It is not that often, if ever, that you arrive in a ski resort to find Union Jacks and British themed bunting fluttering in the breeze. But in March 2017 we arrived in Arc 1800 for the first Great British Celebration in Les Arcs, with a feeling that the UK had arrived in the mountains.
The Great British Celebration is the brainchild of the Anglo-loving Mayor of Les Arcs. It’s an idea brought on by the (Don’t mention the….) Brexit vote in 2016. He wanted to do something to let us Brits know that it doesn’t matter if we leave the EU, they still love us in Les Arcs. It’s planned as an annual event, in 2018 will run from 24th to 30th of March.
And the love is mutual. Les Arcs is one of the five most visited ski resorts from the UK, and features heavily in lists of the best ski resorts. Us Brits account for a whopping 45% of Les Arcs overseas visitors. In Les Arcs permanent British residents are a welcomed part of the community and have helped grow the areas popularity.
But the Great British Celebration in Les Arcs is much more than a bit of British bunting. It’s a series of events across the different Les Arcs towns that bring both French and British people together for some friendly competition, fun events and socialising. All the events are free, and much to our delight there was complimentary food and drinks (both soft and hard!).
Overall it created a warm and fun atmosphere. The events made people visit different areas of Les Arcs, got them to try something new – I did my first downhill race, and tried bubble foot – and helped start conversations with strangers. It was lovely seeing an event that bridges the gap between the French and British.
Les Arcs has a huge and varied ski area of 200+ km of piste. But that is only half the story, if you cross the Vanoise Express to La Plagne there are another 200+ km of runs. Together they make Paradiski, which with a whopping 425 km of piste is the third largest lift linked ski area in the world.
Size is not everything, it’s what you do with it that counts…. And with the Les Arcs ski area they’ve combined safe beginner areas with steep challenging slopes, a very good snowpark with miles of perfect piste, great tree runs with high altitude slopes, and challenging backcountry with ample lift accessible off-piste, to create a ski area that works for all.
Despite being a huge area Les Arcs is quick and easy to get around. Wherever you end up – with the exception of Villaroger – you are no more than two lifts away from getting back to any of the seven resorts. The lifts are normally devoid of queues and are mostly fast and efficient – the old Comborciere and Vallandry are being upgraded the next year or two.
Les Arcs also not just large but high. At Aiguille Rouge the slopes reach over 3200m, and with 70% of the slopes over 2000m it is a snow sure as ski resorts come. Even in spring conditions the snow remains good at altitude and I’ve had great skiing in Les Arcs until the end of April.
But it is not all about the skiing. The different Les Arc resorts of Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000 plus Peisey-Vallandry and Villaroger each offer something different. Meaning Les Arcs caters for everyone from budget to luxury, independent to package, beginner to expert and families to party hounds.
The Great British Celebration is spread around the Les Arcs resorts, so it does not matter where you are staying you can easily get involved. There were four fun and free competitive events running Monday to Thursday followed by entertainment and a concert. Very generously, anyone who took part in all four events would win a free week of accommodation for the following year.
Disappointingly we were only in Les Arcs for the first two days of events. This meant we missed out on the Robin Hood Tournament in Arc 1950 – where archery means paintballing in a capture the flag contest. We also weren’t there for the Anglo vs French sled race in the new Mille 8 area of Arc 1800. But we did get to take part in two events that were a lot of fun.
The first was Bubble Foot at Arc 2000. Basically four-a-side football contest on snow wearing giant bouncy balls that are similar to those you use for zorbing or sphering. You run around crashing into each other and attempting to kick a ball you can’t really see. There were six teams in the contest, we managed to round up some stray Brits to make a team and faced the local ESF school.
We were thrashed in scoreline, bashed all over the pitch and crashed out in the first round. It was taken seriously – after all it was France vs Britain at footy! – but in a fun way and there were hand shakes, hugs and shared drinks at the end.
For the good of Anglo French relations a team from both nations made it through to the final, where the French narrowly, and controversially, won – with goal line technology the result would have been very different. After playing just one match I was exhausted and happy to watch while drinking the free vin chaud.
The next day we took part in the downhill race in Arc 1600. I have never raced on a proper course before, so was at a bit of a disadvantage to Jamie Barrow who is officially Britains fastest snowboarder and used to race boardercross on the British team!
In the end Jamie and I were the first and second quickest snowboarders in the contest. Although I should point out there were only three snowboarders entered and the other guy crashed on both his runs. I was quite pleased to make it down both runs only six seconds behind Jamie. I was less pleased to be beaten by a little girl on skis….
There were about 15 skiers in the event with kids, adult, male and female prizes. At the end there was pizza and beer or soft drinks for the competitors – so everyone was a winner. While consuming pizza we met the Major, who had competed in the face holding British and French flags aloft.
The atmosphere at both events we attended was relaxed and a lot of fun. The only downside was that most visitors to Les Arcs knew nothing about the Great British Celebration. Those Brits that did get involved in the bubble foot only did so by chance, and unfortunately we were the only non-French competitors in the downhill race.
With flags and bunting around the towns and lifts it gave quite a British feel to the ski resort, but those Brits we spoke to didn’t know why everything was red white and blue. However, this was the first year of the Great British Celebration in Les Arcs, hopefully next year the word will be out and I’m sure communication of the events will be improved.
During the Great British Celebration there are special deals available to stay in Les Arcs including 20% off accommodation. I understand the event and deals will be repeated for at least the next three years. If the British know that you can win a weeks accommodation just by entering a few free but fun events, then I am sure the Great British Celebration in Les Arcs will become very popular.
With most events in the evening or on the slopes they didn’t get in the way of our time snowboarding. And what a great time we had. On arrival night over half a meter of fresh snow fell on the high slopes and the rest of the ski area got 30-40cm. Our first day dawned bright and sunny for a bluebird powder day.
We spent the first morning playing in the powder above Arc 1800. There is plenty of lift accessible off-piste between the runs. There were not many people around so we got plenty of first tracks taking advantage of the powder. We found a couple of small cliff drops, enjoyed big air into powder and had more than one spectacular wipe out…
In the afternoon we had a mountain guide, Henri, from the Arc 1800 ESF. He took us straight to the Aiguille Rouge which had been closed all morning. We arrived at the Aiguille Rouge cable car just before it opened and Henri whisked us to the front of the queue – priority is given to instructors and guides.
With half a meter of powder the first cable car was loaded mainly with guides and locals. At the top they all rushed off to the backcountry opportunities, leaving the black run untouched. So we bombed down the piste through half meter deep light fluffy powder, linking with the unpisted Genepi natural run further down it was the best run of my season. I fully admit to whooping repeatedly.
We lapped the Aiguille Rouge enjoying the natural blacks a few times before the mornings exploits caught up with us and we retired to the L’Arpette – Les Arcs answer to Folie Douce – for a couple of beers. When it closed we headed into Arc 1800 to Ambiente Cafe where Henri introduced us to a few locals and boldly declared that it had been the best powder day of the season.
The next day Henri took us on a few backcountry routes from the top of Aiguille Rouge. It was tough going as they were fairly tracked out, and steep difficult terrain, but there was still enough powder to be enjoyable. In many parts it was technical and tiring, but afterwards looking up at the steep imposing face I’d just snowboarded felt wonderful.
On day three conditions became warm and spring like. So after the downhill race in Arc 1600 we bombed around the piste popping tricks and generally having a great time. I always say it, but if you are ever in Les Arcs be sure to head to the runs above Peisey Vallandry as they are generally quieter than the rest of Les Arcs and are a lot of fun.
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 two years. The transfer was all on time and everything ran smoothly. Our driver lived in Bourg St Maurice and was just as excited as we were by all the snow falling, which made the two and a half hour drive to the mountains very enjoyable.
Our accommodation was at the self catered Alpages du Chantel with Erna Low. On arrival after midnight there had been a mix up and our keys were not in the security box. We rang the emergency number and were advised to stay in the emergency apartment for the night – which was very nice.
Everything was quickly sorted first thing in the morning. Our actual apartment was a little smaller but just as nice with very comfy beds and a good WiFi signal. The kitchen had everything you need for a self-catered holiday, there was plenty of room for four people but it would be a little cramped with the max occupancy of six.
Due to the mix up with the rooms we were offered a free massage each. I went for an deep sport style massage to help relieve my many aches and pains which did the job.
The swimming pool within the complex is stunning. The floor to ceiling windows give beautiful mountain views and you could easily spend a few hours here. Alpages du Chantel is located above Arc 1800 and it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk back up the hill, but there are regular free buses although only until about 10pm.
For food we used the Huski Delivers service. You pop online and order from a huge range of dishes and drinks and they deliver it to your room – or reception if you are not in. Offering everything from mountain favourites and French dishes, to Thai, Indian and Moroccan plus beer, wine and soft drinks you get great food that is much cheaper than eating out.
When you are ready to eat you just pop them in a microwave or oven and you have easy but tasty meals that don’t cost a fortune. I was very impressed with the currys, both Thai and Indian were just as good as takeaway food back home.
Arc 1800 is known as the most lively of the Les Arcs resorts, so we had to test this out. Unfortunately it was a very quiet week in Arc 1800 so nowhere was very busy. Having said that we ended up tagging along with a larger group and stayed out drinking past 2 am. It was only knowing we were meeting our guide the next morning that stopped is going to La Carre Discoteque.
Of all the recent ski resort innovations the Great British Celebration in Les Arcs is my favourite. Mainly because having met the Mayor behind the idea, I felt it is born from a genuine love for the British in Les Arcs. But also because it is something different; music festivals, new lifts, bigger ski areas etc are what every resort does but this is something unique.
In choosing a historically quiet week to run the event they can offer a genuine discount, and if there is anything us Brits like it is a good deal. Probably the only thing we love more is a freebie, and with the Great British Celebration events free of charge and the opportunity to win a weeks stay just by taking part, this ticks all the boxes.
If you’d like to experience the Great British Celebration in Les Arcs it’s next being held from 24th to 30th March 2018. You can find out more at: www.lesarcs.com/the-great-british-celebration