When it snows, the apartment blocks of Les Arcs 1800 disappear from view. Riding down the mountain, the buildings’ bold lines blend in to the slope below, or else they’re masked by the thick white forest around them.
Up close they re-emerge, looking spectacular. Some of the roofs swoop down like ski jumps, while others perfectly mirror the jagged ridge line across the other side of the Tarentaise valley. The towers reach as high as the fir trees, giving the effect they’re part of the same forest. That we’re all connected somehow, the guests and the landscape.
“Perriand’s utopian vision and noble ambition harks back to a time when the majority of people could feel optimistic about the future, not just those at the top of the pyramid”
We’re not meant to like purpose-built resorts of course, and certainly not high-rise ones that pack in thousands of units like this. We’re supposed to love cute ski resorts. To crave the chocolate box charm of traditional villages and wooden chalets fashioned from old cow sheds. But I’ve always found those types of places twee. Tory even; they’re like an Alpine iteration of the Cotswolds.
Perhaps that’s because they also cost a premium, servicing that increasingly booming luxury market for skiing and snowboarding that those of us who fell in love with winter sports when things weren’t so damn expensive find weird and unsettling. Snow holidays were never budget trips obviously, but twenty years ago they were definitely more affordable for more people than they are today.
And having lots of super-rich on the slopes does change the vibe. On a recent powder day, I got massive tuts for squeezing onto a packed gondola from a snooty couple who clearly had no concept of why I needed to get up the mountain as quickly as possible. “Don’t worry, we’ll go back to Ischgl next year darling…” the man assured his partner. In some ways that’s ok, as rich people not getting it invariably means more fresh snow for the rest of us, but the big worry with this changing demographic is that these amazing life-changing experiences in nature become out of reach for more people than ever.
“In 1995, 20% of the clientele in a French ski resort were between 15-25, whereas now it’s down to 14%”
It’s a problem for British skiers and snowboarders, but an even greater concern in France, where young people are disengaging with a snowsports and mountain culture, that used to be such a core part of the nation’s heritage, at an alarming rate. A recent article in Le Monde said more than one in two young French people have never been skiing. And that in 1995, 20% of the clientele in a French ski resort were between 15-25, whereas now it’s down to 14%, with cost a massive prohibiting factor. In 2018, research showed you need an average daily budget of 73 euros on a ski trip, so it’s not surprising to see a higher proportion of wealthier and correspondingly older people on the slopes these days.