“Les 3 Vallées”, The Three Valleys in France, are made up most famously of Courchevel, Meribel, and Val Thorens, and is one of the largest ski area’s in the world. So it should come as no surprise that it was one of my planned destinations – the problem was which one to go to!?
I have a friend who lives below Courchevel, and he raves about it, but I’d heard a lot about all three from various friends and internet sources, both good and bad, so deciding which one was best for me proved difficult – Courchevel is expensive, and is made up of several resorts (La Tania, Le Praz 1300, 1550, 1650, & 1850 at the top) and although it was once the choice of British families, it is now more commonly the hang-out of ever more wealthy Russian’s; Meribel is conveniently placed in the middle of the three valleys and caters well for families and is a more homely sort of place; Val Thorens is the cheaper of the three, so I was told, and is supposed to be the best for snowboarding, and seemed to be more a home for students and budget travelers – it’s also the home of La Folie Douce for Apres-ski on the slope, and it did have a more ‘party’ feel to it.
You’ll find a staggering amount of terrain whichever one you choose – and if I was giving recommendations or going back, I’d stay in Meribel or Val Thorens, well probably Meribel. In Courchevel I’d probably opt to stay with “Pleisure Holidays” down in 1300 or 1550.
But in the end, for this trip, it was taken out of my hands…
My family didn’t hide their concern when I told them I’d be staying with a random bunch of American guys I met on the internet, but thanks to the marvel of Facebook, they seemed to be a good laugh, and most importantly ‘real‘ – you need some small reassurances when you’re transferring money to random people!
I’d posted a rough itinerary on two ski websites – SnowHeads and GoneBoarding (the SnowHeads forum section was aptly named: SnoMates, but the amusing word-play didn’t make me feel any better about my ‘No Mates’ situation).
This trip was the result of those posts – the wonders of the internet had done its job – I’d found a place to stay in Courchevel 1850, and people to snowboard with, result!
It would be a trip of firsts for me in a few ways. Leaving aside the internet forums, we’d be staying in a self-catering apartment which would be a new experience on a snowboarding holiday.
I was surprised to find it was a pretty nice pad, although I doubt you’d find a poor quality place in Courchevel 1850, and the guys arrived shortly after myself, and any worries I had had about them disappeared quickly as we headed for the bars around the apartment for some socialising.
Self-catering chalets are ok if you’re on a budget or in a group and don’t mind cooking. I love cooking, but in Courchevel 1850 even the local supermarket was limited and expensive. Personally I prefer the catered-chalet option.
The following days saw the four of us – Dave, Brent, Todd and myself, do little other but ski, snowboard, eat, drink, socialise and a small amount of sleeping! Each logging a different amount of time doing each – I had to let one of the guys into the apartment as I headed out for the slopes… he’d been at a party until 9am!
They were a great bunch, and although some people hold opinions and have reservations about Americans, these guys were switched on, and an excellent laugh.
One morning I was out myself – I like to party as much as anyone, but I also like to snowboard, so I attempted both in equal measure! It wasn’t an easy feat!
We’d already explored a lot of Courchevels area’s, and unfortunately most of the runs were quite hard-packed. I went to Meribel to have a look there, and then received a call from a work mate, Duncan. He’s the one that raves about Courchevel being so good, so I took him up on his offer to be guided around Courchevel 1650. It was easily the best slopes in Courchevel, all round, which Duncan knew all too well. And I didn’t want to admit it, but Duncan does make skiing look pretty good, and keeping pace was tough!
Never under-estimate local knowledge.
Later in the week, we were joined by more American friends, Nolan and Lynne, and I was quickly outnumbered by skiers, but nobody seemed to care which was a nice surprise. Nolan had lived in Scotland, so he added to some of the hilarious Scottish accents and jokes.
Dave in particular amused me as every time he tried to speak “Scottish” he sounded like a high-pitched Hilter! There’s some quality video footage, somewhere.
I had a horrendous third day in the Snow Park trying to do jumps. Between my hangover and lack of ‘bottle’, I managed to disgrace myself in quite a spectacular fashion by tackling a large jump but freaked out on the way up the kicker, and in trying to stop I hit a post at the side and was like a slow semi-airborne crash-test-dummy, as I landed on my back on top of the kicker facing the wrong way – a good effort which I hope never to repeat!
I have been hitting the smaller jumps ok, which is a start, all be it a poor one.
The last two days were the best snowboarding I did though, heading all the way across The Three Valleys and a good chunk in between.
Val Thorens we found to be busy with beginners going slowly and without purpose (I nearly knocked over a quite attractive girl who was learning to ski, accidentally I swear, and was called a “dick” by her angry boyfriend) but to be honest managing to dodge everyone was impossible so we made trails quickly for the harder and quieter slopes on the far side.
The runs up from Les Menuires on the Masse lifts were the most fun of the whole three valleys, with breathtaking views at the top.
It seemed to be a common opinion among locals.
Of all the things I was told about visiting Courchevel, there was one thing that stood out – don’t get stuck in Meribel, or worse still Val Thorens! You know what’s coming right?
Near the end of the trip, everyone ended up at the famous La Folie Douce which was heaving with afternoon apres-ski party goers, and naturally everyone wanted to stay, however it only ended after the lifts close, 5pm, and I wasn’t prepared to risk losing my gear or sleeping in a drunkenly constructed ill-fashioned igloo in Val Thorens – however some of the guys were…!
Myself and Nolan only just made it back to link in with Lynne in Courchevel, and we had an excellent night where I was introduced to some French culinary delights such as Raclette and Fondue – melted cheese! I’d never been a massive fan of cheese, I was always happy with Mature Cheddar on my crackers and Mozzarella on my pizza, but my eye’s have been opened, and I’ve never eaten so much cheese in my life until this trip!
The last day was amusing. Lynne, Nolan and myself yet again headed across the Three Valleys, and slowly bumped into the guys at various points during the day. They were alive, and had had a wildly interesting night which had ended with the loss or theft of all their gear, and sleeping together under a stairs in a Mall in Val Thorens!
It was that or a three-hour €200 taxi at 3am! Even the hotels were full.
So don’t get stuck in Val Thorens. To be fair to the guys, if I had to rely on my good looks and charm to find myself a bed for the night, I doubt I’d survive!
During our last meal together, Lynne had decided she’d join me for the next leg of my trip into Switzerland.
We’d been getting on well, had a lot in common, and as she had no firm plans it would be good to have her along. She is also a more experience traveler, very friendly and a lot of fun, so it made sense for us to link up for a week, plus she’s an excellent skier so it would keep me working hard.
Onwards to Villars in Switzertland!
The 3 Valleys – http://www.les3vallees.com/en/
Pleisure Snowboarding Holidays – http://www.pleisure.co.uk/
Three Vallee Shared Transfers – http://www.3vt.co.uk/
Resident Belledonne, Courchevel 1850 – http://www.residencebelledonne.com/US_residence_les-appartements.html
La Folie Douce, Val Thorens – http://www.lafoliedouce-valthorens.com/v2/