Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tignes Semper Vivens part 2 - visit to the old village

General view toward the barrage
Good Friday seemed like a good day to descend into the ruins of the old village of Tignes.  Sixty years ago the thriving community, with its ancient traditions of agriculture and its modern vocation as a ski resort was engulfed under 180m of water, sacrificed for electricity and the greater good of the French nation. 

Pont de Chevril (1924)
We set off from the hamlet of La Reclusaz, at the Val d'Isere end of the lake. From there we followed the old road, still clearly defined with much of its tarmac surface in tact. Below was the dramatic Pont de Chevril, spanning the Isere gorge 60m below.

Eroded landscape
From here one can clearly see the layout of the Vallon de Lac, with the remains of the hamlets of La Raie, Villard-Strassiaz, La Chaudanne and Tignes itself discernable under a deep layer of uniform grey sludge. Decades of underwater erosion has left the roots of hundreds of trees (presumably felled for timber as the waters rose) on the sides of the basin, twisted and gnarled into un-natural shapes.

Meteorite or other alien object?
One large piece of rock catches our attention – it's like nothing else here and I wonder if could have been a meteorite or something? It wouldn't seem surprising to find such a thing in this silent, alien landscape

No sign of life...
I was struck by the total lack of any life here. not a single plant, bird or animal could been seen giving the scene a moon-like quality. I struggle to imagine how there had once been fertile meadows beside the Isére, with dozens of cows and sheep grazing peacefully while the steep sides were rich with pines, firs and wild fruit trees.

Old house remains
From a distance the ruins of the dynamited, bulldozed and burnt buildings just looked like muddy humps, but on getting closer I could see that the lower parts of many were still relatively unscathed. We pushed open the thick wooden door of one, entering a cellar room lined with hooks and brackets for shelves of cheese and drying hams. 

Through the plain grill of the window you could for a moment share the view that those villagers once saw daily; the soaring mountains above and the powerful river beside.

Further on we crossed small bridge across the stream flowing down from Villard-Strassiaz, which in the 1930s a saw-mill owner called Planton had used to generate electricity for his machines and to illuminate the village – the community's first taste of the new energy that gave it its place in history.

The density of the ruins multiplies as we got closer to the centre of the le bourg, where several hotels and a restaurant used to flourish, products of the village's reluctant acceptance of tourism as its future as the ancient, inefficient agricultural practices yielded to the post-war world.

Aubrevoir - still full of water
The abreuvoir, where once animals drank and women washed clothes still sits proudly at the heart of the village. A section of iron railing marks the edge, perhaps, of one of the flourishing vegetable gardens slotted between the old chalets.

Remains of Church of St  Jacques
Soon we came upon the largest ruin, that of the 17th century church of Saint-Jacques-de-Tarentaise. Sections of its thick walls lie jumbled upon each other, perhaps here and there are chunks of the old tower that once soared above the valley. 

The church was was the last building to be destroyed, straight after the last mass was said here on 20th April 1952. On the same day mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church replicated at Les Boisses, at the heart of the new community that rose from the lake.

A little further on we reached the ruins of a large building, of which the lower floor was still intact. 

Rooms and corridors...
Stone sinks


The network of rooms and corridors could be accessed through the muddy doorway, still furnished with large stone sinks and a stone-slabbed bench, perhaps for some kind of food preparation.

'Le Mur'
Now we are at the end of village, as close to the huge wall of the barrage as one can get. The hum of the turbines in the power station above and its rushing out-flow waterfall coupled with the strange but peaceful atmosphere make conversation difficult. Much has been said about the drowning of Tignes, then and even now there's still much being written and discussed...

Soon the waters will retake its remains and spirit once more, and the lingering generation will pass on.  In this age of global warming and 'energy security' worries we should all be grateful for the reluctant sacrifice made this community and the astonishing achievements that this sacrifice led to.

Tignes Semper Vivens

Many thanks to Rob and Liz for coming with me and taking the photographs.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tignes semper vivens part 1: the old village re-emerges

Tignes in 1950
For a number of reasons I decided to pay a visit to Tignes yesterday: I'd been reading Cédric Broet's excellent new book Tignes, histoire d'une station de sports d'hiver 1946 - 2000 (in French), and a friend had alerted me to the fact that the Lac de Chevril has been completely drained.

Although the snow's still pretty good in Les Arcs and La Plagne for this stage in the season (and more snow is expected this weekend) I had heard conditions in Tignes were especially good and worth making the journey for.

L'aguille Percée - yet another photo!
My trip exceeded my expectation in every way! Firstly the snow was good, the glacier hard and fast and the plenty of (rather grainy) untracked fresh snow around the Col de Ves. The pistes back to Val Claret and Le Lac all seem to be wide and smooth, and even the sun-exposed Vallon de la Sache black run from the Aguille Percée (is this the most photographed piece of rock in the world, I wonder?) to Les Brevières only presented a few slush and gravel difficulties on the steep section above the village.

Isère bridge clearly visible
Secondly, I had notice when crossing the top of the dam that the Lac de Chevril is indeed very empty, I think with even less water in it than during the 'official' inspection vidange in 2000. The old Isère bridge, the village streets and the dynamited remains of various buildings including the church can be clearly seen, and people were once again strolling there in the brilliant sunshine  as they might have back in 1952!

As I sat enjoying my Salade Savoyarde at the excellent La Sachette restuarant in Les Brevières I found myself thinking over the remarkable story of the village of Tignes. Its destruction and subsequent renaissance bear witness to two of  the 20th century's greatest industrial achievements, electricity and tourism.

 By the 1930s the agricultural community of Tignes had already begun to reap the benefits of the newly emerging winter sports industry; Val d'Isère, a few kilometres further up the valley had already a number of hotels and ski lifts and Tignes begun to follow suit. The Great War had disrupted centuries-old traditions of subsistence farming (based on domestic production of milk, cheese, pork and cereal) as young men sent to fight had seen more of the world and were exposed to new influences.

However, it was probably the Second World War that crystallised Tignes' future. As France rebuilt its industries and cities there was a desperate need for energy, in the form of electricity. A plan to build an hydro-electric scheme at Tignes had been around since 1920, but ironically it was shelved as the cost of the obtaining the required land  through compulsory purchase)  was seen as to high  in relation the price of electricity. However, the scheme was revived and expanded in the  late 1940s, with the aim of building the world's largest hydro-scheme by damming the Isère downstream from Tignes, thereby  putting the village under 180m of water.

The outflow from the new reservoir, which was to be fed by a number of diverted mountain streams, would power generators at Les Brevières and Viclaire before emerging from the a tunnel 350m above Bourg St Maurice in two gigantic conduit forcée feeding 5 turbines in the  Malgovert power plan. Overall the scheme would produce nearly a thousand megawatts, enough electricity for 150,000 homes (such as city the size of Grenoble).

Tignes Le Lac
Understandably there was much opposition from the people of Tignes, which in 1950 was home to 76 families, several farms and a handful of hotels, shops and restaurants. At a national level there was much debate about the whether it was right to sacrifice an ancient community in the name of progress and the greater good of the state. In compensation the EDF (Electricité de France) planned to rebuild Tignes above the lake at Les Boisses, including an exact copy of the church and a new cemetery for those exhumed from their original final resting place. The package of compensation and redevelopment sowed the seeds for the ski resort as we know it today, starting with the new 'hamlets' of Le Rosset and L'Aune which became part of  'Tignes Le Lac'. The higher part, Val Claret, was not really foreseen at this time, and didn't happen until the 1970s.

Anti-EDF graffiti -' rape and pillage'
However, a few stalwart Tignards resisted until the end, even as the water was lapping around their houses. In the end the prefect called in the CRS (kind of riot police) to dynamite and set of fire the whole village while literally dragging the last few from their homes. Distressing scenes indeed, and there is still much bitterness in the local communities about how this was handled (although now it is very hard to see how it could have been done differently).

Many of those families who were displaced but chose to stay in the new Tignes have done very well with the development of the truly world-class ski resort. In the end, when one thinks as all the 'carbon-free' electricity being produced and what a great place it is to ski perhaps that sacrifice was justified, in the end.

I'm taking my team to do a 'photographic essay' there tomorrow, as I think this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the old village of Tignes. Hence this is part 1, part 2 will deal with the growth of the ski resort in the 1960s and 70s in comparison to the development of Les Arcs... coming soon.

Meanwhile, here's an excellent short video of the last days of Tignes: TIGNES, L'EAU MONTE


Also highly recommended: Tignes, la naissance d'un géant [Broché] by
Denis Varaschin

A detailled account of the construction of the barrage and associated works. Strong on technical detail and historical accuracy.

See part 2 of this blog post for an account of my descent into the ruined village

Monday, April 14, 2014

ZAC des Alpins (the old barracks): future or fiction?

Michel Giraudy, new mayor of Bourg
Congratulations to M. Michel Giraudy and his team of councillors elected from the 'Agir pour l'avenir' group, on becoming the new mayor of Bourg St Maurice. Giraudy is a genuine tourism professional, having been head of the Val d'Isere and Courchevel tourist offices for many years and now running his own consultancy business. He also worked at Club Med and was involved in organising the 1992 Albertville Olympics.

I think M. Giraudy is going to be glad of all this valuable experience when he tackles his mayoral in-tray. Top item will be the 'ZAC des Alpins' project, upon which, we are led to believe the future prosperity of Bourg St Maurice largely depends. This huge scheme to redevelop the old Barracks on the southern edge of the town is likely to provoke much controversy and need a huge amount of imagination, commitment and acuity if it's to succeed, qualities which have been lamentably lacking in dealing with recent failed projects such as the Centre for National Ski Studies, the Renoveau fiasco and the mineral water bottling plant farce.

Le Quartier Bulle, now ZAC des Alpins
To recap, in 2011 the 7th Brigade of Chasseurs Alpins departed the barracks, which they had occupied since before the First World War.

The soldiers were highly respected by the town community, and contributed greatly to the economy, and social and sporting activities.   Bourg suddenly lost nearly a third of its population (1500 out of 5000), but gained a sprawling complex of hangars, yards and logements spread over 7 hectares. This was 'sold' to the town for €1 euro by the Ministry of Defence, perhaps anxious not to have to find the €400,000 per year needed just to maintain and secure the site while empty!

At the time Bourg was expecting to host a new National Centre for High Level Skiing Studies  (CSNHN, a kind of ski university - see previous blogs), and the old barracks were to be its home. However, owing to spectacular bungling and vaccillation by the council under the then-mayor Damien Perry, the FFS changed its mind and chose Albertville instead. So, the old barracks became a bit of a white elephant.

Detailed proposals of the new 'UTN ZAC des Alpins' project have recently been made public and presented to the councillors. The scheme involves retaining some of the more interesting (and older) buildings, demolishing the ugly ones and building some new ones. . The aim is to construct a 'Development Zone' in which will be the following:
Architect's impression
  • Four star hotel, luxury tourist accommodation and short-term tourist lodgings totalling 1500 new beds
  • Conference centre
  • 'Wellness' health centre with spa, fun-pool etc.
  • Shops, cafés, etc. and an entertainment venue
  • Craft village
  • Memorial to the 7th BCA regiment
In addition there will be new housing for saisonaires and 'parkland' within the complex. A striking feature is the proposed series of waterfalls fed by the adjacent Arbonne river. But, remember this is Bourg St Maurice, so there has to be the obligatory 300 new car parking spaces and two new access roundabouts on the main road!  

Acknowledging that the ZAC des Alpins is on the 'wrong side' of the town as far the transport/mountain access/commercial infrastructure is concerned, the proposal includes the provisions of 2 shuttle bus services (reaching the funicular in 2 minutes, apparently) and a possible new walkway to the station  

The proposals, which have been put together the Society for the Development of Savoie details the benefits to the town: eventually  the local economy will enjoy an extra 20m euros of income per annum from a mixture of increased lift-pass sales (2.4m), accommodation (10 - 14m) and spending in bars, shops, restaurants etc ( 5 - 7m). The project would create about 500 new jobs, about half of which would be permanent and the rest seasonal (winter I assume).

It all looks very slick and impressive, but there are obviously quite a few question marks about Bourg's ability to bring off a project like this. Firstly, the town is going to have to find 12 million euros to fund the project, spread over a period of 3 or 4 years. The government is expected to pitch in another 3 million, but it will take 10 years for the cashflow to become positive and half the money the town will provide will be borrowed. This is on top of the its current debts of around 40 million, but SAS reckon that initial interest repayments on all these loans can be made by making cuts to services and 'management savings'. This all sounds rather risky for a number of reasons.

The location, location, location of the site is undoubtedly a problem. Who would be prepared to pay to stay in a sumptuous 4 star hotel which then involves a bus ride and then the funicular to get to the snow? The SAS figures quote an average annual occupancy rate of 75%, whereas in the last few years the figure generally in Bourg St Maurice has been 46% (from Vivre en Tarentaise). It's strange that the Dutch hotel group Valk are mentioned a possible exploiter of the new hotel: they have dozens of 'resort' hotels in Holland, a few in France and Spain but none in Alpine or mountainous environments. I hope this doesn't mean some of hotel groups active in the Alps haven't already shunned the idea!

Another threat to the high street?
Secondly, the plan to put in shops and craft workshops can only detract from the struggling town centre, and make it a less attractive proposition for casual visitors from the Arcs resorts. It contradicts much of the councils policy and actions to try and 'redynamise' the town centre - there is already enough pressure from the supermarket end of town, with all its parking, cafés and choice of large shops. Even if the proposed commerces within the ZAC were well patronised by the new clientele, this would hardly have any positive effect for the town centre: it's too far away for people to want to stroll down to the Rue Pietonné if they have shops etc. on hand in the ZAC.

Thirdly, I can't really see how the a conference centre in a fairly inaccessible town like Bourg is going to do well when there is already an abundance of such facilities in all the local cities, and the increasing use of virtual and internet based systems will make 'real' conference events increasingly redundant.

I think its a sign of the desperation of the local politicians that some of these questions were barely raised at the presentation of the plan, except by Councillor Bocianowksi, to her credit. The SAS presentation offers no exit strategies or worse-case scenarios, only a rose-tinted view of increasing prosperity despite the multiple challenges faced by the tourist industry here (visitors to Les Arcs fell by 9,3% between 2009-2012), and in particular skiing which whether you like it or not is main motor of the local economy.

It is, I realise, easy to criticise a new project like this, and if it does go ahead I really hope it will succeed and not become a nightmarish drain on the town's finances. But I am pretty sure no council would have chosen to buy a site like this for redevelopment, rather it's been thrust upon as and something has to be done with it. Let's hope M. Giraudy's the man for the job!

You can see full details of the proposals here (in french but mainly pictures and diagrams):

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):