About Cross Country Skiing in La Plagne
Activities: Cross-Country Skiing | Skiing
There are in the region of 453 kilometres of cross country skiing in the Paradiski area, which is no surprise in one of Europe's largest linked ski areas.
From conventional track-based cross country skiing, skating or touring in the backcountry, there's something for everyone from beginners to experts. Both Les Arcs and La Plagne offer a number of different grades of marked cross country skiing routes from greens and blues to reds and blacks where you can practise your technique.
Cross Country Skiing in La Plagne
Once you have grasped the essentials, head off for the tranquil cross country trails that criss cross the Paradiski area. La Plagne is very popular with cross-country skiers as there is a variety of specialised tracks around the resort; the majority of the cross country pistes are free of charge unless you want to cheat and get the odd lift here and there.
The only one that is not free is the Champagny track - the longest and hardest track in resort that runs around the mountain from Les Bauches in the Montchavin/Les Coches area to Plagne Bellecôte. It bypasses just above the village of Les Coches, deep in the forest, and is a beautiful and peaceful track. At an altitude of just over 2000 metres, good snow cover is guaranteed. There is shorter circuit above Plagne Soleil which is right in the midst of the downhill ski area and is graded as easy. Also an ‘easy’ route is the longer, slightly more downhill track from La Roche, below Plagne 1800, to just above Montalbert. There are a couple more areas in Montalbert that are specifically for learner cross-country skiers and are just small circuits to practise on.
If you have a car whilst staying in La Plagne and wish to have a trip out for an afternoon’s cross-country skiing, then you can visit the beautiful Vallee de Bellecôte which separates La Plagne from Les Arcs. Drive as far as you can up the valley and right at the very end you come to the Nordic area of Peisey-Nancroix. Here, you will find 44kms of cross country ski trails, a club house and café where you can hire equipment. The area has been affected by a number of massive avalanches with snow falling from the North Face of the Bellecôte glacier and the villages up there are no longer inhabited all year round because of this. The destruction caused by the avalanches is very clear, with areas flattened trees stretching for several hundred metres. It is, of course, well secured and is a very interesting and beautiful place to visit. In the Nordic area, a pass is required in order to use the trails, the profit from which goes towards their daily upkeep.
Cross Country Skiing in Les Arcs
Once you have grasped the essentials, head for one of the many tranquil cross country trails that criss-cross the Les Arcs area.
In Arc 1800 there is a 5km loop starting from the top of the Jardin Alpin chairlift. Approximately 600 metre from the centre of Arc 2000 there is another 5km loop, the trail begins near the bottom of the Arcabulle chairlift. Both pistes are free to use.
There is also a longer trail of 15km available down in Bourg St Maurice which can be accessed via the funicular from Arc 1600, although it is dependent on sufficient snow at this level (840 metres).
For some truly spectacular cross country skiing in a truly breathtaking landscape, you must head down the valley to the Nordic area of Peisey-Nancroix at Pont Baudin. Throughout the Winter season there is a dedicated area boasting 44kms of well kept trails. Situated on a vast plateau at the entrance of the Vanoise National Park, this beautiful setting also has facilities for practicing biathlon, paths for walkers, snowshoe trails, toboggan routes and dog-sledding.
In order to use the trails here, you must first purchase a pass (badge) from the centre office before setting out, the profit from which goes towards the daily trail upkeep. Equipment for both the “classic” and “skating” styles of cross-country skiing are available to hire for as little as half a day.
The Nordic area is accessible by free bus (Navette Gratuit) from Peisey village, which you can board at the bottom of the Lonzagne “lobster pot” lift.
Classic or Skating Style?
As a beginner go for classic style, where you generally keep your skis in a straight line and it’s more of a walking style, this is the basic style to initially master. Once you’ve mastered classic style you may decide this is for you and continue with your development of the technique. Alternatively, you may decide to take up skating style, this is the more advanced technique that you see the biathletes using. It’s more advanced and requires a more technical skill set. Top tip – to begin with stick with classic and see how you get on.
Skis & Poles
There are different skis for classic and skating, so make sure you get the right skis for the type of skiing you are going to do. The skis are longer than normal alpine skis, somewhere between 95% and 105% of your height, the poles are much longer too (between chest and shoulder height in relation to your body) for pushing uphill, so don’t be tempted to try and use your normal alpine ski poles.
Most XC skis are “wax-less” as the traction for going uphill is provided by a “fish-scale” type grip pattern on the central section on the bottom of the ski. If your skis don’t have a “grippy” section on the bottom you will need to wax them for traction, then you need to get the right wax. Soft wax = more grip uphill, but slower downhill. Hard wax = less grip uphill, but quicker downhill. Top tip – to begin with get skis with a “grippy” section to eliminate the wax issue.
Make sure your boots fit well, nice and snug. XC ski boots are more like a hiking boot, in many ways similar to a winter ankle style cycling boot. Ensure they fit well as you are basically walking and jogging in them whilst skiing for several hours a day.
You can hire cross country ski equipment from a number of ski hire shops in resort. Prices start at around €13 for one day up to around €70 for a week, which includes skis, poles and boots. Check in the shops for current prices.
Have a Lesson
Whilst XC skiing appears to be just walking, which it is on the flat and even on the uphill sections, going downhill is trickier than it looks. A lesson will provide you with the basic knowledge and skills that will allow you tackle uphill sections and more importantly come back downhill nice and safely. You will learn the basic descending style of one ski in the pre-formed track and one as a snowplough type brake. Once you’ve mastered this try and ski downhill in a snowplough type position.
What to Wear?
Many of the XC skiers you see in resort wear clothing more along the lines of cycling clothing rather than that of normal alpine skiers. It gets very warm XC skiing, so wear layers that can be removed as necessary. Take a rucksack for your clothing and supplies. More fitted trousers will help with the technique of both classic and skating, less chaffing as your legs move. Helmets generally aren’t worn but you may want a bobble hat or headband to keep your ears warm. Remember it gets really warm going uphill and cooler going downhill. Gym/cycling base layers are great if you have them or something with a wicking layer. The wicking fabric helps remove the sweat from your torso and keep it in the material itself which helps keep you cool when climbing and also stops you getting cold when descending.
The “camelbak” type hydration backpacks are great for XC skiing, room for your layers and a drink combined as well. They also mean you can grab a drink without having to take your rucksack off and when you are drinking regularly this really helps. You will need around 1 litre of liquid for a 3 to 4 hour ski session. Make sure you keep taking fluids on to stay nicely hydrated, it really is thirsty work.
Take a Snack
Energy bars are great for XC skiing or a chocolate bar. You can burn in the region of 1500 calories in a 2 hour XC session at fairly high intensity, so you will need to keep your energy levels up. Bananas are always a great snack when exercising, the slow release potassium really helps fight fatigue.