Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Municipal elections 2: Roger's out, big plans unveiled

Roger Pugin - pulled out
Roger Pugin's list (Mieux Vivre) have pulled out of the municipal elections, even thought they had 11% of the vote and were eligible for the 2nd round.

The AGIR group did particularly well in the polling booths in Les Arcs, with 51%.This  would have been enough for an outright win if it had been reflected across the commune.

My money's on them to win at the moment, but I expect Pugin's supporters will vote for the Garnier list, which could make things interesting... (I wonder if the last minute appearance of previous mayor Damien Perry on Pugin's last may have done some damage; he's still a deeply unpopular figure in the town....)

Quartiers des Alpins: artist's impression
In the middle of all this, an important meeting of the Municipal Council will take place tomorrow, at which will be discussed the initial proposition for the redevelepment of the old baracks, now called the Quartier des Alpins.

This is perhaps the most important current issue for the incoming administration.

I'll be writing more about this soon, but here's a sneak preview of the plans:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Municipal Elections 1: They could lead to a real down-hill slide!

Yesterday (Sunday 24th March) was the national French Municipal Elections, which take place every 6 years and appoint municipal counsellors to run their commune through the 'conseil municipal'. The Mayor is then elected from within the majority group.

Some of my chalet guests were quite interested to know how this might affect Bourg St Maurice and the future of Les Arcs, so I have broken my promise to myself not to write about local politics (apparently I sound too negative, some say!) and explain the results of the elections here.

But first, a quick explanation of how this part of the electoral system works: The number of councillors is set according to the number of electors in the commune. Bourg St Maurice has 5092 and the council has 29 places.  In communes of over 1000 electors the candidates are allowed present themselves as 'listes', which are like political parties but not necessarily aligned with the national parties.  A kind of proportional representation system is used, whereby unless one 'list' gets more than 50% of the vote there is a second round, with any 'list' gaining less than 10% of the vote being automatically excluded. Electors are only now allowed to vote for candidates from one list (the practice of 'panachage', picking random candidates from any list has been controversially banned since the last election). Once the second round has taken place, the councillors are appointed in proportion the size of the vote gained by their 'list'. It sounds complicated, and it is! 

So here in Bourg there have been 4 lists fighting it out. The gap between the first three is very narrow, and the fourth got more than 10%, so the second round will be a re-run of the first unless one of the lists pulls out or joins forces with another.

Which one will be the next mayor of Bourg St Maurice?

In first place was the 'ruling party',  Agir dans la continuité (Action through continuity, right of centre), headed by Michel Giraudy (he has serious background in ski resort and tourism managment), with  911 (30,97%) of the votes. This list includes Mde. Poletti, who has been mayor since 2011 and collapse of the previously elected adminstration headed by pisteur Damien Perry). The list contains experienced and focussed individuals, many being already councillors including Claudie Blanc-Eberhert, daughter of Robert Blanc.

In second place, but only just, was Trait d'Union (Link), led by retired hairdresser Louis Garnier. Predictably, many of list are shop owners in Bourg, but there doesn't seem to me to much representation from 'the mountain' and certainly no exciting policies in his manifesto. They got 53 voted fewer than Agir, with  29.16% (858 votes).

Third place was taken by Eric Minoret's list, Servir Ensemble pour construire Demain (Serving together to build tomorrow). They got 821 votes (27.91%), narrowing the gap still further. This list seems to have a large number of retired people on it, even though at 52 Minoret is the youngest 'tete de liste'. 

Finally, with 352 votes (11.96%) comes ex-teacher Roger Pugin and his Mieux vivre à Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs Hauteville-Gondon (A better life in Bourg St Maurice and Hauteville-Gondon).  Roger appears to  be focussed on the town and surrounding villages, perhaps as he comes from an agricultural family. Parking and better law enforcement are favourite themes.

Muddying the issues: Source of  Eau de Bonneval
Frankly, I think there's a lack of inspiration and an absence of a vision for the future in all the lists' manifestos. People who don't know about Bourg politics find it astonishing that Car Parking is such a big issue, while vital issues like the future of the old barracks (now called the 'Quartier des Alpins') hardly get a mention.  For example: two of the 'lists' want to revive the recently abandoned plans for a mineral water bottling factory under the station (Eau de Bonneval), the idea being the the picture of Bourg on  the label will encourage people to visit the town in the summer....

The  Agir list have given a detailed table of achievements, failings and aspirations in their manifesto which does make them stand out as the only group with  any good  ideas and a real understanding of the importance of Les Arcs to the commune (not least 2500 jobs created). 

Buried in there is something that caught my eye and could be a really exciting and tangible link between Les Arcs and the town: between now and 2016 Agir wants to study the possibility of building a 'Luge d'éte' (Tobbagan track) from Arc 1600 to the town . What a brilliant idea, 1000 vertical meters over 3 km, with the funicular used as uplift. 

Luge d'eté: Morzine can do it, so can Bourg!
Great for the summer market, but what about at the same time re-instating the old 'Piste de Bouleaux', the trace of which is still skiable from Les Granges to Montrigon and down to Bourg via the little oratoire of Our Lady of Good Hope and back to the funicular (the road bridges at La Ville and Montrigon were removed in the 1980s).  The snow holds well enough on that pitch of the mountain, and with a snow-making network (water from the Isere) it could make Bourg a real 'ski in' resort for most of the season (you can already often ski down in January and February). Why not widen the new piste out as it crosses the river for demonstration events and competitions? It would certainly help revitalise the rather desolate area around the funicular, with new bars, restaurants and shops. 

Old barrack: costly white elephant.
Also, abandon the 'Quartier des Alpins', try to sell it or mothball it. The site is too big, ugly and complicated  and in totally the wrong end of the town to be anything other than a costly white-elephant. Forget about mineral water, but DO get the Coeur d'Or multiscreen cinema open! Rent out the old Renoveau buildings as dirt-cheap seasonaires accommodation (no one is ever going to buy it for 6 million euros). Run the funicular and the Arcs navettes until well past midnight, so people from the resorts can spend money in the town, and people from the town can get to jobs up here... I'd stand for mayor myself but you have to be a French citizen!

In the past Bourg has been led out of crises by individuals with inspiration and imagination, not afraid to confront realities and with a real belief in the future.  Let's hope M. Giraudy, M. Minoret or M. Garnier  provide such leadership after the second round of elections on March 30th. Vote if you can!

Full election statistics for Bourg St Maurice 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pierre Novat, inventor of the piste map: deception, deformity and truth

Novat's Paradiski panorama - "sharpens the skier's appetite"
The piste map still occupies an important place in the paraphernalia of a skiing holiday: an object that can excite the imagination, be spread before friends to share their mountain experiences and become a lasting souvenir of a wonderful skiing holiday.  I don't think any  amount of 'apps' and websites will ever replace the paper piste map - a communal item rather than an individualised experience.

The local Savoie paper, Le Dauphiné, carried and interesting article yesterday about the man who invented the piste map, Pierre Novat. Before that they were really just one dimensional diagrams rather than the elaborate 'virtual reality' effect that Novat used to bring the mountains alive on paper.

Pierre Novat:  truth through deception
Pierre Novat came from Lyon, studied interior design and fine art, and was a passionate skier. It was while spending a season in Val d'Isere in 1961 that got himself the job of drawing the first piste map to include the newly built resort of Tignes.

He looked hard at the topology of the mountains and valleys before tracing the new pistes and lifts, and played freely with perspective to achieve his hallmark two-dimensional effect. And the maps were incredibly detailed "down to the smallest chalet", his daughter Frederique is quoted as saying, "he had no hesitation in deforming a mountain  so that you could see behind it. It's all false, but it's also all true".

Novat wanted the skier to be able to visualise a piste in the context of the whole sector, valley or mountain. He was interested in showing the relationship between things rather their actual nature, echoing the structuralist philosophies of Levi-Strauss, Sassure and Jakobsen that were in vogue at the time. Novat  had formidable intuition and savoir-faire, and made it possible for anyone to immediately 'read' the resorts' mountains and pistes.

Frederique Novat at work
Novat's work at Tignes-Val d'Isere impressed  Courchevel's resort director Jean Cattelin, and he was asked to create a map of the 'Trois Valleés', a dauntingly large and complex terrain even then.

Over the next 35 years Novat created over 250 piste maps, covering most of the France's burgeoning ski areas. When he died in 2007 his work was taken over by his children Arthur and Frederique, now working under the auspices of the 'Atelier Pierre Novat, Panoramistes'.  They produce three or four new maps a year, always starting by over-flying the area in a helicopter to get a feel for the topology. Then the first sketches are made using coloured crayons on tracing paper. Then comes a painstaking process of adding details and skewing, stretching and deforming  the image to get the notorious 'Novat' style. At every stage the design is checked the the commisioning ski resort, as it would be impossible to undo these radical modifications of reality once formed on paper.

Novat's greatest project was the huge panoramic map showing, in detail, all the resorts in Savoie involved in the 1992 Albertville Winter Olypmics, now a collector's item.

Braque - Le Port de l'Estaque
Novat regarded himself as an artist (he also painted) , not a cartographer, and admired greatly the work of the cubist painter Georges Braque who was also played with perspective and proportion to stunning effect.

Like all great artist Novat shows us that imagination and flair count for more in the eyes of the viewer than accuracy and pedanticsm.  Novat interpreted the mountains for us, made them readable, in the same we a great artist like Braque decodes the world we live in through shape, colour and contrast.

There is currently an exhibition on in La Plagne (Salle des Omnisports in Plagne Centre) with over 60 of Novat's canvases on display. If you can't make that, have a look at this diaporama of Novat's work.

A book has also been published recently with many  examples and explanations of Novat's work. Plan des Pistes is published by Glénat Livres. I'm hoping if my wife reads this she'll buy it for my birthday! Please buy it direct from the publishers, not from Amazon.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Arc 1800: The Dawn of a New Area?

Lovely day on the mountain today: glorious sunshine and plenty of snow everywhere after the blizzard conditions at the beginning of the week. Everything is open, even the mythical 'hidden piste' from 1600 to Les Granges (properly called  Violettes). A clue for finding the start of it: don't miss the bottle banks behind the Arpette Restuarant!

There's an almost  feverish level of excitement at the ADS (Les Arcs lift company) over the newly announced plans for the redevelopment of the Charvet/Chantel area of Arc 1800. In fact a number of the main planks of the project were planned and announced some  time ago, but the ADS is putting a bit of a spin on the whole thing and calling it 'The Dawn of A New Area' which I thinks quite a clever pun compared to there normal rather flat-footed attempts at translation.

For me Arc 1800 has always been the most unsatisfactory part of the Arcs resorts. It is sprawling  and unfocussed, like a kind 1960s new town ribbon development, with no real centre or character. The 'fingers of the glove' theory behind it, where you move between discrete areas of different activities (skiers, pedestrians, shops, trees, etc) fails here; in effect you have a highly inconvenient layout, with all the lifts bunched at one end. 

Big drop to the front de neige!
But surely the worst feature (in my opinion one of the '5 greatest architectural failures of Les Arcs') is the steep slope between the shops, restaurants, childrens' play area and ski schools along front of the Villards area and the Vagère, Chantel and Villard lifts and ski school meeting area (and the location of the TransArc isn't much better). It's no fun trying to coax a handful of children 100m up a 50% icy slope to get to their lessons, and its a tiring trudge for most adults trying to get back up after a spot of lunch or a cup of coffee in one of the many cafés and restuarants. Surely it wouldn't have been that difficult to create a level 'front de neige' back in 1974 when Arc 1800 was built!

The new developments in the Chantel area ( a large flatish area above the Charvet area)  have already created hundreds of new beds in this highly overcrowded zone (you should have seen the queues for Vagère last week!), and more development is planned there. 

So the Dawn of a New Area scheme will be a welcome and logical step towards making Arc 1800 more coherent and 'better suited to the expectations of the clients', to quote the ADS.  The main points are:

    Espace Aqualudique
  • Redevelopment of the swimming pool next to Vagère into an Espace Aqualudique, adding a large enclosed pool with artificial waterfalls, caverns and flumes to the existing outdoor pool. There will also be a sauna, jacuzzi, massage tables and an underground access passage from Villards. There's also a plan for some kind of 'people mover' from Vagère, but I can't quite see the logic of that  (swimming in ski-boots?). Definitely going ahead, will open in December 2014.
  • Dismantling of the exisiting Chantel  (hooray!) and Villards lift, to be replaced by a new funicular-type system to carry people up to Chantel, to be called 'Le Dahu', apparently modelled on the Cabriolet lift between Arc 1950 and 2000. A new gondola (telécabine) will replace Villards, and this too will be built before next season. That really should take some of the strain off  TransArc and Vagère.
  • Between Chantel and Villards/Charvet various zones will be developed for toboganing, beginners ski area, tubing, children's playground etc. Later they plan to construct a restaurant complex there as well, but that seems all a bit vague at present.
  • The icing on the cake: a brand new 6 person chairlift from Chantel  (top of the new Dahu lift) to the Col de Frettes (to be called Carroley, as the old lift of that name will be taken out), which will give quick access to 2000 and 1600 (and a better route to the SnowPark). This is slated for completion on 2015, but as its going to be funded in part by the commune of Bourg St Maurice it maybe affected by the outcome of  municipal elections in March.
Part of new Charvet development
Building on the 'Alpage de Charvet' was always part of the Les Arcs master-plan, but Roger Godino (the business brain behind the resort and its first chief executive) saw the development of Chantel as the grand finale of the  Les Arcs project:

"I have seen at least 20 architectural projects for Chantel, and I threw them all in the bin (including one from Charlotte Perriand which is now in a museum!). I have never come across a worthwhile project for Chantel, and now when I see random buildings being constructed one after the other, and when I think that there's still 40,000 m2 to go (two thirds the size of Arc 1950)  I say to myself, then I didn't know what to do, so I saved it for the end. How mistaken I was."  (Roger Godino, 2009, quoted in Reve de Bergers by Claudie Eberhart-Blanc).

Let's hope this 60 million euro investment proves Godino wrong, and that the result will make Arc 1800 and more attractive, better organised and less crowded resort, and truly and new area will dawn.

The ADS flyer (in french):