The surprisingly interesting history of La Plagne

La Plagne is one of several “mega-resorts” in the northern Tarentaise area of France. La Plagne is made up of 10 different villages with each offering a completely different ambiance. This means La Plagne generally has something for everyone, from unmatched ski access and amenities of Plagne Centre, to the quiet and secluded traditional alpine village environment of Les Coches. Having spent 2 seasons in La Plagne and 5 years defending its honour here at the Interactive Resorts sales office, I thought it the right time to open your eyes to the interesting history behind its development. 

La Plagne was opened in 1961 as an attempt to invigorate the area’s stagnating economy. The area was very much reliant on its farming and mining industries but this was not enough to keep the younger generations happy and they began a mass exodus to the nearby cities such as Chambery in search of bright lights and excitement. It wasn’t until 1961 that the various local dignitaries formed an association charged with reversing this worrying trend.

The main driving force behind this association was a Dr. Borrione, who was not only the then mayor of Aime (the largest town in the local area) but also a member of the “Maquis” (French resistance) during the second world war, he was even arrested twice and managed to escape on both occasions! During the war, the mountains above Aime were resistance strongholds, with the mines providing invaluable protection from both the vicious winters and the Nazi occupiers. He was also a medical visionary years ahead of his time, being the first doctor in France to have experimented with Polio vaccinations and succeeded in vaccinating the whole of the local population by 1954.

Dr. Borrione’s role in the genesis of La Plagne cannot be overstated, because of his various achievements, he was one of the few members of the local society that was trusted by each of the four different areas. These areas (Macot, Aime, de Longefoy and Bellentre) were always separated by a deep sense of local rivalry and therefore finding a figurehead that all areas could trust was a huge turning point in the early years. 

The Biolley drag lift in its original form

The Biolley drag lift in its original form

Dr. Borrione had his heart set on building the first lifts and accommodation on the “Plateau de la Plagne”, but encountered major resistance from the thenowners of the land. It was privately owned and the main protagonist (who was actually a close personal friend of Dr. Borrione!) refused to sell his land. Subsequently Dr. Borrione decided the only course of action was to take the nay-sayers over to Courchevel to show them what a winter resort can do to help the local community. After having met several local dignitaries, business owners and workers, several were persuaded that a ski resort represented the best chance of saving their community but not everyone was onside.

In 1960 Dr Borrione met with the Director of the mines who explained that they would be closedwithin 10 years. This effectively ended anyresistance to the idea of developing a ski resort in the area.  Dr Borrione then enlisted the legendary skier Emile Allais to give technical advice in laying out the ski area. They took a helicopter trip together in April 1960 and identified two potential pistes, now named Biolley and Grande Rochette. Allais was so impressed by what he saw, he wrote:“La Plagne has some extraordinary possibilities; it will be the most original resort with guaranteed snow and guaranteed sun”.The project was now inevitable and the first 2 drag lifts and 4 pistes were opened in April 1961.  

An early photo of Plagne Centre

The original resort was opened on the La Plagne Plateau and is now called Plagne Centre. The ski village itself was designed by Michel Besancon. His revolutionary idea was to build a ski village with an emphasis on convenience. All original hotels and apartments were ski to the door and the main shopping area was all indoors in an effort to make the whole experience accessible to all ages and ski abilities. This was a dream that has certainly been achieved, with La Plagne offering arguably the most convenient overall ski access of any resort in the area (including its more fashionable competitors!). 

This design proved to be very popular and was the catalyst that caused the massive expansions constructed throughout the 70s and 80s. The ski area grew to encompass the nearby villages of Champagny, Les Coches and Montalbert. Over the next few years, more purpose built resorts were added to the traditional alpine villages; Aime 2000 was constructed in 1971, Plagne Villages (originally called Super-Plagne) was opened in 1972, Plagne Bellecote in 1974, Plagne 1800 in 1981, Belle Plagne in 1982 and Plagne Soleil in 1990.

The most recent and perhaps, most important development was the construction of the Vanoise Express, a cavernous double decker cable car built to link La Plagne with its neighbouring resort of Les Arcs. The new mega resort was named Paradiski and now boasts over 425km of skiing and 141 ski lifts. When you compare this with La Plagne’s humble beginnings (2 drag lifts!), these are remarkable statistics, achieved over a relatively short period of time. La Plagne is very much a purpose built ski resort by its very nature. Purpose built can sometimes be a dirty word in this industry, and whilst it is never going to be as aesthetically pleasing as Val d’Isere or Meribel, it does offer such convenience in terms of ski access, that La Plagne will continue to be a very popular resort with British skiers.

For more information on La Plagne or any of our many resorts please email us or call our London sales office on 020 3080 0200.

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