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!




Thursday, November 17, 2016

Learning to ski? 8 things you should do before you book a ski lesson

With the new ski season just around the corner it's time to think about booking up ski school or a private instructor while there's still plenty of availability. 

Here' some expert advice from Nick Robinson, who runs a brilliant new web service enabling you to find easily the best choices in your chosen resort.

  1. Choose your resort
Different resorts are great for different levels of skier. Some resorts are built on less steep mountains, with lots of easy green and blue runs which  gives beginners more terrain to explore and more of the mountain restaurants to try out!. They also have the chance to progress at a much more gradual rate. On the other hand, some resorts are geared more towards expert skiers, such as  La Grave (France), with no pisted runs at all. But it's an off-piste wonderland for the backcountry lovers. Les Arcs is an example of a large ski resort which genuinely caters for skiers of all abilities.
  1. Decide on your dates

School holidays can be busy times...
The choice of your holiday dates can be restricted by a  school term dates, but if you don’t have children you can go skiing anytime during the season. The main  advantage of this is price, and what a difference it can make! If you holiday during early season (Les Arcs for example opens on 10th December), Mid-January, early March or the end of the season you can almost halve the price of your holiday, and sometimes even more.


  1. Book your accommodation and travel
Once you have chosen your  resort and selected the  dates the next step is to book your travel and accommodation . Skyscanner.com is great for checking the price of  flights, Many ski resorts are easily accesible by train, including the direct Eurostar service from London to Bourg St Maurice. I would recommend going for an independent chalet company such as www.skiadventures.co.uk, as  they take great pride in holidays they offer and always add a nice personal touch. 
  1. Ask yourself what you want to achieve, what do you want out of your lesson?
Adult beginners enjoy private lesson.
Once you have booked your ski holiday and you decide you want to book lessons you should ask yourself what you want to get out of these lessons. You might be a complete beginner  or you might be a nervous intermediate wanting to build confidence. It’s important you know what you want before you start looking for lessons, as this could have an impact on how many lessons an instructor suggests you have, as well as what time of day to have the lessons.

  1. When do you want lessons?

Once you have decided on point number 4 you can then decide what days you would like lessons. For example,  if you are a beginner you will probably  want to get started on the first morning of your holiday. Sometimes leaving gaps between lessons can allow for  more practice and to really help to  consolidate what you have learnt.

  1. How much do you want to spend?

Ski lessons can be  expensive and it's best to have a budget in mind. Group lessons are much cheaper and are therefore a tempting option. Inevitably with group lessons people progress at different speeds and you could find yourself in a group that is too advanced or too basic.  Also you might find yourself in quite a  large group not getting much individual attention.  However some people really enjoy the 'social' aspect of group lessons and find it a great way to find friends and people to ski with. On the other hand private lessons are relatively expensive and more intensive, but you might prefer to be learning all day (or for a few hours each day) which could be beyond your budget with a private instructor. In the end it all comes back to what you want to achieve and when you want lessons. Private lessons can often be quite a bit cheaper during 'low' season weeks.

  1. Check out the options from ski schools to specialist instructor 'marketplaces'

Lots of instructors to choose from!
Ski schools offer various types of lessons at a range of times and for different prices, which can be complicated if you are planning a holiday with people of different abilities, budgets and aspirations.  A good option is to  check out Maison Sport, a website giving  direct access to hundreds of independent instructors  in France. Booking through Maison Sport cuts out the ski school 'middleman' so the prices are generally lower and you can compare different options before you make your choice.

  1. Decide on what instructor you want, what language, male/female etc
Many ski schools don’t give you the option to choose your individual instructor, so it can be ‘luck of the draw’ as to who  you get. The most important decisions to make  are language  and the instructor’s key attributes, information which you should be able to request from most ski schools. 

Alternatively, Maison Sport allows you to choose your instructor and communicate directly with them  prior to booking to check they can fulfill your needs. You can also read previous customer’s reviews, which reduces the chance of any unpleasant surprises!


And finally: learning to ski is hard work but great fun. You can experience tremendous highs and devastating lows in a short space of time as a beginner. Even the most experienced skiers are still learning and improving, and there's never a time in ones skiing career when one couldn't benefit from being with an expert instructor. So don't overlook this important aspect of your holiday when budgeting, booking and planning - you'll get more out your time on the mountain and go further than you could ever hope to on your own!








Another season at Les Arcs...

Col de La Chal yesterday morning
There are only 22 days to go before the opening of the winter season at Les Arcs. Already there is a good metre of snow on the mountain, with more predicted to fall this weekend. The snow has fallen at just the right time - it's unlikely to melt before December as the air and ground are cold, and the magnificent Les Arcs snow-making infrastructure can run full-on to build up that all-important base layer on the pistes.   Here's hoping we have a really good snowy start to the season to make up for the last few years!

Les Arcs 8th European Film Festival opens at the same time as the skiing this year, on the 10th December.  With the theme of 'Women in Film' there will be 120 showing of movies from a dozen or more countries. The LA film festival is getting an international reputation for new and innovative work, in an unusual environment (quite the opposite of Cannes!).

It's been an interesting time for chalet bookings - the Brexit result seemed to have a bad effect on british skiers, mainly because of the big fall in the value of the pound. But every cloud has a silver lining and the extraordinary election of Mr. Trump in the USA has seen the value of sterling climb sharply and bookings are now back to their normal levels. 

Possibly the Brexit process may turn out to be yet another nail in the coffin for british skiing (the numbers of regular UK skiers has virtually halved in the last 10 years) and this is putting some resorts under further economic pressure. Les Arcs has had a good look at it's lift pass pricing policy for this season and although it's more complicated with new options for 'Duo' and 'Tribu' (group) packs joining the existing 'Family' pack, everyone can expect to pay a bit less than last year. Also Les Arcs area passes now include a day in La Plagne, and Paradiski passes allow you to ski on the afternoon of arrival day for no extra charge.

With Christmas Day and New Year falling on Sundays this year the New Year week hasn't been as much in demand as usual (a lot of people go back to work or school on 2nd January). We still have availability for this period and it should be a lot quiter than usual! I'm offering a special 'Brexit Beater' offer for early season (10th - 24th December) based on £100 per night for catered chalet accommodation, lift pass and transfer. See the website for details and conditions.

Tah-I-Mah: 5* white elephant?
New things to look out for in Les Arcs include the new 'Tah-I-Mah' hotel at Arc 2000, which claims to be Les Arcs first  5-star establishment. You can't miss it as it annoyingly occupies a large part of the  'front de neige', a large open area intended originally to be place for meeting and linking the skier to the non-skiing infrastructure around it. I wonder if the time is right for such a development, given that the stunning 4-star Aiguille Grive hotel on the piste above Arc 1800 seems to have struggled a bit in the 4 years since it opened... 

Bonne Saison a tous, come and enjoy the snow here at Les Arcs as soon as you can!


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New summer mountain biking programme at Les Arcs

Bike parc map
Over the years I have realised that a lot our our chalet guests are also passionate about other sports and activities, and mountain biking often crops up as one the most popular summer pursuits. In the last 10 years Les Arcs has been making serious efforts to make the resort a real Mecca for all kinds of MTB enthusiasts, echoing the 'something for everyone' ethos of the winter programme. Now we have over 200km of trails, including some epic forest runs (the Malgovert forest beside our chalets has turned out to be ideal terrain in an otherwise largely un-visited environment), a couple of parcs and trails for families to enjoy.  Several of the main lifts are adapted for the uplift of riders and their bikes, including Cachette, Transarc and the Aguille Rouge cable car - fancy riding a bike on a glacier!?


Steep-sided single track at Arc 2000
This year we decided to set-up a mountain biking holiday programme for the 8 weeks period when the lifts run, based at our chalet L'Aguille Grive at Courbaton (Arc1600). This chalet seems ideally placed, as it's virtually on the 'mythical' No.8 forest trail (8.2 km and 810m vertical),  and only a few hundred metres from Cachette and the funicular, which is a vital cog in the MTB uplift network. The fabulous views across the massif de Beaufourtain, plenty of space for bikes and barbecues, the sunny hot-tub and comfortable en-suite rooms seem to be exactly what the biking fraternity need after a hard day in the saddle (or sometimes out of it!).


And so Arcabike.com was born, and we are taking bookings for the 8 week period from Saturday 2nd July to Saturday 27th August 2016. There are also plenty of other things to do in Les Arcs during the summer season, ranging from the chamber music festival to golf and archery. This was all part of the original thinking behind Les Arcs, but now as there seems to be increasing interest in activity-based alpine holidays the prescience of its founders is paying off. Les Arcs was recently features as one the top 10 best resorts for mountain biking in the Alps.


All the details are on www.arcbike.com 

and there's general information about summer in Les Arcs on http://en.lesarcs.com/activities/sport-activities-summer.html

Finally, a video of a descent of the No.8 trail in the Malgovert Forest:



Monday, January 18, 2016

What's 'Mille 8'?

I've been asked the questions 'What's (a) Mille 8?' quite a few times since the season begun, and I realised I didn't really have an answer except  to recite a list of the new features incorporated into Les Arcs new, much-hyped offspring: toboggan run, swimming pool, some odd wooden huts, a short bump run, and so on....

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.

Perhaps the most tangible benefits of Mille 8 have been the three new replacement lifts - Villards, which really only services the Mille Huit activities. Dahu provide pedestrian uplift to the new Chantel development and the new Carreley chairlift eases theVagere  bottleneck with quick access to the Col de Frettes, once the destination of the old Arc 1600 'Arpette' lift. The old, slow Villards and Chantel chairlifts, which date back to the 1970s, have gone, and overall there has been a significant net increase in uplift.

Mille 8 occupies a formerly wooded area just above resort, which was deliberately left in tact when Arc 1800 was built in an attempt to integrate natural features of the mountain with the harsher 'urban' resort. This had been successfully achieved in Courchevel 1850 some years earlier (Roger Godino, co founder of Les Arcs, described the resort as the 'sister' of Courchevel). Some older pre-resort buildings have been pleasingly renovated and incorporated into the new infrastructure, mainly as golf schools (more about golf later..).

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.

La Piscine
Access to Le Piscine is via a starkly impressive entrance tunnel and external lift tower. But, as with all of the Mille 8 attractions, it's necessary to trudge up the steep and icy slope in front of the Villards 'snow-front', and to cross a dangerously  fast-flowing piste to reach the entrance. I absolutely fail to see why the lift couldn't have just descended another 5 to 6 metres to the same level as the snow-front, giving safe and level access. I'm sure this in itself would increase the numbers of Mille 8 evening visitors, looking for something more interesting to do than mooching around Sherpa...

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....
For me, the jewel in the crown of Mille 8 has to be Le Lodge, a stunning, curvaceous building truly in the 'Arcadien' style, with sloping roof, timber abutments, laminated cladding, and brilliant asymetrical windows - Bernard Taillefer would definitely be proud of this modern interpretation of his innovative style. Within Le Lodge there is a large (up to 600 places) rather up-scale restaurant, including a beautiful relaxation area with rather wacky sofas and cushions. A patissier openly makes deserts to order, and there is in encyclopaedic wine list from a stroll-through cellar. The menu is fairly typical of many higher-end establishments in Les Arcs, and there are menus from €37 for three courses. It's worth it for the views alone, those almost entirely glass walls giving stunning views in all directions.  The restaurant also has private dining rooms, with less enjoyable views across to the muddled and ugly buildings of the Chantel development. Below there is a large conference room and further dining space where concerts and entertainments take place several times a week.
€13 burger savoyard, no cutlery...
But Le Lodge contains more than its eponymous restaurant: at the other end of the gastronomic scale is the annoyingly cutlery-and-crockery-free 'Le Snack' (also referred to as 'Le Café') where everything is plastic and disposable (probably even the weird plastic stools which are the only seating available) but the 'Burger Savoyard' I ate was surprisingly good (just as well at  €13!). It seems such a shame that the attention to environmental and aesthetic detail evident elsewhere in Mille 8 is seriously lacking in this rather grim spot.

Enticing hats hide the golf simulator...
Upstairs there is an attractive showroom full of pretty hats - enticing it is, but just around the corner is a clue to another aspect of the rationale behind Mille 8. Golf is certainly not my game, but I couldn't fail to be impressed by  the life-size golf simulator, enabling virtual play on any of the world's leading courses (not, sadly including the one all around us here at Arc 1800) whilst analysing and improving your stroke. It was explained to me by the charming and US-English fluent manager that in the summer this part of Le Lodge will be the golf  'clubhouse' and the restaurant will provide for the summer golfers' needs.  This emphasis on golf makes the location of Le Lodge (and some of the other non-snow features of Mille 8) seem more logical: encouraging the summer market is obviously as important an aim as filling the '4 'till 7' gap.

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.

Mille 8 is something of the opposite, a kind of  microcosmic theme-park-on-the-snow, with artificial features, impressive though many of them are, at its heart rather than any sense of harmony with the mountain it sits upon. The original publicity for Mille 8 described the project as something like the 'distillation of the spriit of Les Arcs'. I fear in fact the opposite my be true, but perhaps we have to accept the world had moved on from the guiding inspiration of Robert Blanc and Roger Godino all those years ago.

The friendly hat and golf simulator manager summed it up nicely, 'Mille 8  is all about leisure', she said. Leisure rather than adventure, perhaps.

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?