Normal sunny service resumed in the 3V

1st March 2012, by Chris Gill

Mr Ski Amis on skis – a rare sight, but getting less so

Mr Ski Amis on skis – a rare sight, but getting less so

After a day of mixed weather in the Three Valleys on Sunday, the following three days delivered pretty well uninterrupted blue skies and temperatures higher than the ideal. Classic high-season piste skiing, really, except that the exceptional snow base means there is no concern about the pistes starting to disappear. Not yet, anyway.

Monday I devoted partly to catching up on work on the laptop, but in the middle of the day I took a few turns above and below 1850 with Vincent Lalanne, who heads up the 3V marketing operation – a rare example of an Alpine resort professional who really understands the way the international market works, and how to compete in it. He even visits other countries!

Our short time together included a quick trip over to Méribel to experience the new Saulire gondola, which meets the Saulire cable car out of Courchevel. The really exciting news here is that the couloir underneath the new gondola is to become a piste next season – so if you have looked over that edge and wondered about doing it, next year you will have no excuses.

Vincent also understands lunch, fortunately, and persuaded me to depart from my lunch-at-altitude rule to sample the €25 three-course lunch at the Mich-starred Farçon down in La Tania. This is remarkable value – simple but top-notch food. Editor Watts will be sickened to hear that the main course that day was duck breast in pepper sauce ... superb.

Tuesday was a fuller day, spent in the always amusing company of Ed van Zadelhoff, Dutch co-owner of Ski Amis – part of an ongoing campaign that editor Watts and I are waging to get Ed out of the office and on to the piste more. Starting from 1650 we worked our way over to Méribel via Loze and on to Menuires via Tougnète to take a look at the Ski Amis chalets there – in particular the group of modern places they have in Le Bettex, a pretty riverside hamlet just down the valley. Very nice, too.

Wednesday was ValTho day, with my old sailing chum Julia – a 9am start on the bus from 1650 up to 1850, then the standard route via Vizelle, Mottaret, Plattieres gondola, Cote Brune chair and down. Again, the snow conditions on the way down to Mottaret were a surprise. I can’t remember enjoying the Niverolle and Aigle pistes more than this. Well, I can’t remember enjoying them at all, actually. Well done, the Méribel groomers.

My objective was to check out the newly opened Portette area on the far side of ValTho – a chair (which looks second-hand) almost to the ridge but followed by a short hybrid cable-car/twin-cable gondola to complete the trip. The lifts serve some perfectly pleasant new pistes, but the real attraction is that they open up huge areas of off-piste previously the preserve of hikers. The off-piste down the back in the Bouchet valley will require some care, by the look of it, and possibly some nerve.

A superb early lunch at the Marines (I confess, on this occasion, to opting for the terrace) got us back on the snow by about 1.30, and we set off more or less directly for Courchevel so that I could get on the road for Italy. The trip back was superb – soft snow more or less all the way, although the blacks and reds on Vizelle were starting to harden up by the time we got there. Obviously, we didn’t get very long in ValTho, but the upside of enjoyable skiing all the way back is quite an upside.

My time in Courchevel was spent chez Le Ski in their chalet Maurilisa. This cosy old place has a superb position just a few yards below the very centre of 1650. Had there been space in Le Ski’s swanky new Scalottas Lodge, I would not have resisted lodging there, but Maurilisa suited me fine.

My four nights reminded me what chalet holidays are about – the banter over aperitifs in front of a log fire, and all that. I was sharing the place with a couple of blokes and a couple of women, all old enough to know better than to construct cocktails from champagne and Grand Marnier, but unable to resist the temptation to do so. The two guys were on their 20th trip with Le Ski, which tells you something about the operation.

Now I’m in Italy, preparing to investigate the resorts that got more snow than anywhere else in the Alps last winter. Any idea where that might be?

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