Les Arcs - snowboarding in the French Alps
Tom Marshall discovers the perfect package for a week on the slopes
�Outspoken Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner once claimed footballers are worth every penny of the silly money they get for kicking a ball around a field – because of the huge sacrifices they have to make.
And what was chief among them for the Dane? Was it the endless hours in the gym or facing the unflinching glare of the public eye? No – it was not being able to ski or snowboard for fear of getting injured.
His comments were taken as the supreme example of how divorced from reality these young millionaires can be – yet after a week of snowboarding in Les Arcs I started to feel for him.
Five friends and I spent eight days on the slopes of this incredible French Alps resort in January and had the time of our lives.
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With a huge and varied area – it has 241km of piste – there is something for anyone who likes speeding down a mountain affixed to a plank of wood. Or two planks even.
Whether you’re after wide open runs, death-defying steepness, challenging mogul fields or crave being knee-deep in powder with some off-piste between-the-trees action, it won’t disappoint.
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Les Arcs is one half of the aptly-named Paradiski mega-resort – it truly is paradise on earth as far as I’m concerned – with a four-minute cable car ride giving access to a further 225km of terrain at nearby La Plagne.
There is nothing quite like gliding along in this unspeakable beauty, from the sweeping sunset views across the Alps to Mont Blanc at over 3,000 metres high, to the scenic tree-lined slopes lower down.
We were on a package deal with the UK’s biggest tour operator, Crystal Ski. I’m a latecomer to winter sports, which always seemed prohibitively expensive.
I would be filled with envy after missing out on the school trip every year, although admittedly the numerous casts sported by the returning troops always cheered me up.
But a few years ago I discovered the “Ski Plus” all-inclusive packages offered by Crystal, with travel to top resorts, accommodation, equipment hire and lift passes rolled into one for under �500.
It’s probably a ruse to reel in newbies and get them hooked – and it worked on me. The idea of missing my annual snowboarding holiday now gives me the chills.
Les Arcs is split into several villages and we stayed at the highest, Arc 2000, pitched as the “sportier” outpost.
We arrived on the Eurostar ski train – a non-stop service from St Pancras to Bourg-Saint-Maurice that goes overnight on Friday and returns through Saturday night. It was wonderful to skip the usual airport nightmares and long bus transfers – and we took about 10 bags each without incurring any sky-high fees.
We just breezed into St Pancras after work, washed down some sleeping pills with a few drinks, woke up in the Alps – and were on the slopes by 9am.
Best of all, we stole an extra day at either end, on top of the normal six.
We stayed in the catered Chalet Sabine, in Chalet des Neiges, and shared with eight strangers.
Luckily they were a great bunch, while our hard-working hosts Donna and Dan were mum and dad to the group – despite being half most of our ages – and put us at ease with their infectious good-humour.
They cooked breakfast, tidied the rooms, made tea and homemade cakes to welcome us in the afternoons – the perfect tonic to a body-battering, tumble-filled day on the slopes – and served hearty three-course dinners with seemingly endless supplies of wine.
Pork and apple pie, onion soup, tartiflette and roast lamb were some of the highlights, while we did our best to drink them dry.
The wine cupboard was always re-stocked and they never learned to lock it.
I barely left the chalet in the evenings – with good company and access to a pool, sauna and steam room, it served all our apr�s ski needs.
Arc 2000 offers great access to many of the more challenging runs, hence its sporty reputation, including the famous Aiguille Rouge (or Red Needle), which is the biggest vertical drop in the Alps – a punishing 7km route that plummets from 3226m to 1200m.
This area is particularly stunning at sunset, with runs that hang onto the rays late into the afternoon, while twice a week you can enjoy the thrill of night skiing on a floodlit piste until 7pm.
There are numerous lifts that seamlessly connect up with the other main areas – Arc 1800, the place to go if you are after nightlife, Arc 1600, a more family-oriented town, and the beautiful tree-lined runs of Peisey-Vallandry.
Every ski trip is at the mercy of the elements – will there be enough snow? Too much? But with the infrastructure and variety at Les Arcs, you don’t have to worry too much.
If the visibility drops and its dumping snow, head for the shelter of the trees. If it hasn’t snowed in a while, there is a glacier above Arc 2000, countless snow cannons, and the pistes are groomed to perfection.
Les Arcs delighted us all –a ragtag bunch of mediocre boarders, a terrible but fearless skier, and one impossibly graceful ski queen, the only French member of the group. She has been to what seems like every resort in France and has opted for Les Arcs three years running now, which says it all really.
Crystal, meanwhile, made our live’s easy, arranging lessons, free ski guiding and restaurant bookings on Dan and Donna’s night off.
But then, I guess if your business is skiing it’s easy to keep people happy – the mountains do the hard work.
So what of Bendtner’s musings? Would I give this up for the chance to live out my schoolboy fantasies of being the next Ian Wright or Dennis Bergkamp? Of course. But I did have to think about it for a second.