Les Arcs is one of the car-free, purpose-built resorts in France, built in the 1960s and 1970s when large apartment blocks were in vogue. exhibition at the London Design Museum in the summer of 2021. The resort, however, shares opinions. Some say it’s a modern masterpiece, while others prefer the traditional charm of a box of chocolates found in Austria and Switzerland.
The slopes of Les Arcs are extremely varied, with plenty to suit all standards from beginners to experts, including some very steep, unprepared black runs and plenty of easy runs. Its ski area is connected to the neighboring La Plagne to form the huge Paradiski area.
Stay up to date with resort highlights below and scroll down for our guide to a day on the slopes, expert ratings and advice. For more Les Arcs inspiration, check out our guides to the resort’s best hotels, restaurants and après-ski.
Inside the resort
The original resort town of Arc, divided into four bases, is 1600, located at the top of the cable car from the valley town of Bourg St Maurice, where the first hotel was built in 1968. Then came Arc 1800 a few kilometers over the mountain (and now the largest village) and Arc 2000, 12 km and 20 minutes from 1600 by shuttle bus.
A more recent development has been made in a more sympathetic style of low-rise cottages, including Arc 1950, built in the early 2000s by Canadian developer Intrawest. Located just below Arc 2000 and connected by a short gondola that runs late into the night, it’s a very pleasant place to rest and walk around.
The Les Arcs ski area is served by a generally slippery lift system with plenty of high-speed chairs, and snow reliability is good, with many sure-footed runs over 2,000 m and plenty of snowmaking. The views across the valley to the resort of La Rosière and up to Mont Blanc are stunning.
Connection to La Plagne is via the two-way double-decker Vanoise Express cable car from Plan Peisey, high above the valley. The Paradiski common area has a total of 425 km of slopes, which puts it on par with the largest ski resorts in the world.
The numbers in the names of the resort towns of Les Arcs should not be taken too seriously. Arc 2000 was named in the 1960s as a symbol of the future and the distant new millennium. In fact, the village is located at an altitude of over 2,100 m.
The Arcy 1600, 1950 and 2000 are quite compact and good for families. Arc 1800 is more expansive and many of the newer apartments are on a hill away from the centre. All the villages of Les Arcs have a decent selection of bars and restaurants, and all (if not all) accommodations are ski-in/ski-out and easy to ski between.
Generally, après ski is pretty quiet – Arc 1800 is the most lively, with a few nightclubs and some places like Le JO where concerts are regularly held. Among the bars at Arc 1950 are the cozy George’s Winery and the British-style pub Les Belles Pintes. In addition to the free program of events in the village, the bars here take turns hosting nightly concerts.
For drinks in the mountains, the igloo village above Arc 2000 has a fun ice bar and ice grotto with sculptures, open until 5pm. In the area above Arc 1800, where the last La Folie Douce facility opened last winter, there is a fun children’s ski slope and a toboggan run that is illuminated until the early evening.
On the opposite side of the ski area, near the connection to La Plagne, Plan Peisey and Vallandry have been built in the style of low-rise cottages above the traditional old mountain village of Peisey, which is connected to the development of Peisey-Vallandry by a gondola bucket lift. Both villages have a limited number of bars, restaurants and shops.
On the slopes
The local Les Arcs ski resort has plenty to do to suit most people of all levels for a week, with 200km of varied pistes above and below the tree line and plenty of off-piste options.
More advanced guests who like to cover as much terrain as possible will probably want to take the Vanoise Express double-decker cable car to La Plagne for a day or two during their stay.
The resort operates an innovative ski pass system to broaden its appeal to skiers and snowboarders of all levels and interests. There is an option to pay €295 for a six-day “Classic pass” covering only Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry; €345 for a six-day “Essential pass” with full access to the Paradiski area; and €385 for the “Premium Pass” offering the Paradiski area and other benefits including priority access to the Aiguille Rouge lift, access to the resort’s swimming pool, zip line and toboggan runs.
Each of the Les Arcs holiday villages has its own local slopes connected to others, a beginner area and easy blue slopes to progress to. Les Arcs has reclassified the 10 easiest slopes, which are now marked in green and are ideal for beginners looking to level up the preschool course. All villages also have access to many intermediate blue and red runs.
Many blues are on the narrow side or narrow traverses through the mountain, so it’s good to know the best places to visit. The best easy blues are the very leisurely slopes served by the slow St Jacques chairlift from the Arc 2000 – perfect for beginners taking their first steps on the children’s slopes.
In 2020/21, a beginners area was built at Arc 1800, with three zones focusing separately on “first slides”, “first turns” and “first descents”, and in 2021/22 a similar area opened at Peisey Vallandry. This can be found at the top of the Vallandry cable car, which replaced the former chairlift, enhanced with a new picnic area and Mountain Animal Museum on the first floor of the cable car station.
Les Arcs claims to have the longest chairlift in France. The Pré Saint Esprit starts below the 1950 curve and ends well above the 2000 curve. It has covers and heated seats, and takes only eight and a half minutes to complete the 2,850m climb.
This lift serves the gentle and wide blue Vallée de l’Arc piste. Equipped with snowmaking devices, it provides a beautiful and easy descent from the 1950s. Other best soft, wide blues for easy swimming are Mont Blanc above Arc 1600 and Renard above Peisey-Vallandry. Mont Blanc is reachable from the Mont Blanc chair and is a little out of the way so it’s often wonderfully quiet. Renard is a beautiful long blue color that extends from the top to the bottom of the Derby chair.
Most of the red runs in Les Arcs are noticeably steeper than the blue runs, but they’re at the easier end of the red scale, so they’re good for going fast. Those among the trees above Peisey-Vallandry – Aigle, Morey and Myrtilles – are relatively quiet, wide and delightful in all conditions, but especially when it snows and visibility is poor on the treeless slopes above.
The long red descent to the tiny village of Villaroger at the opposite end of the ski area to Peisey-Vallandy is also a lovely leisurely cruise. Well worth doing despite the three consecutive slow chairlifts needed to get back up.
The red run from the resort’s highest point, Aiguille Rouge (3,225m), is a narrow run for most of its length, but has some wider pitches worth noting. There is a panoramic walkway at the top accessible to both skiers and non-skiers to enjoy the views.
For experts, the steepest black runs are above Arc 2000, mostly served by the Varet gondola. Most are not groomed (the resort calls these runs Natur) and there can be huge moguls, but the snow is generally in good condition due to the shaded aspect.
Some of the best off-piste runs are on the open slopes, accessible by both the Aiguille Rouge cable car and the Varet gondola, which had a new cafe, sundeck and zipline at the top for the 2021/22 season. It is also possible to walk from Aiguille Rouge on isolated slopes towards Villaroger, a descent of almost 2,000 m. The runs from the Grand Col and the Col de la Chal are also highly recommended.
The off-road park on the slopes between Arcs 1600 and 1800 is top-notch, with clearly marked separate lines for different skill levels of freestylers, as well as an airbag for a soft landing when practicing jumps.
Who should go?
The slopes of Les Arcs are extremely varied, with plenty to suit all standards from beginners to experts, including easy cruising as well as some very steep black pistes. Experts will especially like this area. Most of the black runs are never groomed and turn into huge mogul fields, and there are plenty of off-piste runs available, with steep Aiguille Rouge runs in front and secluded trails in the back. The purpose-built nature of the resort means that most accommodation is ski-accessible, and the connection to Bourg St Maurice makes it one of the most popular resorts for skiers who enjoy traveling by train into the Alps.
Know before you go
UK Embassy/Consulate: (00 33 1 44 51 31 00; ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk)
Ambulance (samu): select 15
Police: select 17
Fire (pompiers): select 18
Rescue services from your mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist Information Office: Visit lesarcs.com, the website of the Les Arcs Tourism Organization, for weather information, elevator status, webcams, traffic information, and lists of local events. Collect maps, leaflets and other information from the offices located in each of the four villages.
telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then omit the leading zero from the 10-digit number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws and etiquette
When greeting people, the formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
The laws of vouvoiement (what version of “you” to use) take years to master. When in doubt – except when talking to children or pets – always use the formal form vous (second person plural) instead of the more casual tu.
When driving, it is mandatory to have reflective vests and a warning triangle in the car in case of a breakdown. From 2021, it is also mandatory to have snow chains or winter tires on your car from early November to March.