When opportunities are limited – as they have been for British skiers wanting to whizz through the powder on the other side of the Channel – it’s time to amp things up.
Which is why I’m in Les Arcs, in France, waiting first in the queue for the new 3,500ft zip line that soars over the ski resort.
I’m strapped into the harness – choosing to sit rather than be launched head-first – and stare down the snow-covered valley as the last of the safety checks are carried out.
Then it’s trois, deux, un… and I’m flying over skiers below, screaming as my heart lurches into my mouth and cheeks wobble in the wind.
At up to 130mph, the ride almost keeps pace with top speeds set on the piste below – the site of the speed skiing demonstrations in the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics.
But I’m glad to be relying on a sturdy wire and the pull of gravity, rather than my own skis, as I screech down the mountain. And after a moment’s shock at take-off, there’s almost a minute to take in the gorgeous views before I’m hauled back at the end, grinning with exhilaration (and the relief of a soft landing).
The year-round attraction has already become a ‘must do’ for thrill seekers here –
especially as a zip-wire ride comes free with a six-day premium ski pass – though some might say taking a leap into the unknown has become part and parcel of the great British ski getaway already.
British holidaymakers usually make up more than half of visitors to Les Arcs, lured by the snow-sure high altitude, ski-in-ski-out accommodation and 263 miles of runs linking Paradiski’s Les Arcs, Peisey-Vallandry and La Plagne.
And for Andy Sturt, owner of British chalet operator VIP Ski, the relaxation of travel rules this month couldn’t have come soon enough.
After 30 years in business, his firm went bust when Covid first hit and refunds drained it dry.
By Christmas 2020 Andy had paid off debts, refinanced and bought back part of the firm via insolvency auction.
The smaller business has now relaunched and I’m staying in the latest jewel in its crown – a new 30-bedroom hotel and 12-chalet complex called Bear Lodge.
The lodge, which sits right alongside the Baptiste Giabiconi piste in the village of Arc 1950, has been a labour of love for Andy, who has been designing it from the ground up for the past seven years.
The local builder, who constructed the Arc 1950 village for Intrawest nearly 20 years ago, had some land left over and asked if he would like to do something with it.
Andy sat down and, Blue Peter-style, used paper cutouts to work out how to avoid the usual chalet problems inherited from old buildings – tiny seating areas, no storage or coat hooks and low ceilings.
And while many in the ski industry are moving away from chalets, he wanted to build a lodge that would suit everyone – from couples to big groups and families – and every budget (a tip –the bunk-bed add-ons to some rooms are sold at half-price).
The result is a welcoming, all-bases-covered building with an exterior that blends in with the Savoyarde style of the village and a modern roomy interior with – yes – large squashy couches, party-friendly dining tables and a refreshing absence of head-threatening low beams.
On a budget? Try these options in Les Arcs
Base Camp Lodge, Bourg-Saint-Maurice
A seven-minute funicular ride gives you access to the slopes of Les Arcs from Bourg-Saint-Maurice, which can be accessed by train from London if you’ve got your eye on the environment as well as the budget.
Base Camp Lodge has rooms ranging from individual capsules to ten-person dorms. For stays from March 26 to April 2 there are rooms available from €645 (£540) per week, based on two sharing, or €194 (£162) for a capsule.
Hotel Altitude, Arc 2000
The Hotel Altitude is a six-minute walk from the closest lifts and three minutes from the resort centre of Arc 2000. Exposed brick, wood panelling and warm colours give it a real alpine feel.
Go with Crystal Ski and pay £731pp for seven nights (staying week commencing March 26) including hotel room (based on two sharing), transfers and flights from Newcastle.
Charmettoger Residence, Arc 1800
For a bargain holiday in Arc 1800, the Charmettoger Residence has various-sized apartments just 300m from the pistes.
Sunweb’s offer for March 27 is hard to beat, offering a four-person self-catering apartment for five days from £209 per person including a £147 lift pass.
There are also some cool modern touches like cosy fires and a TV that allows you to cast your own streaming channels (without leaving all your details for the next guest).
Downstairs there’s a good-sized swimming pool, a spa pool, a sauna, a gym, a massage suite and a piste-side children’s area, as well as a restaurant for hotel guests and a mini cinema – perfect for early evening PG flicks and later blockbusters for the grown-ups.
I’m staying in the largest of the chalet suites, which caters for 12, and the biggest bonus is the attentive staff and gourmet meals, with chef Lee and university graduates Gussie and Anna ever keen to help – and find the best places to go out.
‘Have you tried the local Irish bar yet?’ asks Gussie who, like most of the 160 staff settling into the adjoining building and seasonaire life, is British. (Gap year! It’s still possible after Brexit.)
Well, no – but there is plenty of action to be found elsewhere. La Folie Douce is party central, with drinking, ski-boot dancing and a conveniently short run to the nearest chairlift if you’ve had a few.
Meanwhile, in Arc 1950 – a pedestrian-only village – you can ski down to La Vache Rouge (you’ll spot it by the large red cow outside).
Depending on your budget you can wolf down a tartiflette or pizza for less than €20, or ski up to the outdoor booth for takeaway oysters, stunning steaks or seafood (up to around €100/£83).
Just keep the foodie blowout till after you zip and you’ll be on for a full-blown Les Arcs de triomphe.
Lift passes are pre-bookable, with VIP Ski starting at £250 for an adult six-day pass. EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Geneva from £22.99pp one-way, easyjet.com. VIP Ski’s luxury ski chalet Penthouse Misha, Bear Resort, including catering, from £1,440 for seven nights. A room for two in Bear Lodge starts at £1,344pp for seven nights, including transfers and catering, vip-chalets.com.
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