Fabulous skiing conditions in the Three Valleys

13th March 2020, by Abi Butcher

The world's biggest ski area at its finest

The world's biggest ski area at its finest

Will we be able to ski on until Easter or is coronavirus going to shut lifts across the world, as it already has done in Italy? I don’t know, but I can report from what it’s like here in the Three Valleys, where I’ve been for the past week on a family holiday.

We arrived Saturday, a vastly depleted group because of health concerns for one relative. It was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime, splash-out holiday for my mum’s 70th, staying in a loft apartment at the lovely Le Portetta Hotel in Courchevel Moriond (or 1650). Two days before departure, buoyed by reassurance from Scott Dunn, I persuaded my parents to go anyway (insurance wouldn’t give us all a rebate) and we have been a bit like the Three Musketeers, but I’m glad I did. Of course it’s not the same without the rest of the family, but we all needed a break and sunshine — fresh air and mountains have always been good for the soul.

The Three Valleys is in excellent shape, I’ve not made it right over to Les Menuires and Val Thorens but across Meribel and Courchevel the snow is superb for this time of year and bodes very well for Easter skiing. I have a sinking feeling as I type that lifts might not be operating by then though.

The snow is in great shape: looking down here to Courchevel Moriond

Signs of coronavirus have honestly been nill …I have noticed people washing their hand thoroughly and, for the first time ever, I haven’t heard anyone sneeze. At all. In fact one man sneezed on the sundeck yesterday at Le Bel Air restaurant and it was such a strange sound everyone looked around. Long may that last: I know this is a serious pandemic but I hope we will all learn a little more about germs, hygiene and that less can sometimes be more.

Getting through Geneva airport, I admit, was a challenge. Saturday lunchtime and I spent nearly two hours waiting for my skis to come off the luggage belt – ordinary cases were taking more than an hour. There must have been more than Switzerland’s 1000-people limit in the arrivals hall and I couldn’t get out fast enough. Aside from that, what people may not know is that air is circulated on a plane at a far faster rate than we imagine, every few minutes, so we are constantly breathing fresh air – unlike on trains and buses.

Yesterday, I spent the morning skiing with Olivier Desaulty, tourism director for the Three Valleys. I asked him if he thinks the area will be forced to close its lifts. “Of course it’s the mayor who makes the decision, but we don’t think so – we might limit the number of people in cable cars and change the way gondolas operate, but we hope the lifts will continue to run,” he told me. Orders may come from higher up than the mayor though — Emmanuel Macron may well decree it’s time to close.

But this morning things are changing fast with closures in Austria and Switzerland and Norway – who knows what will happen in France.

Meribel: I’ve not been back to ski here since 1998!

Back to the Three Valleys…well, bravo to this ski area! I’ve skied Val Thorens a few times in recent years, and visited on Orelle several different days while living in the Maurienne Valley two years ago, but haven’t been to Meribel or Courchevel since I worked a season here at La Taverne in the middle of Meribel in 1997/98. Of course the mountains haven’t changed, though I know the accommodation has. Back in those days, five-star hotels weren’t two-a-penny as they are now, but there are still lovely family-run hotels and restaurants and also now hostels and apartments available on AirBnB, like everywhere else Les Trois Vallées has had to move with the times and it markets apartments through this platform.

Les Trois Vallées has a very popular tie-up with Disney’s Frozen II

But what has changed is how user-friendly this giant area is. The biggest ski area in the world, weighing in at a mighty 600km or so of pistes, hasn’t rested on its laurels. There are new lifts, new runs and new restaurants aplenty. But what I’ve really noticed is that when I worked here, picnicking wasn’t encouraged — skiers were expected to pay to eat in restaurants or swallow a sandwich on the lift. Now there are clusters of picnic tables in the most beautiful spots, indoor areas with microwaves where you can eat your own packed lunch.

Navigating around this vast area is hugely improved, too. There are signs all over the mountain letting you know which way is which, and piste maps creeping onto the bars of chair lifts to make navigating all the more easy. Desaulty and his team have 18 working parties on the go to thrash out ideas on how to make things even better and they’re working on an app to help skiers navigate around the mountain according to ability, weather and how busy different runs are. It’s all good stuff, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time.

Mountain lunch of champions: tartiflette and rosé in Le Bel Air, Courchevel

It’s our last morning here and there’s a heavy fog outside the window – hence such a self-indulgent, long blog — but I plan to take advantage of the ski-touring route marked out right on the left of the ski area from 1650 up to Signal, a climb of about 600m. Hopefully it might work off a little of the enormous breakfasts I’ve been enjoying at Le Portetta. It’ll be my third time skinning this week – a few of you will know I’m an avid ski tourer, and I’m glad that the Three Valleys has also catered for us lot, too.

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