Learning to snowboard – in France
The second time, we headed to Les Arcs 1950. At first glance, 1950 might seem like a classic Alpine ski village, consisting of chalets and low-rise apartment buildings. Skiers and snowboarders amble along with no cars in sight and a clock tower overlooks the village’s main square.
But look closer: Things aren’t exactly how they appear. The cars are parked in the underground garage. There aren’t any townsfolk because, well, none live here. That clock tower? Look closer and you’ll see the word “Intrawest” written discreetly on the face.
Yes, 1950 is a faux Alpine village, opened in 2003 by the Canadian ski developer Intrawest, the same people who brought us Whistler Blackcomb, Mount Tremblant and Copper Mountain.
It may be fake but we found it to be a more pleasant place to hang out than the hotel complex at 2000. On the one night our chalet staff had off, we took the free Cabriolet cable car down to 1950 to eat at an Asian fusion restaurant, one of nine restaurants at 1950. Restaurants at both resorts also serve the Savoy specialties of fondue and raclette.
Back on the slopes, I made steady progress. When our group was split in two, halfway through the course, I was in the slightly more advanced group, which used more challenging runs farther up the mountains. One day, after a heavy snowfall, my teacher encouraged me to go off one of the pistes (what Europeans call runs) and into fresh powder. I glided silently over the virgin snow, picking up speed with little effort. A wave of exhilaration washed over me and suddenly, I discovered why people love to snowboard.
But others weren’t so lucky: Two Dutch guys gave up after one messed up his knee. One of the French boys in the other group broke his arm. Ben, from England, tore a stomach muscle and retired in excruciating pain. On the second-last day another Dutch woman, Kim, went down hard on her shoulder and was taken away by snowmobile.
Most of the remaining Brits threw in the towel; one went off in search of skis his last day. By the end, my group was down to four — including two French girls barely in their teens.
On our final run, we went off the piste to an extremely short but steep slope where we edged down gingerly. My calves and thighs started to burn. At the bottom, we paused to catch our breaths. Then we turned to join the hordes pouring off the mountain at the end of the day.
No, not so hard after all.
If You Go…
GETTING THERE: Buses serve Les Arcs from regional airports including Grenoble (80 miles, 90 minutes by car), Lyon (125 miles, 2 1/2 hours) Chambery (70 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes) and Geneva, Switzerland (125 miles, 2 hours). Bookings: http://www.transfer-intelligence.com. By train: Snow train from Paris and Lille; Eurostar from London; Thalys trains from Amsterdam and Brussels. Trains terminate at Bourg St. Maurice (village at foot of the mountain) where a funicular takes you up to Les Arcs 1600. Free shuttle bus to the four resorts.
RATES: Various ski pass options including six-day pass, €203 ($260); one-day pass, €42.50 ($54). Book rentals in advance at sites such as http://www.skiset.com, where skis, boots and poles for a week runs €83-152 ($106-194); snowboard and boots, €113 ($144).
ACCOMMODATIONS: British companies such as Alpine Answers and SkiWorld offer chalet packages. The two-star Hotel Aiguille Rouge is the main hotel at 2000, with rooms for two or three at €665 ($850) for a week. Hotel-Club MMV Les Melezes and two Club Med hotels also at resort. Les Arcs 1950, http://www.arc1950.com/, has eight four-star condominium hotels with two- to five-room apartments, accommodating up to eight people.
DINING: Nine restaurants at Les Arcs 1950, from Chez Anne (French regional specialties including raclette and fondue), to Italian at Il Valentino, Asian cuisine at East and South American food at Los Chicanos. There are also a few restaurants and bars at 2000. Both resorts have small supermarkets.