- Snow Reports
La Plagne is a beautiful place – a plateau surrounded by the great snow covered alpine peaks. You have to say this first because it has a reputation for ugly buildings. True the earlier buildings are what you might call architecturally challenged, if you are not a fan of Le Corbusier and his disciples. But the scenery is wonderful - on the edge of and even in the glorious Parc régionale de la Vanoise where you may see ibex, chamois, golden eagles bearded vultures.
Much of the early part of the resort was built on the principle of the ‘the most people on the least land’ to preserve the ski area, with inevitable architectural consequences. Even so it is ironic that the most controversial building, the giant ‘paquebot’ at Aime La Plagne, built in 1969, has the highest client fidelity score.
La Plagne, made up of six high-altitude resorts, which are linked from 8am to midnight, and four further down the mountain. And certain villages are very attractive, particularly that of Belle Plagne, developed later.
La Plagne is big, the biggest ski resort in the world both by number of days of ski lift passes bought in a season- 2.5 million and by the number of beds – 53,509. It has the biggest ski lift in the world, the Vanoise Express linking it with adjoining Les Arcs. Together they make up most ofFrancesthird biggest ski area Paradiski. This means a lot of people but at the same time it means great facilities. It is a world-class winter sports resort and thousands of people have wonderful winter holidays there and keep coming back.
It is not, by any measure, super smart. There are no five-star hotels and no plans for any and no Michelin-star restaurants. There is no nightclub where you will are likely to bump into Beckham or Beyoncé but there are still dozens of good restaurants and bars. There is now a strong move to expand the higher end accommodation and protect the environment. Hard to believe that 50 years ago there was nothing here except cows and a lead mine where most of the miners died by the time they reached their mid-fifties.
The basic fact about La Plagne (1,800-2,100m) is that 80 percent of ski runs are above 2,000 metres, between the Glacier de Belle Côte (3,250m) and the apple orchards in the valleys. The 130 ski runs are split into 18 black, 33 red, 69 blue and 10 green, a total of 180 kilometres of runs. If that is not enough there is the Vanoise Express, which links Les Coches with Les Arcs Peise in just under four minutes, offering access to another 235 kilometres of runs. Some say the resort is a bit flat for boarders. Anybody who has tried all the black runs and the many backcountry trails will smile at that. The six altitude resorts containing the bulk of the accommodation, are all around at 2,000 metres. Not all the accommodation there is literally ski-in ski-out, but none is further than 100 metres from the ski runs.
There are 80 kilometres of cross-country trails - all of which are ideal of snowshoeing and some of which are prepared for skating.
The facilities for children are first class and each village resort has its own childminding centre and snow play area where the children can learn to ski through play and enjoy themselves meanwhile the parents can get off and ski without stress, knowing the kids are having fun and being looked after.
Avoid French school holidays if you can (2012: Feb. 11 to March 10). You will save quite a lot of money and avoid a time when the more popular runs tend to be quite crowded and there can be delays on the lifts.
La Plagne was linked to Les Arcs in 2003 by the biggest cable car in the world, the Vanoise Express, and good skiers have access to a vast, awesome off-piste ski area. To get the greatest benefit from your stay get yourself a guide. Split between a group the cost is not outrageous but it is certainly worth it. This is not just for off-piste but to get the best of the ski runs. Your guide will help you avoid the crowds and find the best powder, whether it is on the north face of Bellecôte (3,200m), on the strikingly beautiful descent of the Cul du Nant glacier or in the great forests that lead down to the villages of Bozel and Macot, places you would find it difficult to find on your own before, all too soon, the moment to go home is upon you.
You can hire a guide as a small group or as an individual for €300 a day in low season or €345 in high season. If you are a good skier (i.e. comfortable on a red run) you can join a day group led by a guide and improve your snow skills in different conditions and types of mountain terrain. The trails are either direct from the ski lifts or start after a short approach trek. Lunch can either be out of the haversack or in one of a number of the high alpine chalets that serve food.
A good circuit to start with is around the summit above Plagne Bellecôte, the Mont Saint Jacques. Start from the top of the L'Arpette ski lift, pass the Tête d'Arpette on the left hand as you face it. You will then arrive at the col between it and the Mont Saint Jacques. From there the descent of the Combe du Grand Clapier gives you excellent snow and a fine view of Mont Blanc. Continue down through the pine Forêt des Frasses to the La Roche ski lift at Aime La Plagne, a descent of 650 metres.
The black ski runs are not all pisted so it is a good place to try out your off-piste skills on a ski run that is otherwise marked out and monitored.
The black/red Mont de la Guerre run is nearly seven kilometres long, from the top of the Les Verdons through some of the La Plagne's most beautiful powder slopes right down to Champagny. The run is marked and secured for safety but not pisted.
You may also want to try your skills on the Jean-Luc Crétier Slalom stadium at Plagne Centre used for international competitions or go across to Les Arcs and attempt to break the ski speed track record (250,74kph over 1740m). After free fall parachuting it is the fastest sport in the world.
A great experience is to join the pisteurs as they go up to open the resort. Maximum participation is limited to 40. You get given breakfast and have the rare privilege of being the first to ski on virgin snow from la Grand Rochette. Slight problem: you have to be there at 7:40 a.m. Also it is only every other Thursday.
It is possible to organise Héli-skiing with a guide on the Italian frontier as landing skiers is forbidden in many parts of the French Alps.
Contact for guides: First Track and the daily snow skills group Maison du Tourisme Plagne Centre 0479-090-201; firstname.lastname@example.org
Groomers and Family
La Plagne is a great resort to learn to ski and develop quickly into an intermediate skier and beyond. In each of the six altitude villages there are a number of runs coded violet for absolute beginners with free mini ski lifts. Belle Plagne has a magic carpet for beginners in the resort. Once you graduate to blue runs most of the resort is open to you and you can ski down from the top of the Grande Rochette and Les Verdons to Plagne centre or even from the top of the Belle Cote (3,417m) down to Belle Plagne via the Roche de Mio. There is a great short blue run on the glacier right at the top and if you want to you can come down in the cable car. It is a marvellous spot to enjoy the great views all over the Alps around you.
For skiers who enjoy a well groomed ski surface this too is the resort for you. The runs are wide and perfectly maintained - great ski ‘motorways' all over the resort. Small children happily follow their parents and sometimes lead them on red and blue trails around the Roche de Mio and l'Arpette, Les Dunes and Les Laines runs.
There are no problems about languages and English children, even the ones staying with Espirit Ski in the very British Deux Domaines (or Surrey on Snow) enjoy their time with their French instructors.
The Snowpark de La Plagne is just above Belle Plagne. It is divided up into four zones with differing levels of difficulty for those with little experience of freestyle skiing up to the real pros. The jumps are graded green, blue, red, and black just like the ski runs. There are about 20 different units including rails, tables, a figure S, a wave and a variety of other fun box items. They are regularly changed so that the visitors do not get bored with what the park has to offer. There is a Big Air safety bag to allow for new and more difficult moves in complete safety. There are also a half-pipe, a super half-pipe and a bordercross track. A new innovation this year - freestylers can look at a film of their latest efforts and download onto a mobile phone or share them on the web.
The Little Park is conveniently placed in Belle Plagne with a half-pipe and two freestyle areas that enable everyone to find their own level on different units at different levels of difficulty. Everything has been worked out to help beginners and those who want to improve and eventually do the moves they dream about. The entrance is from the top of the Col du Forché ski lift. The design of the park is aimed at beginners and those who want to try different figures in safety.
The Freestyle Park Initiation Fun Zone for the young beginners at Plagne Montalbert in a safe area with bumps, a bordercross track, rails, tables and the chance to try slalom in parallel. A whole new world of winter sports to learn at your own pace.
Since gaining a fourth star, La Carlina Hotel now serves the best breakfast in town with a big buffet for the heartiest of appetites with every kind of egg dish, sausages and all the trimmings.
Le Chaudron in Plagne centre does a good classic French breakfast - croissants and coffee. Same thing at Les Terrasses in Plagne Soleil with the added bonus that they will do you a hot dish of eggs if you warn them the night before.
Le Chalet des Verdons Sud on the slopes (ski-in/ski-out) is on the Champagny side of the resort with a fine south terrace opposite the glacier. Quite sophisticated - not just the standard mountain fare. A nice touch is the slippers they give you to keep your feet warm when you take your ski boots off. Every Thursday evening there is a big blow out menu - reservations only. They fetch you with a big caterpillar machine and take you back to your accommodation, otherwise for lunch you ski, langlauf or snow shoe in. An accordionist is in attendance.
To get there on skis: From La Plagne centre take the Funiplane Grand Rochette. With snowshoes or ski de fond skis you can come from Plagne Centre to the col de Forcle and then down the route de secours to the restaurant. From Champagny take the cable car and from the top you an walk or langlauf to the restaurant.
Le Refuge in Plagne centre is the oldest restaurant in the resort and has been there since La Plagne opened 50 years ago. Photographs of bobsled champions cover the walls in the very local, very French bar out front. In the dining room each table is under a telescopic copper hood, which extracts the smoke while guests barbecue their own steaks at the table.
Le Chaudron is in the middle of Plagne Centre with a terrace with 200 seats facing south, presents excellent grilled specialties cooked over an open fire in the middle of the dining room.
Le Matafan has been in Belle Plagne since it opened for business. It is normally full and is very popular. Tables around an open fire, traditional wood décor. A series of eleven different dishes for lunch are on offer, including mountain ham, paté and cheese, or an omelette with bacon, salad and fries. Dinner portions are mountain-sized. There is a separate bar.
Le Forperet in Plagne Montalbert is something of an institution and lost in the wilds. An old Savoyard sheep farm, or bergèrie, serving really exceptional traditional food. Delicious tartiflette, fondu de mandarin with apple and other specialities in front of an open fire. Goats, a cow and sheep are usually in residence to entertain the children in the adjoining chalet. To get there - ski, snowshoe or ask for the free shuttle from Longefoy and Montalbert.
L'Alpage in Belle Plagne is a recommended value-for-money creperie also serving local specialities fondue, tartiflette, gratin de crozet and croziflette you can eat there or take it away. An ideal stopping off point before attacking the après ski scene.
Spitting Feathers is a very lively new bar right in the centre of Plagne Belle Côte and has live music, a large selection of beers, snacks, hot drinks and all live football matches on two TV systems. Nachos, Chips and Plat du Jour at anytime whilst open. Free shuttle service. They also use their website to advertise customers' flats to rent. Open from 12 until 2 a.m.
The No'Blem in Plagne Centre offers concerts and a gathering place for the young crowd. An animated ranch style joint with large TV screens and live bands, for the younger crowd. Internet is also available. Open 12 'til 2 a.m.
There are many late-night bars, video bars with karaoke and concerts for night owls, each with their own atmosphere in the various villages of La Plagne.
There is an amazing number of things to do in La Plagne. Here is a selection of the more entertaining activities worth knowing about.
The star of the off-piste activities in La Plagne is undoubtedly France’s only international bobsleigh track on which you can have a go on your own in a mono bob reaching speeds of up to 90kph for €105 or try the real thing in the taxi bob 110 kph for €110, driven by a professional driver with three passengers. The minimum age is 16 for the mono bob or 18 for the taxi bob.
There is an ice cave with ice carvings at the top of the Belle Côte glacier and you can put on crampons and go for a hike on the other glaciers – with a guide if you are prudent.
You can go for a ride on a horse drawn sleigh or a dog sled. If you want to you can drive the dog sled shouting “mush” as long as you promise not to let go and let the doggies run off not to be seen again until doggie tea-time. A lot harder work than it looks especially as you have to push up hill. The guide drives a sledge in front of you. As long as you stay on the track all should be well.
A round of the Ice Climbing World Cup is held at the Champagny village artificial 22m high frozen waterfall. If you are over 10 years old you can have a go as well. Genuine frozen waterfalls are available at Champagny Le Haut Valley.
Ice karting is possible aver the age of 10 every Thursday night and there are facilities for quad biking. Snowmobiles are available from Belle Plagne (El Pro), Plagne Centre and Plagne Bellecôte at about € 90 an hour.
There are many specially prepared walking trails linking the various villages. These beautiful pathways are a wonderful tranquil way of exploring the valley in peace and quiet. For safety wear gripper treads and take ski sticks. The tourist offices provide a special map and there are discounts on the cable cars and ski lifts for pedestrians.
Mont de la Guerre Derby
Each year at the end of January there is the Mont de la Guerre Derby organised by the Champagny Ski Club. There are five categories: Alpine, Telemark, Snowboard, Monoski and Handiski. All you have to do is be over 16, pay €35, sign the application form agreeing not to sue the organisers if you break your neck and you are entered for a great fun race with 50 or 60 others. Competitors start off in groups of four regardless of speciality. The piste is ‘challenging’. The entry fee covers you for insurance for the day so that’s alright. Ends with a ‘buffet convivial’ – magic.
KM Night Skiing
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