Wintersport: La Plagne, France Feb 9, 2017

Preface

We had planned our trip to the French ski resort La Plagne well in advance, so ever since October last year I've been counting days down. My previous wintersport occasion in Sölden had only left good memories (and a couple of bruises, too, but that's unimportant).

La Plagne.

In my excitement I'd even become a proud snowboard (Burton Blunt) owner, at a good discount because I bought it out of season. Its double-wave shape dubbed New Flying V was supposed to be beginner-friendly.

We went with a group of eight people. After some calculations we figured out the cheapest means of transportation was a rental van, a nine-seater, which we stuffed with all the coffers and gear up to the roof. We departed by night, about 2 AM, and drove around the country collecting our fellow passengers. Only around six in the morning have we set off for France via Belgium and Luxembourg. The most of the road was easy but we've hit a traffic jam once we entered the mountains. The road up the mountain was snowy so at one point we had to stop and fit snow chains to the front wheels. And we were lucky to have had the chains with us.

La Plagne

We've reached La Plagne only at dark, around 6 PM. This time round our hotel was special in the sense it was located right next to the ski slope. After the breakfast you go down to the storage room, grab your snowboard, go outside, and slide down straight away. Here's a view from our balcony:

La Plagne. View from the hotel's balcony.

But let me share some figures. According to Wikipedia, La Plagne with its average of 2.5 million visitors per season is the most popular ski resort in the world. It's a part of a huge ski area called Paradiski, which also includes Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry. All three form a system counting a total of 160 ski lifts and 425 km of ski slopes (which makes Sölden with its 33 lifts and 145 km of slopes, and Ischgl with 45 lifts and 238 km look pretty modest). Also the village of Champagny-en-Vanoise is very close to Courchevel, which is massively popular amongst (rich) Russians, perhaps because of its runway for private jets.

Map of Paradiski. Source: winter.la-plagne.com.

In other words, there's plenty of skiable space there. In fact, there were so many routes that I had to stay mindful of time to make it for the last lift trip to Belle Plagne 2050 where we were staying (2050 here is the altitude in metres, as you might have guessed). Fortunately, the most pistes in our area led down to Plagne Bellecôte 1930, which was connected to Belle Plagne by a cable car that ran until very late.

Plagne Bellecôte 1930.

Hotels there, all decorated with wood panels, looked very much alike, our Les Balcons being no exception to the rule. We'd rented a nice accommodation for eight: in two levels, with four bedrooms, a living room, and a small kitchen. Each bedroom had a private bathroom.

Belle Plagne 2050, hotel Les Balcons.

As you just arrive, it feels pretty chilly. Indeed, if you're used to having +5 °C (41 °F) throughout the whole winter, the local -15 °C/5 °F (which got as low as -27 °C/-17 °F by night) can be quite distressing, but one gets used to it quite quickly. After a couple of days you get comfortable with these temperatures.

The author and his Burton Blunt.

Exactly at half past eight, when we'd gather for breakfast, the sun would gild the peaks of the mountains.

La Plagne. View from the hotel's balcony.

Our day schedule looked like the following:

  • 7:30 — wake-up
  • 8:00 — go to the baker's to fetch fresh croissants and baguettes
  • 8:30 — breakfast
  • 9:30 — snow fun!
  • 16:30 — the ski lifts stop so you have to go back
  • 17:00 — sauna and subsequent snow plunges
  • 18:00 — web-surfing hour
  • 19:00 — dinner
  • 20:00 — board games and the pain of talking Dutch
  • 22:00 — retreat

For some unknown reason, a snowboard is the most difficult to deal with in the morning. Later in the day, as you get the hang of it, it gets so much better that you wouldn't even want to stop.

The last couple of days I enjoyed taking a long descent starting from L'Arpette (2385 m) all the way down to the Montchavin village (1250 m).

Descent to Montchavin.

The whole run of about 6 km could be covered in one go in about a quarter of an hour.

Descent to Montchavin.

The downside was, though, that you had to take four lifts in a row to get back up.

Not all of us liked skiing. Some would take a walking route through the picturesque snowy landscape.

La Plagne. View from a lift.

And once you've climbed high enough the view gets truly magnificent!

La Plagne. View on the valley.
The La Chiaupe glacier.
The La Chiaupe glacier.

The snow!

Despite the frost there was not so much snow this year so that the most peaks stayed bare. It got more noticeable as you went higher, for example to the La Chiaupe glacier (3417 m).

The La Chiaupe glacier.
The La Chiaupe glacier.

The glacier is reachable by the means of the Bellecôte ski lift, so long and steep that it makes you feel dizzy.

The Bellecôte ski lift.

However most of the pistes had enough snow.

La Plagne.

Ever-running snow guns were taking care of that, too.

Snow guns.
A snow gun.

After a night of non-stop work it would produce a reasonable heap of fresh snow:

A snow gun.

I've also witnessed numerous bulldozers moving the snow around. At some point it'd even become annoying as they went on and on deep into the night, roaring their engines right under our hotel windows.

Snow displaced by a bulldozer.

We were very lucky to have had perfect weather for the entire week. It was sunny but none too warm, with a perfectly clear sky.

A solitary stray cloud.

Not everyone had luck though. Once a skier had run into some trouble right before our hotel, so they had to get rescued by the emergency team.

Rescue operation.

Les Arcs

One of those days we dedicated to going to the other part of Paradiski, Les Arcs, located on the other side of the valley.

Vanoise Express between La Plagne and Les Arcs.

La Plagne is linked to Les Arcs with so-called Vanoise Express, a cable car with two huge cabins that alternate between the two ski resorts. Each cabin is a double-decker that accommodates up to 187 people (not easily though), and takes you within five minutes over the distance of about two kilometres.

Vanoise Express between La Plagne and Les Arcs.

Les Arcs looked very much like La Plagne, all the same hotels, restaurants and sport stores scattered over the mountainside.

Les Arcs.

And of course the ski-tracks.

Les Arcs.

Bottom line

To sum up my experiences of this six-day vacation, I must say I could easily spend another week there.

La Plagne.

Towards the end of our stay I seem to have finally grasped the Zen of Snowboarding and stopped being afraid of speed! So far my record, according to Ski Tracks, is only 63.5 km/h, so there's room for growth:

Ski Tracks report.

This time I never even thought of switching back to skiing. Snowboarding is so much cooler, better, trendier and healthier!

My ski gloves didn't make it through their third season on end (but I believe the first two were the toughest):

Consequences of braking with hands.

All in all, this stuff is even more addictive than running. I'm already dreaming of my next snowboarding trip…

La Plagne.