At seven in the evening we had a rendezvous with Philip. Having dressed up in all the warmest and most voluminous, we stood under a starry sky, like three snowmen, and waited for him at the Cabriolet lift station in Arch 2000. A couple of Frenchmen in pretty light jackets settled next to us: they clearly came to admire the night view of the romantic glowing Arch 1950 to later go to the restaurant for dinner by candlelight. Then a handsome man drove up to us, two meters tall, and asked, when we got off the snowmobile: “Will you have a igloo for dinner? I will be your guide today, my name is Philip!” We introduced ourselves in response, a couple of Frenchmen, pulling on their thin hats, too.
“You know, I forgot to take flashlights on everyone, so part of the way will have to be walked in the dark. Do you mind? Not far — only about twenty minutes,” Philip told us in French. “Good start!” – Sasha noticed in Russian. Then our scattered guide laid out snowshoes from the backpack, and we tried to get into them. The French couple quickly coped with the task, but we had to ask Philip for help. Well, after that everything was like in the fairy tale about Cinderella: none of the three remaining pairs of snowshoes fit us – we had to rearrange frozen fixatives. After fifteen minutes of fighting with Sasha’s equipment, the desired size was set, and one of the Cinderellas finally got equipped. But the patience of the guide was over for us, and he suggested we go without snowshoes. “There, all the same, everything has been turned off, so special shoes are not needed in general,” Philip, who encouraged decently frozen ones, encouraged us.
Finally our group went to the side of the needle. The road really turned out to be easy and suitable for almost any shoe – except that heels would be difficult to go. Most of the route was lit up, so we did not suffer at all without flashlights, and when the artificial light ended, the moon and stars came to the rescue. By the way, the sky was amazingly clear – as in the planetarium or in the pictures in the textbooks, and we could even make out all the constellations that we knew, and found our guiding star.
After twenty minutes of a leisurely walk, our group approached the needle. While the French and Sasha were removing snowshoes, Philip told us about the construction itself. It turned out that this is the largest snow dwelling in Europe: its area is 400 square meters, and the construction takes 3,000 cubic meters of snow. Inside there is an ice sculpture gallery, a bar and a restaurant, and from this year there also appeared a hotel with several rooms – a snow double for hot couples and a “dormitory” with a lounger seating up to six people (all guests are given warm sleeping bags, calculated to minus thirty, well, and warming drinks from the bar also will not allow to freeze).
We entered the igloo and were surprised at the fact that the inside of the snow hut is much warmer than the outside. As Philip explained, there is always about the same temperature here – from 0 to + 3C. But at the end of spring the snow begins to melt, and with it the needle, so every year the village is rebuilt. With the onset of the winter season for two weeks, twenty people first create a dome-shaped structure, inflating balloons of various shapes, interconnected, and wrapping them with snow, then the balloons are blown away, and empty space forms inside – these are the future corridors and igloo rooms. When all the walls are ready, sculptors on ice create snow and ice figures in the gallery for one common theme (different scenes are selected every year), and the rooms cut out the necessary furniture: a bed, armchairs and even a bath, although the latter is rather a decorative element.
Before heading to the restaurant, we walked around the gallery for a long time, examining the brilliant works of local sculptors on the theme of the Vanoise National Park, which just borders Les Arcs. Realizing that all these skiers rushing along the slope, kissing marmots and a shepherd with a flock of sheep, in which each ring of wool was cleverly cut from the snow, would melt without a trace by the end of the season, we zealously flipped the camera shutters, trying to keep the ice-cold masterpieces at least on the picture.
On the way to the restaurant we had another stop – this time warming. At the bar under a funny snowy udder, cheerful Jean-Claude handed out glass of mulled wine brewed from white wine to everyone (so that stains from an accidentally spilled drink were not so noticeable in the snow).