All aboard the Vanoise express

20th April 2009, by Chris Gill

Assistant editor Wendy King has just returned from four days in La Plagne and Les Arcs where, as both resorts prepare to close for the season this week, the snow kept falling…

Standing at the top of the Arpette fast chairlift from Plagne Bellcote yesterday, it could have been the middle of January, not the middle of April: it was cold, grey and with 10-15cm of fresh powder covering the previously groomed pistes. Fantastic.  Even the lower wooded runs down to Montchavin were sufficiently refreshed to give fast, soft cruising through the trees on easy blue runs - and the pistes were much quieter too.

The day before we struggled with brown slush to reach the Vanoise Express and a day in Les Arcs. The newly repaired lift was in fine form as we crossed on its shiny new cables - from the mid-way point, it was clear where spring and winter met: narrow strips of white on both sides sadly retreating from the lower villages (but you could still ski down to 1300m or thereabouts).

It was sunny and cold; we enjoyed a quick blast around the wooded slopes above Plan Peisey before our tourist office guide, Lionel, took us across to the higher runs (and better quality snow) above Arc 2000. The Transarc gondola, with its regular queue, took us to the Col de la Chal. The slopes were firmer and faster in Les Arcs than La Plagne and the skis chattered across icy lumps, but here too we enjoyed excellent pistes and barely a rock or bare patch in sight.

We had booked a sunny table at the Ancolie in Nancroix for lunch, so a race through the boardercross course was all we had time for before making our way back to Plan Peisey. Essentially there is a blue run traversing the mountain, which is bisected by lots of similar looking red or blue runs; it’s the quickest way back to the Vanoise lift and convenient if, like me, you manage to ‘lose’ your group.

The Ancolie isn’t easily reached by piste (there’s some off-piste involved at the end), so we took the ten minute taxi ride up the valley. The restaurant is a very traditional old place, with unique homemade recipes given a modern twist - we had Civet de Pork, with an aromatic sauce (predominantly aniseed), vegetable gratin and polenta au Beaufort, followed by a sweet raspberry dessert. Sipping the local Gamay red wine was a lovely accompaniment to the backdrop of the snow-laden Face de Bellcote and its classic off-piste descents (fresh tracks were clearly visible in the snow high up).

The rest of the afternoon was spent returning to La Plagne, mainly by slow chairlift and easy blue runs at Arpette.  Home was the Carlina hotel in Belle Plagne and there was a massage waiting with my name on it . This was most welcome after a day’s workout on the snow and the Carlina offers various choices - we had the full body Californian. I’m not sure the string panties would make it as leisure fashion essentials, but well-oiled and suitable pummeled I felt very relaxed after a full day’s skiing.

Sunday was our last day - and for all of us, our last skiing of the season - so what better than to wake up to more snowfall. It didn’t take us long to race down the runs to Montchavin and across to Les Arcs again - only this time the snow was perfectly springy and fresh.  With Christian from ESF and our two tourist office ladies Cecile and Florence, we took the gondola and cable car to the top of the Aigulle Rouge - visibility was poor, but the snow up there was incredible. The black run back to Arc 2000 is narrow, but not too difficult, and was a fabulous way to end the trip. There was just enough time before our airport departure for a hearty lunch and boogie at the Chalets de l’Arc restaurant, where an end of season gig was in full swing. Nice timing, eh?

Fresh tracks - Arpette, La Plagne, Sunday 19 April

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