Transarc Gondola / Plagnettes chairlift was also fine. La Poudreuse in Pesiey Vallandry was ok, but don't serve free carafes of water, unlike most other cafeterias.
La Taverne de l'Arc in Arc 2000 was a nice place with the best hot chocolate we found, although it's a bit of a skate / hike to and from it (easiest way to reach it is to get some speed down thelast part of the "reservoir" piste and hang a right!). The Easy Door snack bar under Les Chalets de L'arc in Arc 2000 is also fine for snacks - as a snack bar though, no free water.
We ate in some nights, ordering pizzas, lasagne and stuff from "Everest" in Chantel 1, all of which were delivered to our door. Not a bad pizza, but some of the party complained of the old "delhi belly" so be careful. The "savoyarde" also in Chantel 1 was a great little place and we ate there more than once.
In Arc 1800 itself we tried:
"Le Grenier Des Arcs". Not particularly friendly service, food was ok (Mrs NBT really liked her "NOrvegienne" Salmon crepe").
"LE Mountain Cafe", tex-mex - an odd choice this in a ski resort, but great food despitr a smoky atmosphere
By far the best place we ate all week was unfortunately the place we ate on the last night, "Casa Mia" was very very good food, great service and very reasonable prices.
Accommodation : We stayed in Rob@rar's apartment and it was great. "Cosy" for four of us, but not tiny by any means. We had enough space for all of our gear, room to relax, plenty of room to eat, Sky TV and Interweb access to get our regular snowheads fix. What more can one ask for!
A 7 day lift pass cost us â‚¬212, which is not cheap at all! but then again it's a big area and we very much enjoyed our skiing.
We booked this holiday ourselves so I wasn't sure what to expect. I know that by booking last minute, we could have done it a lot cheaper, but then we may nothave all been in the same place and we almost certainly wouldn't have stayed in such a nice place. I normally budget on Â£100 per night for a reasonable standard of accomodation and food, and as it turned out we spent more like Â£88 per night, which I'm very happy with.
Conclusion: We skiied Arc 2000 at the EOSB in 2005 and it was that trip which made us want to return to ski the whole of the Les Arcs domain. Having had a bad experience skiing the 3 Valleys (poor customer service etc) and heard other tales of woe relating to skiing in france, I've not always been keen to ski France, so it's great to report that the french are pulling themselves together - three successive holidays in the Tarentaise (Val d'ISere Jan '05 was the holiday previous) have been universally great.
We like to experience different resorts so it's unlikely we'll plan another visit to Les Arcs for a few years, but I would unreservedly grab the chance of a cheap trip there. Recommended.
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