Resort Profile: Courchevel

By adamrowden, 16 Nov '12 at 09:26

Arguably France's most exclusive resort, well located at the eastern end of the world's largest truly inter-connected ski area (Trois Vallées) and with some of Europe's best on and off-slope in-frastructure, Courchevel would rate in the top 10 selection of resorts around the world for most dedicated skiers.

Better known regulars include the Danish and Spanish royal families, Jean-Michel Jarre, Roman Polanski, President Giscard d'Estaing... Unsurprisingly Courchevel shares the reputation of St Moritz, Aspen or Lech for exclusivity and high prices but, equally unsurprisingly, the tourist board is keen to point out that it is possible to stay at and enjoy Courchevel 'on a budget'.

Not a particularly attractive resort architecturally, the view from a distance gives little clue to the presence of exclusive boutiques, luxurious chalets and the wonderful restaurants serving dishes of high gastronomic calibre. The first winter tourists arrived in the valley in the 1930s, with the resort 'taking off' in terms of popularity in the late 1950s and the '60s, particularly with the opening of the Saulire cable car in 1950.

Today Courchevel has its own special Charter which ensures hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses provide the best possible service and open as advertised throughout the season. The resort is made up of five different base stations, all self-contained villages and all known by their altitudes, (1300 which still calls itself Le Praz and the other authentic Savoyard village Saint Bon). The best known of the five, and the one on which the resort's reputation is based, is the highest and largest - Courchevel 1850.

Skiing and snowboarding

If you are a fan of decent off piste, then you are in luck, as The Butcher's Run is well worth checking out. Allegedly once skied after every new snowfall by the butcher from Le Praz (or a ski-man from Jean Blanc Sport, but this just doesn't sounds as good). Take Col de la Loze and then trek up the ridge to the left, following it round to the right for about 30 minutes. The descent is directly towards the cable car station. This run is dangerous, it's sometimes better to look at others' tracks.

Sous La Telepherique is another one worth checking out. It is technically on-piste, but you'll never find more testing marked run. And, one more that you should give a go is the Roc de Fruit i Take the Creux Noirs to the top and follow the ridge to the left until a large, pyramidal rock blocks your path. Dropping down in the Courchevel direction is likely to be better and safer than the south-facing Lac de Tueda descent on the Meribel side.

There is a decent snowpark beneath the Plantrey chair that offers plenty of opportunities for air. The freestyle area beneath Verdons is flat and not very exciting. More fun is playing off the lip of the ridges around Biollay.

Living and working in resort

Courchevel is a bastard for transfers! While the usual transfer times (Moutiers 30min, Chambèry 1 3/4hrs, Lyon 2hrs and Geneva 2hrs) apply, what is more difficult to allow for is how long it will take you in resort.

This is due to the fact that for the vast majority of the season, buses are not allowed into Courchevel 1850. Probably many resorts would benefit from this as it undoubtedly eases traffic flow, but it won't make your transfer day any easier. Incoming buses are usually serviced by minibuses which then transfer guests to their individual chalets. If it goes well, it goes well, but if it doesn't you can have guests getting to their accommodation an hour after they've arrived in resort.

Depending where your chalets are in 1550 you may also need to use minibuses to transfer there as some are not accessible for larger vehicles.

Courchevel has a number of suppliers all willing to help you put together your après programme. Try approaching L'Equipe or TJs for a Quiz Night. They are always keen on extra business and can be persuaded to offer free drinks.

For speciality evenings, Le Kalico in 1850 can seat up to 100 for fondue, raclette or hot-rock. Alternatively, the Darbeilo (Le Praz) offers a more authentic French evening, as well as being less expensive.

Other popular options include Skidoos, parapenting, ice skating, tobogganing, bowling, snowboarding lessons and a race day. The extra distance also makes a trip to Val Thorens a great option. Guests can ski over there and then catch a bus back at the end of the day. Alpe Evasion in Moutiers can help with booking coaches.

More avant ski than apres ski, Ski Physique help you to keep in shape off the hill with the following classes at 11am at Dicks Tea Bar in Meribel

If you work a winter in Courchevel, where you live can have an impact difference on your season. For example, if you live in Le Praz, you'll probably end the season knowing most other workers in the village plus a number of the locals. If you live in 1850, most bars you go to will be full of other season workers, many of whom you will never even meet, let alone know their name.

That said, living in 1850 has to be the best option, with Le Praz a close second. The key is that wherever you live in both, it will never take you too long to get into the main lift system. 1550 and 1650 both have a more intimate atmosphere, but they can't match Le Praz, they certainly can't match the nightlife in 1850 and neither have as good connections to the snow.

Regarding your drinking habits. Here are some of the best pubs in Courchevel...

TJs - Shooters, cocktails and Sky!
Gringos - Tequila and Mutzig!!!
Bar L'Equipe - Chilled vibe, great food and cute staff
Le Kalico - Late-night dancing destination
The Blue Room (né Isba) - Get away from it all
The Jump - Fast becoming workers' favourite
La Grange - Cheesy nightclub

Rockys Bar - Pints and football
Le Bubble Bar - new bar with internet terminals
Signal - Quiet Mutzig bar

La Taverne - French and local
Chanrossa - Footie location
The Bar 1550 - The cheapest drinks in Courchevel?
Le Praz/La Tania
Darbeilo - Genuine French bar with Mutzig
The Ski Lodge - Friendliest atmosphere in the Alps, plus football

With regards to events in resort, Courchevel is a cracker and plays host to the Red Ski Team, who usually arrive in January. These guys and girls are a fantastic aerials team that you should always try and catch.

The Roc Merlet Derby is one that you yourself can take part in. This is basically a massive downhill race from the top of the resort to the base in 1650 and is a flaming good day out. If you are looking for a good ski race in Courchevel (snowboarders are welcome too) then you are in luck my friend.

Away Days

Courchevel is better than most resorts as the variety of villages offers a day out in itself. If you work in one of the other stations, try exploring Le Praz for a day. This is still a genuine mountain village, with original farmhouses instead of purpose-built blocks.

Only a 20 min drive is Champagny. From here you can take the bubble lift to the edge of the La Plagne ski area and gaze back at Courchevel on the other side of the valley, feeling miles away. Annecy remains the best option further afield, with a large choice of shops and restaurants. On a fine day, hire a pedalo and head for the centre of the lake to escape.

If you just want a different mountain to play on, then try one of the other Tarentaise resorts. If you have a 3V pass you get up four days in other resorts. Val or Tignes will take you about 1 ½ hours to get to. Alternatively, Chamonix is only two hours away and a Vallée Blanche trip or just the Aiguille du Midi is something you’ll never forget.

For more resort profiles click here. Or, to find a good transfer company to take you to Courchevel click here.

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