Les Arcs, France: the ski resort with something for everyone

by tomvaughan

It's often dismissed as a concrete jungle in the French Alps, but the five separate villages that make up Les Arcs are sufficiently different to appeal to all tastes – and to all skiing abilities

Les Arcs is one of the biggest resorts in the French Alps. The opinion you will hear most often is that it is covered in mountains... of modern, ugly concrete apartment blocks. While you won’t fail to notice the legacy of poor 1970s planning, you will soon forgive the area’s lack of traditional alpine charm when you discover that this Savoie resort has a whole lot more to offer.

The reason is that Les Arcs is not one resort, but rather a conglomeration of smaller ones, each with its own character. Bourg-Saint-Maurice, together with 1600, 1800, 1950 and 2000 (named after their height in metres above sea level) make up the resort – and each area has a very different feel to it.

Many of the chalets are in 1600, which is quiet and lower down among the trees. It is linked directly to Bourg-Saint-Maurice by a funicular railway – handy if you need to stock up on gear, as prices are much cheaper there than on the mountain.

Meanwhile, 1800 is the place to go if you want to have a good time partying the night away. It is the largest and most happening of the resorts. Try the Red Hot bar for some decent bands and then move on to Apokalypse to continue the après-ski frivolity into the small hours.

The least attractive is probably 2000, situated on the opposite side of the mountain to 1600 and 1800 and closest to some of the best slopes. As the highest resort, it often gets the best snow – so this is the place to get in some sneaky powder turns early in the morning before the rest of the resort gets up!

The most recent village to open, 1950, has more than a hint of Disney about its wood and stone buildings. It has been created by the Intrawest corporation, which is also responsible for Whistler, Canada, meaning it is more exclusive and expensive. If the faux-rustic decor gets too much, you can travel to 2000 for free from here, on the Cabriolet gondola.

We preferred to stay in the traditional village of Peisey, one of the area's original villages. Chalet Richermoz (00 33 614 467 711) is in a quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by pretty woodland and neighbouring chalets, about five minutes' walk from the local lobster-pot lifts. It has a sauna and therapy massage shower, which was always welcome to soothe aching muscles after a day on the slopes.

On the mountain, Les Arcs has a huge ski area, offering everything from mellow beginners' slopes to some of the most challenging runs found anywhere in France. The wooded areas around the villages of Peisey and Vallandry are the places to head for on flat, light days. Easy-to-navigate tree runs can be reached from chairs 61, 68 and 74.

Beginners should try the Vallée de L’Arc, a long, meandering blue run from the summit of Col de la Chal down to Arc 2000. At the other end of the spectrum, take the lift to the top of the Aiguille Rouge, the highest peak in Les Arcs. From here you can access a couple of steep red and black runs, and get a unique perspective on the resort’s terrifying Flying Kilometre run.

If you’re after some off-piste action, under the Varet bubble lift in Arc 2000 is a good place to start. Be aware that slopes above 1800 are in the sun all afternoon and often slide later in the day, so be careful. If you ride anything off the back of the Aiguille Rouge above Villaroger, you are in a National Park – and if the ski patrol sees you, you'll be fined.

For jibbers, the main snow park is the Apocalypse above 1600, which offers a range of kickers and rails as well as a bordercross run. The park is kept in excellent condition – though, because there is no drag, you have to use the slow Clair Blanc chair, where queues often form during busy weeks. There is a natural quarterpipe in Arc 2000 but a more serious half pipe can be found in La Plagne. If you just want to dabble, there is often a small rail park placed on the piste just below the top of the Grizzly chairlift.

Aside from the usual queues during the French holidays, the lift system in Les Arcs won’t let you down. Most of the lifts are swift and modern, including the spectacular double-decker Vanoise Express, which carries up to 200 people at once, 400m above the valley below, to neighbouring La Plagne. The two resorts together make up the Paradiski area, with more than 400km of pistes for those who really want to rack up the miles.

So, if you want a vast ski area with everything at your disposal, why not give Les Arcs a go? You won’t be disappointed.