Schuss to the sun… April in Paradiski

28th August 2009, by Chris Gill

Lovely April day in Les Arcs

Lovely April day in Les Arcs

The top of the mountain was shrouded in cloud and cool snow flurries; I could see nothing of the fabulous view that you can get from up here - 3225m on the Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs’ highest skiing. But the fresh soft powder turns we made down the long black run were fantastic; it could have been mid winter, but it was in fact 19 April and my last ski day of the season…

April brings that inevitable transformation from winter to spring. At best the slopes might serve up unpleasant slush, at worst bare pastures and limited skiing, right? Not necessarily so; there we were in a chilly French whiteout, with excellent powder at our feet. Yes, it can be that good - and I did pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. You may well get fresh snow, but if you don’t there are lingering lunches and glorious views to savour in the afternoon sun.

The previous day La Plagne’s 225km slopes were bathed in blue skies. We lapped up firm, fast snow that softened with each run, first dipping into ankle-deep powder at 2500m on the Grande Rochette then carving heavy corn snow to 1300m - pistes that were blissfully quiet away from the main bowls (but even those weren’t overcrowded). These lower pistes, such as the steeper Fornelet red, became hard work as mushy moguls formed, but cover was remarkably good; I’ve known worse in January.

Resorts that have skiing to 3000m are practically guaranteed of at least 1000m of vertical though, even if the lower slopes are closed. France’s Paradiski region is a good example: much of it lies above 2000m and its extensive slopes do not rely on glaciers. With many pistes fitting the gentle blue category, it’s a good place for novices to sample the late snow too.
Given the decent snow cover, our outings to Les Arcs were possible using the Vanoise Express from Montchavin - the cable car that unites the Paradiski resorts across the Nancroix valley. From a base in Belle Plagne (2050m) mile-hungry skiers can be on the Aiguille Rouge before midday, following all blue runs if preferred. Most lifts stayed open until 5.30pm, so a long day is no problem.

On another day with our guide we had skipped off-piste from the blue run that winds its way beneath the craggy Petite Rochette towards the south-facing Champagny-en-Vanoise side, enjoying fabulous views to Courchevel and a lovely layer of new snow to hide the crud. Taking advantage of the good conditions allowed us to enjoy some of the area’s varied runs towards Montalbert (1350m) too; and to the pretty rustic Forperet hut - looking a little green around the gills, but just about accessible on thinning strips of white. And the only terrace space you are fighting for is with the huge tartiflette sharing your table. It’s a pity the sun vanished on the slow chairlift back up to Aime-la-Plagne.

Belle Plagne is one of the most appealing of the six La Plagne ‘altitude’ resorts: chalet-style, snow-sure and convenient. It has a compact centre and a handful of shops, bars and restaurants to please most visitors. While some places start to wind down for the season, the bars and restaurants up there were still lively. The main lifts start down in Bellcôte, a short blue run away.

Home was the Carlina hotel; the newly extended 3-star is right on the slopes. It’s just a few short turns from the lifts at Plagne Bellecôte, and is a popular family choice judging by the number of children enjoying a splash in the pool and new spa facilities. As an adult, the highlight had to be the full body massage; after a long day pounding the pistes, the sensation of deeply warmed muscles and softening essential oils is magic. It’s pampering at cost, but follow it with a meal in the hotel’s new gourmet ‘C’ restaurant and you’ll be refuelled and relaxed for the spring slopes next morning.

Taking the eight-seat chairlift from Bellecôte to L’Arpette on our way to Les Arcs I peered down at a few colourful figures against the white backdrop, their tracks flowing neat lines into the fresh powder covering the piste - was it really the end of the season?


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