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Location: snowHeadLand
Resort : Courchevel 1850
Country : France
Domain : 3 Vallees
Author : FraserP
Date : 3rd week January 2005 (late posting but still relevant)

My holiday : A 44 year old on his first ski holiday in 20 years. Past holidays have been: Soll x 2, Mayrhoffen, Obergurgl x 3, and Sauze D’Oulx. This was my first time to France, first time alone. I decided to drive all the way from Manchester. Initially this was so I could do a beer and fags pickup on return, but mainly so it gave me an extra day of skiing. I only decided do this trip 3 weeks prior to departure. It seemed a bargain, but was it? Read on….

The journey : Manchester – Courchevel, 900 miles driving. Started on Saturday morning, crossed via the tunnel. Stayed overnight in a 40 Euro establishment near Chambery. Left Chambery v’early next morning (5:15 am) for the short drive (65 miles) to CV1850. I had estimated 2 hours, this actually took nearly 3 hours! Please don’t under estimate mountain driving conditions! I dumped my bags at the hotel, parked car undercover, grabbed breakfast, and with a quick change was ready for the lifts opening at 8:45. (Did I say I was keen?). By 9:15, 1 gondola and 1 cable car later, was at 2,700+ mtrs overlooking an ‘interesting’ red run. I was certain I’d never seen a red that steep before but hey ho…..! By 10:00 am, was in mid mountain restaurant with drink in-hand wondering “was it always that difficult”! The week got much better as it went on!
The return journey was a pain free. By driving it allowed me an extra 4 hour ski session on departure day. Arrived Calais late Sunday evening and over-nighted there. Shopping in Calais the next morning, finally across the water in the afternoon. I arrived home late Monday. Poorer, very tired but well skied!

Website: www.courchevel.com

Other useful sources:
www.les3vallees.com/uk/index.php#
www.maddogguides.co.uk
www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/gbr/tpl/hme/MaHomePage.htm

Basics : To the east end of the 3 Valleys area approx 3 ½ hrs from Geneva. Other nearby airports are Lyon Saint-Exupéry 2 hours, Chambéry/Aix 1 ½ hrs .
Driving - 10 hours from Calais, less if stops are minimised. With 2 drivers easily do-able in one day from UK.

Via the main access road from Moutiers, you go through CV1300, CV1550 and CV1650 on the way. CV1850 is considered the hub of a group of resorts common referred to as Courchevel. Primarily chalets of all grades and prices, but a scattering of medium quality chalet hotels and a few very expensive hotels.

Lift system: Part of the interconnecting 3 Valleys domain. Mainly gondola and chairs, thankfully, it has very few drag lifts. It also has one of the largest cable cars I’ve ever seen, connecting the Verdun station to the top of Saulire. Inside 1 ½ hours you can be ski-ing in the far Val Thorens area. If you do consider doing such a trip to the far valleys, just don’t get stuck in a far valley. Unless you want a very expensive taxi ride back.

A hands free automated system now covers the whole 3 Valley area. Photos only required on season and concessionary passes. Passes can now be purchased over the internet before you travel and posted to your home address. You can buy single valley or full 3 valley passes. 3 distinct valleys, Courchevel, Meribel, and Val Thorens \Les Menuire. Actually 4 if you count Orelle. You’re also allowed a one day upgrade to other valleys. Also you can also use the same pass for one days experience in La Plagne area.

In CV1850, the Croisette is the centre for lifts up and down the mountain. 3 main gondolas take up the mountain, Verdons, Chenus and Jardin Alpin. Verdun connects to the Vizelle gondola or the Saulire 150 person cable car. From here you can drop down into Meribel or remain in the CV valley Chenus provides an alternative link, via Col de la Loze, to the Meribel valley.

A gondola and chair connect from CV1550 and a gondola from CV 1300. La Tania and CV1650 have no direct connection to the centre of CV 1850 but connecting gondolas, chair and slopes make the transition a breeze. Alternatively a bus service links all the CV resorts, but they can get busy.

All but beginners should consider a 3 Valley pass. For better intermediates or advanced skiers it’s a ‘no brainer’ get a full 3V.

A mini map is prepared daily that show which pistes have been groomed. You can get this from La Croisette and main lift stations. The reverse of the form even has a weather forecast.

The terrain : Vast! and primarily north facing. Not as sunny as is neighbours but this apparently helps snow retention. Tree lined around the main resort, well prepared open wide pistes as you get higher. It can feel very bleak and exposed on some of the higher chairs such as Creux Noirs. Ensure you wrap up well.

In the first few days of the week, Monday onward, the immediate village slopes seemed busy. As the week went on and people became more adventurous (or more tired) the local slopes became noticeably quieter. An exception was the start and end of day rush when everyone congregates at CV1850. On two mornings the upper slope access was closed off while the pisteurs gas cannoned the avalanche risk areas.

Surprisingly I found it very quiet on the slopes at weekend. This was particularly the case on Saturday and Sundays in the CV1650 area. I had the Chapelets and Bel Air pistes almost to myself! These are both tour company change-over days. In good weather the views from Saulire or Vizelle are breathtaking.

This was my first experience of France and I found some of the slope categorisations different to my past experience in Austria. It was ‘very open’ to alternative interpretation. On several occasions I found myself asking, this cannot be a red? Surely a black? Or is this a blue? Surely a red! With such an extensive area, widely ranging altitudes, open slopes, tree lined etc, you can experience different slope conditions on the same slope on the same day.

For Expert, and good intermediates, from Saulire and Vizelle you can access a myriad of red, black and off piste areas. Runs such as Suisse, Turcs and ‘M’.

The area is an intermediate skiers heaven, too many to mention all. Flattering red runs like Creux and Bel Air in CV1650 are a delight. For me, the more sedate route down Creux allowed access to the Chandrossa chair, this links to the area above CV1650. IMHO an excellent intermediate area worth a mini report all on its own!

For beginners the Jardin Alpin gondola takes you to beginners’ slopes below the altiport. The 3 main access runs to CV1850 are all green, several connecting blues.

Several Snow Parks, Epicea, Pralong and Verdun. Boarders should be aware of several flattish areas – Last sections of Bellecote, Col de la Loze and Indians.

Think you can ski fast and can stop safely? Above Prameruel, they also have a speed camera ‘Stop Zone’. A prepared fenced off area created to test you out. Full blat down the run, and then you have to stop within the defined area. A display then reports your speed.

Finally, below Loze, a world cup quality Slalom course that can be flood lit. Worth a bash.

The snow: Extensive snow cannons coverage on the main runs makes it almost snow sure. It hadn’t snowed a great deal since mid December 2004, the village still had snow on pavements but the roads relatively clear. Pistes were still good, very few icy patches, and these only on steep highway sections. Each night the piste bashers are out creating that perfect corduroy finish to the pistes. Definitely worth getting out of bed earlier for!
One particular nasty point was just after Vizelle ridge on the way down into Meribel, a whole width of the slope blue ice and it was the only way down! On the Thursday pm it started to snow and it did that for the next 2 days. This resulted in delayed openings of upper slopes while gas cannons dealt with avalanche risks. On the PLUS side, the main pistes had a 4 to 8 inch covering of ‘real’ power each morning. True almost surreal floating experience, almost off piste experience.

Off-piste : Didn’t try this myself this trip, as I was still getting back into it and didn’t know the area. There are excellent off piste areas, but real care is required. They run a weekly Avalanche camp training area, usually Wednesday PM. Definitely worth a look, if you are considering any off piste adventure.

For real adventurers (experts only) there are the couloirs. To get to Grand Couloir is an experience in itself and not for the faint hearted. I had a look but stopped at the barrier. You have to pass under the Piste Closed barriers and tapes, along a ridge from Saulire that has drop offs on either side. Definitely one for the experts or with a guide. Some of the steepest ski-able slopes in Europe.

The resort : The Forum centre has several fast food, sandwich, croissant outlets, coffee bars etc. Bowling, indoor climbing wall, disco. Bars range from basic such as Le Jump or TJ’s through to the expensive Piggys and Les Caves. If you are with people the immediate après ski amble (from slope to hotel) can some time become a bit of a journey. Dont get stuck in Le Kalico its open until 4.00 am. Most venues seemed too small and well overcrowded, but a good time was had. Recent reports and experience relate an increasing number of visitors from Russia. With, apparently cash to burn and an associated bolshy attitude. Anecdotal reports of Russian, London football club owner hiring the restaurant at the top of Saulire for his entourage, everyone else out! Hopefully this will not be allowed to spoil the ambience of the resort. You are as likely to see a Russian menu as an English one.

All the usual range of après ski activities, with the odd expensive alternative. Why not try ice driving in a Porsche 996? Only 230 euros per hours. “I’ll take 3 hours mate!” (Joke!).

Shops of all kind, but don’t expect a bargain. You’re more likely to see Prada rather than George quality clothing. Its’ also not the resort to consider buying ski gear in.

Food : Many local restaurants available, just depends how much you want to pay! With the many chalets, booking may be required, an essential on the staff night off. Prices tend to start expensive and get even more so. For meals during the day you can find reasonable café food options. Expect to pay > 10 euro min for everything though. If you are budget minded read the menu \ price list before you enter if you don’t want a nasty surprise. No McDonald type establishments (hurray!) so no ‘Royale avec fromage’.

On the mountain, the usual stodge is available with a few notable exceptions, but be prepared to pay the price. Keep your eye open for PDJ – Plat du Jour or for fixed price menus. These are sometimes the best value.

One establishment off the Bellecote piste charged 12 euros for a small bottle of beer, 20 euro for a whisky! For lunch time, if you wish to have group meal, ensure you book, it can get very busy. Recommend the Savoyarde speciality called Tartiflette. A mixture of potato, bacon, cream and reblochon cheese (apparently) I just thought it was great!

Accommodation : Huge variance in accommodation types from basic hotels, chalets hotels, chalets large and small to true French 4 star hotels with Michelin quality restaurants. You get what you pay for! Those establishments by Bellecote and Jardin Alpin allow you ‘ski from’ access to the CV1850 centre. Please remember when it reports a 10 minute ski to resort centre; it does really mean a 1 hour walk back up the hill!

I stayed at 'chalet hotel' Catina run by SkiWorld. It was just as described in the brochure, "simple accommodation, centrally located". If you stay here don’t expect anything more or less. General condition of the hotel Catina was tired and it definitely required much more TLC. The sort of place where they ask you for a deposit for your room key, I couldn’t believe it! Not what I’d describe as a family hotel, and at times rather noisy. Apparently you cannot expect adult behaviour from young Brits abroad nowadays, but then I am an old git, who cannot remember ever being young! I can hear the ping of PM’s arriving already!

Plenty of hot water and French ‘sit’ demi-baths \ shower unit ensuite. Room was plenty warm enough after they got the radiator fixed!

One downer was that a collective group (30 +, and it seemed more), were staying at the same time and monopolised the meal times. Again, maybe to be expected in such an establishment. Food was an attempt at quality but IMHO failed to get the grade. Too little and too tarted about, the ‘free’ wine with meals was out of a 5 gallon plastic keg. Breakfasts poor and very basic – generally disappointing. Several evening events on offer from torch lit ski-ing to the ubiquitous tobogganing (where would a ski holiday be without that!). Only minor injuries ensued.

The front of the hotel overlooks a mini roundabout; this turned out to be the chosen turning place for the snow movers throughout the night. This wasn’t conducive to a good nights rest. If you stay here just request a rear facing room. Its proximity the CV1850 centre and nightlife and the main slopes just 200 yds away made it a winner.

Staff very helpful, on day of arrival at 8:30 am, spoke to the manager and she offered to arrange my ski pass. I had breakfast and following ski collection, when I returned I found it waiting on reception! They did this while they were trying to get the hotel ready for the mid afternoon arrivals from Geneva. Well impressed!

Would I go back to the Catina? Maybe, but only after a refurb. and only if I could not afford somewhere better.

Worth the money? Despite my earlier comments - Yes! Location and helpful staff made the difference.

Costs :
Accommodation: £400 for one week (booked late and got a bargain). Single, ensuite, balcony.
Road tolls (Peage): approx £75
Fuel for 1700 mile round trip: approx £130.
Undercover parking (a must): £50
Ski pass 3 Valley 7 1/2 days (not usual of 6 days with a tour operator): £185.

Conclusion : From the comments you can probably detect I’m well impressed with the area, its space and uplift capacity. Bear in mind this was mid January and not peak season. So the space I found may not be the same in school holidays or Easter. In driving I wasn’t trying to save money, just give me greater flexibility and additional skiing. CV1850 is an excellent base, ideally suited for skiing the wider 3 valley area.

It is supposed to be the resort for the rich and famous, sports stars, film stars, football club owners etc. If you are sensible then it needn’t cost the earth but don’t expect real budget trip. If you want to spend £4,000 on a bottle of 1972 Petrus be my guest!

Would have preferred a better quality accommodation and a longer stay but at the price and easy late booking I was very happy.

The satellite resorts deserve a full report on their own and I could write a book on the car and travel preparation. But it was a real blast and I’d recommend such a trip to anyone.

Would I go back to Courchevel again and by driving? I have already been back!

TTFN.

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