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    20 years in Arc 1950, France’s most experimental ski resort

    Two decades since it opened, our writer returns to the resort that broke the mould


    Arc 1950 has been perhaps the most innovative and certainly one of the most charming family destinations in the Alps CREDIT: Andy Parant

    Whizzing down the Les Arcs Flying Kilometre course at 80mph was undoubtedly the quickest way to get home – home being a comfortable apartment in the high-altitude village of Arc 1950.

    The track was built for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, where speed skiing was a demonstration sport. Back then, some deskbound newspaper executive thought I should test it before the Games began. I remember the fear all those years ago, as I stepped onto the track and accelerated to around 95mph.

    Some 32 years later, earlier this month, the adrenalin rush was much the same, but without the fear. This time I was not actually on the track, but safely tethered – minus skis – to the zipwire that now runs above it. It’s 1.8km in length and the ride from the top of the Varet gondola lasted just over a minute.

    There are, of course, more conventional ways of reaching the village of Arc 1950, one of the four bases that form the sprawling destination of Les Arcs. But following the pack isn’t in this resort’s nature.

    From its inception – the vision of a French shepherd and the entrepreneurial genius of a Canadian property developer – Arc 1950 has been perhaps the most innovative and certainly one of the most charming family destinations in the Alps.


    Two worlds collide


    Sadly, the two men – both called Robert – were destined never to meet, but their dream resort celebrates its 20th anniversary this winter, with future-proofed promise.

    The first of the pair, Robert Blanc – the local farm boy who became an international high mountain guide – founded the original Les Arcs in 1968. Over the next three decades, the other villages of Arc 1800 and Arc 2000 duly followed. But it was the opening, in 2003, of traffic-free Arc 1950 that truly captured the imagination of the international ski world.

    Curiously, I had first skied across the 55,000 square metre site in 1979 with Blanc. This was the same stretch of mountain where he and his four brothers had cared for their flock during the summers of his childhood. At the time of my visit, Club Med was opening a residence at what was to become Arc 2000, just 50 vertical metres higher up the mountain, but a world away in aspect.

    Blanc knew every contour, every tree, every twist and turn of the mountain. When we paused in the glade, he told me: “You know, this would be a great sheltered spot for an apartment complex and a hotel. One day, I’ll build another village here.”

    It was not to be. Tragically, Blanc died the following year in an avalanche in the same sector of the resort.

    13 years later his vision became a reality. Robert Jérôme, vice-president for Europe at Canadian resort developer Intrawest, had set his sights on building a traditional mountain community in the French Haute Tarentaise, iced with a hefty dusting of Disney-esque magic. The site chosen was the same sheltered glade in the forest I’d tracked with Blanc.


    Brave building blocks


    In 2002 I found myself here once again, this time with Jean-Marc Silva, then tourist director of the embryo Arc 1950, as the first stone of the village was laid.

    I watched with interest over the following years as Intrawest’s trademark concept of Quaint Quebec morphed into Surreal Savoie, a brightly painted mélange of eight apartment blocks, a clock tower, shops, restaurants, two ski schools, a childcare centre, and a spa with views of Mont Blanc. They are all linked, not by road, but by the serpentine snow-covered Piste of Fame (Piste aux Etoiles), that winds through the village. It takes skiers down to the first of the 132 lifts that serve the mighty 425km of piste shared with neighbouring La Plagne.


    Beneath the buildings and the piste, there’s a maze of garages with parking for 688 cars and service tunnels linking the accommodation. Crucially, the eco-friendly development was limited to eight apartment blocks with 698 units containing 3,900 beds. Intrawest and Les Arcs have kept their promise over the years in what is now a conservation area – no more buildings, so no more apartments. The resort swiftly grew in popularity, but not in size.

    But, aesthetics and practicalities apart, what’s so special about what they call “the five-star resort”?

    Well, for a start, it’s not five-star, beyond local classification – and all the better for it. Les Arcs’ only recognised five-star accommodation is the Hotel Taj-I Mah by Les Etincelles up at Arc 2000. Accommodation in 1950 is instead extremely comfortable, unpretentious, family-friendly – and sensibly priced. One criticism has been that the rooms are small, but Intrawest figured correctly that most visitors would be spending more time outside than in.

    When I first stayed in the village in 2004 it was a building site, the worst of it mercifully masked by abundant snow cover. There was one apartment block temporarily run as a hotel with limited catering facilities, but even at that early stage, you could see its potential.

    Le Chalet de Luigi, a magnificent Italian restaurant, swiftly followed and it remains a stalwart feature of the village’s gourmet infrastructure. Soon, skiers who’d previously favoured Les Arcs’ other villages were heading here for lunch – and then booking accommodation for their next trip.


    A futureproof resort


    Amid the climatic challenges of the 21st century, you need more than just a pleasant setting to make a financial success of a ski resort. The two Roberts were no doubt aware of the encroaching threat of global warming. However, neither could have foreseen the ever-tightening timescale.

    They went for altitude and chose well. The current snow level this January in the resort is over 400cm and counting. Its lofty altitude makes it one of the most snowsure villages in the Alps. While the year-round ice on the Aiguille Rouge glacier, which stands above it at 3,226m, is shrinking at speed and the permafrost there is predicted to disappear entirely by 2030, the top of the mountain and Arc 1950 below it should continue to have good winter cover from December until late April each year for the foreseeable future.

    However, none of this adds up to the outstanding commercial success that, 20 years on, Arc 1950 undoubtedly is. The genius of Jérôme was to introduce the North American idea of ‘lease-back’ on property sales.

    Most of the apartments in the first Hameau du Glacier résidence were bought by British families who recognised a bargain. Instead of being sold outright when not occupied by the owners, they were rented back to the management – the plan dramatically reduced the number of cold beds and brought life in winter and in summer to the village.

    It’s good to see the village still evolving, with a wider range of shops and decent restaurants – but without the imposition of more buildings in such rural surroundings.

    An ecologically responsible approach makes it an even better place now from which to explore this vast and exciting ski area. Cold-resistant trees and shrubs, that consume little water in summer, have been planted and environmentally friendly snow clearance in winter maintains a natural feel to the village. Two decades on Arc 1950 is still evolving – as one of the youngsters of the Alps, we veterans should take note.




    For independent travellers, Pierre & Vacances offer seven nights of self-catering accommodation in Arc 1950, from £1,790, based on two people sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Excluding travel. Travel to the resort via Eurostar and TGV, from St Pancras via Paris and Chambéry to Bourg-St-Maurice. The closest airport is Chambéry.

    For families, Erna Low offers a week’s stay, self-catering, from £343, including return Flexiplus LeShuttle crossing, based on four sharing a one-bedroom apartment, with the option to add flights, transfers, lift passes, equipment and lessons to your booking.


    For more information visit and


    The Telegraph

    Peter Hardy 25 January 2024

    Peter was a guest of Arc 1950, Erna Low and Pierre & Vacances.