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  • Chris Gill

News to note in French lift systems

2023 won't go down as a vintage year in French resort development – most of the new lifts are pretty much straight replacements of ageing machines – but there are a few improvements to note, including two glacier-related ones.

First, the one shown in the illustration above: At last, the 45-years-old queue-ridden Bellecôte gondola to the glacier above La Plagne is being replaced by a 10-seat gondola (Glacier) with three times the capacity. It takes a different line and goes higher, so that it can access the long black runs towards Les Bauches, allowing removal of the Traversée slow quad. The Chalet de Bellecôte double chair back to the gondola mid-station is also being replaced by a quad with twice the hourly capacity. All good stuff.

And if you have a longstanding hankering to do Chamonix's famous Vallée Blanche off-piste run, now's the time: the pulse gondola up from the end of the run (to the station for the train down to Chamonix) is being replaced by a new conventional gondola starting 44m lower, and further up the glacier, thus cutting out the grim climb of about 500 steps from the ever-shrinking glacier.

Way to the south, Serre-Chevalier has a worthwhile improvement: The 40-years-old Pontillas gondola out of Le Bez is being replaced by a very fast 10-seat gondola with almost twice the capacity, going much higher up the hill (and also replacing the Fréjus gondola).

You may see reports of major new lifts above Orelle, on the southern fringe of the 3 Vallées area. They're not new, actually – they're two years old – but they are certainly noteworthy. The long, long (5km) gondola from Orelle to Plan Bouchet has been replaced by a state-of-the-art (ie 7m/s) job that shaves a couple of minutes off the ride time. More importantly, above it is now a big gondola direct to Cime Caron (3200m) in a further six minutes; this accesses excellent skiing and does away with queues for the Rosaël chair to get back to Val Tho from the sunny Orelle slopes.

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