Amid the blizzard of gongs handed out on the World Ski Awards 2022, one recipient caught my eye – VIP Ski, whose Bear Lodge hotel in Les Arcs in France snared the trophy for ‘best recent ski hotel’.
I view the London-based company through the prism of nostalgia, having had splendid snowboarding jaunts over time staying at its French chalets in Val D’Isere (Club Bellevarde, 2010), Morzine (Chalet Alaska, 2011), and Avoriaz (Chalet Poudreuse, 2017).
Within the latter I had a basement room with no view but still enjoyed it – due to VIP Ski’s knack for upbeat hospitality, comfort and good food. (Though I’ve learned that Chalet Poudreuse is not any longer on the corporate’s books. Perhaps for one of the best, on reflection.)
Despite #basementgate, it gladdened the guts to see an organization that works hard to please honoured on the Ski Awards – but was it truly deserved? I stay at Bear Lodge for nearly every week with my family and conclude… probably.
Ted Thornhill checks in together with his family to VIP Ski’s recently opened Bear Lodge hotel (above) in Les Arcs. The property is situated within the resort’s Arc 1950 village
The hotel’s pool (above) is one among the big-ticket attractions on the hotel. It has a shallow end a five-year-old can rise up in, so great for young families
For starters, there aren’t any basement rooms.
My partner, five-year-old daughter Emma and I are allotted a good-sized family room with a double bed, a bunk bed and an en-suite with a shower and shower hose. There are also well-placed charging points by the bed, including a USB socket.
The décor is obvious, but copious wood panelling, a thick carpet and quality grey-and-green curtains keep the room cosy, while floor-to-ceiling grey tiles in the toilet and a modish desk chair and lamp add whispers of chic.
There aren’t any whispers when Emma sees the bunk bed – she goes bananas with excitement concerning the prospect of sleeping on a top bunk. And we adults struggle to contain squeals of enjoyment after we clock the view from the terrace.
Rugged peaks loom, and we’re so near the piste we’re practically inside touching distance of passing skiers – and there are two chairlifts just 50 yards away.
Ted’s room is a double version of the dual pictured above. He writes: ‘The decor is obvious, but copious wood panelling, a thick carpet and quality grey-and-green curtains keep the room cosy’
Ted’s family room incorporates a bunk bed (left) and an en-suite with floor-to-ceiling grey tiles
Ted at Les Arcs during his trip, with the jaw-dropping Tarentaise Valley below
The hotel is on the western fringe of Arc 1950, which is so small a poor location is unattainable, but Bear Lodge occupies a very mouthwatering sweet spot.
Les Arcs is generally known as a ‘balcony resort’ – since it offers views across the Alps, including to Mont Blanc, which stands sentinel around 30km (18 miles) away.
It’s divided into 4 car-free stations, named for his or her altitude in metres – Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000.
Arc 1950 and Arc 2000 sit beneath the mighty Aiguille Rouge peak (3,226m/10,583ft), while 1600 and 1800 nestle on the opposite side of a lofty ridgeline, above the jaw-dropping Tarentaise Valley.
The principal dining room, with its red banquettes, ‘has something of the American diner vibe’
In contrast to the ‘slightly bland’ Arc 2000 above it, Arc 1950 (pictured) ‘is sort of a snow-globe village’
Les Arcs is generally known as a ‘balcony resort’ – since it offers views across the Alps, including to Mont Blanc, which stands sentinel around 30km (18 miles) away. Above – Arc 1950
Arc 1950 (above) and Arc 2000 sit beneath the mighty Aiguille Rouge peak (3,226m/10,583ft), while 1600 and 1800 nestle on the opposite side of a lofty ridgeline
The view from the highest: Ted takes this picture from the viewing platform at the Aiguille Rouge peak (3,226m/10,583ft)
I’ve stayed in top-notch 1800 just a few times, but now I could also be a everlasting 1950 convert.
In contrast to the slightly bland and industrial Arc 2000 above it, 1950 is sort of a snow-globe village, inbuilt modern times but with picket Alpine-style buildings clustered invitingly around gently sloping pathways you possibly can ski on.
Over the course of the week, Bear Lodge proves to be an amazing 1950 launchpad for exploring the slopes, that are in good condition after we visit on the very end of December 2022.
The reception area at Bear Lodge hotel. A seven-night stay at Bear Lodge in January 2023 is priced from £783pp based on two adults and one child sharing
Water treat: Adjoining to the pool at Bear Lodge is that this hot tub, which offers valley views
Every room is allocated a good-sized locker with boot warmers
We hire our kit from Intersport, which has a concession within the hotel’s boot room.
The fittings are efficient, every room is allocated a roomy lockable picket locker with boot warmers – and there are many padded seats to take a seat on to prep for mountainside jaunts.
Within the mornings, it’s breakfast within the principal dining room – which with its red banquettes has something of the American diner vibe – where we feast on fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, pancakes, porridge and proper coffee served in cafetieres.
Then the primary order of business every day is depositing Emma within the Club Piou Piou ski club for little ones, which has a Bear Lodge division run by the Ecole de Ski Francais (ESF) that’s headquartered right outside the hotel in a bit ‘snow garden’ enclosure.
An avalanche of cute.
Ted reveals that his daughter, Emma, ‘adores the hotel’s nannies’ and is ‘greater than comfortable to while away afternoons playing within the piste-side Bear Cub playroom [above], sledging and constructing snowmen’
The cinema is a large plus point for the hotel. It screens movies for adults and at 5pm every day, movies for youngsters. The shot above is a publicity image. Along with the sofas, the space now has plentiful cushions and giant bean bags
The image above shows the hotel’s bar, where afternoon tea and cakes are served. Out of shot is a table football game and a dart board
TRAIN BEATS PLANE TO THE ALPS
We attempt to travel to the Alps and back from London by train alone – Eurostar to/from Paris, then TGV to/from Bourg-Saint-Maurice – however the Boxing Day rail strike thwarts this plan, with every Eurostar cancelled.
So, we’re forced to shell out £1,000 for a hop by plane from Gatwick to Paris for the primary leg, a journey that serves to underscore how inferior air travel from London to Paris is in comparison with the train. We pay enough money for first-class Eurostar tickets – which include at-seat meals by super-chef Raymond Blanc – but for a journey that takes twice as long. And it’s 100 per cent no frills on our Vueling flight. We get a seat each and… that’s it. I feel nauseous. Though not quite enough to utilize the sick bags, which I should add also include the ticket price.
The onward journey by TGV from Paris the next day – after a stay within the superb Hotel Barriere Le Fouquet hotel – is enjoyable, though the mountain views are ruined by extremely dirty windows. On the best way back it’s a scenic three-train journey to Paris – with changes at Aix-les-Bains and Lyon – then a Eurostar to London St Pancras. Joy.
Then we generally cruise around Les Arcs’ glorious blue and red pistes, sooner or later visiting the Aiguille Rouge peak via a dramatic cable automobile ride.
One’s breath is taken away by the view across the Alps at the highest – and by the epic red run back down.
Lunchtime dining spots in 1950 include slopeside Le Chalet de Luigi, where the service is hit or miss however the carbonara and raclette next-level, and Nonna Lisa, where the tartiflette is akin to a spiritual experience.
The hotel then affords us parents yet more time on the slopes due to its first-rate nannies, who will be booked to offer little ones lunch after their lessons and take care of them throughout the afternoon.
They’ll even be hired to run a ‘pyjama club’ between seven and 9.30pm so parents can have dinner in peace, the kids having had an early dinner served at 5pm.
Emma adores the nannies and is greater than comfortable to while away afternoons playing within the piste-side ‘Bear Cub playroom’, sledging and constructing snowmen.
Within the evenings before dinner there’s an occasional game of table football within the bar, however the big-ticket attractions are the superb pool – which has a shallow end a five-year-old can rise up in – and the superb, super-cosy cinema, kitted out with luxurious sofas and giant beanbags and where a children’s movie is screened day by day at 5pm. Contentment central.
Dinner within the evenings is a jovial affair, with every guest in high spirits.
The food is a parade of tasty crowd-pleasers from chicken supreme to sticky toffee pudding and the wine low-cost – but cheerful.
We actually enjoy our stay, with satisfaction levels buoyed by the consistently jolly, caring and helpful staff – a few of whom could carve out a solid profession in a five-star hotel.
The 30-room property might be a tad cosier, some extra poolside loungers wouldn’t go amiss (towels are strewn along the ground during busy times), together with some seats outside, and I’m not quite convinced whether the property is 100 per cent hotel – as an illustration there’s no lunch offering and we’re asked to tick off which meals we would love for dinner every day on a bit clipboard, which isn’t very… hotel-like.
Still, we’re happily recommending Bear Lodge to our parent-friends via excited WhatsApp messages mid-way through the week – knowing they’d love how splendidly family friendly it’s.
Hotel, chalet-hotel, hotel-chalet… who cares, it is a property that helps a stellar resort shine that little bit brighter.
The ESF Club Piou Piou snow garden outside Bear Lodge hotel
Ted and his family were hosted by VIP Ski’s Bear Lodge hotel in Arc 1950. A seven-night stay at Bear Lodge in January 2023 is priced from £783pp based on two adults and one child sharing, including a scheduled coach transfer from Geneva Airport and catered accommodation.
VIP Ski has partnered with ESF and offers smaller classes of as much as six with an English-speaking instructor who meets groups on the ski-room door. The classes run from 9.30 to 12, Monday to Friday, and value £210 per person. The groups are described by type (skier or boarder), ability (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and age (under 6, 6-12 or 12 and over).
Nanny service: From £279 for five and a half days. VIP Ski’s Bear Lodge has its own Club Piou Piou snow garden outside the Bear Club playroom. If guests have booked full day or half-day childcare, then their nannies will liaise with the instructors and collect them again in time for lunch.
PROS: Amazing location, friendly and helpful staff, cozy rooms with stellar views, wonderful cinema, great pool, good food, playroom and nanny service makes a stay a breeze for young families.
CONS: Could possibly be cosier, needs more pool loungers, no seats outside, selecting meals by ticking a photocopied menu isn’t very hotel-esque, no lunch menu.
Rating out of 5: ****
For more on Arc 1950 visit www.arc1950.com/en/arc-1950-a-unique-ski-resort.
Visit Eurostar.com for information on its high-speed services between London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord.
Ted uses the superb Blacklane chauffeur service for the journey from his south London home to Gatwick Airport and in Paris for a transfer to Gare de Lyon for a TGV to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, which lies below Les Arcs. Blacklane has a brilliantly user-friendly booking system and operates in greater than 200 cities around the globe. Visit www.blacklane.com/en.