- Highest Point: 3,175m
- Descent: 1,925m
- No. lifts: 128
- Lift Pass: 1 Day - €60 / 6 Days - €270
Probably as a result of being sandwiched between more famous neighbours, La Plagne is often overlooked by British riders. Which is a shame because this resort, nestled in the Tarantaise valley next to Les Arcs, Tignes and Val d’Isère, boasts many of the advantages of its better-known siblings without a lot of the disadvantages. Think of it as Solange Knowles to Val d’Isère’s Beyoncé. Developed from five high alpine communes during the skiing boom of the 60s, La Plagne now consists of 11 separate villages, each with their own distinct characteristics.
While the original hamlets like Plagne 1800 or Montalbert have retained their chocolate-box wooden chalet look, the village of Plagne Centre suffered badly from the mania for concrete that shaped (or rather mis-shaped) Tignes in the mid-60s. Thankfully recent additions like Belle Plagne and Plagne Soleil have seen the return of more tasteful, traditional architecture. These separate villages are connected by the massive 225 kilometres of slopes, serviced by more than 80 lifts.
Add to this the fact that the vast terrain and excellent park of Les Arcs is just a short gondola ride away (across the double-decker Vanoise Express cable car, opened in 2003/4) and you can see why they claim the area offers something for everyone.
The Parks - 3/5
Having suffered from a classic case of “French-snowpark-istis" (poorly laid-out obstacles tended by some local rudeboy more interested in smoking le shit than shaping) La Plagne has really pulled its finger out in the last few years. These days there’s a sizeable park above the village of Belle Plagne serviced by a fast drag lift.
"It may not have as many steeps as, Chamonix, but you don’t need to be up at the crack of dawn to claim first tracks"
A beginner area at the top of the run features three small kickers and a selection of boxes. The main park has a selection of good rails of varying shapes and sizes. Following this you have the choice of a 20ft ‘red’ kicker or a cannon rail, and then the choice of a further two kickers back to back.
Each tabletop boasts two takeoffs, giving you four lines in total, ranging from small blue one to sizeable (25 foot plus) black booters. The features are generally well maintained, and the crew who gather round the free-to-use park BBQ are friendly and welcoming.
Interestingly, while their parks haven’t always been this good, La Plagne has always had great pipes. The biggest is a 22-foot superpipe, down the hill from the park towards Bellecotte. When it’s shaped properly, it’s a beast!
The Powder - 4/5
With such a wide selection of terrain types on offer (from the tree runs of Montalbert to the rock drops under the Crozats chair) the off-piste riding in La Plagne is varied and excellent. It may not have as many steeps as say, Chamonix, it doesn’t have that resort’s reputation either, meaning that you don’t need to be up at the crack of dawn to claim first tracks.
The big daddy of La Plagne’s off piste is the Face Nord – the North face of the Glacier de Bellecotte. As the name suggests this is one vast face, accessed by dropping off the back of the Traverse chairlift on the glacier. There are multiple routes down; the Grande Face (head right off the chair or hike up the peak to drop in) offers couloirs and technical descents at the top before opening out, while the Petite Face is more mellow.
Both offer around 2000m vertical in a single run from the glacier down to the tiny village of Nancroix in the tree-lined valley below. It's worth stopping for a celebratory beer before you catch the bus to the bottom of the Lozagne lift on the Les Arcs side of the Vanoise Express, which you can then ride back to La Plagne.
It’s best to set aside most of the day for the mission (especially if you start from Plagne Centre) and you’ll need a guide as well as the proper avalanche equipment. Try Oxygène (offices in Plagne Centre and Belle Plagne) whose guides speak excellent English.
After fresh snow, another lengthy, legendary run is the Mont St Jacques. Hike up from the St Jacques run to the peak of the same name and then drop down through the woods and past the wooden cowsheds. It joins up with a narrow mountain-biking trail (complete with banked turns) and eventually spits you out onto the main road, just below the bobsled-track. From there you can jump on the La Roche chairlift.
If you’re looking for technical descents, the gnarly finger-like couloirs under the Grande Rochette lift are all rideable given the right conditions. Just don’t screw up ‘cos the whole lift will be watching!
The Pistes - 3/5
La Plagne’s pistes are spread across three large bowls, plus the outlying villages of Montchavin/Les Coches, Montalbert and Champagny-en-Vanoise. Runs connecting the various bowls can sometimes be a bit flat - the Carella piste from the Roche de Mio to Champagny, the Mira from the top of Plagne Centre to the Bellecote bowl and Le Tunnel from the Roche de Mio back to Bellecotte spring to mind. But for the most part, La Plagne’s runs are open reds and blues, ideal for hooning it around at speed.
The resort offers a near-unparalleled 2000 metres of vertical, from the top of the Glacier at 3250 to the Montchavin base station at 1250, meaning there’s always terrain to ride, regardless of the weather or the snow conditions. If it’s high-alpine cruising you’re after, catch the gondola out of Plagne Bellecotte to the peak of the Roche de Mio at 2700m. From here you can jump on a bubble lift that plunges precipitously down to a mid-station at 2250 before rising almost as steeply up to the large glacier zone.
Alternatively, catch the main ‘FuniPlagne’ gondola from Plagne Centre to the top of the Grande Rochette, and either cruise back through the scattered trees towards Plagne Centre or drop off the back into the south-facing Chapagny zone, which offers epic views of the Trois Vallées opposite. The wide reds and blues here get slushy in the afternoons, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a tan on a good day.
If the weather’s bad, there’s some great tree riding around Montalbert, Plagne 1800 and towards the bottom of Aime 2000, where the high speed La Roche chairlift takes you back up from below the Olympic bobsled run. Be careful if you’re staying in one of the main villages though as you’ll have to catch the last Salla or Crozats chair back over the Arpette peak to make it home at the end of the day. Similarly, don’t get caught in Montalbert or Champagny at the end of the day, because the taxi back ain’t gonna be cheap!
How To Get There
La Plagne is approximately three hours from Geneva Airport.
The Parties - 3/5
La Plagne attracts a more French and family-orientated crowd than the likes of Meribel or Val D’Isère but there are still plenty of places to party. And you won’t find the red trousers s or exorbitant prices of the Espace Killy here either. La Mine in 1800 has long been the favoured haunt of seasonaires, both for après and later on in the evening, when they have live music or DJs.
"You won’t find the red trousers or exorbitant prices of the Espace Killy here"
Up in Plagne Centre Scotty’s attracts a good après crowd especially on Wednesdays, when seasonaires have the day off. They have live bands three times a week. The Mouth, a basement bar, gets mental later on, serving flaming shots until 2am. After two, choices get more limited.
But La Sourie Vert and Cosy Bar in Bellecote and the pricey but entertaining Saloon Bar in Belle Plagne stay open ‘til four or five and offer courtesy mini-busses back to other villages for night-owls. Other than these, regular busses stop at 12.30am, and the connecting cable cars from Centre to Aime 2000 and Plagne Villages/Soleil shut earlier. Beware of being caught miles from your home village as the drunken stagger back to bed is rarely a short one!