When it was inaugurated in 1968, Les Arcs' original development - Arc 1600 (aka Arc Pierre Blanche) - was one of France's first purpose-built 'designer' ski resorts; Les Arcs has remained at the avant-garde for winter-sports tourism and snowsports innovation ever since.
In the 1970s, the local Les Arcs branches of the national French Ski School (ESF) introduced the Ski Evolutif method of teaching, whereby beginners were taught to ski using the parallel-turn technique from the outset, starting on very short skis that were then swapped every couple of days for progressively longer ones throughout the initial week's lessons; advances in modern ski design have rendered this method obsolete, but the principal remains.
Les Arcs can also claim to be the spiritual home of European snowboarding, since local instructor Regis Rolland was featured riding an early-model snowboard in the seminal Apocalypse Snow ski movies filmed in Les Arcs in the early 1980s.
In 2003 Les Arcs was party to another world first when it was linked to the adjacent La Plagne ski area to form the huge Paradiski domain; the impressive double-decker Vanoise Express cable car that connects them was the largest, fastest, and longest single-span cable car in the world at that time.
Throughout the intervening years Les Arcs continued to develop and expand: in 1975 Arc 1600 was joined by the now bigger and livelier resort village of Arc 1800, followed by the highest altitude base at Arc 2000; the most recent addition is the more traditional-styled Arc 1950. Les Arcs' ski area also expanded and now encompasses the slopes of the outlying villages of Le Pre and Villaroger to the east, plus Peisey, Vallandry, and Plan-Peisey to the west; the latter closest to the eastern terminal of the Vanoise Express link with La Plagne.
All of the 'Arc' resort villages offer ski-in/ski-out convenience and all have adjacent beginners' slopes; the vast majority of Les Arcs' terrain is ideal for intermediates and there's plenty of scope for inter-piste powder-field hopping plus serious off-piste opportunities for more advanced visitors.
The core Les Arcs ski area is comprised of two principal sectors, separated by an impressive arete: the first contains Arc 1600 and Arc 1800, which are terraced into a steep mountainside that is crisscrossed by a wide choice of traversing blues and fall-line reds; the second is a huge high-altitude bowl above Arc 2000 and Arc 1950, filled with great intermediatel pistes and the highest concentration of some of the best black runs in the domain.
The highest lift-served peak is the Aiguille Rouge (3,225m), which towers above Arc 2000; this gives access to steep off-piste powder slopes, as well as an epic 7km long black-into-red piste with a vertical drop of over 2,000 metres down to the linked village of Villaroger, one of the best on-piste descents in the Alps.
On the opposite western side of the domain, beyond Arc 1800, lies the Peisey-Vallandry sector, where pretty forested slopes house an excellent range of long tree-lined runs that sweep down to the satellite resort villages of Vallandry and Plan Peisey, where the keenest big-mileage enthusiasts can connect with the cable car link to La Plagne.
Noteworthy specialist zones at Les Arcs include the 'Apocalypse Parc' snowpark, situated above the tree line midway between Arc 1600 and Arc 1800, consistently rated as one of the best freestyle parks in the Alps; and the Olympic KL 'Flying Kilometre' piste above Arc 2000, where countless speed-skiing records have been achieved - the current world record stands at just over 250km/h.
Off the slopes and apres ski
Les Arcs was purely designed and purpose-built to be a winter sports station, alternative daytime visitor attractions weren't really a feature of the planning, although a good range of alternative activities are now available.
There are ice skating rinks at Arc 1800 and Arc 2000; plus a swimming pool, fitness suite and squash courts in Arc 1800; other more adventurous activities on offer include paragliding, dog-sled mushing, snowmobiling, and helicopter sightseeing flights.
Non-skiers can also get out amongst the mountains by going on guided snowshoe treks or on way-marked walking trails that offer wide reaching views over the Tarentaise Valley towards Mont Blanc; the Ponturin Gorge and along the Nancroix Valley below and beyond Peisey-Vallandry is one of the most attractive routes.
Pedestrians can also access Les Arcs' key inter-sector link lift, the 'Transarc' gondola, which connects Arc 1800 to the Col de la Chal (at 2,600m); this high-altitude col is the starting point for a 3 km long tobogganing/sleding run, and is also the site of an Ice Cave attraction filled with ice & snow sculptures.
Free shuttle buses run between Arc 1600 and Arc 1800, plus Arc 1600 and Arc 2000, regularly in the mornings and afternoons and until around 8pm (later at weekends); Arc 1950 and Arc 2000 are connected by a pedestrian gondola lift. Arc 1600 also has a quick funicular railway connection with the TGV/Eurostar station at Bourg-Saint-Maurice; this busy valley town offers plenty of shopping opportunities, non-touristy bars and restaurants, and has good public transport connections with other towns and resorts in this region.
Apres ski in Les Arcs is generally unsophisticated but does get fairly lively at weekends and during high season, focused mainly on a couple of the liveliest base-area bars in each of the resort villages. All of the Arc villages have an adequate selection of restaurants and bars, each including at least one venue with live music and/or a dance floor.
Arc 1800 is by far the liveliest place for nightlife: here you'll find a bowling alley and numerous bars and pubs, some of which feature live music (try Le JO for live rock or the Red Hot Saloon for anthem covers bands), plus there's a choice of small disco-bars as well as the larger 'Apokalypse' nightclub.
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Bars and clubs
El Latino Loco
Le Chalet de Luigi
Red Hot Saloon
Chalet de L'Arcelle
La Table des Lys