Courchevel for the budget conscious skier
Courchevel? One of the hottest ski resorts in the Three Valleys area of France? The top Alpine resort that is a regular haunt of the rich and famous? Yes, that’s the place! And last week I had the good fortune to spend a week snowboarding in this very resort. What I discovered is a skiing destination that can be very pricey, but also great value for money!
Splash out the cash if you wish
Yes, you can pay over the odds for accommodation (there is a chalet for sale for £33 million!). If you want to dine out in extraordinarily expensive restaurants, there is plenty of choice. There are even bars where you can pay the same for a small dram of whisky as it costs for a bottle in Asda. You can shop for a wide range of exclusive designer labels and pay way more than would ever be considered reasonable.
Something for the budget-conscious
But there are also chalets and hotels that offer much more affordable accommodation; restaurants and cafes that only charge twice the average price in the UK (ski resorts are always expensive); and bars where a Vin Chaud is €2.
A ski resort of contrasts
The contrast in costs depends upon which “level” of Courchevel that you choose. There a four mini resorts within the bigger resort: 1850, 1650, 1550 and 1300. While Courchevel 1850 – where the rich and famous head – is by far the priciest and chicest, the lower resort of Courchevel 1300 is much the same price as numerous other Three Valley resorts. Our chalet cost less than £700 per person, including full catering and flights from Glasgow, for a week’s holiday in popular February. £700 might still seem like a lot of money but ski holidays are always costly and ours did include cooked breakfasts, three course dinners, cake and afternoon tea and truly fab chalet hosts.
The lift pass was extra but this price would be the same wherever you stayed in the Three Valleys.
By shopping around we found lunches, including panini, chips and a can of juice, for less than €10. This is cheap for a ski resort, by the way!
The poorer person’s Courchevel
Just because it is cheaper it doesn’t mean that Courchevel 1300 lacks charm and atmosphere. In fact, Le Praz village at Courchevel 1300 was one of the nicest Alpine villages I have come across and with less than a 10 minute cable car ride to Courchevel 1850 it had great access to the 150kms of pisted downhill slopes on offer in the Courchevel resort. Add in the Three Valleys and you’re looking at some 600kms of skiing possibilities! Thanks to masses of snow in the area this year, we were able to ski back to 1300, although I can imagine there will be times and years when you’ll need to descend by cable car due to lack of snow.
Six friends and a catered chalet ski holiday
For one couple, it was their fist ski holiday. Another couple had skied all over Europe and further afield and were looking for miles and miles of fantastic skiing at top speed. The G-Force and I were somewhere in the middle! While I have snowboarded for 10 years in many European resorts I like to take things a little slower than top speed – and I love off-piste riding. The G-Force is already a very competent skier after only two previous holidays and was looking for a chance to ski at speed but also with control – and in a resort with lots and lots of piste options.
So, as a group, we were hoping for a resort that had a wide range of green, blue, red and black runs and had easy access to the wider, and much renowned Three Valleys ski area.
We also had a few other requirements on our checklist:
* Good value, high quality accommodation in a catered chalet
* An Alpine village atmosphere
* A couple of good pubs, serving pints of beer and lots of vin chaud
* Night life at the quieter end of the scale
* Friendly fellow chalet sharers.
Crystal Ski offered the Chalet Du Praz. Four-star rated with catered breakfast and evening meals, plus afternoon tea. Lunches were an additional option but still good value. The chalet hosts, Toyah and Hattie, could not have been more welcoming, friendly and lovely.
And what a superb place to be located. Courcheval itself boasts 150kms of downhill pistes, served by 62 chairlifts. There are 27 green runs, 44 blue runs, 38 red runs and 10 black runs. The feel of the pistes in Courcheval is wide and spacious with an amazing landscape as the backdrop.
Courcheval also gives easy access to the entire Three Valleys area including such skiing resort gems as Meribel and Val Thorens. There’s 600kms of pisted slopes to explore in this area.
If this isn’t enough, the snow slopes that aren’t pisted are also open to off-pisters. You’ll want to pay attention to avalanche warnings etc but it seems that very little of the mountainsides in the Courcheval area is off-limits.
As experienced father and son skiers Douglas and Graham said to me during the trip: “We have been to Courcheval and the Three Valleys for seven years of holidays but we are still to ski all the runs.”
Courchevel 1300 – Le Praz: A traditional mountain village with houses and chalets arranged on narrow, winding streets. Le Praz is the cheaper option for accommodation, eating out and drinking.
Courchevel 1550: Still boasting good value for money, 1550 is the more family-oriented level. The sledging run, which starts from 1850, ends at 1550.
Courchevel 1650: This area is a dream come true if you love flattering and scenic green and blue runs. There are lots of apres-ski options.
Courchevel 1850: This is the most expensive level of the ski resort and consequently attracts the richest of skiers. If you don’t have the money, it’s worth an evening wander just to check out the designer shops and exclusive restaurants. This is the Courcheval that is renowned for luxury establishments… but just because you have chosen the cheaper accommodation option lower down the valley it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the pistes and shops here. You might need a small bank loan, though, if you plan to go out for dinner at this level!
With a wide range of abilities to cater for Courchevel and the Three valleys area provided a playground to keep every one of our group smiling for six days. Our beginner skiing pals loved Courchevel 1650, with its flattering green and blue runs. Our advanced skiing pals, Mr and Ms Awesome, spent several happy days journeying by skis across many, many miles of the Three valleys to Val Thorens, via La Tania, Meribel and Les Menuries on blue, red and black runs.
The G-force and I also pushed our limits, heading twice to Val Thorens. (Once in the wake of Mr and Ms A!) We coasted down winding blue runs, attacked fantastic red runs and dared ourselves to tackle several black runs. For many happy hours, we also tested our technique and physical fitness on a range of off-piste bowls and slopes.
A chalet of skiers and snowboarders
Other guests in our 14-person chalet included skiers and snowboarders covering an age range from 12 to 68, and an ability level from beginner to utterly superb skier. Every evening while eating dinner together in the chalet we exchanged stories of great skiing days and adventure and swapped tales of frighteningly over-priced restaurants mingled with tips of great budget food finds. Sunburned faces, aching muscles, bruises and tiredness were tempered by an upbeat atmosphere and a weather forecast that promised sun, blue skies and some of the best skiing conditions for decades. (We were very lucky with the weather because for weeks beforehand temperatures had been around minus 15. During our week, we basked in warmth and sunshine.)
There are cheaper places for a ski holiday in the Three Valleys. But there are few places as pretty and with as many skiing options as Courchevel. I have also stayed in Val Thorens (livelier and for younger people!) and Les Menuries (cheaper but very little to do apres-ski). I liked the look of La Tania, too, and the prices are attractive. But for a balance of scenery, great accommodation, fair prices, fabulous skiing and lovely apres-ski options I’d return to Courchevel 1300 any time.
* I travelled courtesy of Ski Crystal. Everyone else paid. Just so you know. But we all agreed that Courchevel 1300 made a great deal of sense for fabulous skiing, high quality accommodation and at a good price.