La Tania to Les Arcs and back
A few years ago I had the pleasure of staying in the Chalet Hanneke in La Tania. There were two reasons I had chosen to stay in this chalet in La Tania, other that the first class reputation Alpine Action has. The first was because I have been luckily enough to work in Courchevel a few years back and wanted to relive the memories with some old friends. Secondly I was considering putting in a Jacuzzi bath in my house and as each room comes with one en suite it seemed to make sense.
The week was sunny, with good conditions on the slopes. The group had fun reliving the days that we spent when we were young season workers. We went to all the bars that we used to frequent, we even cringingly spoke to current resort workers starting with the line “I used to work here”, I believe one of us even tried to get “seasonnaires discount” at a bar. I think you could say that we tried to relive the dream. Naturally we reminisced and talked about stunts we pulled, adventures we went on and opportunities we had missed. It was during one of these discussions that we came up with a challenge for ourselves.
From Courchevel you can see the back of the La Plagne ski area which goes to down into the village of Champagny and from La Plagne you can get on the Vanoise Express cable car to Les Arcs. Also if you buy a full week long Three Valleys pass you are entitled to ski for a day in another ski area. It was this basic knowledge that formed the basis of our holiday/ reliving the dream challenge. The actual challenge was to go from La Tania to Val Thorens, ski across the three valleys then make our way to Les Arcs highest point via La Plagne. The rules were that we must only use public transport or lifts. The Jeopardy was that if we get stuck in Les Arcs or the wrong side of La Plagne we face a very expensive taxi ride back to our chalet in La Tania.
On the morning of our challenge, we had the inevitable drop outs due to an extended après ski session. We also had to kindly persuade a few weaker skiers not to come as this would be a long, fast, tough day with no hot chocolate stops. We had a big breakfast in the chalet that included lots of coffee. We got our ski kit on and waited at the bottom of the La Tania gondola for it to open. Making it pre-first lifts is a challenge in itself. The ‘ liftie’ kindly let us on 5 mins early and our group of four explorers were off. During the first assent we convinced ourselves that we are probably the first people to attempt this, if nothing else we were at least the first people staying with Alpine Action to attempt this, either way we were skiing pioneers.
We reached our first check point of Val Thoresn in good time, the slopes were empty and the lift queues were nonexistent. To get to Val Thorens we dropped down into Meibel Center up to Mottaret. The mountain remained on our side as we made our way to the top of Saulire. It was as if everyone had remained in bed just for us. Our second goal of the day was achieved, even we couldn’t believe we had made it before 10.30 in the morning.
From the top of Saulire we looked down on Courchevel, ready for the first of several long descents. This one would take us through Couchevel 1850, and 1550, past Le Praz and down to Saint Bon at 1100 meters, making a total vertical drop of over 1500m. Surprisingly the snow towards Saint Bon was good enough to ski on, which was a relief as no one had bothered to check if the run would be open. It was here that we hit our first problem, where was the bus stop to Bozel. Bozel is a small town in the valley where would get on to another bus to Champagny. We found the bus stop and were glad to see that we were in time for the next bus, so we waited and waited. The bus was only 4 minutes late but with our tight schedule this seemed like an age.
We reached Bozel and had 15 min until the next bus to Champagny, so we had a look around. The highlight for me was the Pizza vending machine which we vowed to use on the way back. The bus was on time and we sat down on the front seat for a quick disembark at the other end.
There was no queue for the bubble out of Champagny, but time was getting on we ate our lunch on the lift and started to raise doubts about succeeding in our quest. We knew it was a pretty straight forward run to the Vanoise Express from the top of La Plagne, but we also knew that after that point we were going to be on a lot of chair lifts. Luckily for us the weather was lovely sunshine and light winds, also, there wasn’t any fresh powder to distract us. Once we were off the gondola we weaved our way up to the top of Grand Rochette, then dropped down to Plagne Bellcott just in time to miss the lunch time rush. As we reached the Vanoise we looked up to see that time was slipping away from us, it was almost 1.30 and still 6 lifts away from of Les Arcs Check point at the top of the Aiguille Rouge.
On the first lift out of Plan Peisey, doubt was beginning to creep in and the threat of a €250 taxi ride started to weigh on the group’s mind. An argument broke out about which lift to take next. The lift we did take stopped for 20 minutes which left us dangling and angry. The lift finally moved and we were on our way down to Le Arcs 1800. The queue here was massive so we decided to split up an use the single skier entrance, this also gave us all time to cool down. At the top of Transarc gondola we regrouped and had a team meeting, we all agreed that making it to the top of the Aiguille Rouge was not going to be possible. The decision we made was to go to Arc 2000 have a celebratory demis and head back.
We ended up stopping on a bar terrace in Arc 1950, called Luigi’s. We were rather please with ourselves and thought that we had done very well. Back on our skis and down to a lift named after some bears we rode. I knew from experience that from the top of here we could make it to the Vanoise Express in one run. Unfortunately I also knew that there were several errors that could be made that would mean we end up in the Village of Vallandry and an extra lift away from getting back across to La Plagne. So it happened that we ended up in Vallandry. The Piste map was confiscated from me and we went back up the hill.
Finally we were on the double decker cable car that would take us to La Plagne side of the where we then had to take 4 lifts up a hill side that only took us 8 minutes to come down. The lifts were in the shade and the sweat on our backs was cooling, we knew that we were still not safely home yet. The time was near 4 and the lifts were shutting soon. We had to get down into Plagne Center and back up to the top so we could ski down to Champagny, it was looking like we might make it. Finally we arrived at the top of the Arpette and could see where we had to be. By now our muscles had cooled and our legs were starting to ache. Nonstop down to Bellecote, silence on the next lift, then flat out to Plagne Centre.
We were pretty much the last people allowed on the lift up to Les Verdons. On the lift we congratulated ourselves for making it, this was the last lift we had to catch. The run from the top down to Champagny was the last run we had to do. It took us quite a while. It was a long way, with slush snow towards the bottom. We arrived in the valley with the sun setting and a burn in our legs. We now needed to get back to La Tania. We went to the bus stop to find out that we had missed it. We sent our best French speaker to the tourist office to break one of our rules and book a taxi. The taxi that arrived was a 52 seat coach that cost us €4 each. Maybe we hadn’t missed the bus after all.
In Bozel we discovered that we had defiantly missed the bus up to Le Praz. So we consoled ourselves with a vending machine pizza and played paper, scissors, stone to see who would phone the Alpine Action resort manager. The response was that they don’t make a habit of picking up stranded guests but a there was a minibus on it’s way up the hill they would get it diverted. Half an hour late we were picked up by the company driver. He asked us how we had become stranded in Bozel. We told the story, with embellishments. His response was simply “legends”. An endorsement from an actual Seasonnaire, we at least achieved that.