Les Trois Vallées Ski Season
The resorts which make up the Three Valleys ski area have slightly different ski seasons with some slopes in Val Thorens and Orelle opening as early as the last week of November whilst others such as Brides-les-Bains usually open for business about three weeks later. Most of the resorts plan on ending their season during the final week of April though Val Thorens and Orelle usually manage an extra couple of weeks. Check the official website of Les 3 Vallées for confirmation of this coming season’s dates.
Choosing Your Ski Resort
Les 3 Vallées is made up of eight different resorts each of which has something different to offer visitors in terms of skiing options, accommodation and nightlife. Some cater mainly to the jetsetters whilst the majority are welcoming to the vast majority of visitors travelling with a rather more modest budget. Here’s a brief summary of each of the resorts to help you decide which one will most likely be best for you:
The Courchevel resort is made up of four different villages which until recently were named according to their altitude. Today they are described in the winter ski brochures as follows:
- Courchevel (formerly known as “Courchevel 1850”)
- Courchevel Moriond (formerly known as “Courchevel 1650”)
- Courchevel Village (formerly known as “Courchevel 1550”)
- Courchevel Le Praz (formerly known as “Courchevel 1330”)
It is the Courchevel at 1850 metres which attracts most attention thanks to its VIP clientele list which has included British Royals William and Kate (Windsor), wannabe Royals David and Victoria (Beckham) as well as A-List entertainers from around the world and a who’s who of Russian oligarchs. Its luxury accommodation includes around a dozen 5-star hotels and two of the new category 6-star hotels (known as “palaces”) which the French authorities have designated as the country’s finest lodgings. Only eight such properties exist nationwide and none of the other six are in ski resorts. Its dining options are consistent with its accommodation having attracted Michelin-star chefs who have earned 11 Michelin stars amongst the resort’s restaurants. Today the resort is a playground of the rich (mainly Russians) and famous and is inaccessible for the masses so let’s take a look at some more realistic resort options.
La Tania (1400m)
Located in a forest right in the heart of the Three Valleys, the family orientated resort of La Tania is a far more modest option. Here you can afford to sleep and eat but are far less likely to bump into George Clooney than you would be in Courchevel! There are local ski runs catering for all levels and a selection of first class ski schools. You can ski directly out from some of the ski lodges and a Gondola is available to take you up to a chair lift from where you can ski to either Courchevel or Méribel. Evenings in the village are low key but most pleasant.
If you’d like to stay in the most Alpine of all Alpine destinations then Méribel is the resort to consider. The structural beauty of this stunning destination is largely thanks to a Scotsman called Peter Lindsay who in the 1930s identified Les Allues as a town where he could develop a ski resort well away from the resorts of Austria and Germany where Naziism had taken hold. His property development in Méribel was halted by the outbreak of the Second World War but continued afterwards with an emphasis on building chalets according to the traditions of the Duchy of Savoy. This meant that walls were constructed with locally sourced wood and stone whilst the sloping roofs were made of local slate. Evidence of his passion for this traditional architecture is all around you to this day. Méribel is a very special resort where development has been strictly controlled over the years leaving a vibrant community of locals and visitors. The ability to ski in and out of all the chalets is a particular attraction of this resort. Méribel earned worldwide recognition in 1992 when it hosted events during the Albertville Winter Olympics.
During those 1992 Olympic Games neighbouring Brides-les-Bains served as an Olympic village thanks to its proximity to Méribel. Today that proximity has allowed it to grow in its own right as a low cost alternative to the more upmarket resort down the road whose celebrated ski slopes can be reached by cable-car using the 3 Valleys Ski Pass. Brides-les-Bains has gained a reputation as the budget option when it comes to skiing in Les Trois Vallées with accommodation prices a fraction of what they are at more prestigious resorts further up the mountain. Whilst some of the properties on offer are a little ‘disappointing’ to say the least there are still some fine options available provided you do your research. Amenities in the village include some excellent health spas whilst the low key nightlife tends to centre largely on hotel bars.
Les Menuires (1850m)
Thanks to its altitude and challenging slopes Les Menuires was an obvious choice to host the men’s slalom at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Nowadays it serves as an excellent choice for skiers of all abilities whilst attracting more than its fair share of fearless downhill junkies hooked on the rush of high speed descents. Lower ability skiers shouldn’t be deterred as there are excellent facilities for beginners including first class ski schools many catering specifically for children. There’s a wide selection of accommodation options on offer to suit a range of budgets, with the ability to ski directly from your lodging (as was introduced in Méribel) available at many of them. With around 40 ski lifts, slopes to suit all ability levels, excellent hotels and plenty restaurants in a relaxed nightlife resort this is another fine choice for a family ski holiday.
As you enter the beautiful Vallée des Belleville you’ll come across the delightful village of Saint Martin which has stood the test of time in maintaining its rustic French charm whilst developing into a popular ski destination. The quantity of tourist beds on offer has certainly increased over the years but strict development regulations have ensured that a top quality tourism experience awaits the limited number of visitors. In the absence of large scale development the accommodation options available tend to be traditional rural accommodation which has been stylishly converted for the ski fraternity. As such the resort appeals to independent travellers. There are a limited number of ski runs on your immediate doorstep but just two ski lifts gets you to Méribel and Les Trois Vallées. Typical of rural France there’s not a lot of nightlife although there are some outstanding restaurants including La Bouitte which has won two Michelin Stars.
For budget conscious visitors looking for a sound base from which to discover the Three Valleys it’s worth considering the small village of Orelle in the Maurienne Valley. The typical stone and wood houses with slate roofs abound in this charming location from where visitors can quickly travel up the mountain to the diverse slopes of the region via the world’s longest télécabine. There’s little evening entertainment to recommend Orelle so if budget isn’t the number one consideration you’d certainly be better off booking early and making sure to get a place up the mountain in Van Thorens.
Val Thorens (2300m)
Still unsure which resort is best for you? Well we’ve kept the best until last … at 2300m Val Thorens is Europe’s highest ski resort but the superlatives don’t stop there. Last year it was selected as not only France’s best ski resort but also the best ski resort in the world at the prestigious ‘World Ski Awards’. Standing at the top of the Three Valleys it provides ready access to the vast quantity of slopes available in what we’ve already identified as the world’s largest ski area. Whilst some resorts bemoan the lack of snow due to global warming Van Thorens boasts guaranteed snow of exceptional quality throughout the season thanks to its elevated location. The resort’s ski area is a vast expanse of slopes catering for every level of skier as well as the possibility to try every other winter sport. Beginners will feel at ease on the nursery slopes with the option to sign up for classes at any number of excellent ski schools. Advanced skiers can go as high as 3220m to ski the mighty peaks of Pointe du Bouchet and Cime de Caron. Options available are simply mind blowing to such an extent that you’ll want to keep returning here year after year along with the international clientele who frequent these slopes. Together with a fine select of accommodation, excellent restaurants and the best après-ski in the Alps, Val Thorens really does have it all.
Getting to the Three Valleys
Whilst the French airports of Lyon, Grenoble and Chambéry provide convenient access to the resorts of The Three Valleys, it is the Swiss airport of Geneva which serves as the main gateway to Europe’s best ski resorts. Geneva International Airport lies just 4km northwest of Switzerland’s 2nd largest city whilst sitting right on the Swiss/French border. Transfers from the airport to Courchevel take around 2½hours along the A41 via Annecy. A number of specialist ski transfer operators provide services from Geneva airport to the resorts of the Three Valleys as well from Lyon, Grenoble and Chambéry which are also accessible to the slopes but with a lot fewer incoming flights.