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A playground for Alpine fun | Activity Holidays | Travel | Express.co.uk

The views are stunning in the spring sun (Image: UK)

HARVEY Stephen left school at 18 hoping to take a gap year before university, working in the ski centres of Austria.

The youngster, from Haddington, East Lothian, had been skiing competitively in Scotland and, after he had brushed up on his German, he was raring to go.

Although his plans fell through at the last minute and he never made it to Austria, a chum found him a position in France and 28 years later he is still on that gap year.

Having lost none of his Scottish accent, the ski guide and instructor is a regular fixture in the Alpine resort of Les Arcs, in the Savoie region, near the Italian border.

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There isn’t a slope in the holiday destination, created in the late 1960s, where someone does not greet him.

After a quick hello in French, naturellement, he takes our group up to Aiguille Rouge, at 10,584 feet above sea level.

The views are stunning in the spring sun. The snow cover over the 265 miles of pistes and some 261 runs is equally magnificent.

“We’ve not had many days like this this year,” Harvey confesses. “But neither have we had this much snow at this time of the year.”

The natural snow depth stands at just short of five feet at the end of March and over the next two days several more inches fall.

For the skiers, it spells fantastic conditions, similar to those usually found in January rather than towards the end of the season. However, it also means avalanche patrols are busy ensuring visitors can enjoy their winter fun in safe conditions.

Snowboarder Jenny Jones won bronze at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (Image: Manu Reyboz)

As the heat of the sun starts to penetrate the layers of snow, the terrain becomes more insecure. But for the time being we bask in the glorious weather, taking in the scenery as the forecast is for poor visibility later on.

We are treated (if that is the word to use, since it is pretty hard on the old legs) to the longest piste in the Alps with a four-mile journey down to Villaroger.

Along the way we are given the chance to do a timed speed-ski, a challenge that is impossible to resist.

The descent is so steep and fast I am utterly unprepared for the sudden impact of the ground levelling out, and end up crossing the timeline on my backside. I haven’t the foggiest how fast I was going but, boy, was it exhilarating.

Realising the fall must have looked more dramatic than it actually was, I wave to my travel companions to let them know I am fine as Harvey skis down collecting my poles, which I had lost on hitting the ground.

“Are you OK?” he asks before realising the big grin on my face is more than enough to answer his question.

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From the very beginning, this part of the Alps has been a firm favourite among the Brits (Image: Manu Reyboz)

For the second year running, the resort is holding a week of Great British Celebrations with snowboarding star Jenny Jones as the main attraction.

The Sochi Olympic bronze medallist appears overwhelmed by the scores of fans who have gathered at the centre of the village of Arc 1950 to catch a glimpse of her or even pose for pictures.

As it is the afternoon, it is only natural that tea and cakes are dished out in huge quantities and Michel Giraudy, the Mayor of Les Arcs, bursts into a song to welcome all the visitors.

Our accommodation is a bit higher up in the mountainside at Arc 2000.

The luxury self-catering apartments at La Source, booked via ski holiday specialists Erna Low, come with an instant access to the slopes, whether you are a beginner or an expert.

The travel experts have catered for British ski tourists for the past eight decades and there is no doubt they know their market.

The resort is holding a week of Great British Celebrations with snowboarding star Jenny Jones (Image: Manu Reyboz)

There is plenty to choose from and, should the slopes become repetitive after a few days, skiers can opt to cross the valley to the neighbouring resort of La Plagne on the one-of-a-kind double-decker cable car known as the Vanoise Express.

But we are happy to stay put, although we ski over to Vallandry to take a look at the device, which was once the biggest, longest and fastest cable car in the world.

From the very beginning, this part of the Alps has been a firm favourite among the Brits. There are four airports within three hours’ travel from Les Arcs, including Geneva in Switzerland.

Those not in favour of flying can get a connecting train from Paris to Bourg St Maurice, which is regarded the capital of Upper Tarentaise.

To get to the highest part of the resort at Arc 2000 takes another 35 minutes up the winding road but, with companies like Ski-Lifts specialising in transfers from the various transport hubs, there is no need to even hire a car to reach the final destination.

The La Source des Arcs apartments in Arc 2000 have an easy access to the slopes (Image: NC)

Prices from £819 (reduced from £963 with EBD) for an apartment sleeping up to four persons (Image: NC)

As with most ski holidays, there is access to a spa and fitness room (Image: NC)

A rather handy ski app, Paradiski Yuge, allows you to monitor your activities, including top speed, and find the shortest lift queues to make most of the skiing hours.

In addition to that, it can track your moves and give a 3D view of the descents already covered and pick up images of your chairlift travels.

As with most ski holidays, there is access to a spa and fitness room should your legs need another pounding in the gym.

There is nothing quite like relaxing in the sauna or pool after a long day outdoors to get some heat back in the old bones before dinner.

But, after a day on the slopes, it comes as no surprise that the food finishes our wee group off and we can barely manage to crawl back to our luxurious apartment in Arc 2000. Needless to say, the fast service to the Land of Nod is such a speedy process, my head barely hits the pillow when I’m already there.

*GETTING THERE: Erna Low offer La Source des Arcs apartments in Arc 2000. Prices from £819 (reduced from £963 with EBD) for an apartment sleeping up to four persons for the week beginning December 15 accommodation only. For more information and to book, visit www.ernalow.co.uk. To check out ski conditions and passes, visit www.lesarcsnet.com.

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