Sunday, August 27, 2017

Heroic summer in Les Arcs!

Arc 1800 in summer mode
I have just returned from a week staying our chalet L'Aiguille Grive at Courbaton (Arc 1600) with my wife and children and another family. It's about ten years since I was last there in August, and I was really surprised to see how the summer offering has grown in that time.We had with us  7 children, aged from 6 to 14, so finding a range of interesting things to do was essential!

Les Arcs' summer activities now form part of an integrated programme, called 'Hero Les Arcs', which also includes the impressive range of mountain biking facilities on offer.  The Hero programme covers all the Arcs' resorts and Bourg St Maurice, but the bulk of the activities are based around Arc 1800. This is logical, as the Mille 8 swimming pool and 'wellness suite' are key features, with the impressive open-air pool and water slide in full swing. At the foot of Mille 8 there bungee-trampoline, mini-golf, pony-riding, a circus show and a bouncy castle, aimed mainly at the younger-end of the age range. The large climbing wall is popular with older children, but there's a 48 hour waiting list for the 1 1/2 hour supervised sessions.

With several lifts open to pedestrians and bikers, access to the Col de La Chal and the Aiguille Rouge is straightforward, with the possibility to walk down on marked trails separate from the vast web of mountain bike trails that now cover the mountains of Les Arcs.

The Hero progamme also offer fully-supervised and coached activities for children, from half a day to a full week, covering  pursuits including kayaking, mountain-biking, rock climibing, archery, tennis and hiking. Its possible to pay a bit extra to sleep out in bivouac on the mountainside!

Golf  seems to have taken on a new élan with the construction (as part of the Mille 8 project) of Le Lodge, at the centre of the golf course. This acts as a club-house, with a lounge, bar, restaurant, shop and the impressive life-size golf simulator which enables you to play on many of the worlds top greens in virtual reality. Several independent golf schools occupy  the old stone huts and chalets which pre-date Les Arcs, but give it all an authentic Savoyard feel.

Rochefleur, near Courbaton
Les Arcs and Bourg St Maurice seem busier and much more active than I remember 10 years ago. The streets, shops and restaurants everywhere were bustling, the holiday atmosphere all pervasive. However,  the natural splendour of the mountains and quiet verdure of the forest is never far away: Our group enjoyed trekking through the Malgovert Forest, around the vertiginous Rochefleur outcrop as well as simply admiring the summer scenery of the masif de Beaufortain from the balcony of L'Aiguille Grive - just as in winter Les Arcs in summer really does have something for everybody.

The Hero Pass, which gives access to these activities is available from €36 a week.  As ever with Les Arcs there are a complicated range of options and prices, but  it's well worth going for the Hero Premium pass (€89) which gives unlimited access to everything. Accommodation on the mountain is much cheaper than in winter, so start planning now for your 2018 summer holiday!

The Les Arcs season finishes on 2nd September. Click here for full details of Hero Programme

Monday, July 17, 2017

Exciting new developments at Les Arcs for next season

It might be the middle of summer, but preparations for the next winter season are well under way in Les Arcs.

The new 6 person Pré St Espirit chairlift is being built in the Arc valley, bringing to end those freezing 15 minute journeys on Les Arcs longest (nearly 2km) and probably slowest lift. Originally constructed in 1980,  its aim was to improve the link between the then brand new Arc 2000 and the resorts on the other side of the Arpette ridge, Arc 1600 and 1800. The Comborcière  lift (about which I have written previously) had been the first attempt to provide a quick route back to Arc 1600 and to avoid the long, flat and avalanche-prone return walk running parallel to the main road.

It really was as cold and slow as it looks!
The new lift, which will  be in service the start of the 2017/18 season, has six places, heated seats and  perspex bulles to keep the wind and  snow out of our faces. It's 3 times faster, and the upper station will be located higher than at present, just above the Plagnettes lift. All this should help decrease the tiresome queues that have become a regular feature of the Arcabulle lift, however essential for access to the upper part of the valley clearly the ski schools' favourite. The lower station is a bit closer the restaurants and carpark, so the tartiflette-heavy trudge across the piste to start the afternoons skiing will be a thing of the past.

Archects image of the new lift stations
A second phase of the Pré St Espirit redevelopment is planned for next year (2018/19), with the replacement of the (also very slow) Comborcière lift and a new blue piste (Le Loup) beside the eponymous long bump run. The end result of all this will be much more fluid connections between Arc 1600/1800 and Arc 2000 and new lifts, while being expensive to construct (€6 million for the new Pré St Espirit lift), employ fewer people and require less maintenance, which can only be good for the ADS' balance sheet in the future.

However, perhaps there's a hidden agenda operating behind these major infrastucture developments. No one who comes to Les Arcs can fail to be impressed by the number of accommodation developments such as the massive Eden Arcs at Arc 1800 (increasing the bed capacity there by 30%), and the 5-star Tah-i-Maj hotel and several new 'Chalet des Neiges' buildings that crowd over the front de neige at Arc 2000.

The owners of most the ski area, Bourg St Maurice commune, and the ADS company which has the franchise to exploit the ski area seem to have concurred in recent years on the need to maximise revenue from the their 'asset', by offering more and higher quality facilities, building 'brand loyalty' and providing for a less snow-sure future.

The MilleHuit  fun park at Arc 1800 is a perfect embodiment of this objective. More beds may equal more lift passes sold, but it also equals more people on the piste and using the lifts. Crowds, queues and bottlenecks the enemy of this strategy, so new high speed lifts are essential if the ski area is to keep pace with the demands that are going to be made on it in the future, and shift people quickly to the resorts higher and more snow-reliable areas.

Club Med site from Les Deux Tetes
Arc 1600 proudly announced a couple of years ago a new '4-trident' Club Med development at Arc 1600, with 900 beds and plenty of upscale facilties. It will open in December for the 2017/18 season.  A large area of the ancient Malgovert forest has been cleared for the development, which is a bit higher than the main Arc 1600 village and will be mainly accessed using the Mont Blanc lift, which thanks to it's replacement a few years ago does seem to have some spare capacity. There's also a plan to build 50 new private chalets in this zone... more on that in the future.

New Club Med at Arc 1600
There's also talk of improving the ageing Cachette lift, but in the end there will be more people of all sorts of abilities on the already crowded and collision-prone pistes between the Arpette and Arc 1600. The new Pré St Espriit lift will play it's part in spreading the load,  but it all makes me think it's time to get a helmet, even after skiing for 30 years without one!