Richard Lumb loves skiing in Courchevel. And no wonder. He’s the Director of luxury-skiing specialist Kaluma Travel, and has spent much of the last 12 seasons in the resort.
“Mostly, I’m hosting events and overseeing operations – but I get out on my skis as often as possible,” he says. “I’ll snatch an hour between meetings if the snow’s good, or ski down to the Le Praz at the end of the day – sometimes by moonlight. On nights like that, I’ll drop into the bar of Le Peupliers for a beer to toast the run, and remind myself that, yes, this really is work.
“What really strikes me about Courchevel’s skiing is the variety – the mix between broad ultra-smooth pistes, tree runs and oh-my-god steeps,” he says. “There’s an A-list descent to suit every level of skier, and every change in the weather.” Here, to give us a sense of that variety, he’s asked four Courchevel locals to nominate their favourite runs – and added his own recommendations at the end.
Loïc is manager of the Ecole du Ski Francais at Courchevel Village (aka Courchevel 1550). He was born in Grenoble, and starting skiing when he was two, in Les Deux Alpes. He’s raced with both the French national team and the University of Utah. For the last 10 years, he’s spent his winters in Courchevel.
On-piste, and Off: The Grand Couloir to Courchevel Village
For me, the best descent in Courchevel starts with the Grand Couloir – the steep black run from the top of the Saulire which is half-way between a piste and off-piste. I love it because of its high-mountain atmosphere. There you are in the middle of a busy and famous ski resort, and for a few minutes it feels like you’ve skied into the back of beyond.
Watch out for the entrance, though. It’s along a narrow ridge, about 100m long, with steep drops on either side. It’s important to stay calm, and slow down. Then, once you’re on the run itself you’ll almost always find good snow – if you know where to look. Most skiers stick to the middle, and that’s where its famous moguls form: on the sides there is often powder.
At the bottom, you can ski onto the Combe Saulire red, but if you have a guide and/or avalanche safety equipment, you should turn hard left and ski round to the lovely Rocher de l’Ombre off-piste run. Eventually you’ll rejoin the pistes and ski into Courchevel 1850. But don’t stop there. Continue down to Courchevel 1550 (aka Courchevel Village), and keep to the left of the ski school’s private slalom course. There, amongst the trees you’ll find a little piste with no name which is sometimes groomed, sometimes not. Hardly anyone knows about it – not even the locals.
Chris began his skiing career when he went out to work a season in Courchevel in 1998. Now, he and his wife Sian run Ski Physio – a network of clinics and physiotherapists in the French Alps. I get to travel with some of my clients too,” he says. “I’ve clocked up over 100 hours of heli-skiing as a result.”
If you told me I could only ski one piste in Courchevel, it would be the Biollay blue. It’s almost always open, rarely affected by bad weather, and serves up some beautiful views. If the visibility’s good, you can see all the way to Mont Blanc.
It’s also a great example of how accessible Courchevel is. If you’re not a great skier, you won’t be stuck on a handful of pistes at the bottom of the mountain as you are in many ski areas. Here, large sections of the resort are skiable: and you’ll find runs like Biollay a joy. It’s broad and steady, and you’ll have time and space to relax and find your rhythm. Meanwhile, first thing in the morning – when it’s quiet – more experienced skiers can get up on their edges and carve some big, fast turns. Because it faces north, the snow is usually soft and grippy.
On-piste: Saulire to St Bon
Few people realise that the lowest point of Courchevel’s piste network is not Le Praz, at 1300m: it’s Saint Bon at 1100m. When the weather’s cold and the snow’s good, you can ski there from the top of Saulire without stopping – dropping through 1600 vertical metres. The final “St Bon” piste is also a canny spot on a whiteout day, because the trees add definition to the snow. You’ll see hardly anyone there, and there are buses every 15 minutes back up to the nearest lift.
Mark is one of seven instructors at the British ski school Sweet Snowsports, which offers lessons in Courchevel, Meribel and La Tania. He started skiing when he was 11, switched to snowboarding, and found his way back to skis in his twenties. He’s taught all over the world, but now lives full-time in Courchevel.
On-piste: Cave des Creux
Most people ski straight past the start of Cave des Creux. A red-rated piste, it’s one of three runs peeling right off the Altiport blue as it winds round the mountain back towards Courchevel 1850; and it this point everyone’s usually thinking about lunch or getting back to base. Even I’ve been known to miss it.
It’s well worth putting on your hit list, though. Piste-Basher HQ is near the top, and so it’s usually impeccably groomed, and it’s served by the new, super-quick Aiguille des Fruits chairlift. It’s the perfect set-up for some blissful high-speed laps first thing in the morning, or when everyone’s having lunch.
Adam is part of New Generation’s team of seven instructors in Courchevel 1850. After studying History and Politics at the University of Stirling and Carleton University in Ottawa, he swapped libraries for the slopes, and has nine years of teaching under his belt, in the Alps, North America and Australia. He now lives year-round in Courchevel.
The classics in the Three Valleys – such as Combe Saulire – get so much coverage in the media, I’m going to pick somewhere a little more off-beat. When the snow’s fresh, or when visibility isn’t great, Folyéres is a fantastic long run down into La Tania. On the steeper end of the ‘blue’ scale, it offers tons of variety with plenty of rollers, cambers and little trails in amongst the trees for small, big, and overgrown kids alike. When the clouds come down, the trees offer much-needed definition – as well as protection from the wind. Much better than battling against a whiteout at the top of the resort!
The run’s definitely at its best in the morning: it can get icy in the afternoon, as temperatures begin to drop. Best of all is the reward you get at the bottom, – un sandwich Savoyard courtesy of Kirsty in La Saucisse Savoyarde. It’s the best snack on the mountain.
“I had a near-miss with accountancy, before my skiing career began in earnest,” Richard remembers. “Then a sabbatical working as a ski guide in Kitzbuhel put me on the right track.” Richard is now the Director of luxury ski specialist Kaluma Travel, and for much of the season, he’s based in Courchevel. However, this winter, he says he might sneak away for a “research” trip to Japan…
On-piste, and off: La Tania, the Loze and the Combe de Pylone
My favourite sk , with an hour or two to spare between operational jobs and meeting guests, always starts at the Plantrey chairflift. There’s a bench there, which gets the morning sun and four bars of 4G mobile reception. It’s tragic, I know: but we all know how the modern world works.
If there’s a sniff of recent snow, I’m off-piste through the bumps and trees towards La Tania (I’ll ski down the Cretes piste to the tree line, then head into the woods). Or I’ll have a fast blast in the sunshine down the Loze red towards 1850, making sure I hang a (very) hard right to cut through to the Biollay chairlift.
From the top of the lift, there are bumps and a jump (off-piste again) to the bottom of the Vizelle gondola, or the Saulire cable car. I much prefer sitting down in one of the Vizelle bubbles, rather than the cattle-truck conditions in the cable car. There’s time for a quick email check, then I’ll usually have to ski back to base. My favourite run from the top is the Combe de Pylone black, which is usually in much better condition than the other black, piste M (aka ‘The Monster’ because of its icy bumps).