Going skiing should be a pleasure, not a slog
Simon O'Hagan just wanted an easy journey, a pretty resort and a choice of manageable runs. He found it all in Paradiski
Sunday 17 January 2010
There are probably as many types of skier as there are resorts – from people who aren't happy unless they're cheating death on the blackest of black runs to those who are content to potter from one chocolat chaud to the next.
I'm closer to the latter camp. Give me a challenge and I'll shirk it. Those big bumps you get – moguls? No thanks. Blue runs? Fine. Red runs? OK, but with a sharp intake of breath and time to stop awhile and pluck up courage.
Don't get me wrong. I like skiing. And I love the mountains. But I also like to keep things simple. Getting to your destination shouldn't be too stressful. A train and a taxi is ideal. And, when you arrive, it should be at a real place – a nice little village with shops and locals (preferably in France), not some industrial-scale complex. And when I finally do hit the slopes I might want to test myself a bit, but mainly I'm looking for a big choice of manageable runs.
I think I have found just the place – the huge skiing area in the Tarentaise that goes under the name Paradiski and stretches from Les Arcs in the west to La Plagne in the east. With 242 runs (260 miles of skiing), and rising from 1,200m to 3,250m, there's something for everyone.
The centrepiece of Paradiski is the astonishing feat of engineering that is the Vanoise Express, the unique double-deck cable car linking the Les Arcs side with La Plagne. It vastly increased the skiing possibilities when it opened in 2003. Not that the possibilities were ever exactly limited. The Vanoise Express is perhaps the most spectacular four-minute journey in the world. Even if you're sticking to skiing on one side of the valley – and only the most adventurous and energetic really need both. "Express" remains something of a misnomer, though, in part because the car operates without a single supporting pylon. Don't ask me how they did that. You glide along, 380m above the valley floor, in near-silence and a profound state of awe.
The Express has not gone without a hitch. Technical problems closed it for the 2007-2008 season and for a project that cost €15m and around which an entire tourist strategy was built, this was a bit of a disaster. But it was up and gliding again last winter, which was when my family visited.
We stayed close to the Express's arrival point on the Les Arcs side, in the Vallandry part of the extended resort of Peisey-Vallandry. One of the many great things about Peisey-Vallandry is it's only a half-hour taxi ride from Bourg-St-Maurice. And from London, Bourg could hardly be easier. You board a train at St Pancras and, eight hours later, you're there.
Vallandry is rather too exposed and spread out but it is pleasant enough, with footpaths zig-zagging between the different levels, and a good range of shops and restaurants. The shops mattered because, having previously stayed in chalets, we went down the apartment route. I arrived in Peisey with a certain amount of built-in resistance to the idea of self-catering, but it melted away within seconds of crossing the threshold of the L'Orée des Cimes apartment complex, the stylish, wood-panelled lobby of which smacked of a five-star hotel.
Our apartment was spacious and elegant, with a balcony from which we watched the sun go down. We had free use of a pool, a gym, a Jacuzzi and a sauna. The ski-hire shop was right next door; the nearest lift was 50 yards from where our equipment was kept, and we'd remembered to bring our own porridge. It was all good.
Sticking mainly to the Les Arcs side we were able to go out as a family – my wife and I, both of us inclined to caution, and our two rather more thrill-seeking teenage daughters – and still all have a good time. From the highest point we reached – the 2,425m Col du Grand Renard – there was a fabulous long red that turned into a blue and took you down to Arc 1800. Heading back towards Vallandry there was a ski park where my daughters could hit the racetrack and get airborne. Closer to home, there were innumerable runs through trees, which gave the aesthetic experience my wife sought. And everywhere, loads of space.
Calling somewhere "Paradiski" smacks rather of hubris, and perfection in skiing comes in many guises. But for us, this was one trip that would be hard to improve upon.
How to get there
There are two direct train services a week from St Pancras to Bourg-St-Maurice – one overnight Friday- Saturday, and one during the day on Saturdays. Return fares start at £149 in standard class and £229 in Leisure Select (08432 186 186; eurostar.com). Peak Retreats (0844 576 0170; peakretreats .co.uk) offers a week at L'Orée des Cimes from £856 for a one-bedroom apartment in low season to £2,434 for a two-bedroom apartment during the February half-term. One week's unlimited Paradiski ski pass costs €249 per person.
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