By: Cliff Frank
The Tarentaise Valley hosts the largest group of Olympic quality ski runs anywhere. The valley also has beautiful towns with luxurious resorts open both for winter sports and summer fun.
Long before Caesar invaded Gaul, Darantsia was the capital of a tribe called the Centrones. Le Vallée de la Tarentaise is named after this ancient village. The Tarentaise Valley runs along the Isère River in Savoy, a typically beautiful region of the French Alps.
There are four towns in the valley: Albertville, at the western entrance, is the largest, followed by Moûtiers, Aime, and Bourg-Saint-Maurice. These towns support world-class ski resorts, headlined by Les Trois Vallées, Paradiski, and Les Arcs. The 1992 Winter Olympics was hosted by the city of Albertville and used the fantastic slopes of the Tarentaise Valley. If you ski, these resorts are the primary reason that you should make the Tarentaise Valley a destination.
Les Trois Vallées has more slopes and cross-country trails than any ski area in the world. It is a beautiful year-round tourist destination as it intersects with the Vanoise National Park, one of the most beautiful National Parks in Europe. There are currently four valleys with interconnected ski lifts which create the greatest variety of skiing on a single lift pass anywhere. There are 370 miles of ski slopes and about 800 miles of cross-country trails. Les Trois Vallées currently runs 183 ski lifts transporting as many as 260,000 skiers every hour. Les Trois Vallées places a strong emphasis on safety and employs 424 ski patrollers for the protection of its clients. It also hires 1,500 ski instructors, so rest assured that you don't have to be an Olympian to have a great time.
Paradiski offers fantastic ski slopes between La Plagne, Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry. Beginning in December 2003 Paradiski has been served by the Vanoise Express, a double-decker cable car that connects La Plagne with Les Arcs. The Vanoise Express is an exciting ride, transporting 200 people at a time more than 1,200 feet above the valley in a ride that takes seven to ten minutes. It has a pair of units that can run independently and is constructed without pylons. Paradiski offers a lift pass that connects it to Les Trois Vallées.
Les Arcs is considered the first of the "mega-resorts.” Its architecture is 20th century "avant-garde" for the most part, though its newest structures are built in the 19th-century chalet tradition.
In the Winter Olympics of 1992, Arc 2000 was used for speed skiing. The slope is 2000 meters long with a stopping zone of 700 meters. This slope is still there, one of the many reasons that the Tarentaise Valley is considered the finest skiing destination in the French Alps.
Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950, and Arc 2000 form the spectacular area called Les Arcs, which hosts 106 ski runs served by 54 lifts. The high point is the mountain called Aiguille Rouge (Red Needle) with a vertical drop of more than 2000 meters that descend directly to the lovely hamlet of Villaroger.