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CATOne of the great joys of first lift is skiing down the super soft, freshly groomed pisted surface of the first run. Sheer bliss. But how does it get like that?

I spent the afternoon with SAP (Société D'Aménagement De La Plagne) and a local pisteur to find out.

Pisteur HQ is just below Aime 2000. It’s here that the 20 La Plagne piste bashers (they call them CATs) are parked during the day and the large service facility is located. There are an additional four CATs located in Montalbert, four in Champagny and two at the glacier.

The CATs come from manufacturers in either Italy or Holland and cost roughly 250,000 euros each, with the extra 7m wide CAT topping out at an eye watering 300,000 Euros. After 10 years’ of use they are worth the value of a small second-hand car. Just remember that when you grumble about the cost of your lift pass!

There are different types of CAT and each one is designed to do a specific job. One is a standard 5m wide piste groomer, another has a top mounted winch which is used to pull the CAT uphill when it is pushing snow further up a steep slope, a third (nicknamed The Beast) is a 250 hp monster, with tracked wheels, used for grooming the cross-country course and cutting the grooves for the skis.

Finally, there is the super modern Prinoth Bison X used to build the kickers, jumps and all the other features in the snow park, along with the Ski-X course and the Funslopes. This CATs’ front and rear shovels can move through a full 90 degrees, enabling it to build vertical snow walls and shape them as required.

Two shifts of 30 pisteurs work every night. One shift works 5pm - 2am, whilst the second shift works 2am – 9am. When snow is forecast to fall during the night, the early shift is bumped to work the late shift too, so they give themselves the maximum chance of preparing the pistes for when the lifts open at 9am.

All the pisteurs must be able to drive each different type of CAT, whilst the most experienced pisteur in the workforce has over 40 years’ experience in the job. There is currently one female CAT driver.

Each night every green, blue and red piste is groomed - 200km+ of piste in total - and each pisteur has a regular route which takes up 80% of their shift to complete. Thereafter, the rest of their time is directed by the Head of Operations, who directs them where the work is needed i.e repairing features or moving snow for example. And some slopes will need it; the Funslope that runs from the top of the Arpette lift down into Plagne Bellcote sometimes gets 6000 individuals skiing it each day. That’s a lot of wear and tear in a single day.

The SAP maintenance crew work during the day preparing the CATs for the night’s work.

The pisteurs prefer snow that’s cold and light – it’s much easier to groom and move about. The heavier snow found in warmer weather or after rain is much harder to work with.

So, as you snuggle down into your bed tonight, spare a thought for the lads (and lass) who are out there working to prepare your playground for tomorrow!

Next time, we meet a 12 year pisteur veteran who builds Ski-X courses for the French National Team and is working for you each night here in La Plagne.

Monsieur Mogul


Monsieur Mogul – Our man in La Plagne

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author

alone and not those of Ice and Fire Ski and Snowboard Holidays


SnowmanYou know you want to. We all sit there in December wondering what it would be like to go away for Christmas. I’ll cut to the chase; it’s fab. So, take the plunge and have yourselves a fabulous time.

The children would love it. Nothing is certain, snow-wise, of course, but in the high mountains you are almost certainly guaranteed a white Christmas. Cue snowball fights, snowman building and endless hours on the sledging piste - all whilst someone else is cooking supper. Priceless.

You’ll feel great in between booking and departure, knowing that you have Christmas or New Year all sorted. So you can kick back, relax and smile. You are good to go.

You can save your annual leave for the summer! Why? Christmas falls perfectly in 2018 and will give most folk a full week off without having to use any annual leave entitlement. Perfect!

No annoying rellies. We’d love to invite you Aunty, but as you can’t ski we’ll have to pass and we’ll catch up in the New Year.

There is no need to decorate the house – the Christmas cards will be enough. No tree, no struggling to fix the tree lights and no hoovering the carpet as the “No Drop” tree has shed every needle into the shag pile.

Swapping the Christmas telly for chalet games. No need to spend December watching Jamie’s/Jimmy’s/Nigella’s/Delia’s “How to have a perfect Christmas” as we are doing all the work. Breakout Pass the Pigs, Uno or Jenga and have some quality family time at Christmas or New Year.

No washing up! You’ve outsourced it to us and our in-chalet teams.

Let’s be honest - booking a chalet for Christmas or New Year is never going to be a budget item. However, it can be good value. There’s no need for the big Christmas shop and no need to restock the drinks cabinet – all your food and drink is provided (except spirits) – and cooked and served by the chalet chef and host. You have the perfect excuse not to buy expensive presents; anything large you can’t fit into the case; the skiing holiday IS the present. Do the math and suddenly the numbers look good.

Finally, you can avoid Christmas! Not everyone likes Christmas, nor indeed celebrates it, so if that’s you, you can escape it all by coming skiing!

Monsieur Mogul


Monsieur Mogul – Our man in La Plagne

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author

alone and not those of Ice and Fire Ski and Snowboard Holidays

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