Les 3 Vallées is unarguably one of the greatest ski areas in the world. Kate Green, Mark Hedges and Hugh Anderson pick out their favourite things to do and places to stay.
What to do
The Les 3 Vallées lift-pass – which costs €300 for six days – covers over 350 miles of groomed piste, but it’s the immense range of off-piste terrain that draws guests back. He’s local and one who’s won the toughest back-country ski competition in the world – twice – you’ll be in safe hands.
Highlights include descending into Méribel down the western face (jump on the TDS Des Pionniers lift, one minute from Le Fitz Roy) and the descent from Col de Chavière, which also boasts sensational views over the Chavière Glacier and Vanoise national park at the top of the Mottaret valley, where there’s a frozen lake and circular path and sunny cafe for cross-country skiers and walkers.
Still not satisfied? The Glacier de Gébroulaz is accessible in a single day by ski-touring. If conditions are right, you’ll be treated to virgin snow and undisturbed powder.
Zipline through the clouds
Val Thorens, the highest of the 3 Vallées resorts at 2,300m (7,546ft), is home to Europe’s highest zipline, which links two peaks over the Val Thorens and Orelle valleys. Riders can hit speeds of more than 62mph as they fly 820ft above the snow. Located at the top of the Bouchet chairlift, in Orelle, skis and boards are strapped to your back so that you can continue your journey from the finish point at the resort peak.
Catching a lift
This winter in Méribel, two brand-new, high-speed chairlifts have opened in the resort, each seating up to six skiers. One replaces the Cherferie button, transporting 2,824 skiers to the top in only four minutes. The second, with heated seats and a pull-down shield, replaces the Plan de l’Homme and Roc de Fer lifts.
Maison Sport, a company offering instruction and guiding in resorts across France, Switzerland and Italy, is the brainchild of three ski-team athletes, writes Mark Hedges.
I spent a day with Olly Robinson, one of the founders, who improved my technique more in a morning than anyone else had done in the past five years. Practically a local, Mr Robinson also had great restaurant recommendations and insider knowledge – www.maisonsport.com
Ticket to slide
If you’re looking for a different high-speed thrill, try Méribel’s toboggan run. It’s now open seven days a week, allowing more riders to enjoy the just-over-two-mile track and 1,542ft vertical drop.
Courchevel has 93 miles of brilliantly linked skiing, Europe’s highest altiport and more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other resort, writes Kate Green. It’s also the smartest village in Les 3 Vallées, but that’s not why I love it: it’s the tranquil tree-lined valleys and wilder, bleaker fringes, the openness of the valley and the changing pink-and-golden lights on the infinite peaks that draw me back most winters.
Every night, piste bashers light the mountainside, creating the best possible skiing conditions; areas that were once unpisted have been bashed into immaculate, sweeping runs and faster, even more efficient lifts have been created. Signposting is immaculate and safety paramount; there’s always an easy way home for the nervous or weary.
Best runs in 3 Vallées
- Blacks: Suisse is the easiest, very satisfying
- Reds: Marmottes (steep and smooth) in good snow; Park City (fun); Chanrossa (long and quiet); Plantrey (beautifully maintained)
- Blues: The silent run through the forest into La Tania and the Creux Valley, although it can be busy
- Wildest: Chappelets, an eerily quiet red at the far side of Moriond
- Hardest: Jockeys, on which it’s hoped to host a future World Cup race, and Pitons
- Best avoided: Saulire in late afternoon when it’s crowded and dark
Where to stay
Val Thorens: Hôtel Le Fitz Roy
In the heart of Val Thorens lies the intimate Hôtel Le Fitz Roy. A favoured destination for hard-core alpinists searching for understated luxury, its 58 rooms merge traditional French chalet decor with contemporary mid-century design. The result is a familiar, homely atmosphere, one suited to both the adventurous and the casual skier alike.
Its location on Rond Point des Pistes means that you can ski in and ski out and you’re also in a prime spot for some après ski. For supper, the restaurant offers traditional French cuisine, using seasonal produce, all of which is sourced from local farmers – the venison, in particular, is sublime.
There’s also an indoor pool, a full spa service and a private ski shop, where experts can advise on the best off-piste skiing that Les 3 Vallées has to offer. Le Fitz Roy boasts as its hotel ambassador Aurelien Ducroz, a two-time Freeride World Tour Champion. He’s local and has won the toughest back-country ski competition in the world – twice. You’ll be in safe hands. Hugh Anderson
Rooms from €270 per night – www.hotelfitzroy.com
Méribel: Taiga Lodge, Dou du Pont
Like the middle child, the middle valley, Méribel, wants to be different – chalets dominate in a resort that’s long been hugely popular with the British.
Chalet Taiga is a perfect example of the now-upmarket properties scattered across the resort. Surrounded by silver birch trees, it has an easy-to-use shuttle-bus service. Charming drivers, who are more than happy to carry your skis, will ferry you to and from the slopes or, if you’re feeling very adventurous, you can ski home (warning: it’s off-piste and you’ll have to navigate your way back through the trees).
Design is cosy and intimate, and there’s a sauna, a hot tub with forest views, open fires and a cinema to help you recover. Nothing was too much trouble for hosts Sophie and Charlie; the food they produced was some of the best chalet fare I’ve ever eaten, a long way from the bargain spag bol of the past. Supper was rendered even more enjoyable thanks to my fellow guests; we all came to enjoy getting together at the end of the day and swapping stories from the slopes. Mark Hedges
VIP SKI offers seven nights from £1,129 per person, based on two sharing, including cooked breakfast, afternoon tea and three-course evening meal on six nights, return flights from London Gatwick, transfers and VIP SKI’s dedicated chalet service – www.vip-chalets.com
Courchevel 1850: Six Senses Resort
In the heart of Courchevel 1850, the Six Senses is a bastion of thoughtfulness. Every time you pass reception, a friendly member of staff pops out to offer a lift somewhere. The ski hut at the foot of the slopes, where Chris or Amandine will offer local knowledge and help you escape your boots as you collapse on a furry seat, was bliss after the exhilaration – and exhaustion – of a day skiing the entire 3 Vallées circuit.
The apartments, which are let through Scott Dunn, are beautifully appointed. We loved the iPad music system on which we discovered a brilliant 1970s channel (Supertramp on a loop). A thoughtful basket of provisions included Champagne, cheesy nibbles and pasta and pesto sauce.
We enjoyed the daily bread and croissant delivery (there’s a supermarket underneath the building), but there’s also a Club Lounge for breakfast or evening drinks that offers light suppers.
There’s a Stargazers Club for children, plus evening childcare service with qualified nannies and, for grown-ups and fair-weather skiers, a swish spa, with swim-ming pool, Kneipp footbath therapy and juice bar. Kate Green
Scott Dunn offers seven nights at the Scott Dunn at Six Senses Residences Courchevel, from £8,950 for a family of four, including British Airways return flights from London and private transfers – www.scottdunn.co.uk
Courchevel 1850: Aman Le Mélézin
When I was growing up, the idea of going skiing was, well, to go skiing. With the likes of hotels such as the Aman Le Mélézin, this has become a more challenging prospect. Indeed, the general manager told me that many guests only ski for a couple of hours – the explanation being that they couldn’t wait to return to the comforting embrace of this homage to style and comfort.
The artfully designed suites use wood in a modern twist on chalet chic. The new wellness centre with its stone hammam, Thai massage room and wood sauna takes up one whole floor and the new Japanese restaurant is a study in the art of cuisine as well as using local ingredients.
I did go skiing, and appreciated being able to ski to the door from the Bellecote piste, where someone would helpfully remove my boots, ready to be warmed for the next day. Rupert Uloth
Chambre Rooms from £958 on half-board basis, including lift passes and shuttle services within Courchevel 1850 – www.aman.resorts/aman-le-melezin
Food and drink
30 years ago, Courchevel was still a relatively simple place. Today, it has become more international, more accessible and much more expensive. A restaurant in which, strange as it now seems, impecunious chalet girls would gather for a basic lunch will now set you back €30 for onion soup, €50 for a burger and €60 for the cheapest wine.
This image needs addressing if this lovely place is to continue to attract families and young people, but Courchevel now undoubtedly excels in its thoughtfulness and attention to detail. If you have the funds then dinner at L’Apogee – a 53-room five-star hotel with cigar room, great music and rooftop hot tubs and Japanese restaurant –is romantic and worth saving up for, with excellent service and a great wine list.
For something simpler (and more affordable) head for the Auberge. It’s easy to whizz past this cave-like hut cut into the side of the hill underneath the better-known Bel Air restaurant and above La Casseroule in Moriond (Courchevel 1650), as it’s not marked on the piste map (it’s on the Ariondaz run). Don’t make that mistake, though: it’s owned by farmers who serve their own produce – omelettes, salads, cheese and dried meats – and is cosy in a whiteout. Booking, which still has to be done in person, is now essential.
In Méribel most guests stay (and eat) in their chalets, but if you’re venturing out then Chez Kiki is a favourite, where you can eat delicious steaks in front of a roaring fire amid traditional alpine surroundings.
In Val Thorens the Fitz Roy (as above) has a restaurant that’s as good as any in the village, while sister restaurant Le Val Thorens has a restaurant called Savoy which specialises in Alpine classics – this is the place to come for a traditional fondue.
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