It was early April, and despite 20 days snowboarding I’d not had a powder day all season. All that changed on a snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800, where half a meter of spring powder meant I could write this review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding.
Over the years Les Arcs has been my most visited ski area. In seven visits – one of which was summer mountain biking – I have now stayed in all the villages. I have been lucky to get fresh snow a few times, and have enjoyed lots of between piste fun, but I’d never had a big powder day with a guide.
I love the Les Arcs ski area, it offers high altitude slopes reaching up to 3226m at Aiguille Rouge. The majority of the pistes are over 2000m making it as snow sure as ski resorts come. There are also plenty of tree runs, particularly in the Villaroger and Peisey-Vallandry areas for when the weather comes in.
In total there are 200km of piste in Les Arcs, making it a large resort in its own right. But it’s also linked to La Plagne via the Vallandry Express, creating the 425km Paradiski area. Paradiski is one of the biggest lift linked ski areas in the world.
The beauty of Les Arcs is it’s very easy to get around. From anywhere – except Villaroger – you are never more than two lifts and a bit of snowboarding from any of the resorts. So despite its vast size you can quickly get around and easily get back to your accommodation.
It also suits all levels of skier and snowboarder. There are beginner slopes near each resort and plenty of blues taking you all over the mountain. There are lots of very good reds and some challenging black pistes for advanced skiers and snowboarders.
Above Arc 1600 and 1800 there is the excellent Apocalypse park. It has a multitude of blue, red and black kickers, rails, boxes and features. With its own dedicated chairlift it will keep the most dedicated park rat entertained all day. There is also an airbag and in spring a pond skim.
The pistes and park are excellent, but this article is a review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding. This was my sixth winter visit to Les Arcs, and I have discovered something new about the off-piste nearly every time.
Time for an obligatory safety announcement. Going off-piste is dangerous. There are rocks and trees to hit, cliffs to fall off and avalanches to bury you. You should have appropriate avalanche safety gear and know how to use it. If you don’t know what you are doing you should go with a guide.
During one stay in Arc 1600 we discovered that the off-piste above 1600 are barely touched. It seems most people staying in 1600 go elsewhere and those staying elsewhere don’t visit. This means fresh snow remains untracked, there is no particularly difficult terrain, but fresh tracks are always fun.
On the same trip we discovered that the wide open areas between the pistes above Arc 1800 are also a lot of fun. There are some very easy wide and flatish sections for those getting into off-piste, plus steeper areas, undulating terrain and some little cliff drops dotted around.
On a stay in Arc 1950 we spent a lot of time off-piste around the Comborciere chairlift. There is a black run down from the top, with a wealth of freeride opportunities all around. The chair was very slow, but I understand it is being replaced with a faster lift for the 17/18 season.
On another visit when I stayed in Peisey Vallandry we realised that the trees above this part of the Les Arcs ski area hide a lot of great off-piste. At times it is tight, but there are glades between the trees and the snow here doesn’t get tracked out very quickly.
When staying in Arc 2000 I was with some intermediate skiers, so although I wanted to explore the un-pisted blacks off Aiguille Rouge this was not possible. Instead I had to settle for playing between the blue and red runs above the resort and those down towards Villa Roger, both offer a surprising amount of easy off-piste fun.
On another visit to Arc 1950 I explored the un-pisted blacks coming down from Aiguille Rouge. Unfortunately, there had been no fresh snow recently so conditions were poor – it is not much run riding over cut up, icy moguls.
However, we were fortunate on this freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800 to get over half a meter of fresh snow up high, and 30-40cm over the rest of the ski area. As we had an ESF mountain guide booked at last I got to enjoy the advanced Les Arcs freeride snowboarding.
We were exceptionally lucky to get so much fresh snow at the end of March – dubbed as the best day of the season by our guide. But also very fortunate to arrive at the base of the Aiguille Rouge cable car just in time for the first lift. The Cable car had been closed all morning to make the slopes safe.
We’d used the time wisely, playing in the between-piste terrain above Arc 1800 which is a lot of fun. After half a day of riding powder, including small cliff drops, big air into fresh snow and more than one spectacular wipe out, I honestly didn’t think the morning could be bettered.
As our guide, Henri, whizzed us to the front of the large lift queue at the Aiguille Rouge cable car, none of us expected to get first tracks down the Aiguille Rouge black run and Genepi natural piste. With half a meter of powder the first cable car was packed with guides, experts and locals.
At the top they all rushed off to the backcountry opportunities, leaving the untouched black run at our mercy. I admit to whooping repeatedly all the way down. At the bottom we headed back to the Varet gondola to take us to the Aiguille Rouge again.
We looped (and whooped) the lift a few times taking in the same run down Genepi and mixing it up to try the Robert Blanc and Lanches natural pistes. Of the three Genepi is the easiest as it’s less steep with more consistent terrain, the others offer more technical Les Arcs freeride snowboarding.
Three top to bottoms on the back of a morning playing in powder had me shattered. A big crash on the third run did not help, I hit a rock and landed hard on it. Fortunately my Pieps Jetforce avalanche airbag took the sting out of the fall, but I was quite shaken and got cramp in my hamstring. So time to call it a day.
Of course calling it a day meant testing out the apres. We hit L’Arpette – Les Arcs answer to Folie Douce – and enjoyed a couple of beers as it started getting lively. We then headed into Arc 1800 to Ambiente Cafe where we met a few locals and I spoke embarrassingly bad drunken French.
The relaxed apres turned into a surprisingly big session and a very late night. Arc 1800 was not that busy, but we still didn’t make it home until close to 3am. Meaning the second day of this review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800 dawned rather late and very groggy!
My riding buddy had picked up a bit of a back injury the day before, so I did a few warm up runs on my own before meeting Henri. Again we headed straight to Aiguille Rouge, this time with the intention of doing some proper backcountry.
We looked at hiking a short way to snowboard behind the Aiguille Rouge peak, but Henri felt it was a little too dangerous. Instead we headed off to the left near the top of the Aiguille Rouge black and stayed on the ridge.
It was a tough and slightly scary traverse, conditions were difficult and it would be a horrible fall if you got it wrong. It brought us to the very steep face above Arc 2000. Henri said this was safe as the dangerous bit had already avalanched the day before…
Although many people has been down here before us, on the far left we found an area of untouched snow. It was steep and deep, so challenging but very rewarding. The kind of snowboarding I would never do without a guide.
This brought us out near the bottom of Arandelieres 2 red run. This linked up nicely with the Cretes natural piste, which although it had been tracked out still had patches of powder, and as it hadn’t iced up overnight it was still a lot of fun.
After a couple more runs around the natural blacks below Aiguille Rouge it was time to admit the powder was all tracked out. After a huge day, a big night and then some difficult backcountry I was ready for a long, late lunch at the excellent Le Sanglier Qui Fume Restaurant above Arc 1600.
Although we snowboarded again the next day, conditions had warmed up in the afternoon of the second day and refrozen over night. As the off-piste was no longer fun, we got involved in a downhill race as part of the Great British Celebration.
No review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800 would be complete without talking about where we stayed, how we got there and what the food was like.
We flew into Geneva with Easyjet where we had a transfer booked with Ski Lifts – winner of the best ski transfer company worldwide for the last three years. The transfer was all on time, our driver super friendly and informative and everything ran smoothly.
For this review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800 we stayed in the self-catered Alpages du Chantel with Erna Low. Our apartment was very nice with very comfy beds, a good WiFi signal and nice bathroom.
The kitchen had everything you need for a self-catered holiday – including an all important dishwasher which miraculously came with tablets. There was plenty of room for four people but it would be a little cramped with the max occupancy of six.
At the end of the second day we visited the hotels spa. I had an excellent sport massage which helped to relieve my many aches and pains. The swimming pool within the complex is stunning, the floor to ceiling windows give beautiful mountain views.
Alpages du Chantel is located above Arc 1800 and it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk up the hill from the resort centre. But there are shuttle free buses until around 10pm.
Top tip: If you are out later than the buses you can cut out much of the uphill walking back to Alpages du Chantel by taking the lifts by the medical centre. Take them to the top, walk through the accom, take the next lifts to the top and then do the same in the next accommodation. Warning: it’s easy to get lost….
For food we used the Huski Delivers service. You order online from a huge range of dishes and drinks (including booze!) and they deliver it to your room – or reception if you are not in. With delicious dishes ranging from Indian to French and Moroccan to Thai it’s much cheaper than eating out.
You just heat the meals up in a microwave or oven and you soon have tasty meals that don’t cost a fortune. I was very impressed with the currys, both Thai and Indian were almost as good as takeaways back home.
As the last of the Les Arcs resorts for me to visit this freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800 certainly delivered. We got lucky with the snow, had an excellent ESF guide and were in the first lift up Aiguille Rouge and got first tracks back down.
Without a doubt the first day of the trip was my best day of the season and tops many of the powder days I have had elsewhere. Being the first down the Aiguille Rouge black and the Genepi un-pisted slope in half a meter of fresh powder was an incredible experience.
To conclude this review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800, I’d say the ski area offers a huge amount of off-piste potential. It has a bit of everything, from easy first-timer off-piste to hardcore backcountry, glades through the trees to undulating open terrain and cliff drops to wide powder fields.
I hope you found this review of Les Arcs freeride snowboarding holiday in Arc 1800 interesting and useful. Click to find out more about our lovely Erna Low accommodation, transfers with Ski-Lifts, food by Huski Delivers and the resort of Les Arcs.