So I decided it was time to take a proper look and talk to some of the people involved in Mille 8 to try and understand not only the concept but what it brings to Les Arcs and its visitors. Is it really the 'new space for novel experiences' claimed by ADS, or is it an over-hyped attempt to stimulate a stagnating market?
The origins of the Mille 8 stem from the '4 'till 7' problem that many major ski resorts have tried tackle in the light of decreasing revenues from lift pass sales and ever increasing costs. The idea is that from the end of skiing until dinner time people don't have much to do, especially families who aren't likely to sit in bars or be interested in noisy aprés-ski (not that Les Arcs has much of that!). So rather than retreating to their apartments, get them out with memorable things to do and, most importantly, get them to spend more money. The increasing accommodation infrastructure at Arc 1800, including the massive Alpage de Chantel project (which will, when finished, increase the number of beds by 40%), justifies substantial improvement in piste-side equipment and will provide a large captive market for innovative new attractions.
The main snow-accessed features are:
Le Luge - a 1 km tobbogan run
Le Cube - beginners area at the top with covered moving carpet lift
Les Bosses - a short bump run featuring and ingenious video system that allows you to receive a short film of your descent on your smartphone
Les Cabanes - various nicely built huts and terraces, for star-gazing, barbecues, sun-bathing, etc. There's a misnamed musical instrument at the bottom called 'Le Xylophone' which is in fact a giant glockenspiel (metal not wood) which you can 'play' with your ski poles.
There is also apparently a pedestrian path, Les Sapins, but I couldn't see any signs for it and I'd no idea where is started.
However, the most impressive features are the 'Le Piscine' and 'Le Lodge', which could both be located anywhere and really have nothing to do with snow or snow-sports.
Le Piscine contains a nice, but rather small leisure pool (although actual swimming is not possible) with an impressive rock tunnel as its centrepiece. There are a couple of short water-slides (set apart from the pool itself), and various jets, fountains and waves in the pool. Adjoining this is a suite of two saunas (one with a large window giving a great view of the setting sun), two large steam-rooms and a pleasant 'chill-out' room with free ginger flavoured mineral water on tap. It's all very nicely done and well thought-out, despite all being on rather a small-scale. What a pity the Mille 8 planners didn't think to include the pre-existing outside swimming pool, such as you can find at Plagne Bellecote, Morzine, Les Deux Alpes, etc. Swimming in the open air in a warm pool while it's snowing is a truly wonderful experience!
|Le Lodge, in true Arcadien style|
|Putting the icing on the cakes....|
|€13 burger savoyard, no cutlery...|
|Enticing hats hide the golf simulator...|
However, I am interested in Mille 8 for what it brings to our world of snow and skiing. Will it really create those 'unmissable moments' claimed in the flyer to tired families prepared to fork out €6 euros per child for a three-minute fairly slow toboggan run, a further €8 per adult to visit the Le Piscine (sauna and steam room are extra) and a couple of hundred euros on a gastronomic meal in awesome surroundings? I certainly think more, if not all, of the attractions should be included in the lift pass: the extra expense is bound to put a lot of people off, along with the difficulty of access referred to earlier.
Mille 8 as a concept perhaps reveals something of the hidden agenda of ADS (the company that operates Les Arcs and has made most of this investment). The many millions of euros spent on Mille 8 could equally have been used to add or further improve the traditional skiing infrastructure (queuing for 45 minutes to get on the Arcabulle lift at Arc 2000 is certainly not an 'unmissable moment'!) and to encourage more and better skiing, and a wider appreciation of the unique environment we are in.
The friendly hat and golf simulator manager summed it up nicely, 'Mille 8 is all about leisure', she said. Leisure rather than adventure, perhaps.