Les Arcs: Starting the season with Ski Total
We glide and slipside into Arc 1500, a resort village with something of a Disneyesque, chocolate box look to it. Wooden balconies, with railings featuring cut-out hearts, are draped with fairy lights and piled high with snow. Steeply angled roofs are blanketed white and accessorised by icicle earrings. We’re surrounded by cafes and bars, each populated by a smattering of clients warming their hands around huge mugs of chocolat chaud; a few look wonderfully relaxed over goldfish-bowl-sized glasses of beer. Given the -8° conditions, it’s tempting to join their ranks, but the large clock face rising picturesquely above us only says 11.30am and on this, the very first day of the season, we’re keen to maximise our enjoyment of these fresh, uncrowded slops as much as possible before lunch.
There’s been an uncommon amount of snowfall in the week preceding the resort opening, and our Ski Total resort representatives and chalet hosts have seemed torn between excitement for us and frustrated longing for themselves. It’s understandable – the thought of prepping for the season in a deserted resort as fresh snow falls all around you but without any of the lifts running – and then for the lifts to start just as your job really kicks into gear – crushing, right?
Their loss is our gain, but we tried not to rub it in as we left them clearing up our breakfast mess this morning and headed out into a winter wonderland. Towering pines are crusted with fresh snow, little kids looking like shapeless bundles of clothing hold on to their parents’ ski poles to be pulled along gleefully and there’s a palpable sense of bonhomie among the lift operators as they crank the gears and bring the lifts to life.
Les Arcs has 200km of piste in a variety of grades, with long cruisy blues from which you can detour onto steeper reds; more experienced skiers also have plenty of blacks on which to challenge themselves. Off piste is popular and, with so much fresh, deep snow, tempting, but we’re advised by our Ski Total representative to stick to the ‘natural runs’ if it’s virgin snow we crave: these are ungroomed but still within limits, meaning that your insurance cover won’t be compromised if you should have an accident.
Input from Ski Total is a key feature of their holidays: not only will they arrange your transfer for you, but they can also be relied upon to sort out your ski passes and book lessons or guides. Chalet hosts provide a hot and cold breakfast, afternoon tea (complete with a freshly baked cake) and an evening meal. Resort representatives drop by from time to time to make sure your needs are being met and to let you know about various après events; they even carry payment facilities if you don’t want to take your chances on the door.
We’re staying in Arc 2000 and Chalet de l’Ours, in which our SkiTotal accommodation is located, ticks a number of convenience boxes, with an equipment rental and retail store downstairs and spacious, secure locker rooms with heated bootracks. It’s also a mere 250 metres from the button lift which tows you up to the main ski area, where scheduled lessons meet and from which the rest of the resort is accessed.
Six of the seven bedrooms have an ensuite bathroom aside from the largest, for which the bathroom is located just outside its door. Most have a balcony; there’s also a sauna for taking the chill off your post-piste bones, and access to the pool in the adjacent Chalet Altitude, if the appeal of the slopes palls. The decor is typically ‘Alpine’ – wood on wood on wood, with a large stone open fireplace in front of which we gather for an aperitif each evening, whilst our hosts are preparing our evening meals. The kitchen in which they’re working is by no means huge, and they do a brilliant job at catering for our different dietary requirements, serving up delicious three course meals each night, alongside ‘bottomless’ wine.
With so much terrain to explore, we’re glad of the company of an ESF (École du Ski France) guide the following day. One blue run to assess our abilities and then we’re divided into beginners, who stay with Thomas, and intermediates, who head off with Sebastian. There are, of course, other ski schools in Les Arcs, but ESF is the only one with whom SkiTotal works and, although I don’t have other Les Arcs instructors to compare with, we’re all singing the praises of our guides when we reconvene for lunch. Thomas, it seems, has been so encouraging and lovely that one of our group is moved to embrace him. Perhaps I don’t harbour exactly the same sorts of feelings towards Sebastian, but he’s taken me off-piste in fresh, fluffy, knee-deep snow through which my board has sliced like a spoon through a whipped cream. My face hurts as much from smiling as from the cold.
Ski Total (www.skitotal.com / 01483 791 935) is offering seven nights at the four-diamond plus Chalet Panda in Les Arcs, France from £499 per person this season. Price includes flights from London Gatwick to Geneva, resort transfers and chalet catering (daily skiers breakfast, afternoon tea with homemade cake and three-course evening meals with complimentary wine). For more information please visit www.skitotal.com.