The Paradiski ski area was born in the winter of 2003-4, with the completion of the Vanoise Express cable car. This cable car is a true feat of engineering - 2 double decker cars, which can carry up to 200 people each, span the gorge between Peisey, at 1612m, and Montchavin les Coches (1548m). The crossing takes just 4 minutes each way and gives you breathtaking views of little Tarentaise villages below, and of Mont Blanc further afield.
It is the world's biggest cable car they say, and it certainly provides a fast and efficient link between the two ski areas of La Plagne and Les Arcs. With the Vanoise Express these two areas became Paradiski, which in total offers 425km of piste ranging from 1200m to 3250m.
On a quick trip to Les Arcs it's impossible to do much more than scratch the surface of this vast domain, there's so much available for all levels of skier and snowboarder - high and wide motorway runs above the tree line, steep drop offs from the top of the Aiguille Rouge at 3226m, interesting runs through the woods to take you down to Villaroger, and a multitude of blues and reds criss-cross the sunny side of the mountain and lead to Arc 1600, Arc 1800 and the Peisey-Vallandry area.
In one day it is feasible to get to the top of Les Arcs, (the Aiguille Rouge), and to the top of La Plagne (towards the Bellecote glacier at 3417m) - but there's not much time to draw breath in between. On the way you'll see a wonderful 360 ° panorama of the Alps - Mont Blanc on one side, the Three Valleys on another with a clear view of the altiport at Courchevel as you head up to the top of La Plagne.
This ski area definitely deserves a thorough investigation - so even a week might not be enough to discover all its nooks and crannies, or to get a real feel for what it has to offer.
Luckily there's lots of choice of where to stay if you want to discover Paradiski, from purpose-built ski in ski out, to the more charming and traditional. Choose from catered luxury chalets, budget self catered and everything in between. Browse through our Les Arcs and La Plagne sections to get an idea, or simply search for Paradiski in our accommodation search.
We stayed at the luxury Intrawest village at Arc 1950. This is a self-contained hamlet of upmarket apartment blocks with great facilities. The apartments are spacious and well equipped, with undergound parking, saunas, hammams, and swimming pools. You can ski to and from the ski room door, and there is a good choice of places to eat and drink close by. Just up the local funicular is Arc 2000 if you want to explore the apres ski possibilities further.
The tragic death of Natasha Richardson following an apparently minor tumble on a beginner slope in Mont Tremblant has re-ignited the debate over making helmets compulsory for skiing and snowboarding.
Ms Richardson fell whilst taking a lesson and was not wearing a helmet. She was later admitted to hospital and subsequently died from head injuries.
Earlier this year in Austria, a high speed collision between Dieter Althaus, a German politician, and a 41 year old woman resulted in the woman's death. She was not wearing a helmet. The politician, who was wearing a helmet, has since been found guilty of causing death by negligence.
Following this incident, it is now compulsory in Lower Austria for all children under the age of 14 to wear helmets. In Italy this has been the case for a while, and the vast majority of ski schools in Europe will insist or strongly advise that children should have helmets.
Clearly there is a risk of injury when doing wintersports - as there is with all sports. However whenever a tragic accident occurs there is usually a knee-jerk reaction which follows.
In our health and safety regulated society there will be calls for making helmets compulsory for all.
In a recent BBC article, Dr Mike Langran, who has been studying alpine injury rates for several years, has clearly outlined how "dangerous" snow sports are.
"I don't personally regard snow sports in general as dangerous sports at all. For a start, the overall injury risk combining all the snow sports is about 0.2% to 0.4%. This is really very low. Think of an average game of football. Usually two or three players end up with an injury at the end of the game."
The incidence of head injuries in skiing and snowboarding is very low according to Dr Langran's research. Damage to the knee is the most common injury sustained by skiers, whilst snowboarding injuries tend to favour the shoulder, wrist and arm.
To quote the BBC article again:
"For every 10,000 people on the slopes on any particular day, no more than three people will sustain a head injury requiring medical attention. Fortunately, out of all these people with head injuries, the majority (90%) of the injuries are minor cuts and bruises. The remaining 10% are potentially more serious and can be deadly."
A survey by the National Ski Areas Association in the States has found that approximately 43% of skiers and snowboarders in the US now wear helmets (winter 2007-8). This is up from 25% in 2002-2003. Yet the same study also found that the rate of accidental deaths on the slope has not changed.
What research has shown on both sides of the Atlantic is that wearing a helmet can help reduce the severity of a head injury. A helmet alone however will not prevent injury in the case of a high speed collision. So if you are genuinely concerned about being safe when you ski or snowboard there are other measures that you should take as well.
The Highway Code of the Slopes
In our ski helmets and why they won't always keep you safe post, we outlined the 10 point code of conduct - the FIS rules of skiing and snowboarding.
How many people know the rules or are even aware that they exist?
If you've been skiing this year did you see these rules displayed anywhere in your resort? Were they on the piste map? Did anyone in the resort tell you about them - eg ski instructor, resort rep, guide? Do your children know the rules? Do your ski buddies know them? Do you know them?
Lift pass companies, tourist offices, ski schools, tour operators and just about anyone who is involved in the ski industry should be making sure that the FIS rules are out there and are very visible for all to see, In the States and Canada, piste patrols police the slopes and will pull up skiers who they feel are going too fast - they can even confiscate a lift pass in extreme cases.
European resorts tend to have a much more laissez-faire attitude.
We are not advocating that everyone should ski at 1 mile an hour, however we are advocating that everyone should be in control. Improvements in equipment, such as carving skis and better boots, give people the idea that beyond about three weeks they don't need to take lessons. Snowboarders will very rarely take lessons after the initial beginner phase.
If you can't stop when you need to, where you need to, then you're going too fast, and no amount of plastic on your head is going to save your knees or shoulders, or those of someone else, when you helplessly skid into them.
Of course what happened to Natasha Richardson was a terribly sad accident, not involving high speed or collision. As in all areas of life accidents happen, and we don't know if her death could have been avoided by wearing a helmet.
Wearing a helmet should remain a personal choice, but skiing or boarding responsibly, and with consideration for other mountain users, is an obligation.
The official line up and schedule for the second Altitude Comedy Festival in Meribel has just been announced. As well as lots of comedy, fun and games, KT Tunstall will be headlining a concert at the Olympic Ice Rink in aid of the World Wildlife Fund on 31st March.
The festival kicks off on 28th March with a Gala opening night of comedy featuring Marcus Brigstocke, one of Altitude's co-founders. Other acts performing over the week include Ed Byrne, Andrew Maxwell and Omid Djalili, the award-winning British-Iranian actor/comedian.
The festival runs up until 3rd April with daytime slopeside events(such as boarder cross, big air, snowball fights), apres ski parties including a battle of the bands competition, and evening comedy and music performances.
We first mentioned Altitude back in early February in our feature on alpine festivals, so now that we have the full line up and schedule we can't wait.
As the founders have said:
"The Altitude Festival is the Alp's only comedy festival and therefore it's biggest, most successful and best!"
Tickets start from 0 and go up to 25€, and there are multi-event passes available to save you money. You can buy them from the Altitude website.
As the departing skiers stand in the check in queues, it will be pretty easy to spot who are the goggle-wearers, who prefers sunglasses and those who have had the forethought to remove their eyewear whenever possible to avoid that most telltale sign of sunny ski holidays - panda eyes.
Since the last snowfall during the early part of last week, most of the Alps have been basking in spring sunshine with temperatures gradually working their way upwards. It's been one of those weeks when you feel that winter is finally giving way.
The forecast is sunshine for the rest of the week, with a possible drop in temperatures towards the weekend. If you're worried about snow depths don't be - this season's excellent snowfalls mean that most resorts will have ample snow for you right till the end!
More snow and yet more snow has fallen accross the Alps and Pyrenees in the last 7 days. By 10am this morning one of the leading websites for snow conditions, skiinfo.com, had issued more than 100 powder alarms - an email alert sent to subscribers when a particular resort recieves more than 20cm of snow in a day.
All alpine countries, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France have been beneficiaries of new snowfall, as well as the Pyrenees.
Austria: There is lot of new snow again in Austria with some areas reporting up to 95cm (over three feet) in the past seven days. Important resorts like the Skiwelt region, Saalbach, Hochfügen, Ischgl and Silvretta Montafon each had at least 20cm (eight inches) during the last 24 hours. St. Anton and Kaprun/ Kitzsteinhorn had 30cm (a foot) each yesterday, so the latter has more than four metres (13 feet) on the glacier now.
Switzerland: Five resorts reported more than a metre in 7 days and the avalanche risk reaching 4 in some areas (the highest is level five). Andermatt-Gotthard now has a 500cm (17 feet) base on upper slopes and some.
France: Skiinfo.fr issued more than 60 powder alarms for French ski resorts on March 6th and 7th and the snow kept falling with another four alarms issued on Monday 9th March for La Plagne, Montchavin - Les Coches, Saint Jean d'Arves and Pralognan la Vanoise. More snow is falling in the French Alps today. The Pyrenees continue to be the snowiest part of the country with snow depths reaching 500cm (17 feet) in Gourette. In Piau Engaly, the snow depth is 300cm (10 feet) at the summit and 250cm (eight feet) in resort. It has received the most new snow in the past seven days with 155cm (over five feet) of new snow.
Andorra: In Andorra there have also been more fresh snowfalls, if a little less spectacular than over the border in France, however all ski areas in the principality report upper base depths of at least 2.5m (over eight feet) and some are nearing three metres (ten feet).
Spain: The country’s sensational winter 2008-9 continues in to a fourth month of regular powder snow. The greatest snow depths in the country have reached five metres (18 feet) at Sierra Nevada,the continent’s most southerly major ski area. In the Spanish Pyrenees the greatest snow depth is at Baqueira Beret which has 390cm (13 feet) on upper slopes, but all areas in the region have at least two metres (seven feet) now on their slopes. This bodes very well for the coming Easter holidays.
Italy: Plenty of snow here too, particularly in the north with Piancavallo reporting 180cm (six feet) of snow falling in the past seven days alone. Maximum snow depths have passed six metres on upper slopes for the first time in a number of resorts including Sella Nevea 640cm (21.5 feet). The Presena glacier above Passo Tonale is just 10cm (four inches) behind at 590cm.
In Eastern Europe conditions are reported to be good at Bulgaria’s major resorts despite a wide variation in snow depths. Bansko claims the most impressive tally of 240cm (eight feet) whilst Pamporovo has a more modest 90cm (three feet) on upper slopes.
Information supplied by www.Skiinfo.com.
If you're ever at a cable car first thing on a powder day, (and I mean very first thing - 1 minute after the cable car opens and the spectacle is already over), you will notice that the waiting queue will be mainly populated by furtive-looking, unshaven faces, who will greet each other with knowing smiles. Whilst friendly on the outside, behind the smiles there will be a Machiavellian thought process going on, plotting how to shake off the "opposition" or how to at least get in front of them, so that the virgin powder will be their's.
There is an old skier's adage - "No friends on a powder day", and by and large this holds true. Even the strongest, oldest and closest friendships will be forgotten when faced with the choice of getting either first or second tracks in the powder. Second place is just not good enough - even if your buddy is godfather to your firstborn, or pulled you out of a fire, or listened to you sobbing when your relationships broke up.
Standing at the top of an untracked powder field appears to awaken the most primeval instincts in a man - the dweeb turns back into the hunter, stalking his prey, and becoming master of all he surveys. Add a "mate" into the scenario and the picture just doesn't look right does it? Worse still add in a snowboarder, and the whole dream comes crashing down.
You see snowboarders have managed to conquer the powder field without having had a proper apprenticeship. Instead of spending years learning the trade they can sail through after a couple of weeks. They haven't had to kneel at the feet of a sensei or heed wise words from the masters - they just went ahead and doggone did it.
And maybe it's because of this relatively easy access to the joys of powder that snowboarders will give it less respect and possibly be a bit more relaxed about it. Hey man you go first - no after you - no I insist. Snowboarders tend to be far more metrosexual than your average hunter skier!
So if you're wondering why it is that on a powder day the atmosphere seems a bit more charged, there's less chatter on the chairlift, the guys you're with seem preoccupied or distracted - it's all down to the power of the pow. As it quietly falls at night, it's quietly transforming your average Dr Jeckyll into a mighty Mr Hyde, stripping away the veneer of manners and education and exposing the animal beneath!
But hey, it doesn't happen that often - so let them play while it lasts!
The photo is of first tracks in the Grand Massif and supplied by the Skiology Brothers of Les Carroz, who are currently offering catered weeks and weekends at bargain prices - just £299 for a week, fully catered! Thanks guys - this photo is also a main contender for the Coolboard prize in our SnowSnaps competition - there's still time for you to get your entry into us!
Some seasoned skiers think that mogul skiing is an almost forgotten art. The modern penchant for perfectly groomed pistes means that learning to ski bumps is not on the top of everyone's list. So it's good to know that every year since 1990, teams of skiers from top resorts have got together to compete for the title of the Boss des Bosses (bosse: fr, noun; bump, mogul).
The competition began as a result of a bar-room argument over which resort had the best skiers - Chamonix or Val d'Isere. It was decided that the disagreement should be settled on the slopes. On the third Thursday of March 1990, the Val d'Isere team came to the Grands Montets for the first Boss des Bosses. The result was a tie. The following week, team Chamonix won the day 14-5 at the HOP course in Val d'Isere. However this didn't settle the argument and the competition was repeated the following year, with Verbier and Zermatt also getting involved.
Since then the competition has grown in stature and now attracts mogul skiers from some of Europe's best resorts. This year's contest is between Zermatt, Chamonix, Val d'Isere, Meribel, Courchevel and Verbier.
Each team consists of 9 skiers (2 women, 7 men), 2 snowboarders and 2 telemarkers. The legendary extreme skier Glen Plake, of the famous mohawk, competed for Chamonix in last year's contest, and is hoping to be selected again this year. It is also rumoured that he will be playing guitar at the prize giving party to be held at La Terrasse in the evening.
This is a fantastic day out for spectators and includes not only some fantastic skiing but also parties, piste-side barbeques, top DJs, live bands and sometimes very silly fancy dress!
The competition starts at 11.00am on the pitch above the Rojan and Tabe chair lifts. It is free for spectators - although of course a lift pass is necessary. Supporters can buy a pedestrian pass or a special price ski pass.
Zermatt has held the trophy for the last two years, so the other competitors will be keen to knock them off the pedestal. Why not go along to lend your support!
The last 2 weeks of February and first week of March saw many resorts again receiving large dumps of snow, and a new cold snap is bringing more in the next day or two.
Resorts in Austria and eastern Switzerland were blessed in the latter half of Feb - with some areas getting 50cm or more in 24 hours. Some small Austrian resorts were temporarily cut off as roads were blocked. In Planneralm near Schladming the military had to helicopter in supplies.
Now France and western Switzerland are getting a share of the action with around 20cm having fallen overnight in places as far apart as Flaine and Serre Chevalier, and a massive 70cm in Saas Fee. Argentiere, next to Chamonix, is expecting nearly 70cm to have fallen by the end of the week.
Winter 2008-9 is already going down in history as one of the best for 20 years, and big snowfall now means that conditions will most likely be good well into April.
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