Bonneval sur Arc is not big. Far from it. A historic Savoyard-style village - the highest of around seven in the Maurienne valley, nestling at the base of the Col d'l'Iseran - it has charming old stone houses with slate roofs, and a two-star hotel. It markets itself as an authentic resort village, as far from the 'normal' concept of a ski resort as you could get. And therein lies its charm.
Here, in the old village, there are no street names, no electric wires, no antennas. The buildings and heritage have been preserved and enhanced, and the entire village is listed in the national heritage directory. Bonneval sur Arc is not, however, a Disneyfied theme park. It might be classified among the Most Beautiful Villages in France, but people live here all year round, mainly working in tourism, but also, still, as farmers.
Popular with families in the know, and freeriders, it maintains a mellow vibe throughout the winter season. If its peace and tranquility you're after this is a great place to come - just don't expect a rowdy après scene, or rammed clubs at night.
Next to the original village is the new tourist development of Tralenta, at the foot of the lifts and slopes. It's here that you'll find most of the accommodation, as well as the ESF ski school and more restaurants and shops.
A few kilometres above the village is the carefully restored and preserved Hameau de l'Ecot - a popular destination for summer and winter walkers - or ski tourers.
Bonneval sur Arc - Ski Map & Pistes:
The Bonneval sur Arc ski area is one of the highest ski areas in the French Alps, ranging from 1,800 to 3,000m, and enjoys good snow cover, even at the end of the season. The pisted skiing on offer is relatively small, with 32km of runs served by 11 lifts - eight chairs, three drags.
You get 26 runs - six green, 10 blue (including a new one from the resort's 3,000m high point), seven red and three black. Any intermediate will likely have skied them out in a few days, in which case you'll want a Haute Maurienne Vanoise Ski Pass, offering access to five neighbouring ski areas - including the far larger Valfréjus and Val Cenis, and a total of 35okms of runs.
For beginners and families, however, the place is perfect. There are dedicated nursery slopes on the edge of the village at at the Tralenta development, and special trails for young children and beginners. Meanwhile, the small size of the local ski area means you're never far away from family members when the time comes to meet up for lunch.
Bonneval sur Arc - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
This is where Bonneval sur Arc really comes into its own. The pisted area may be small here, but no advanced skier would limit themselves to riding just the pistes. Not when there's this kind of terrain on offer. There are four key things which make Bonneval sur Arc particularly good for freeriders.
Firstly, there's the altitude. As we've mentioned, the village sits at 1,800m above sea level, and the top lift takes you up to 3,000m. That's not miles off the highest in the Alps. Second, there's the lift layout - 11 lifts isn't very many, but because they sprawl over a large area, they offer access to plenty of unmarked, off-piste descents. Third there's the unique microclimate in the Maurienne valley - it benefits from a weather system called the Retour d'Est which spirals upwards from the gulf of Genoa, and often cakes the Maurienne in snow even when the rest of the French Alps is going through a dry spell. And finally, there's the almost complete lack of crowds - whisper it, but Bonneval sur Arc must be one of the few "secret" spots left for freeriding in the French Alps.
The terrain includes everything you'd ever want from a high alpine landscape, from gnarly couloirs, to open powder fields, to glaciers and (if you're into that sort of thing) seriously technical steeps. Much of it is north facing, ensuring that the snow stays decent for days. The most accessible off piste skiing can be found on two flanks of the Pointe d'Andange, including runs of 1,150m vertical to the valley floor. But really, you'll want to bring your skins if you're coming here for the freeride. You can access four massifs from Bonneval: Pointe d'Andagne (3,217m), Albaron (3,637m), Ouille du Midi (3,042m) and L'Iseran (2,000m).
As always, a guide is a must. Luckily, the well-respected French / Norwegian outfit UpGuides has an office in the valley with pro-skier / mountain guide Sylvain Rechu, who's based here, knows the mountains like the back of his hand.
Bonneval sur Arc - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
Between them, the old and new villages have around 10 cafes, bars and restaurants, serving mostly simple, home-cooked, family Savoyard dishes, along with the ubiquitous pizza. Try the Auberge d'Oul or the restaurant at the Hotel Le Glacier des Evettes.
Après ski is quiet, very quiet, but cosy. That's about all there is to say about it.
Bonneval sur Arc - Ski Hire:
Bonneval sur Arc - Ski School:
The local ski school in Bonneval sur Arc, is the French ESF, which offers a range of lessons and full guiding services for the off-piste terrain..