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Courchevel (2/6)

February 10th, 2007 · No Comments

Dan and I actually made the decision to move to France while we were skiing in Lake Tahoe over Martin Luther King Day weekend. Silly as it sounds, one of the main draws was that I have always wanted to ski in the Alps…and if we lived in France, we could go on a European Ski holiday easily. So, we were really looking forward to our first ski adventure in Europe! We managed to sneak away from Paris for an extended weekend, so we had five days to spend at the resort of Courchevel in the French Alps. It was amazing!

Kimberly

For pictures, click here.

Courchevel

Here are the major differences between skiing in Europe and in the U.S.

Most people come for an entire week
-Europeans get significantly more vacation time that we Americans do; so taking an entire week for a ski vacation is perfectly reasonable. This means that the resorts can get people to book for entire weeks, and therefore expect it. Thus, it is really hard to find a hotel or apartment that will even let you stay for less than a week. Oh, and most place even require that you arrive and depart on Saturday. It’s a completely different system. This has other ramifications, such as…

Since people are there for a week, they actually spend a surprisingly small amount of time skiing.
-Why wake up early and rush to be the first on the mountain when you have seven ski days? Slow down. Relax. Go out clubbing at night. Wake up late in the morning….and

Take really long lunches on the mountain
-There really aren’t any self-service cafeterias in the ski resorts. Instead, the expectation is that you will spend at least an hour (if not several) enjoying a leisurely lunch at one of the mountain’s fine dining establishments. This is not like the U.S., where the resort owns and operates all the dining establishments and overcharges you for a reheated frozen hamburger patty because they have a captive audience. All the restaurants are individually owned and operated…and competition usually means for higher quality and better value, right?!
And when I say fine dining, I mean it! There is a range of restaurants, from small family owned places, to high class gourmet restaurants with chandeliers and waiters in tuxedos. No, I am not joking! We enjoyed some very very fine lunches during our trip. Yes, it’s funny when you are wearing your ski clothes and boots and dining on rack of lamb or prawns. But it’s even funnier when you notice that the people at the table next to you have probably consumed one bottle of wine each, in addition to the very strong irish coffees they are just finishing off….and you wonder, “How are they possibly going to ski down the rest of the mountain?”

And the ski territory is enormous!
-Courchevel is one of the many ski resorts that have been linked with other resorts to increase the amount of skiable terrain available to its guests. There are several resorts like this in Europe. Until recently, Les Trois Vallées was the largest. With Courchevel, Meribel, Les Meuniers, St. Martin, and Val Thorens you have over 200 ski lifts and 600 km of ski runs at your doorstep. Another way to look at the expanse of this region is to take a look at how many of the largest ski resorts in the United States can fit into the Trois Vallées region. The former Snow Country magazine concluded that the six largest ski areas in the United States could fit inside Les Trois Vallées. That means that Killington, Vail, Heavenly, Steamboat, Squaw Valley and Park City could all fit inside the space covered by Les Trois Vallées with almost 10,000 acres left over. So you can throw in Jackson Hole, Taos, Sun Valley, Keystone, Crested Butte, Alta, Solitude, Cranmore and Stowe and still have room.

And at least here, when they say linked, they really mean linked. It’s not like trying to ski from the Nevada side of Heavenly to the California side, where you are spending the entire day traversing the mountain. Here, you literally take one or two lifts up from the town and you can immediately ski down to the next resort over!

As if that weren’t enough, you can ski anywhere you like. You don’t have to stay within the boundaries of the ski resorts.
-At most resorts in Europe, if you can see it, you can ski it. There are very few out of bounds areas (most likely due to nature reserves). So, if you feel like trying to ski to the next big town through completely un-maintained snow, go for it. You can’t sue the resort like people do in the U.S., so it’s up to you what kind of risks you want to take. (We didn’t do any off-piste skiing because the snow conditions actually weren’t that good. But if we had decided to, we definitely would have hired a guide to take us out.)

So, all-in-all, skiing in Europe is an amazing experience. We had a wonderful time.

Courchevel is well known not only as a fantastic ski destination and a place for the jet-set to spend their “vacances d’hiver,” but also is often featured as a stage in the Tour de France bike race each July. The resort is actually a collection of four little villages, most of them named after their elevation. Courchevel 1850 is the main village (at 1850 meters above sea-level), with Courchevel 1650, 1550, and the small towns of La Tania (1350) and Le Praz (1300) making up the rest of the resort.

We chose to stay in Courchevel 1650, primarily because the hotels were way too expensive at the main resort of Courchevel 1850 (commonly referred to as the St. Tropez of the Alps…which I would have to say is an appropriate nickname, given the number of furs, atrociously large diamonds, and expensive cars we saw there.) We stayed at Hotel Edelweiss (http://www.courchevel-edelweiss.com/), which was completely fine, and a bargain at only 90€ a night.

We brought Zookie with us to experience the Alpine splendor. Zookie had been to Lake Tahoe several times as a puppy, so this wasn’t his first time in the snow. And, as a Tibetan Terrier, he is actually very well suited for snow playtime. I’m not kidding. His paws are special so that he can run around in the snow without sinking in it…oh and does he love the snow! (or the “neige” as we call it…) We even took him up the mountain on the gondola one day…Yes, you can take your dog on the ski gondola in Europe…I know it’s crazy!

And, as mentioned before, we dined very well! Here were some of the highlights:

Mountain Restaurants
*Note, you must reserve at most of these places for lunch, especially if you want to sit outside. I know it sounds funny, but just do it.

La Soucoupe (Courchevel 1850) 04 79 08 21 34
-Chandeliers, formally dressed waiters, and meats grilled over an open fire. Mmmm! (One of the pricer choices in town though.)

Le Bel Air (Courchevel 1650) 04 79 08 00 93
-Wonderful food and an amazing view off the terrace. This more reasonably priced restaurant (thanks to its location in 1650) was where we had one of our best lunches.

Le Roc Tania (La Tania—Courchevel, just on the border with Meribel) 04 79 08 32 34
-Possibly even better views than the Bel Air. Watch paragliders take off and soar over the alps while enjoying your raclette, lamb chops, or spaghetti. Or you can sit on a sun lou
nger and sip on a bottle of wine as we saw others doing.

Le Corbeleys (St. Martin de Belleville) 04 79 08 95 31
-We had heard that St. Martin was the most adorable ski village in the Alps..and compared to the purpose-built and relatively characterless Courchevel, it was more atmospheric. However, it sits at a really low elevation, which this year meant there was little snow and much exposed dirt and hillside exposed…hardly picturesque. We enjoyed a local dish of crozets, tiny squares of pasta cooked with cream, ham, and (of course) cheese.

Village Restaurants

La Seizena (Courchevel 1650) 04 79 01 46 46
-A shockingly refreshing and modern restaurant with very reasonable prices. (I think it would cost double if it were in 1850.) In a brand new hotel with a lot of emphasis on modern design, the restaurant has a very innovative menu focused on fusion cuisine from around the world. Highly recommended.

L’Eterlou (Courchevel 1650) 04 79 08 25 45
-A small place serving fondues, pasta, pizza, and Pierre chaud (where you cook your own meat on a little grill)

Le Genepi (Courchevel 1850) 04 79 08 08 63
-A very nice place with fancy, but not too exorbitantly priced meals. The food was good, but the dining experience left something to be desired. They had put too many tables in the dining room, so we were literally stuck in a corner once the tables next to us were seated. This meant that the waiter had to ask the people at these tables to get up so he could clear our plates…not acceptable when you are paying 150€ for dinner!

One last word of advice, because skiing in Europe is so different than in the U.S., because the resort is that much larger, and because dining out is such a key part of the experience…I highly recommend you find a guide on the resort before you go. We used both the Mad Dog Ski Guide and the Snowmole guide. We like both of them, but found the Mad Dog guide especially helpful as it rates and describes all of the Red and Black runs on the mountains, so you have an idea of what exactly you are getting yourself into before you

Tags: France

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