SkiBike Tour 2014-15 - Les Arcs In The Cross-Hairs

Posted: Friday, 6 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Continuing the theme of breaking fresh ground with skibikes, the next resort in the cross-hairs was Les Arcs; a place with a long history of introducing France to the "Nouvelles Glisses" or new sliding methods.
Les Arcs was a pioneer of the "progressive skiing technique", where you start on short skis and work your way up on to progressively longer ones as your skills improve. From the outset you parallel ski and never need to adopt the awkward habits of the snowplough. As someone who discovered the joy of short skis after years of pain on long ones, I think it is a brilliant idea. But then I'm not a professional ski instructor with a vested interest in keeping people learning for as long as absolutely possible.

Les Arcs - home of Nouvelles Glisses

Les Arcs is also the self proclaimed "home of (French) snowboarding", this was the place where the snowboard broke out of the snow park and became accepted as an all mountain machine. To say that there are parallels with the history of modern freestyle skibikng would be an understatement.

As a purpose built resort Les Arcs offers the visitor one of the easiest drives possible, along a fast, low inclined road up to the market town of Bourg Saint Maurice where you can park your car and take a rapid funicular train up to Arcs 1600. The journey is stated as 7 minutes, I wasn't counting, instead I was chatting with Alan, a retired Brit living in the area the whole year round, best keep that fact a secret from the French tax authorities Alan!

Little and Large - Les Arcs is an easy drive

The official line at Les Arcs is that skibikes are permitted to use all the detachable chair lifts, as well as the gondolas and cable cars. Hilariously one of the chair lifts even has a "no skibikes" sign, just in case you don't know the rules.
In practice, Thierry and I had no problem getting around, although there was noticeable overcrowding of the core lift infrastructure, with waiting times of 15 minutes at the Transarc gondola and up to 45 minutes possible to access the Aiguille Rouge cable car.
We discussed this matter over a beer and hot pannini by the top of the Grizzly chair lift and both felt that as this is a €50 plus a day resort, the cost ought to be better reflected in the efficiency of the lift system.

Skibiker sandwich - the lift infrastructure was over crowded

In the morning we remained quite low at Les Arcs to avoid the queues, and enjoyed some excellent, if a tad icy, tree lined runs above Vallandry. There was no shortage of open cruising blue runs either, some of which were of the "Motorway" type, almost as wide as they were long. Ideal territory for any novice skibiker, or those who just love to traverse and hate switching edges. There were some steeper red grades, perfect for doing a spot of foot down super carving on. However the ice was distinctly treacherous on the busier "easy" routes leading into the village, making them more difficult that the expert areas in some regards. If I remember correctly the blood wagon was out on multiple occasions, just whilst we were riding about.

Les Arcs - expert skibike terrain higher up

The really expert terrain is to be found heading off the Aiguille Rouge, but having waited all day for a lull in the lift queues we only managed to get as high as the top of the Varet gondola. We could have waited a further 20 minutes, but not knowing the resort intimately, didn't want to risk missing the closure of the Bois de L'Ours connecting chairlift; so headed back to Arcs 1600 for the funicular ride back down.

Les Arcs - vast off-piste available

All in all it was a great day at Les Arcs, there would be plenty here to please a new skibiker wanting to garner some confidence building mileage. The interconnection with neighbouring, skibike friendly La Plagne would further extend both the range and variety on offer. For the expert it would be worth a long weekend visit to explore the high altitude areas and vast off-piste; some of which made my gonads shrivel. Gnarly goes nowhere near describing their intimidating appearance. 
But you might have to go in the off season to fully enjoy the experience, if like me, you can't stand queues.