Skiing Les Arcs from Bourg Saint Maurice

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28/02/19 – 10/03/19

When Aaron told us that he had an opportunity for some leave we set to work trying to find somewhere to ski. We needed to find somewhere that we could be sure of a parking spot and Aaron could find cheap accommodation. For some reason he didn’t want to spend the week in the motorhome with us (I wonder why). We also needed to find somewhere with a relatively high ski area, many resorts were reporting slushy conditions on the lower slopes – unpleasant to ski.

We ended up settling on Bourg Saint Maurice – there are a couple of campsites on either side of the town, so we plumped for Huttopia based on reviews rather than price (the €27 euros per night a bit costly for our budget). Aaron found an apartment in the basement of an elderly French couple’s chalet for a very reasonable price. A very friendly couple who speak about as much English as we speak French (I.e. not a lot), but still communication was managed with a lot of hand gestures and random Franglais.

Bourg Saint Maurice gives access to the Les Arcs ski area, and from there you can get access to the wider Paradiski area which includes La Plagne. We got settled in at the campsite on the Thursday amongst a bevy of British, French, German and Dutch vans and caravans. A few housekeeping chores were done and we still managed to squeeze in a day’s skiing on the Friday before Aaron arrived on Saturday lunchtime. The snow conditions were pretty poor at the lower levels and the day was overcast. We cruised around the blue runs without an inkling of where we were as the clouds hemmed us in. Only luck got us back to the start.

Fortunately snow was forecast for the Saturday night, and again on the Tuesday and between the two some sunny days, so the snow was refreshed. Still by the time we departed the snow levels were lower than our first day’s skiing. I really hope that’s not it for the season, I was expecting at least another month of skiing weather.

We had our most intensive skiing week so far with Aaron wanting to make the most of his week’s holiday. Even so we only managed 5 days with him, the rest being a bit overcast and damp (even some rain on the lower slopes). We felt rather jealous of the way he easily got back into skiing, zooming off down the runs, tackling jumps and showing off with backward skiing and pirouettes. His confidence did help us improve some more too and we spent most of our time on red runs (and one icy black that reminded us of Bulgaria) avoiding the crowds. In the evenings we ate dinner and played cards – just like old family skiing trips, the only difference being how much room Aaron took up with his long legs. It’s probably a good thing that he wanted his own accommodation. Even though Bertie is 4 berth I’m not sure we could have managed with that an extra 6 foot plus person in the mix.

Camping Huttopia

Camping Huttopia offers grass pitches and an asphalt motorhome parking area. The grass pitches were very soggy so we parked up on the tarmac in one of the randomly sized spaces (I like to think that this was planned to accommodate various sizes of motorhome and campervan rather than just because they couldn’t be bothered to measure the spaces). There weren’t enough electric hook-ups for the number of spaces which wasn’t a problem when we arrived but later in the week people ended up parking on the roads between the grass pitches in order to get access to an electricity supply.

The facilities are pretty good – toilets, hot hot showers, hairdryers and an indoor washing up area. The motorhome emptying facilities are provided by via Flot Bleu that needs a (free) token from reception. A bit of a pain if you want to sort things out outside reception hours. However there is a manhole cover with a handle that can be used to dispose of your toilet waste if you desperately need to do so, and there are some hydrants dotted around for water.

There is a lovely common room area with a TV and games next to reception, it is the only place where you can be guaranteed a wifi signal (the wifi was pretty slow). There are also modern laundry facilities – €4 for the washer and €3.50 for the dryer (50 minutes).

10 Amp electricity is included in the price and because the town is relatively low altitude and the weather was so warm this was sufficient for us to heat the van using our oil filled radiator.

The price was €26.40 per night for high season, dropping to €24.60 for the last couple of nights of our stay when the French school holidays finally ended. Plus €0.66 per person per night tourist tax.

The campsite sells reduced price lift passes that are very good value and helped us recoup a bit of the campsite cost.

Duration Campsite Price (€) Standard Price (€)
1 day 45 52 (43 for a 4 hour pass)
2 day 85 104
4 day (includes 1 day in La Plagne) 165 (this also has the advantage of being a non consecutive day pass) 203 (four consecutive days)

 

Bourg Saint Maurice Facilities

A very short walk from the campsite are a Super U (a very super shiny Super U that was being built last time we were here) and an Intermarche. The Super U has a fuel station that sells LPG on a card operated pump (so you can access it 24 hours). There is a KIS laundrette station outside the Intermarche.

A little further and you come to the town, strung out along the main street. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and ski shops, a large bus station and train station.

The municipal swimming pool (Centre Nautique) is just opposite the Super U, but sadly it was closed while we were there for work related to their summer makeover.

There were a lot of Brits here, more than any other ski resort we have visited. It was quite nice to be able to strike up conversations in English while on the lifts, in the campsite or on the buses, but it did make us a bit complacent about exercising our limited French. We were told that there is quite a big ex-pat community here.

We didn’t use the facilities in any of the Les Arcs villages.

Getting to the Slopes

The schlep from the camping to the slopes was a bit of a pain the backside, but once we worked out our routine it wasn’t too bad.

To access Arc 1600 from Bourg Saint Maurice you need to take the funicular from the centre of town. You need a ski pass for this (or can buy a funicular ticket or pietons – walking – pass). It starts at 7:30 and finishes at 20:00 apart from Saturdays when services run a little later.

The campsite operates a free shuttle car (eight spaces) to the funicular at 08:30, 08:45, 09:00 and 11:00. It was regularly fully booked for the earlier times and you had to book it the morning of the day before to be guaranteed a place. It has return options at 16:00 and 17:00. They reduce the number of trips outside the French school holidays.

There is a free bus that stops outside the campsite and goes to the Funicular. This is the Camping Huttopia – Landry service (other buses also stop here, so check with the driver if you’re not sure). It operates every day. Timetable here.

There is also a more regular free bus ‘La Ronde’ that goes as far as the Centre Nautique (timetables here). The 500m walk back to the campsite is flat and achievable in ski boots, however this bus only runs on Mondays to Fridays and not at the weekend.

To avoid all of this you could drive to the funicular parking – at €3 per day it’s not too pricey and provides a bit more flexibility.

Mostly we got the 09:00 Landry bus in the morning and returned on La Ronde in the afternoon when we’d had enough skiing. We only skied one weekend day and we ended up having to walk back to the campsite from the Funicular which is an experience I wouldn’t be keen to repeat. It took about 40 minutes from leaving the campsite to getting on the first lift.

Bus service timetables, piste maps and other useful stuff can be found on the Yuge app. I really enjoyed using this app which records the runs you have done, speeds you have reached and even gives you badges for different achievements which appealed to me (maybe it’s as a result of being a Brownie and Guide as a child, but I love having something to show for my achievements even if it’s just a digital tick).

Skiing Les Arcs

Les Arcs is part of the Paradiski area, a large area which is basically Les Arcs and La Plagne (plus a few smaller satellite slopes) connected by a huge gondola – the Vanoise Express. The local lift pass gives you access to everything on the Les Arcs side of the Vanoise express which is a pretty extensive area and was enough for us to explore while we were here (we’re planning a bit of time in La Plagne later).

On the Les Arcs side there are various resort villages which are connected together by the slopes and lifts. Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950, Arc 2000 (the latter two are in pretty much the same location), Vallandry and Villaroger (low altitude and the runs were closed while we were here). Signposting across the slopes generally points you towards one of these bases, with occasionally additional information about the lift you are heading towards. Runs are mostly Reds and Blues, with nothing exceptionally steep. There are a few blacks and a number of ‘Natur’ runs which are unpisted. We tried the Malgovert Natur run which was interesting and fun, but pretty difficult as we had to weave through rocks and other obstacles, it was one turn at a time for me!

We found that the ski runs were more suited to travelling around the resorts than being centred in one place. There are a couple of blue paths (Belvedere and Traversee) that we tried to avoid where possible because they got pretty clogged up, however they are useful for traversing to/from 1600 to Vallandry and the Vanoise Express.

Vallandry was the best area if you wanted to base yourself around a group of lifts where all runs led back to the village, it’s a nice open bowl at the top with tree lined runs lower down. Arc 2000/1950 area is also a bowl which funnels people back to base, but we didn’t enjoy this as much as Vallandry although we cant put our finger on why. The highest points of the area (Aiguille Rouge and Grand Col) are accessed from Arc 2000. Lifts for Aiguille Rouge get pretty busy but there are amazing views from up there so I would recommend getting to the top at least once.

We had a lot of lift queues while we were here, mostly due to poor weather (wind and fog) forcing people to the lower slopes. Combined with the school holidays it made it feel quite busy. On sunny days with everyone spread out it was much easier to escape the crowds, especially if you avoided the blue runs.

Standing in line – yawn

Arc 1600 was always our start point because it’s where the funicular arrives, but you can get free ski buses to/from the other villages (useful if any lifts are closed due to high winds). The blue Mont Blanc run is a nice cruising run to get your legs working first thing and there are a couple of good reds that lead back down to Arc 1600 which gave us options for the end of the day when one or more of us were too tired to carry on.

Maybe it’s an attempt to make the resort a bit more appealing to expert skiers, or maybe it’s the lack of snow, but there were more moguls here than I have seen in any resort before. Mostly they were on the black runs but there were also quite a few bumpy red runs especially from the Col de la Chal.

You can get credit card style contactless passes (which we got from the campsite) or throw away cardboard passes. You can pay an additional €2.90/person per day for insurance to cover you for rescue from the slopes in case of an accident (not any other medical costs though so you still need proper insurance). This needs to be added on if you buy a pass through the campsite.

There is a Saturday special offer for both Les Arcs (€35) and the wider Paradiski area, you need a credit card style pass to take advantage of this and it can only be purchased online and must be purchased by midnight on the Friday.

Snowshoes/Walking

There are lots of walking trails in the Bourg Saint Maurice valley as well as walking/snowshoe trails on the slopes. We didn’t do any walking while we were here so cant comment on any particular trails.

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