From bobsleigh to moonbiking – how to hit high speeds without skis in Les Arcs and La Plagne

You might think that a week of endlessly hurtling down the slopes followed by obligatory après ski and a sticky raclette is more than enough to satisfy your winter holiday needs. Especially in the second largest ski area in the world – Les Arcs and La Plagne in France with around 450 kilometers of slopes.

But resorts are stepping up their game. With a rising number of non-skiers holidaying in the Alps, Les Arcs in particular has seen four times more pedestrians taking the cable car up from the resorts than two years ago. It proves that enjoying winter mountain culture is not only reserved for skiers and snowboarders.

The views are unsurprisingly a tie. “It’s known as the Balcony of the Alps,” says Cécile, our guide for the day, “because there are so many panoramic views.” At the top of Europe’s longest piste – a 7km twisty red piste at Les Arcs – she shows Italy and Switzerland across the sea of ​​mountain peaks.

Panoramas can also be enjoyed from the double-decker Vanoise Express, which claims to be the world’s largest cable car, connecting Les Arcs to La Plagne – commonly known as the Paradiski area (paradiski.com). And instead of the classic stippling of chalets, French architect Charlotte Perriand designed Les Arcs in the late 1960s “with larger buildings so people see more of the mountains than a lot of chalets,” explains Cécile.

The multi-altitude offering is also unique: there are five different resorts at five different altitudes – from Arc 1600 to Arc 2000. The latter area is home to the area’s only 5-star offering, the Taj-I Mah Hotel (from €184/ £164pp B&B; hotel-tajimah.com/en) that takes full advantage of the snowy hillside views from the dining room and swimming pool – as does my room, with its soft, textured walls and luxurious cabin feel.

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And here there is peace. While other French ski resorts like Val Thorens and Tignes may offer more black runs, Les Arcs and neighboring La Plagne (with no fewer than 11 ski resorts ranging from 700m to 2,100m) have a reputation for being better for families, both for gentle slope options (more than 50% is blue and green and there is an excellent beginner’s area) and for less nightlife.

But with a lot of competition for our money, many resorts are offering more than they used to. It can also be a safeguard for the future: with climate change reducing snowfall at lower-lying ski areas, more holidaymakers will be forced to higher elevations, making the slopes much busier. And so does a growing range of alternative adrenaline sports for skiers and non-skiers alike…

zip lines

A newly opened zip line hangs directly above a speed skating slope (known as the extremely steep “flying kilometer”) where Simone Origone set the world record of 252.4 km/h in 2006. Although you won’t reach the top speeds of Origone, it claims to offer breathtaking speeds of “up to 130 km/h”. The starting point is at 2,680m at the top of the Varet cable car, where I park my skis and climb into a harness ready to be hurled 1,800 meters down the mountain.

For true adrenaline junkies there is the option of going horizontally and upside down, but I opt for sitting (the view is apparently more pleasant) and after clipping in and giving a quick “un, deux, trois” the waste is steep, stomach-climbing and exhilarating. It’s a wonderful, albeit quick, way to see the snow-capped mountains in all their glory, the village of Arc 2000 rushing closer towards me at such a speed that I wonder if I’m slowing down in time at the bottom. Luckily, it’s a gentler return to earth than it looks.

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How: €55/£49 per person or free with a Premium Pass (en.lesarcs.com)

bob

A favorite discipline at the Winter Olympics, it’s possible for a beginner to zoom down a professional bobsled track. La Plagne is home to France’s only bobsleigh and skeleton track, nestled into the mountainside at 1,800 metres.

Athletics came to this small alpine village for the 1992 Olympics to compete on this track and the Danish national team currently trains here.

There are three options to meet your adrenaline needs: the “bob raft”, slightly wider than Olympic bobsleds with lots of padding, for three or four people, with a speed of 80 km/h; the “Schnellrodel” for people who lie down feet first, with top speeds of 90 km/h; Finally, the fastest, most competitive experience you’ll ever experience is ‘bobsledding’ – one driver sits in the front, three passengers in the back and speeds of up to 120 km/h.

As first-time visitors, my fellow travelers and I opt for the bobsled raft, which I mistakenly assumed would feel tame once I put on a helmet and excitedly hop in. The clock above counts down and we are pushed down the slope and quickly pick up speed. Turn after turn (there are 19) the speed increases as the raft bounces off the trackside and G-force builds until we hit the finish line. Absolutely exhilarating.

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How: €49/£43 per person for the Bob Raft (en.la-plagne.com)

moonbiking

On a skiing holiday, it’s rare to see the mountains in all their glory when the sun goes down. But for those who still haven’t had enough of the adrenaline rush during the day, Oxygène in La Plagne offers moonbiking by night. An eco-friendly alternative to gas-powered (and noisy) snowmobiles, moonbikes are all electric, quiet, and have fat wheels to improve grip in the snow.

I quickly realize that it’s trickier than it looks. Motorcyclists may find the super-sensitive accelerator easier to control, but these vehicles pack a lot of power (which is needed to climb steep snow slopes). Our guide Gérard takes pity on my nervous driving and offers to take me on an easier but still scenic route. By the time we reach a plateau the sun has fully set and the village lights of La Plagne are twinkling in pockets in the mountainsides.

The descent is easier and more fun, and back on the flat 1,600m terrain I’m grateful that our four-star Araucaria Hotel (from €156/£139 B&B; araucaria-hotel.com/en) has a steam room has sauna and swimming pool where I can relax my nerves.

How: €90/£80 per person for a 1 hour session with a guide (oxygene.ski)

Visit lesarcs-peiseyvallandry.com for updated Paradiski lift pass prices for winter 2022/2023.

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