As the popular French resort reached its half-century, the Ski Club was there to rediscover this member-favourite, nestled high in the French Tarentaise.

It wasn’t the ferocious, sub-zero December temperatures or howling wind that had me frozen. Peering over the edge of Les Arcs’ new viewpoint, elevated at 3,226m atop the majestic Aiguille Rouge, the view had stopped me in my tracks.

As my eyes follow the gondola cables back towards the base station, they are lured beyond to the sprawling stations of Les Arcs below, and beyond to neighbouring resorts in the largest skiable valley in the world. Directly over the Tarentaise valley to the north, the ridge that marks the border with Italy is basking in the early season sunshine and above that the highest massif in the Alps, where it’s impossible not to be drawn towards the towering Mont Blanc.
Joe Troman
Dubbed Paradiski, I’m finding it tough to argue with the naming of this French mega-resort. I could have stayed on the new glass-fronted 35m footbridge for hours. However, the typically brisk December conditions were getting to me and there was skiing to be done. This author has long had a soft spot for Les Arcs, having enjoyed full winter seasons in the linked resort of Peisey-Nancroix almost a decade prior. Having only passed through a couple of times since, I was eager to investigate the new developments around this eclectic Tarentesian giant, its bountiful mountainside and extraordinary architecture.

Snaking down the north flank of the Aiguille Rouge, I am pleased to report that on the namesake black run, very little had changed. The glacier still retains snow like a dream and the meandering run that clings to the spur before weaving through the enchanting forest will eventually lead you to the outlying village of Villaroger at 1,200m – a descent of over 2,000m!

Rising from the satellite village, I pointed my skis towards the newest of the Arcs, 1950, a station that oozes ease. Built atop a multi-story carpark and fully pedestrianised, 1950 is perfectly suited to families who champion proximity to the slopes and ease of transit, with every hotel boasting direct access to the slopes.

Want to explore Les Arcs for yourself? Why not try one of our trademark Instructor-led Guiding sessions or fantastic Freshtracks Holidays in the resort this winter.
Joe Troman
Carving below 1950, I headed for one of Les Arcs’ best-kept secrets: the newly updated Comborcière lift. For 18/19 the fixed 3-man lift has been updated to a high-speed detachable 4-person chair, meaning skiers will be elevated towards Arc 1600 twice as fast as previously. Between Arc 2000 and Arc 1600, it’s not uncommon to have entire pistes to yourself in the Malgovert forest, even in peak season. Along with quieter slopes, the area also provides fantastic views over Mont Blanc and protection from inclement conditions - the morning’s frozen nose on the top of the Aiguille Rouge seemed a world away. If you prefer your terrain unmade, the chutes above the lifts and perfectly spaced trees are a powder playground, even days after snowfall.

As well as replacing the outdated Comborcière lift, the aptly named Secret piste has sprung up below it. Running parallel to the infamous unmade black run under the lift pylons, the new piste offers intermediate riders an altogether more enjoyable and accessible skiing experience in this remote and picturesque area of the resort. 

It’s not just the Corbusier that has recently seen recent rejuvenation. Its neighbour, the Pre St Esprit 6-man chair, was replaced the previous winter. The heated seats are so comfortable in fact, that when coupled with a gentle rocking action they were enough to send a Ski Club colleague into a slumber before we had even reached 1950, although that could have been something to do with the previous evening’s Genepi.

On our way down to Arc 1600, we passed Club Med’s newest uber-hotel, the Les Arcs Panorama, which as the company’s largest facility in the Alps could be classed a resort all on its own. After stopping to admire the new alpine colossus we continued on to 1600, which in many ways is the heart of the vast resort. 
Joe Troman
Situated at the centre of the piste map is the link with the valley town of Bourg-St-Maurice, where we were staying. From the train station in the centre of the easily accessible town it is only a 7-minute trip on the funicular railway up to 1600. Holidaymakers can hop off their train that has left London St Pancras 8 hours earlier and straight onto the lifts, no need for a lengthy transfer. In December 2019, the Funicular is set to debut a set of shiny new carriages, making the journey from 800m to 1600m more comfortable than ever before and with the new glass panelled and roofed cabins it is set to be a picturesque ride.

The buildings of Arc 1600 and 1800 have recently been labelled “20th Century Heritage” by the Ministry of Culture in recognition of their architectural significance. The polarising buildings feature striking lines that will leave an architecture undergraduate drooling, but the unique buildings have as much substance as they do style.

Designer and architect Charlotte Perriand jumped at the opportunity to design a purpose built resort from the ground up. Having previously worked with the famous French Architect Le Corbusier, the resort is widely regarded as the peak of her illustrious career. Working with town planners, the architect designed separate traffic systems for pedestrians, skiers and cars, keeping the resort car-free and interference between different users at a minimum. 

A pioneer, Perriand implemented a uniform pre-fabricated room structure which affords comfortable living but encourages visitors to leave their rooms and experience nature at every possibility. Each apartment block was built facing away from others, in order to offer a direct link between residents and nature. Balconies are deliberately offset so as to not cast shade over a neighbour’s terrace, while the roofs of the buildings are inverted to hold snow and help the buildings blend into the mountainside, with the aid of natural materials used in the exterior. Whether you are a fan of the aesthetic or not, the buildings yield an undeniably straightforward user experience.

Joe Troman
Historically the resort has championed inclusivity and welcomed skiers from all backgrounds, offering everything from fairly priced self-catering apartments to luxury retreats. Arc 1800 offers something for those who are more après focussed with plenty of bars and the recently opened Mille8 area offering on snow entertainment into the night. Families are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation with a plethora of piste-side accommodation and activities on offer.

Such is Les Arcs’ desire to attract holidaymakers from far and wide, the tourist board have laid on a varied and interesting calendar of events and activities throughout the season. Culture enthusiasts will enjoy sinking their teeth into the annual European Film Festival each December while Britons will feel at home during the annual Great British Celebration every March.

After a quick lunch at the excellent Bullé Café, the weather closed in and we explored the sheltered forests above Vallandry and Peisey. With several extensive zones that offer protection when conditions close in, Les Arcs offers more sheltered skiing than many of the other big resorts in the vicinity. Occasionally we would catch sight of the Vanoise Express through the clouds, the resort’s link to next door La Plagne via a breath-taking double-decker cable car. A reminder that even though we had barely scratched the surface of the resort, which boasts 425km of pistes.

While those searching for chocolate box villages may miss out on the benefits of the purpose-built resort, we don’t mind too much. The fewer skiers there are to share Les Arcs’ extensive and varied terrain with, the better. Besides, we have grown rather fond of Les Arcs' unique style.

For more information please consult our resort page or day pass for Les Arcs starts at €46.