Skiing in Les Arcs
The highlight of the Les Arcs ski area is the 3226m Aiguille Rouge, with its 12km run heading down into Villaroger, and several steep black runs returning to Arc 2000. But don’t forget the Grand Col, or the huge forest, crisscrossed by pistes, stretching from Arc 1600 to Plan Peisey.
Ski Area Overview
The Les Arcs ski area is really one huge high open bowl plus one and a half mountainsides covered in woods
The huge high open bowl is the ski area surrounding Arc 2000 and Arc 1950. Its left side is mostly north-west facing and contains the ski area’s highest lifts (3266m Aiguille Rouge and 2832m Grand Coll) and its steepest runs. The right side of the bowl is not so high or as steep, but it does contain two black runs (Comborciere and Bois de l’Ours) so don’t assume everything here is easy. The easiest runs come down the middle of the bowl, descending from Col de la Chai (2600m) at its head, past Arc 2000 and Arc 1950 and descending all the way to the mountain restaurant and lift station at Pre Saint Esprit (1828m).
On the left side of the bowl, you can’t cross over at the top to ski down the far side of the mountain unless you are with a guide, because you would be entering the Reserve Naturelle des Hautes de Villaroger (and even guides have to stick to just a few prescribed routes through the reserve). You can, however, ski down the 12km-long Aiguille Rouge piste that follows the ridge line between the bowl and the nature reserve, and near the bottom of the bowl curls away from it, crossing over to the woods below the nature reserve, through which you descend all the way down to the lowest point in the ski area, the village of Villaroger at 1200m. Here there are also a couple of easy blues, one red piste and one black run. They are all treelined and all north-east facing, so it’s not a bad area to come to when visibility is poor, but it only amounts to half a mountainside because the top half is taken up by the nature reserve.
On the right hand side of the bowl you can cross over at the top to access a much larger west-facing mountainside, criss-crossed by red and blue pistes (and a handfull of blacks) that descend through open country at the top, then through a huge forest, to Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Vallandry and Plan Peisey.
The three crossing points between the bowl and the west-facing mountainside are Comborciere (2316m), Col des Frettes/Arpette (2413m), and Col du Grand Renard (2425m). From Col du Grand Renard you can ski down non-stop all the way to Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Vallandry and Plan Peisey, with a maximum vertical drop of 825m. In contrast the vertical drop from the Aiguille Rouge down to Villaroger is about 2000m – one of the largest in the Alps.
Plan Peisey is the end of the Les Arcs ski area but not the end of the skiing for visitors who have paid for a Paradiski pass because this covers La Plagne as well, which is reached via the Vanoise Express cable car that departs from Plan Peisey.
Arc 2000 and Arc 1950
The area immediately surrounding Arc 2000 and Arc 1950 is a warren of nursery slopes and gentle blue runs ideal for beginners, and when they have mastered these there are two long blue runs coming down the centre of the bowl from Col de la Chai that are great for improving novices. The obvious standout red is the justly famous 12 km long descent from the Aiguille Rouge to Villaroger but one section is a little steep and narrow so is graded black. More confident intermediates should be able to handle it, but less confident ones can join the run at the top of the Lanches lift. Grand Col and Arandelieres are also excellent reds, for confident intermediates. The black runs down from the Varet, Lanches, Aiguile Rouge and Grand Col are all good if snow conditions are okay, but most are classified as ungroomed ‘Natur’ runs, and even the ones that should be groomed rarely are, so if there has not been any fresh powder for a while, expect top to bottom icy moguls. The Robert Blanc run is the steepest.
The Vagere and Carreley lifts provides access to some of the most interesting skiing in the area. Carreley and Froide Fontaine are good, varied reds leading to the bottom of the Arpette lift, while Grands Melezes is a challenging blue running the full distance back to 1800. Also here is the Apocalypse Snowpark, accessed from Vagere, Col des Frettes or Clair Blanc, with jumps, rails and a big kicker graded at three levels of difficulty. Coqs was once a steepish blue but is now a mild red, and goes to the Stadium racecourse above 1800,.
From the top of TransArc, Reches and Grand Renard provides varied terrain and easy off-piste to either side with plenty of bumps to be jumped. There’s also opportunities to cut through the trees on to Bosses, an intermediate-friendly black next door, which begins with three distinct short, steep slopes, and ends with a natural halfpipe with moguls just off the piste to the right. Also just off Renard is Belette, a wide, speedy red.
1600 isn’t much of a village, but there are some interesting runs here for those on the way back from 2000 or Villaroger. There’s also access to the funicular down to Bourg. There are some characterful tree-lined runs of all colours, including Cachette, a red accessed from the lift of the same name.
Vallandry and Plan Peisey, once small satellite villages on the fringes of the ski area, find themselves in the heart of the Paradiski area following the construction of the Vanoise Express lift in Plan Peisey linking Les Arcs and La Plagne. The more west-facing slopes above Peisey can be icy in the morning, butin the afternoon Ours and Combe are fun, undulating reds, and Écureuills is a perfect confidence-building black.
Over in Vallandry, the eponymous lift and the Grizzly lift start and finish close to one another. Blanchot, at the top of the Grizzly, is a very wide red ideal for novice boarders. Aigle, Morey and Myrtilles, three excellent forest runs, depart from the top of Vallandry, or thereabouts – all are steepish but wide, but can become bare and icy through lack of snow. La Foret is a gentle summer road blue linking all three and proceeding down to the village; it’s excellent for novices but probably best avoided by everyone else! Inexperienced snowboarders can find its slight incline a bit too slight in places, necessitating some walking.
The obvious highlight near Villaroger is the run down to it from the Aiguille Rouge covered in the Arc 2000 section. There are also good off-piste runs down to it from the top of the Lanches lift, the Aiguille Rouge lift and the Grand Col lift (although that requires a hike up to the ridgeline) but you must be accompanied by a guide because you are going through the nature reserve. Apart from these, the Villaroger ski is mostly just afew blue runs following the tracks and roads through the woods, but Solliet, is an interesting black that can be fun if the snow is good.
Beginner Skiing in Les Arcs
Arc 1800 is the best base for beginners as the network of blues above the resort are pleasantly wide and snowsure.
Despite a lack of green runs across the mountain, 1800 is the best base for beginners as the network of blues above the resort are pleasantly wide and almost always have good snow. The blues under the Plagnettes chair above Arc 1950/2000 are also an ideal learning ground with Cascades being a very pleasant run for progressing beginners. Most of the mountains that make up the resort are accessible by blue runs and Vallandry is a charming introduction to tree skiing, with La Foret providing a winding route down to the village from which a confident novice can access small portions of the red runs before returning to the blue at the next junction.
Ski Schools & Ski Lessons in Les Arcs
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Intermediate Skiing in Les Arcs
There is a great deal to satisfy the piste-hungry intermediate in Les Arcs.
There is a great deal to satisfy the piste-hungry intermediate here. Most if not all of the runs described in the area guides are suitable. But the best area for intermediates overall is Vallandry, with four excellent runs from the Derby lift as well as the tree-lined runs above the village, which are perfect for building speed and confidence. Above 1800 there is also a handful of fine reds, notably Froide Fontaine and Carreley.
Advanced & Expert Skiing in Les Arcs
The steep pitch of many of the runs around Arc 2000 make it a good choice for advanced skiers, particularly if they like large ungroomed ‘natur’ runs with big moguls.
Arc 2000, Arc 1950 and Villaroger
The steepest official runs in Les Arcs are below the Aiguille Rouge and close to Arc 2000. The most steep is Robert Blanc, a challenging bumpy black coming down the main northwest face of the Aiguille Rouge that is accessed by taking the Varet and Aiguille Rouge lifts then the Arandelieres red. Lanches, Dou de l’Homme and Cretes are all close by and similar but quicker to access because you only need the Varet gondola up from Arc 2000. Genepi, which also requires taking the Aiguille Rouge cable car, and Combes and Droset which can be accessed by just taking the Lanches lift, are west-facing and so snow quality tends to be poorer. Apart from Combes and Droset, all these pistes are ‘Natur’ runs so are never groomed: if you ski them late in the season, expect huge, icy moguls.
The black section of the 12km long Aiguille Rouge piste that descends from the top of the cable car all the way down to Villaroger is not very steep, but it is narrow in places, and if it has not snowed recently it will be hard-packed, hence the black grading, but at least it’s piste-bashed regularly.
Refuge, the black run coming down from the Grand Col chair, faces north and often has the best snow in the resort. It’s supposed to be groomed regularly but it rarely is, so if you don’t like moguls, stick to the red piste beside it.
Solliet, a black piste above Villaroger, is a nice way to end the 12km Aiguille Rouge run down from the cable car, but it’s not long enough, steep enough or high enough to be worth a special journey from Arc 2000, unless visibility is poor in which case the trees lining its side make it a good choice, as the other blacks around Arc 2000 are all above the treeline.
On the other side of the Arc 2000 valley, there are eponymous black runs under the Bois de l’Ours and Comborciere chair-lifts. These are the east-facing so at their best in the morning, but Bois de l’Ours is never groomed so expect big moguls. There is also off-piste to the side.
Arc 1600, Arc 1800 and Peisey-Vallandry
There are ungroomed ‘natur’ runs coming down from all three crossing points at the top of the ridge that separates these resorts from Arc 2000 – Malgovert (accessed from the Clocheret or Comborciere lifts), Fond Blanc and Petit Renard. In good snow they are all fun, but they are west-facing, not particularly high and never groomed, so icy moguls tend to predominate.
Above Arc 1600 the old red of Rouelles was reclassified as black due to its preponderance of bumps. Cachette, under the lift, is steeper. Both are treelined so good destinations for advanced skiers in bad weather.
Ecureuils is a nice, confidence-boosting black with lovely views that comes down through the woods above Plan Peisey. It would be graded red in many resorts but it does have one steepish section. It’s groomed regularly but west facing so it can be icy early in the morning, and slushy late in the afternoon, so it’s best skied around lunchtime.
Boarding & Freestyle in Les Arcs
In the Eighties Les Arcs introduced the snowboard to Europe and “Team Apo” still rip it up in the well-maintained and versatile Apocalypse Park.
The Apocalypse Park above 1800 is well-maintained and boasts jumps and rails at three levels of difficulty. The lowest is perfect for keen but inexperienced boarders (and skiers) yet can still provide pretty sizeable air when approached at speed! The black jumps on the other side are formidable, and the timid can still enjoy an afternoon in the park watching braver souls trying their luck. A new boarder-cross was built for the 2004-5 season over the ridge underneath the Plagnettes chair in Arc 2000.
Les Arcs also provides a great deal for novice boarders and those who prefer being on the piste to off it. The varied terrain of the runs, with assorted bumps and drops, provides plenty of opportunities for jumps. Meanwhile, Blanchot, at the top of the Grizzly, is perfect for a first lesson, and the network of steepish reds across the whole resort is an ideal learning ground for those who still find flatter ground tricky.
Off Piste Skiing & Freeriding in Les Arcs
Les Arcs offers world class off-piste skiing but you will need a guide to get the best out of it.
There is wonderful off-piste skiing off the back of the Aiguille Rouge, with verticals of more than 2000m, but it is a Nature Reserve and access is restricted. To get there, take the Aiguille Rouge cable car, or hike up from the top of the Grand Col lift, or (with a slightly smaller vertical on offer) take the Lanches lift straight from Arc 2000. All three entry points are governed by the Nature Reserve’s rules, which are firstly that you have to keep to two zones, both of which are wide at the top but funnel into narrow sections at the bottom; and secondly you must be accompanied by a guide, unless you have attended a two hour course on the ecology of the Natural Reserve. Details of where the zones are and when these courses are held are at http://www.reserves-naturelles.org/hauts-de-villaroger. If you get caught breaking the rules, you can be fined.
The Col de la Chai, the meeting point at the top of the Transarc and Plagnettes lifts, is the start of several itineraries which weave behind the Aiguille Grive and Aiguille Rousse and descend all the way to the Nancroix valley. There is more than than one way down, ranging from extremely testing couloirs to easier flanks. You tend to pop out somewhere on the Nordic ski circuit that runs between the villages of Lanches and Nancroix: one takes you directly past the medieval church. From Nancroix, a bus takes you to Peisey where you can catch a lift back into the ski area.
You can also ski down to the Nancroix valley from the Grand Col chairlift or from the lifts above Plan Peisey. For the latter there are routes in from the top of the 2300 lift and a more heavily-wooded one veerring off to skier’s left on a track through the trees from the Combe run.
A guide is recommended for all these routes.
If you want something that does not require a guide the area between the pistes under the Grand Col chair is a good starting point but gets skied out pretty quickly.
You can also find routes down between the pistes on the front face of the Aiguille Rouge above Arc 2000, but be careful: almost the whole area here is steep and dotted with cliffs, so study your whole route carefully (including your exit point) before attempting it, never go in poor visibility, and don’t over-estimate your ability.
Another run into the bowl above Arc 2000, is from the Col de la Chai. Stay skier’s left of the Arcabulle and Plagnettes lifts, and there is a long ridge which you can traverse along before choosing a line down into the bowll. You return on the same lifts so you can do it again and again, picking different routes each time. It’s North East facing so at its best in the morning.
The ridge line of Les Deux Tetes between Arc 1950 and Arc 1600 provides plenty of opportunities. Either side of Comborcière are pockets of powder and strong skiers will revel in the tight, steep couloirs to skier’s right of the run. Again this is East facing so at it’s best in the morning. And in the afternoon you can ski the other side of Deux Tetes under the Mont Blanc lift which is predominantly West-facing.
Moving from Arc 1600 to Arc 1800 there is more interesting between-the-piste skiing near the Clocheret lift (ride the lift up and you should spot an interesting route down), and more under the Vagere chair.
Above Vallandry and Plan Peisey, the Derby lift opens up a small area of open bowl skiing, and some good routes through the trees. There is also some off-piste at the top of 2300 lift. Much harder to reach are the steep slopes above the highest lifts in Vallandry-Plan Peisey. They are just about accessible if you know the route around the back from Col de la Chai, but the gaps between the cliffs are narrow and the whole area is notoriously rocky, so go with a guide.
And lastly, don’t forget Villaroger. It’s not just the end point for decents from the Aiguille Rouge. North-facing tree-lined powder can usually be found under the Plan Des Viollettes and Droset chairs.
Serious offpiste skiers based in Les Arcs can use the Vanoise Express and a Pardaiski pass to to go off the back of Bellecote (with a guide). There are several routes – most involve a 2000m descent ending up in the Nancroix valley, but you can also head North to Champagny. There are other less serious descents from almost all the peaks in the area.
Les Arcs Mountain Restaurants
Les Arcs mountain restaurants have changed for the better. One sign of this is that most of them now offer jugs of tap water rather than making you pay for over-priced, environmentally-damaging bottled water. And the resort’s facilities for picnickers are exemplary with outside tables at natural viewing points plus some inside shelters, plenty of toilets and even a free museum and contemplation zone.
For an excellent example of a modern mountain restaurant, try the BOB Organic Café located at the top of the Varet gondola and the bottom of the Aiguille Rouge cable car above Arc 2000 (next to the zip wire departure point). The views from ithe terrace outside are lovely but on a cold day there is seating inside. The focus is on organic, fair-trade light meals, hot drinks, juices and snacks but it also has some interesting craft beers and some basic-but-good wines (mostly local Savoyard ones). It’s semi-self-service: you queue up at the counter to choose, order and pay for your food and drink, but if you select something hot, the friendly staff deliver it to your table. You can not book ahead so just turn up and grab a table.
Also good, and managed by the same Maison Falcoz group, but much more of a traditional French mountain restaurant with table service, is Les Chalets de l’Arc, just above Arc 2000 on the Marmottes piste. It bakes its own bread in what is reputedly the highest bakery in France and its Tarte aux Myrtilles is delicious.
Between Arc 1800 and Arc 1600 is L’Arpette, near the Snow Park at the foot of the lift of the same name,. It has both a smart table-service restaurant and a good value self-service place (excellent omelettes). A DJ plays music on Wednesday afternoons but it’s less raucous than La Folie Douce. One night a week (currently Wednesdays but check) it re-opens in the evening, offering a reasonably priced and very good Savoyard set menu, with lashings of wine, followed by a torchlit descent down the mountain. Booking ahead for this and for lunch at the table service restaurant on busy days is much recommended, Tel: +33 4 79 07 45 80.
La Folie Douce above Arc 1800 is part of the chain of lively apres ski bars that has other outlets in Meribel and Val d’Isere. Located at the top of the Villard lift (with free access for pedestrians), it’s a normal mountain bar-restaurant when it first opens at lunchtime, but gradually the music gets louder, and more people start dancing with ski-boots on. It closes at 7pm most evenings.
Over in Vallandry, the Bar Mont Blanc is very easily accessible, right at the bottom of the Grizzly lift, and does cheapish baked potatoes and cheesy chips as well as a more substantial lunch menu. Just by the Vanoise Express in Plan Peisey is Le Solan, proud purveyor of the best pizza on the mountain, as well as unusually friendly staff.
But you don’t have to spend in Les Arcs to eat somewhere on the mountain with a gorgeous view. The official picnic spots at the top of the Aiguille Rouge, Varet, Comborciere, Col des Frettes and the Grizzly lift above Peisey-Vallandry are all well chosen. And even if the weather is lousy, it’s worth visiting the one at the top of Grizzly lift above Peisey-Vallandry, because this is where there is an inside Relaxation Area with benches and wifi, and upstairs is a genuinely informative Mountain Animals museum. Admission is free.