A little nervous and giggly, the four of us – Our Wonderful Leader (OWL), Phaffless and Ballsy (PHAB), the G-Force and I – entered the lift pass ticket office in La Tania on the final day of our skiing trip in the Three valleys. As we handed our electronic passes to the sales assistant, my heart beat slightly faster and my hands suddenly felt clammy with sweat.
Staring at the face of the sales person, I scrutinised her expression but it seemed bizarrely blank. Quietly, she placed the first lift pass, OWL’s, on top of a small machine and then looked over at her computer. Nothing seemed to be registering yet she continued her patient vigil.
I willed her to show some kind of emotion. Did her blank face mean we had missed a vital link in during our week’s challenge and she was trying to work out where it was? Or was she simply hesitating because the screen was taking so long to update?
Then the waiting was over. She turned to us, suddenly smiling, and said: “Congratulations, you have been successful. You have done the Escapade.”
All at once, we felt relieved, delighted and proud. Over the previous five days, we had each skied some 300kms and almost 50,000 metres of vertical descent (that’s about five times the height of Everest) in a bid to complete the Three Valleys Escapade. We had done it and received a certificate and badge to prove it. (Shame they don’t sell t-shirts.)
The Escapade was invented as a promotional concept some 11 years ago by a group of skiers in La Tania, a village resort in the Courchevel valley and part of the vast Three Valleys Ski Area. The aim of the skiing challenge is to visit a set number of points across the Three Valleys during one holiday. This includes the resorts of Courchevel 1650 and 1500, La Tania, Le Praz, Meribel, Mottaret, Les Menuires, St Martin, Val Thorens and the Fourth Valley.
The original Escapade included 30 lifts, 13,000m vertical and 70km travelled (if completed as one continuous outing). In 2016, there were 34 lifts (18 mandatory), 17,000m vertical and 100km.
The 2017 Escapade has 34 lifts (17 mandatory), too, and a similar vertical height and distance.
In 2006, punch cards had to be stamped at each lift checkpoint until the arrival of electronic lift passes. In more recent years, the lift pass is used to count the number of lifts visited – and, therefore, a wide range of places in the Three Valleys, which is acclaimed as one of the world’s largest linked areas.
Piste maps and on-line maps reveal where the Escapade points and lifts are to be found and it’s up to the skiers to work out their own routes.
You can take as long as you wish to record the required checkpoints but most people aim to complete the Escapade over a week’s holiday – or in the time that they have a lift pass. If you finish, you receive a certificate and badge.
Of course, there are those who will always want to take a challenge to the extreme and some skiers have managed to complete the Escapade in just one day with various records set for a one-day Escapade. (However, speed records are not really encouraged because when slopes are busy it’s important that skiers take care rather than head down slopes too fast.)
Even so, there is a record kept of Day Escapaders in the Hall of Fame. A group from La Tania known as the “Old School” took eight hours to do the first Escapade in a day. They included Nick, Sandy, Toffa, Dave, Brian, Toby, Jack and Chuck.
The route has change over the years and the lift system has improved a lot, too, so it is hard to compare year by year but it’s believed George Sanderson is probably the record holder on the current route in 6 hours 17 minutes.
However, for most skiers the aim is to finish the Escapade in less than six days as part of a holiday that explores the vast ski area. By starting and finishing each day from your resort (we were staying in La Tania) the total mileage and vertical skied as you tick off lifts is much larger than doing it in one outing.
Over five days of our Escapade, while skiing almost 300km and some 50,000m vertical, we visited many, many lifts (as many as 100) and skied numerous runs, from green, through blue and red to black.
Why do the Escapade?
There is a challenge element to the Escapade. I love a challenge and the idea of a certificate and a badge at the end to record our efforts seemed rather nice. I also liked that each day we had a goal or a route to follow rather than sort of seeing where we might get to.
In addition, I enjoyed the idea of visiting a wide variety of places in the Three Valleys. Many places I had visited before on different holidays and it was great to see them again. We also reached places I had not skied before and some I noted as locations I’d like to return to, in particular, the Fourth Valley, which was stunningly beautiful.
Our week of skiing was very sunny but we had no fresh snow. Normally, the G-Force and I would go in pursuit of off-piste skiing and powder but without this on offer the Escapade offered a satisfying project for the week.
However, we could not have achieved the Escapade with the guidance of OWL and PHAB.
OWL has been a long time visitor to the Three Valleys and knows most of it like his own back garden. He rarely appeared to check a piste map and when each day started he had a route already planned. If things didn’t then go quite to plan (for example, when one of us skied the full extent of a piste when we were meant to turn off halfway), he was able to quickly think up an alternative route. His knowledge was amazing and invaluable.
PHAB has been to La Tania many times, too, and offered valuable support to her partner the OWL, with mapping, recording and enthusiasm. There were times when we were faced with icy pistes and I would think: “Oh, I don’t fancy that.” But then PHAB would simply follow where OWL had skied and I would know to follow in her ski lines.
It was great that the G-Force and I hardly ever needed to think about where we were going next; like having our personal guides all week.
The challenge was not so full-on that we didn’t enjoy the other brilliant extras of a skiing week, such as mountain lunches, coffee and beer stops and après ski Vin Chaud. The G-Force also managed to fit in a longed-for goal of skiing the Grand Couloir in Courchevel and I had fun attempting to hone my carving skills thanks to many flattering slopes.
We loved the challenge of the Escapade and the delight of receiving a certificate and badge at the end. Try the Escapade on your next skiing holiday to the Three Valleys.