Wednesday, January 2, 2013

10 years of Paradiski

It's now 10 years since the birth of Paradiski, the radical scheme to integrate Les Arcs and La Plagne as an 'unified' ski area. It's most obvious physical embodiement is the huge Vanoise Express cable car, carrying 200 people between Plan Peisey and Montchavin a vertiginous 300m above the wild Ponthurin Gorge. Improvements to other lifts were also made to allow the smooth flow of skier traffic between the resorts, and one real benefit has been clear and intuitive direction signage throughout.

 It took twenty years of planning and wrangling to build the Vanoise Express - building things that not only link ski resorts but also different communes in France is always a political nightmare!  From the outset it was agreed that the new lift would have no pylons, to avoid any negative environmental impact. The enormity of this technical challenge once again became evident a year after the opening of the new lift: it had to close for a season after it was discovered the main running cables did not meet the original design and safety specifications.

However there's no doubt that the real success of the project has been to do with marketing. The 'Paradiski brand' has become as well known as 'The Three Valleys', 'The Portes du Soleil' and 'Espace Killy'  as a vast, intergrated ski area able to satisfy the demands of skiers of all levels and nationalities (60% of lift passes are now sold to foreigners).

The clever name and its associated images of heavenly angels and celestial cloudscapes conjour up just the right balance of originality, quirkiness and coherence. In fact, yesterday Jenny and Angus spotted the Paradiski Angel not only on earth but on skis, presumably making a celebratory 10th anniversary visit to us skiing mortals!

So Paradiski has been a great success overall. My only doubt about the project concerns the wisdom of spending €40 million on the Vanoise Express (which is in effect a 'duplex' system with two identical cable car systems running side by side) when given the lower than expected traffic between the resorts a less expensive link and more money spent on improving the various chairlifts at each end might have resulted in a better 'skier experience'. Getting from the La Plagne end at Montchavin-Les Coches to the interesting (and less crowded) skiing to the south side of the Roche de Mio is an ardous experience - one fast lift direct to the Dos Rond would surely have cost less than half a Vanoise Express!

Anyhow, Happy Birthday to the Paradiski angels and here's to the next 10 years.

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