Vincent Lalanne loves skiing Les 3 Vallées in France. And no wonder: he’s the Director of the Association of Les 3 Vallées, and lives in a Courchevel Village. That means on a clear evening he and his wife Magali can go ski touring, almost from their front door, all the way up to the Col de la Loze. “At the top, we look out over the lights of the resort and the mountain summits under the stars,” he says. “I can’t think of a better way to end the day.”
There are, of course, many other cracking runs in the area, both on-piste and off; and to give you a taste of what’s out there, he’s asked both 3V natives, and long-term residents, to nominate their favourite runs. Here’s what they said.
Timy has been living in Val Thorens for more than 20 years and runs the resort’s Office de la Montagne, which specialises in off-piste and ski-touring in the Three Valleys. He’s a qualified instructor, as well as a member of the Salomon freeride team. His motto? “There’s no such thing as a bad day on skis.”
Off-piste: north face of the Cime Caron, Val Thorens
Of course, it’s hard to recommend off-piste descents, because so much depends on the snow conditions, the avalanche risk, and the skill of the skiers. But I think it’s fair to say that most of the best off-piste in Val Thorens is off the Cime Caron.
For example, the north face is steep and quick, and drops through 900 vertical metres – and there are lots of ways down (besides the three groomed pistes). Right underneath the cable-car, you’ll find a band of couloirs, and some of these have a 45-degree pitch – so they’re pretty “engaging”. In other words, you’ll need to be an expert to ski them. But there are easier routes if you stick to the gentler vallons between the pistes.
Then, afterwards you can head back up the cable-car and do the Vallée du Lou, all the way to the lowest part of the ski area in Val Thorens. It’s a very wide valley, and on the way down you don’t see any lifts or pistes. Of course, you’ll need to hire a guide before you tackle descents like this – which is no problem, because there lots of them right here at the Office de la Montagne!
On-piste: Boismint/Le Plan de l’Eau, Val Thorens
This descent starts from the top of the Boismint charlift, at 2640m, and finishes at the lowest point in Val Thorens ski area at around 1800m. It’s a beauty: you drop through more than 800 vertical metres, and for most of the time you’re looking straight down the Belleville valley as you go.
The piste is rated red, and it’s wide – so you have space enough to carve long terms, and let the skis go: but there’s one pitch which is steeper and more technical, and after that there are no more flat sections: so you keep that feeling of intensity right to the bottom.
It’s not groomed every day, so you should check the grooming report first. But if it is, head there first thing in the morning. It’s a time of day when most skiers are heading up to the top of the ski resort, not down to the bottom, so it’s usually quiet; and because it faces north-east the snow is almost always in good condition. It was still open on the last day of the season this year – May 8.
One-time member of the Ski Club de Meribel, Julie went on to become the World Snowboarding Champion in 2004, and competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics. After a spell in Annecy, she now lives in Meribel, and is a ski instructor in the Three Valleys. If you ever sit down to lunch at the Telebar in Meribel, you may find her tucking into the veal scallop, with mushrooms, cream and home-made french fries…
La Breche de la Portetta, Courchevel
This is a ski-touring route, which starts in Courchevel, and will take you right out of the ski area, down to Pralognan-la-Vanoise. You take the lift up to the Col de la Chanrossa, ski down to the Vallée des Avals, and then it’s time to start hiking!
What I really love about it is the way the atmosphere changes. You can skin up part of the route, but near the top, you have to get your skis off and walk. You’re in this really tight couloir: narrow, deep, with towering rocks on either side Waouhhhhh: suddenly it’s as if you’re in the Dolomites, not the French Alps.
Then on the other side you ski a second couloir down to Pralognan. At the start it’s steep – and you need small, short turns to get down, before the slope widens out, and you can start to relax. At the bottom, you can skin up another route back to Courchevel, via le Col des Grandes Pierres: if you still have the strength, that is…
Fancy trying La Breche de la Portetta yourself? Hire a guide through guides-courchevel-meribel.com
Tom was co-founder the British ski school New Generation in Courchevel 1650, back in 1998. When he’s not opening new branches of New Gen across the Alps, he still lives and teaches in Courchevel. “The Three Valleys such a big area,” he says. “It’s got so much to give.”
On-piste: Creux, Courchevel
I think Creux, the long red piste at the top of Courchevel, is a canny choice for an early-morning run.
At that time of day, everyone’s heading to the famous Combe Saulire, which is north facing, and plunged in shadow – and it can be absolutely Baltic there after a cold night. Creux, by contrast, is sunny, quiet and much more cheerful – and if you’re skiing it in the spring, after an overnight freeze, you’ll find its snow is already beginning to soften when Combe Saulire’s surface is still rock-hard.
The piste is rated red, and offers lots of variety. At the top, the left side is generally steeper than the right, so you can work on your short turns and sharpen up your technique, or switch to the other side, and take it easy – or maybe put in some big, fast carving turns. It’s certainly wide enough for that. I’m often down there with clients, because the variations in pitch means we can work on lots of different skills.
Neal set up the holiday company Flexiski in the late 1980s, and moved to Courchevel for the 92/93 season. “Having sold the company just before the Millennium, I thought I would then leave the area and try some other resorts,” he says. “But, there is nowhere like the Three Valleys. It really does have something for everyone.” He’s spends every winter there, and runs tailor-made ski-holiday specialist Green to Black.
On-Piste: Combe de Pylone, Courchevel
My absolute favourite piste is the Combe de Pylon above Courchevel 1850. It’s a magnificent black which starts from the top of the Vizelle gondola, and in its early stages serves up the most amazing bird’s-eye view over the Courchevel valley.
Then it splits. The right-hand fork becomes the M, while Combe de Pylon seems to disappear over the edge of a cliff. Don’t worry. Appearances are deceptive. When it’s pisted (check the grooming report before you go), it’s not that difficult, and first thing in the morning it’s blissfully quiet, too. It’s the perfect slope for a testing warm-up run, looking straight down on all the ants on the famous Combe de Saulire red, below. In fact, it’s so good, I usually ski it twice.
Derek’s been based in Meribel since 1998 and has worked as a ski instructor since 1999. He’s now with the Marmalade Ski School. “I ski nearly every day of every season,” he says, “and always enjoy what the Three Valleys have to offer. It’s such a vast area, I’m always finding – or refinding – a wee hidden gem here and there.”
On-piste: Eterlou, Meribel
It is hard to choose a favourite run when you’re as fickle as I am! With that in mind I think the fairest method is to go for the one I ski the most.
And that’s simple – Eterlou.
It’s at the top of the Plan De L’Homme chair-lift above Meribel and is north-east-ish facing so the snow is usually in good nick. It’s also high enough above the base runs to not get crowded with returning skiers: but low enough to stay protected from any inclement weather.
If you want to work on your technique this is your piste. It’s rated red. It starts nice and gentle, steepens for the second half – and then mellows slightly before the lift. Intermediates can use the flatter top section for carving and high-speed skiing, before working on their short turns on the steeper section. Meanwhile, more advanced skiers can try maintaining their carving all the way down. That’s no mean feat, and requires technique, strength and a steady nerve!
There’s one last sneaky bonus – on a powder day it’s a magical run if you can get to it before anyone else does. Soft snow on a smooth, predictable base. Lovely.
Eterlou: it’s my favourite run! But ask me tomorrow and I’ll pick another for a very different reason.
Helen is owner and manager of the Alpine Club – a collection of boutique chalets in St Martin de Belleville. She lives there year round with her husband Chris, and dog Maddie – and mixes skiing and ski touring in winter with hiking and biking in the summer. “Are we living the dream?” she asks. “I couldn’t possibly comment.”
On-piste: Jerusalem, St Martin de Belleville
This piste starts on the ridge line between St Martin de Belleville and the Meribel valley – and is accessed from the new St Martin Express, or Tougnete 2 from Meribel. At the moment, it’s rated red at the top, and can get a little lumpy and bumpy: but after the first section it becomes a blue, and rolls and dips as it descends towards St Martin. By the start of the 2016-7 ski season, work on the underlying terrain will have made the whole run blue.
En route, it serves up the most magnificent views. There’s nothing out there but mountains, dotted with the odd Savoyard hamlet and barn, and you can’t even see another piste. It feels like you’re skiing into a secret kingdom of snow.
Afterwards, the place to celebrate is Le Corbeleys – one of my favourite restaurants. It’s owned and managed by a local St Martin family, who have restaurants in their blood – they also run Le Montagnard & Jardin de Josephine in St Martin de Belelville and Chez Pépé Nicolas between Les Menuires and Val Thorens. It’s an old barn, with the original stone walls now adorned with family memorabilia and cosy sheepskins. They do a cracking plat du jour and on a sunny day, the terrace serves up jaw-dropping along the Belleville valley.
Didier grew up in the Alps and came to live in the Bellevile valley some 20 years ago. For most of that time, he’s been a ski instructor with the Ecole du Ski Francais in Les Menuires. He’s also a qualified mountain leader. He loves skiing off-piste: “It’s the perfect contrast to the easy-going days of summer, when I’m hiking and mountain-biking,” he says.
Off-piste: the Encombre Valley, Les Menuires
My all-time favorite off-piste run in the Three Valleys is this 15km descent from Pointe de la Masse above Les Menuires, all the way down to St Martin de Belleville. It’s a beautiful run, full of variety. At the top, you’ll often find deep powder, and a good gradient; and you’ll finish amidst a gentle landscape of rolling hills and trees. I like the choice of lines too. There’s not one way down, but hundreds.
You don’t have to be an expert to tackle it. The avalanche risk here is permanent, so you’ll need to ski it with a qualified guide, properly equipped with transceivers, probes and shovels. But in terms of the level of skill required, I would say that a good intermediate skier (red runs or class 3 in the ESF system) could handle it, after a couple of half-day, off-piste training sessions. It’ll take about two hours, and you’ll finish in the hamlet of Chatelard, two minutes from St Martin – where a stop at the bar-restaurant La Voute, facing the church, is a must!
Do you think our team has missed some Three Valleys classics? Then tell us about them in the comments box below…