News from the snow
La Plagne is possibly the largest ski resort in the world - depending on how you do your sums. In fact it is made up of ten separate bases, a mixture of traditional villages and ultra-modern purpose-designed centres. There is pretty well everything here - a vast ski and snowboarding area, inter-linked by over 110 lifts. Indeed the resort has pioneered the installation of high capacity chairs and has more of the modern six seater high-speed detachable chairs (capacity 3000 skiers per hour each) than any other resort on earth! There is a huge skiable vertical, again one of the biggest in the world, accessing some of the highest skiing that there is - with snowsure glacier skiing at the top. Oh and it was an Olympic venue in 1992. Not surprising then that the resort came top overall in a computer assessment of 3000 ski resorts world-wide, albeit by a French ski magazine! The ten different bases are divided up in to six purpose - built and four traditional, offering the ubiquitous 'something for everyone'. The oldest resort, Plagne centre, is located high up at 1970 metres, but newer developments such as Aime la Plagne are still higher up at 2100m, it was constructed during the vogue for integrated 'third generation' resorts and is one of those currently being renovated in part, ready for the new millenium. Plagne Villages and Plagne Soleil (counting s one of the 10 bases together), both at 2050 metres, are made of smaller, strategically placed buildings whilst Plagne Bellecôte has a sporty, fun emphasis, housing the resort's Freestyle stadium, a skating rink and outdoor pool. Belle Plagne is the newest and most attractive of the modern villages, its theme is 'elegance and tradition'. Finally Plagne 1800 has comfortable chalets and the peace and quiet of the neighbouring forest. Below these six are four old villages which existed long before skiing, but have now come under the wing of La Plagne. Plagne Montalbert (1350m), Montchavin (1250m), Les Coches above it (1450m) and Champagny en Vanoise (1250m) consist of renovated farmhouses in the original hamlets and newer developments in keeping with the traditional architecture. La Plagne is also famous for offering additional on-slope activities including the popular Olympic bob-sleigh run available for recreational use.
La Plagne came top in a computer assessment of 3000 ski resorts world-wide. It has 10 different bases, six purpose - built, four traditional, offering the ubiquitous 'something for everyone'. The resort has pioneered the installation of high capacity chairs , especially 'six-pac' six seater high-speed detachable chairs (capacity 3000 skiers per hour each). La Plagne was lift linked to nearby Les Arcs for the 2003-4 season after amny years of planning. La Plagne is also famous for offering additional on-slope activities including the popular Olympic bob-sleigh run available for recreational use.
All of the skiing above the altitude villages is also above the tree-line and most of it below their level is below it - on trails cut through the forests down to Plagne Montalbert and Montchavin Les Coches. The runs down to Champagny are over the back of the snowbowl. The vast majority of the skiing appeals to recreational skiers, more than the 'die-hard' variety who will find a more limited number of blacks than at some of the other top resorts. For those with a bit of realism who don't need the machismo image that they aren't actually a part of in order to enjoy their annual skiing week though, La Plagne can't be bettered.
Experts will be happy anyway, especially if they sign up with one of the ski schools to tackle the under-rated off-piste or attempt the sheer near 2000m vertical down from the north face of the Bellecôte glacier, one of the world's longest and toughest runs . Beginners also have some good nursery slopes, a huge choice of tuition deals and a free surface lift by every village of La Plagne.
La Plagne's commitment to winter sports has long been evident with its own Club des Sports established in 1962 to encourage domestic talent. Famous Club members include Eric Labourex, five times Freestyle World Cup circuit winner) and most recently Jean Luc Crétier, winner of the Men's downhill at the Nagano Olympics. There are no less than 11 different Ecole de Ski Français operations in business from the different villages. Each offers a wide variety of tuition options but also individual schools have unique ideas. The ESF in Montchavin for example has a guided off-piste 'Ski total' course whilst Plagne Bellecôte's school has carving-ski courses.
At Aime la Plagne the 'Modern stages' package introduces students to the different modern methods of sliding as well s offering advice on improving technique and powder skiing. Apart from the ESF there are yet more choices the Oxygène school operating out of Plagne Centre or Eric Laboureix's 'El Pro' school. Evolution 2, based in Montchavin limits class sizes to 8 participants.
Good skiers may wish to participate in the popular free night-time (floodlit) parallel slalom races at Champagny on Tuesday evenings during the Christmas and February holidays. There are cups for winners and prizes for competitors. Finally cross-country skiers have about 90km (57 miles) of loipes to enjoy.
In Belle Plagne the garderie will accept children aged eighteen months to three years, at Champagny 'les Cabris garderie take children from age two to six. In Montchavin - Les Coches the busy Club des Enfants (Pirouette) accepts children from 9 months and offers an unusually good 'Carte marmot' package which allows you to use 6 timed 'modules' of child-care during your week and also includes six free entries to the ice rink! Finally in Plagne Montalbert the garderie 'Les Bambins' welcomes children aged from 18 months to 6 years,
On the slopes there are 'snow gardens' for the children at all the villages and free lift passes are offered to children until they are age six, more generous than most French resorts. For older kids several of the ski schools have special 'teenager' group courses for children aged 13 to 15 or 17. They operate mostly in the Christmas and Easter holidays as well as all through February and concentrate on adventure skiing in the powder, steeps or on moguls as well as in improving technique so that the various official ability tests can be taken and passed.
particularly well regarded restaurants La Grange, Matafan and Le Bec Fin all have a reputation for Savoyard specialities and good value.
If you like to work up an appetite its worth considering taking an organised moonlit snowshoe outing up to a traditional Savoyard meal awaiting you in a mountain hut.