La Plagne was once a Silver mining village and though the mine closed in 1973, this wonderful high alpine village nestled in the huge Paradiski area remains filled with hidden treasures for the inquisitive skier or boarder to explore and discover. La Plagne is a series of hamlets, villages and some classic French Apartments purpose built for family skiing, however, all of Ingham’s chalets are located in the more picturesque original village of Plagne 1800. Looking down into a small valley, this place retains an authentic charm of alpine chalets arranged around the few remaining stone mine buildings. These have been transformed into bars, restaurants or accommodation, such as our Chalet Chanterelles. I was lucky enough to spend last season in La Plagne as Chalet Manager and with a passion for snow and for authentic French cuisine I found some real treasures on and off the piste which I am delighted to share with you here. So here’s my own list of hidden gems for you to go out and discover:
Champagny-en-Vanoise – a wonderful little village in a valley renowned for ice climbing! From the Blanchetts Chair, take the sometimes choppy Quillis run then follow the signs for Champagny from beside the bottom of the Carella Chair onto a long cruising blue with lots of tempting little off piste opportunities. This leads to a wonderful tree lined red run at the rear of the Borselliers Chair dropping down to the village. Pause to get your breath back almost anywhere on this descent and look across the wide valley to see the unmistakable outline of the Courchevel Altiport and the luxury resort beneath it. Recharge with a stop off at the little hut opposite the Telecabine entrance for a banana and Nutella crepe. There’s also great fun to be had playing on the reds and blues either side of the two Borselliers Chairlifts above the Telecabine.
Left: Champagne on the run to Champagny-en-Vanoise
Inversens – It may not be easy to find but this really is a gem of a run. It sneaks off from the right hand side of the Tunnel blue on the steep slope just below the Chalet des Inversens which incidentally, is a great spot for good reasonably priced food, stunning views and a little picnic area to take your own. This run provides a thrilling ski or ride for confident intermediates. Inversens is another area you’ll see a wealth of off-piste opportunities and is a favourite with ski school off-piste classes. The return Inversens Chair is relatively slow but you won’t mind riding it again and again once you’ve discovered the joys of this run. The lift folk even provide a free spot to toast your ‘sarnie’ and open your thermos beside the bottom of the chair. Sadly the challenging naturelle black run from here down to Les Bauches only rarely has sufficient snow cover to be open. If you miss Inversens the first time, don’t worry you can still have lots of fun on the blue Tunnel including the entrancing audiovisuals in the tunnel itself and the magnificent panorama when you emerge into the sunshine again.
Above: the view from the terrace at Chalet des Inversens
Chalet de la Lovatiere – One of the things I love about La Plagne is that it is a genuinely French village, there is an awesome bakery in 1800 and Plagne Centre is full of wonderful delicatessens with regional produce and even has a branch of a fabulous local Chocolatier. This means you can find spots on the mountain where you will get real local hospitality and Chalet de la Lovatiere is one of them. It sits beside the Jean Marie piste on the last run down from Aime 2000 to the ski school meeting point in Plagne 1800. This is not always the simplest blue so take it gently but you will be rewarded by the best Tartiflette, a fantastic, rich and totally authentic Fondue or just an excellent burger. Dangerously, they also have what I feel is the best Genepi in the village. This is also a wonderful spot in the evening when there is a lovely moonlit walk along the forest track that leads off the middle road just after our Chalet Sarsonnet, cross the Loup Garou Piste to rejoin the track or otherwise take a scramble up the side of the Piste. Being truly French they can be erratic in their opening hours so it is worth asking your Rep to ring to check they are open and if you are a big group then they do like advance notice, but it’s worth the walk on the Chalet staff’s night off for the fabulous food and genuine French ambience.
Montchavin – making the most of your lift pass means you will want to take the Arpette lift from Bellecote to come and explore the other side of La Plagne and the wonderful cruising blue runs offered by Mont Blanc and Dos Ronds. These lead into lovely tree lined runs and for the more determined, there are short but thrilling red and black runs leading off Mont Blanc. The runs above Montchavin and Les Coches can offer a day of fun along with great views towards Mont Blanc. This is also the route for those who want to take the Incredible Vanoise Express to go and enjoy the range of skiing offered by the full Paradiski area. However, my favourite run of all of these is to take the short red from beside the Vanoise to connect up to the long red run down to the small village of Montchavin. This red does become increasingly steep as you get closer to the village but there is a cat-track blue that those who are less experienced can take. However, if your thighs are ready for it, then on a blue bird day the run to Montchavin can offer a delight for skiers or boarders. You can then reward yourself with a visit to the wonderful little chalet restaurant directly across the piste from the Montchavin chairlift. I’m sorry I can’t recall the name which may be something to do with the €5 champagne they offer. You’ll know it immediately as the house proud owners provide a rack of brushes to remove the snow from your boots before you enter. The food here is excellent, reasonably priced and the English menu charms with offers of ‘serious cider’ and ‘salty food served until..’
Right: Montchavin nestled above a sea of cloud
Above: the view from the top, Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs
Across the Vanoise to Les Arcs – the Paradiski area is enormous and a full area pass means you have an incomparable range of fabulous runs and good lifts to choose from. Even with a whole season to enjoy it I think I might be the only one of the Inghams team who made the trip all the way to the far edge and the descent to the charming La Ferme in Villaroger at the bottom of the challenging 7km long Aiguille Rouge run. This is a must do but be warned, it will hurt! Even so, I recommend that everyone who is confident on reds does go up to the top of the Aiguile Rouge to marvel at the incredible sight of mountain after mountain in the French Alps. However there are delights to be had much closer to the awesome engineering feat of the Vanoise Express cable car that links Les Arcs to La Plagne. As a fairly new snowboarder, I found the blue runs over here fabulous and then was rewarded by the delightful wide blue Renard that runs down from the Derby Chair above Vallandry as well as the red that spurs off it, a spot you could just ride over and over building confidence while loving the beauty of the surroundings. The red runs to Vallandry through the trees are also delightful with the potential reward of a stop for lunch at Mont Blanc for great pizza, burgers (even a somewhat swanky pork belly option!) or an amazing Caesar Salad. For any ‘park rats’ amongst you then head for the incredible snow park above the L’Arpette bar, accessed by the Transarc Telecabine, and at the end of the day it’s a short run down to sample the Les Arcs Aprés on the terrace of the L’Arpette, but keep a close eye on the clock to be back across the Vanoise in time to get to the Lac Noir telecabine to start the journey back to home. If your legs have reached their limit or the further lifts are shut, hop on to the free bus in Plagne Bellecôte and finish with refreshments at La Mine in 1800 or if your timings are spot on, you can catch the last ride on Colossus and drop down to continue your well earned Aprés in Scotties in Plagne Centre but take care on the last run back into Plagne 1800, it’s not called Loup Garou (werewolf) for nothing!
Right: Aprés at L’Arpette
Words & Images by Trevor Jackson, Resort Representative in Grindelwald & Chalet Manager in La Plagne, Winter 2014/15.