Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Catch Cachette!

The last few days leading up to this, the first day of Spring, have been remarkable. Sustained snow fall punctuated by wonderful periods of sunshine - a real mixture of winter and spring weather. The result is a good 45-60 cm of fresh snow everywhere (but slightly heavy lower down), totally re-invigorating the mountain and those who skiing on it! Let's hope it all lasts through the UK Easter holidays, which start on Saturday.

Not yet a cinema, after 4 years of wrangling....
More bad news in the local paper today about the failed multi-screen cinema complex, next to the Coeur d'Or building in Bourg (opposite Intermarché). It was built 4 years ago by the Coeur d'Or developers, MGM, with a grant of €1.7 million from the town. But it never opened as there has been a long-running dispute between the town and Cinéalps, who were supposed to operate the multiplex. They agreed to spend €1.3 million on fitting it out (at the moment it's just a concrete shell) but they either didn't have the money or didn't want to spend it. The latest stage of the row is over the acoustic insulation, which should have been installed during the main build but was somehow left out! The town has agreed to pay for this (a mere €170,000 euros) if Cinéalps  honour their committment to the scheme, but now Cinéalps want the town to pay them €300,000 euros to finish it! What a mess; it's difficult not to feel rather sorry for Mde Peretti (the mayor) as her pet projects fall apart one by one (CNSHN, Quartier Bulle, cinema....).

The only tangible benefit I can see from the failure of the CNSHN project  is that the 'mythical' Cachette piste and lift at Arc 1600 will continue to be available to everyone as well as being used for competitions and training.

The old Charmettes drag, where Cachette is now.
The Cachette piste existed before Les Arcs. Courbaton 1750, the small network of lifts built by the commune of Bourg St Maurice from 1961, culminated in a several long drag lifts starting from near the Beguin Hotel. One of these ascended to the 'plateau de l'Arpette', more or less where the top of today's Cachette lift is  (2170m) .  From there one could ski the trace of the Cachette piste all the way to Les Granges and, with any luck, all the way down to Bourg (nearly 1500m vertical).  In 1967 a new lift called Cachette was built from where the bottom of Combettes is now (near the Arc 1600 ski school) to where the eponymous lift ends now, and a shorter drag lift called Charmettes was erected where the Cachette lift is today (you can still see the trace of it the trees to the left).

Looking up at the Cachette lift...
During the next 20 years various additions, doublings and upgradings took place (and even more very confusing name changes!), until in 1989 the Cachette high-speed (it was then) de-clutchable lift was constructed, the resorts first modern chairlift.  It can uplift 2500 people an hour, in just over 5 minutes, and until the new Mont Blanc lift was built in 2010/11, was the most heavily used lift in Les Arcs. It was opened at the same time as the funicular, to cope with the increasing numbers of local people and tourists coming up from Bourg.  Before the CNSHN project came along (and went away) there was talk of upgrading it, but suspect with the new Mont Blanc lift next to it that will never happen.

'Le Mur de Cachette' can pose some difficulties, even to the Ski Club!
The Cachette piste, described as 'mythical' by the mountain bike fraternity who get to enjoy it in the Summer (used for World class DH competitions), is the only piste in Les Arcs homologated by the FFS (French Ski Federation) and FIS (international) for world-class Slalom events. To this end, it has the resorts densest snow-making coverage, with over 40,000 m3 being pumped on to it at the start of the season to ensure a good, hard base for the the events that generally take place at the end of the season, such as FIS Men's Slalom race on 1st and 2nd April. If the CNSHN project had gone ahead snowmaking would have increased to 56,000 m3, at an annual cost to the resort of nearly €200,000 euros, so that saves a bit of CO2 output as well as money.

The piste is 1740m long and 45m wide, and the steepest bit (know as the often icy 'Cachette Wall') is 29 degrees (averaging 19 degrees). The name, which was taken from the small group of chalets and barns still in evidence above Arc 1600 means 'hiding place', but is probably a corruption of the Savoyarde dialect word 'cochette', meaning small col or pass. Cachette gains a mention in Claudie Blanc's moving account of the last day of her  father Robert Blanc's life*  (4th February 1980), when his brother Yvon rushes up to pisteurs' hut at the top to get a team together to search the road to Arc 2000 for a possible avalanched car and its occupants. It is while returning from this fruitless search that Robert was killed outright by an avalanche near Pré St Esprit.

The putative CNSHN tunnel plan for Cachette
Cachette is appropriately classed as a red run for us skiing punters, but I think it's a challenging piste to ski perfectly from top to bottom, fast but with style (remember all those people watching you as they come up the lift!) because of the subtly varying camber and pitch, and of course the hapless blue-run users who cross it on two occasions (perhaps the CNSHN tunnels weren't a bad idea after all!).  But there no better piste skiing, first thing in the morning after a nice dump of powder, when its normally deserted. Try it sometime, top to bottom with no stops. Breathtaking!

The Cachette piste also makes Arc1600 the best place to be at the end of a poor snow-season: all that artificial snow means it doesn't really melt until June...
* From the first chapter of  Reve de Bergers, by Claudie Blanc-Eberhart (I have started translating it,contact me for more details)


No comments:

Post a Comment