Les Arcs is a real skier’s paradise

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After a full six days of skiing there were still plenty of runs we hadn’t explored in the truly massive Paradiski.

But then that would be a fairly tall order when there’s a huge 425 km of pisted runs coupled with many hundreds of kilometres of some of the best off piste skiing I’ve encountered.

Ian and Seamus Cullen at the summit of the Aguille Rouge .

Ian and Seamus Cullen at the summit of the Aguille Rouge .

At the last minute my parents decided to join my wife Martina and I on the trip to Les Arcs while my brother drove all the way across Spain and France from Mallorca to give the holiday a real family feel.

As it turned out it was one of the best family holidays I’d experienced thanks in no small way to the miles and miles of well pisted runs to suit our varying abilities. My parents, in particular, took to the long and relaxing forest runs while there were the thigh-burning off piste moguls to suit my brother. As for Martina and I, we were happy to ski anywhere in the fresh mountain hideaway - far from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

Arc 2000 - the highest resort in Les Arcs which also includes Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 - was our fuelling base for the week. We relaxed in the comfortable and friendly three star Club Belambra Hotel l’Aiguille Rouge with its stunning views of Europe’s highest peak, the glorious Mont Blanc. Even more important than the spectacular views was the ski-in/ski-out hotel’s location right in the heart of the slopes - no buses or lugging skis over long distances is always a superb added comfort in the mountains. Getting from breakfast to the nearest chair lift was simply a case of getting our boots on, stepping out the door and bringing on the fun.

Although Arc 2000 may lack much of the traditional charm of Austrian ski villages and the tax free prices of Andorra, it’s lofty altitude guaruntees the most important ingredient for fantastic skiing trip - good snow. And the white stuff was in pretty good condition despite the fact that here had been no significant dump in more than a week.

At 2000 metres plus the mountain air was pretty light. At the top of the Aguille Rouge - the highest point of Les Arcs, standing at a dizzy height of 3226m, I felt sory for the birds as I watched them flapping frantically trying to stay in the air.

However, there was another fraternity of airborne enthusiasts who seemed to have little trouble gaining pace at altitude - for Les Arcs is famous for speed skiing. We looked on from the safety of the Varet gondola as extreme skiers sped off a cliff edge, deployed a parchute and hurtled down the speed skiing course used in the 1992 Winter Olympics.

I was pretty tempted to give it a go. However, unfond memories of being ferried by helicopter ambulance to hospital after fractuing my pelvis while snowboarding on a big air jump more than ten years ago soon put paid to that thought. Nevertheless, on the plane home I regretted my decision and promised myself that next time I’d pay a visit to Les Arcs Speedriding School - whose motto is ‘Carve Yourself a Piece of the Sky’ - and follow in the adrenaline-fuelled footsteps of Italian Simone Origone who broke the world speed skiing record on the course by hurtling down the black slope at an amazing 156.2 mph.

As it turned out there were more than enough difficult runs both on and off piste to promote the spirit of ‘extreme’ in the huge Paradiski area, which takes in the resorts of Les Arcs, Peisey Vallandry and La Plagne.

In the mornings, we all stuck together and enjoyed the spectacular surroundings of the forest runs en route from Arc 2000 to Vallandry and Plan Peisey. For the first two days we enjoyed some cracking sunshine and temperatures which were moderately high for mid January at such an altitude. However, on the third day temperatures plummeted to -20°C and only then did we fully appreciate the wonderful cockle warming benefits of a hot chocalate topped with whipped cream and spiked with a good measure of brandy. This became a mainstay for elevenses each morning after a couple of hours skiing. The favourite Alpine winter drink became something of a comfort topic of conversation as our extremites iced up inside our ski boots and thermal gloves while on some of the longer chairlift journies. It was bitterly cold, but then that’s all part of the essence of a good skiing holiday - it makes getting into the warmth and sipping on your hot tipple of choice all the more enjoyable.

In the evening the group would break up, with my brother coaxing me down some of the more testing terrains on offer. It burned up the legs but certainly made me feel like I’d made the most of my day while also helping to build up a thirst for the apres ski.

Having given the ski area the stamp of approval as one of the best I’d had the pleasure to enjoy, it was time to test drive the Les Arcs apres ski. Like many French resorts, Arcs 2000 certainly doesn’t have the ‘dancing on tables’ atmosphere of Austrian ski villages but there are a few bars where happy hour is a very welcome refreshment as the usual price for a pint of lager is around 7.50 euro.

Our accomodation was comfortable with friendly staff and a warm atmosphere. Having got over the miniture bath and hand held shower head - which is par for the course in my experience of French ski club hotels anyway - I found the room was more than adequate as a base for a week’s skiing activities.

Both the breakfast and dinner buffets were superb. At breakfast there was a fine array of yogurts, cereals, croissants, pain au chocolait, breads, ham, cheese and even bacon and eggs - something for everyone in our group.

Limitless supplies of decent French wine on tap was a highlight of dinner - something you can imagine that those not au fait with the European way could take advantage of. But be warned at high altitude copious amounts of vin rouge can cause what may feel like avalanches inside your head the next morning. The dinner buffet was consistently good, with many varieties of salads, soups, meats, fish, pasta vegetables and desserts on offer.

It was a week packed with activity for our family. There was adventurous skiing and leisurley skiing, good food, wine on tap and, of course, warming hot chocolate with cream and brandy or, as it’s called in Les Arcs, Chocolat Viennois avec brandy - the piéce de résistance of Alpine beverages. Thoughts of those highlights will certainly drive me back to Paradiski and who knows I may even manage to ski the entire area next time around.

Travel facts

Ian Cullen travelled to Les Arcs, France with Inghams and stayed at the 3* Club Belambra l’Aiguille Rouge for seven nights on a half board basis, with prices starting from £669 per person, including return flights from Belfast to Geneva and resort transfers.

Flights are also available at a supplement from Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham (+£25), Bristol (+£30), Manchester (+£35), Newcastle (+£39 and Edinburgh (+£48).

Ski pack items can be pre-booked including six days adult ski and boot hire starts from £80: six days Les Arcs lift pass starts from £200; six days Paradiski Discovery lift pass from £215 and six days ski school (two hours per day) in Arc 2000 starts from £129.

n Ski savers pack includes six days superior ski hire, six days Paradiski Discovery lift pass and six days tuition (2hrs 30 mins per day) from £380 per person.

Learn to ski package includes: six days Les Arcs lift pass, six days ski and boot hire, six days tuition (2hrs 30 mins per day) from £285 per person

For more information and bookings visit www.inghams.co.uk or contact 0208 780 4447.