Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy Artificial New Year!

NY fireworks at Arc 1600
I've made my New Year resolutions, and one of them is to re-start my blog after a rather patchy last two years. Spurred on by the 50,000 or so visits my scribblings have attracted I'm ready to start getting behind the scenes again here in our magnificent skiing factory called Les Arcs!

No one could have failed to notice that the start of the season has been less than perfect in terms of snow cover. Nowhere near as bad as last Christmas (2014) but still definitely a snow-drought and all that implies, especially for the lower alpine resorts.  However I can safely say that all the guests we have had so far (including my own children) have been pleasantly surprised by the extent and quality of the terrain available. Much credit for this must go to the pisteurs for their hard and ingenious work spreading what snow there was into decent pistes and the ADS for managing the resort in a way that kept everyone happy.

Last week it seemed everybody wanted to be in Les Arcs, with our last few beds going to guests fleeing other resorts (such as Chamonix, Morzine, Chatel, etc) in search of a true taste of winter. However one thing was different this New Year - hardly a word of Russian to be heard anywhere, not even in Arc 1950. It seems the collapse of the rouble following  the Great Bear's foreign policy and domestic woes has made us prohibitively expensive, and of course new and better winter sports offerings are coming on-stream all the time in Russia itself after the success of Sochi.

Cachette tunnel
The big news in Arc 1600 at the start of the season has been the redevelopment of the Cachette to make it Les Arcs only world-class competition piste. A key feature has been the building of 50 metre concrete tunnel under the piste to allow the passage of ski-school groups and beginners using the Combette lift without interupting the flow of slalom skiers training and competing on the Cachette piste.

The idea of upgrading Cachette to full FIS-homolgation (slalom and giant-slalom) has been around for at least 20 years. It was a key feature of the bungled 'CSNHN' scheme that would have seen a prestigious national ski academy based in Bourg, had it not been lost to Albertville because of political dithering ( click here for the full story). There were originally going to be two tunnels, the other would have  allowed the 'Arpette' blue piste to pass beneath Cachette: now that piste will be closed or diverted on competition days.

Monster snow cannon
A further aspect of the Cachette scheme is plainly visible in the photo above - snowmaking. It was already the best equipped piste in Les Arcs, with something like 40,000 cubic metres of the man-made white stuff being applied each season.  The snow-making capacity has now been virtually doubled, and the equipment re-spaced to reduce the amount of piste-bashing necessary to spread it evenly. A small concession to the environmental impact of all this energy-guzzling eneigement, perhaps. Les Arcs, like most large ski resorts now uses as much energy on snow-making as it does for powering the lifts.

The lift company ADS proudly showed of its new TechnoAlpin TL6 snow cannons, the 1000th produced being among those deployed. These monsters are capable of making 20 cubic metres an hour (a double-decker bus?), and other 'lower pressure' jets can double that in the right conditions -   it has to be between -2.5 and -5c.

There's no doubt that Les Arcs massive investment in snow-making has really paid of this season. Not only did it allow the resort to open more skiing than most of its rivals, but the deep, compacted layer will be an excellent base for the natural snow now falling in abundance. This will also be beneficial at the other end of the season as the spring temperatures begin to rise.

Cachette piste before the tunnel
But there are plenty of elephants in the corner of Cachette, as it were. Is this the reality of global warming; are we going to have to accept that most of the snow under-ski will be artificially made in the future? Are we going to see the 'core-lift policy' (take out two lifts, build one more-efficient one, such as Arpette) turn into a core-piste policy? (put all the energy into creating one or two good main pistes with less diversity of terrain).

 If energy prices were to rise substantially some resorts might well struggle to pay their electricity bills without adding to the vicious circle of decline created by ever-increasing lift pass prices.  But At least a higher oil price would make the Russians able to afford Les Arcs again!

See also my post on the history of the Cachette piste and lift

Coming next: Mille8 - skiing dumbed-down or is this the future?

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you are back blogging again. You were missed! :-)