Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cyprus - a threat to Les Arcs?

Everything's gearing up nicely for the winter season at Les Arcs: 40cm of snow above 1600m, and a fair amount of excitement about the Mille 8 project at Arc 1800. It includes a new fun piste in the trees, toboggan run,  obstacle courses and the most important part, the new Centre Aqualudique, with several pools, water features and relaxation/spa facilities. Les Arcs, like other large ski resorts is trying hard to cash in on the '4 - 7' period after skiing at the end of the afternoon and to enhance overall the tourists' experience in the hope they'll keep coming back! More about all this once it's all open after the beginning of the season on 13th December.

Plan of Mille 8
However, I do think there's a small cloud over Les Arcs dazzling plans. Lift pass prices are up again, by about 5% as far as I can work out. Last year saw a drop in lift pass sales, accommodation occupancy and 'skier days' of around 2% - that doesn't sound like much when you remember that in previous years that figure has been closer to a 4% drop and multiply that over 10 years you're basically looking into a financial abyss.... Why not freeze lift pass prices (at least) to build some client fidelity rather than grandiose investments, I wonder. To top it all, entry to the new Centre Aqualudique or the piste de luge is NOT included in the lift pass, you have to pay between €5 and €15 euros per visit depending on which facilities you use. Mille 8 had better be good!

After my visit to Kazakhstan earlier this summer and the impressive Shymbulak ski area (perhaps one day it will become an alternative to Europe's crowded and increasingly expensive resorts?) I was intrigued to discover that you don't have to go that far to find cheap, family friendly skiing.

FFS piste et Troodos
Experienced snow-boarder and travel writer Holly Mantle has been telling me about skiing in Cyprus.  It  isn’t  yet famous as a skiing hotspot, and  doesn't  feature on any top 'ten list' of skiing locations in Europe. But, because it's still relatively unknown you can expect to find deserted slopes, untouched snow and no skittle-run pistes crowded with snakes of ski school learners. At Troodos, the main resort, prices are much lower than big european ski factories,  and it  retains some of  the atmosphere and elegance of the Swiss Alps of yesteryear; they’ve still got cosy cafes whipping up hot chocolates and refined skiers in salopettes gracing the slopes in style.

There is a good range of skiing, especially for those looking to progress. The different runs are all named after Greek gods which makes the experience more fun - telling people you’ve tamed Zeus (the big one) for example, will be sure to impress back at home. Holly points out that there aren’t too many flat sections that will force boarders to hop across the snow as you attempt to make it towards the next drop.

Troodos piste map
Skiing at Troodos, which is located in the northern slopes of Mt. Olympus (1951m), dates back to some portable lift installations set up by the British Army in the 1960s, presumably to keep the largely idle 'green line' soldiers and their families occupied. Steady development of the facilities and a new breed of local skiers led to Cyprus' participation in the 1980 Winter Olympics, and they're still going strong in several events.  Troodos has 4 main lifts and dozen or so slopes of  for all levels. The longest piste is nearly 1km long, and most of the skiing is above 1800m. The season runs from December to March, but expect the best snow in January and February. It gets pretty warm in March!

You can rent ski and board gear from the Cyprus Ski Club – they have a mixed range of equipment from the latest models to the ancient. Snowboards are a little harder to get hold of than skis, so if this is the main reason you’re travelling to Cyprus then it’s better to bring your own gear (especially if you’re a snowboarder or skier who likes to look good on the slopes). There are three main schools offering lessons and guiding.

Larnaca airport is the closest to Mt Olympus and its slopes. Flights from London take around 4 hours 40 minutes. Cyprus Airways fly into Larnaca, or Easyjet will speed you over to Paphos. In order to get up to the mountain, a 4x4 with snow chains would be the recommended option.  

Paphos Archaeologial Park
Consider combining your ski trip to Cyprus with further exploration of this fascinating island: The Paphos Archaeological Site is easy to get lost in for a day and has lots of ancient relics, mosaics and monuments dating back from prehistoric, Roman and medieval times. It’s just 4.5 euros to get in, and the mosaics in particular have been receiving rave reviews from tourists since the area became listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

There’s no need to stay at resorts close to the ski slopes, which can be expensive. The island is very small, so you can easily travel between hotels in other areas of the island by bus or car. For a taste of the ancient civilisation of Cyprus  go to the tiny village of Agros (which only has four hotels) and is famous for its rose festival and sweets cured in syrup. There are some great nature trails around that area through the mountains.

If you’d prefer more modern ciivilization, then Paphos is the best place in terms of things to do. Bars, restaurants and cafés there cater to a year-round tourist influx so you won’t be left cold and hungry, even if you’re heading out in the midst of winter.

Lift Pass Prices
Ski Lift Pass: Afternoon 12,00 euros , Full day 20,00 euros
Ski Equipment Rental: Adults Daily 12,00 euros, afternoon 9,00 euros
Cross Country Skis – Boots: Daily 8,00
Snowboards – Boots: Daily 18,00

All a bit cheaper than Les Arcs, but perhaps you really do pay for what you get when if comes to skiing.

Many thanks to Holly Mantle who supplied most of the information about Cyprus and some of the text.

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