Courchevel is an undisputed world class ski resort located at one end of the vast Three Valleys ski domain in the Savoie region of the French Alps. Its reputation as a glitzy, glamourous and upmarket ski destination exclusively for the super-rich is in part true but there’s also lots of opportunity to stay in Courchevel for skiers and snowboarders on a more modest budget.
Courchevel itself is actually a collection of separate villages that were originally named by their respective heights, but have more recently been given unique names – starting with the lowest, Courchevel-Le Praz (1300m), and then Courchevel-Village (1550m), Courchevel-Moriond (1650m) and finally, simply known as Courchevel (1850m), the highest village known for its most famous shops, five star hotels, gourmet restaurants and super chalets.
There’s more Michelin starred restaurants (seven in total) in Courchevel than in other ski resort, with a combined number of twelve stars – and there’s several other entries in the guidebook too. Courchevel is a grown up ski resort with its charming collection of highly regarded ski villages in their own right, each offering their own unique feel and provides a home for anyone who loves to ski, snowboard or simply spend time in the mountains during the winter.
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Skiing in Courchevel
Courchevel was the first ski resort to open in what’s now known collectively as the Three Valleys – officially the world’s largest interconnected ski area with 600 km’s of ski runs linking eight separate ski resorts. The sheer size of the area means that there’s a huge choice for all levels of skiers and snowboarders and for those who like to bash out the mileage and explore a different area each day, it’s an absolute paradise. The Three Valleys area has an excellent snow record due to its high altitude slopes and there’s some of Europe’s longest ski runs that take advantage of the huge vertical from top (3320m) at Val Thorens to bottom (600m) at Brides Les Bains.
There’s a huge amount of ski terrain on tap within the Courchevel area alone, without even heading out into the other areas of the Three Valleys. Beginners are extremely well catered for in all of the Courchevel villages, especially in Courchevel (1850) where a vast bowl full of green runs spans out from the village centre. There’s some lovely, gentle runs through the trees that meander past the wooden chalets dotted above the village. Courchevel Moriond (1650) also has a good beginner’s area and a progression that can take learners higher up the mountain, without having to tackle hard runs. Anyone staying in Courchevel Village (1550) can take advantage of the local nursery area and the gentle blue runs above and easily progress up to the 1850 area too. Beginner’s in Le Praz generally go up to 1550 in the cable car and use it to descend back down at the end of the day.
Intermediates and more advanced skiers have what feels like an infinite choice of slopes. Courchevel is renowned for its grooming and slopes are kept in excellent condition, with countless red and blue runs in all directions. On bad weather and powder days, Courchevel is one of the best places in the Three Valleys to ski because of the tree lined slopes and the relatively accessible off-piste tree skiing that can be found, especially on some of the lifts above Courchevel-Moriond or the Aiguille du Fruit chairlift on the 1850 side. Experts should tick of the Grand Couloir that starts on the top of Saulire, a marked but un-pisted route that often becomes quickly moguled following heavy snowfalls.
Courchevel was the first resort built in what is now known as The Three Valleys – the world’s largest interconnected ski and snowboard area. From any of the satellite villages of Courchevel, to experience the further reaches of the Three Valleys area – Val Thorens or Les Menuires, you’d need to set off first thing in the morning and be a competent skier or snowboarder to enjoy what’s on offer and get home in time for tea. Getting caught out in Val Thorens after the lifts shut would make for an expensive taxi ride. With around 600km’s of marked slopes, it’s virtually impossible to experience the whole area in a week, even for the very quickest skiers. There’s two main exit and entry points out of the Courchevel area and into Meribel – the first being via Col de la Loze, directly above the resort of La Tania. Here a choice of runs takes you towards Meribel Centre (1450m) directly, or via the Altiport or Burgin chairs.
The main hub is at Chaudanne, where to choice is to make your way back over towards Courchevel or head across further into the Three Valleys system via the six possible crossing points into either the Les Menuires or Val Thorens sectors. It’s then possible to push through the furthest reaches of the area, Orelle in the Maurienne Valley, via several crossing points from Val Thorens, one of them at the Pointe du Thorens (3266m). The whole area can be negotiated on blues, although it’s hard to avoid the odd red run here and there. Meribel has some classic off-piste terrain on Mont Vallon and high-altitude Val Thorens holds such good snow that even in early or late season when other resorts start to struggle, the area is still providing good skiing. Closer to Courchevel, the runs from Chenus down to La Tania are interesting and varied and also suitable for bad weather days, due the tree lined slopes from around 1800 metres and below.
Courchevel Resort Overview
The ski resort of Courchevel is actually a collection of several villages that have a traditional Alpine character and charm. In the furthest reaches of Courchevel (1850) some of the world’s most exclusive chalets sit high above some of the most exclusive designer brand boutiques. But the more relaxed Moriond (1650) has a cosier feel, as does Courchevel Village (1550). Down in La Praz, the Olympic ski jump dominates the village and a collection of traditional wooden chalets creates a much more traditional feel than any of the other Courchevel satellites.
This mixture of styles creates a different atmosphere entirely in each part of Courchevel and its reputation for fur coated Oligarchs is really only relevant to 1850 and even then, it’s an over-stated view. Yes, Courchevel 1850 is certainly one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts, and prices can reflect that, but because the picture is far broader, there’s a place for anyone and everyone looking for a ski or snowboard holiday on whatever budget they might have.
Restaurants & bars
Courchevel has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other ski resort and there’s no lack of choice when it comes to fine dining. But, there’s also a wide range of options for eating and drinking in all of the separate Courchevel sectors. Starting at the top, literally and figuratively is the 2 starred Michelin Le Chabichou in Courchevel 1850. It’s renowned as one of the best restaurants in the Alps for fine-dining. Its sister restaurant next door, the Chabotté, is a more accessible venue. Relaxed and informal, it serves bistro style food with some local and international dishes combined. The mezzanine floor area is worth a try, providing a great view over the large restaurant area below. For a quick bite, the Boulangerie Au Pain d'Antan inside the Forum centre is a great choice for sandwiches and they also have shops in the other Courchevel villages. The L'Equipe Bar in 1850 is a good bet for an evening drink. Down the road in Courchevel Moriond (1650), restaurant Le-C opened during the 2018 winter and has a modern menu and feel. It’s mid-priced, with a good range of dishes and a decent wine list. For a cosy drink, the small but atmospheric Cabane Bar in the centre of town is worth a go and on dark evenings it’s hard to resist the chalet style set up, that also has a seafood bar on the outside. Down in Le Praz, the Bistro du Praz has a listing in the Michelin Guidebook and serves classic French bistro style food. Its cosy atmosphere makes it highly popular during the evenings.
There’s no lack of choice when it comes to mountain restaurants in Courchevel, but the wide range of options also spans the full spectrum of choice when it comes down to budget. You can dine out (or in, as weather permits) with your ski boots on in style – or choose to take a more simple meal and cover some more of the Three Valley miles. Le Bel Air above Courchevel-Moriond 1650 is a good option for excellent food at reasonable prices. The Pilatus at the Altiport is popular and serves traditional food and is good for non-skiers because they can get there by road. For a splash out lunch, La Soucoupe is worth a try and for excellent seafood then Le Cap Horn is the place to go.
Courchevel doesn’t lack après ski opportunities, but some choose to party at the Folie Douce on the Meribel side of the mountain and either take the last lift or get a taxi ride back from Meribel later on. But 1850 offers some of the best spots after a day on the slopes – the Ku da Ta has live bands on a terrace close to the bottom of the slopes and the Tremplin is a good alternative, again with live music and conveniently located. Courchevel does have a good mix of good après ski with live music and more sophisticated bars serving cocktails and fine wines. Generally, the higher up you are, the more you will pay for drinks. The Bubble Bar in Courchevel Moriond is also popular with seasonaire’s. The Drop in and L’Elephant bars in Le Praz are laid back and friendly, and are open from après ski hours, until late – again popular with seasonaire’s who live further down the mountain.
Skiing and snowboarding take centre stage on the mountains in Courchevel, but there’s some great activities on offer. The luge run at Courchevel Moriond is great for kids and adults alike and the walking tracks away from the ski runs make for ideal snowshoeing experiences – guides are available. Courchevel Adventure organises evening excursions where you get to drive a snowmobile to a half-buried yurt on the mountain, where a meal is waiting - it’s lots of fun and after a few glasses of Genepi, they drive you back down again.
Who is Courchevel Suitable For?
Courchevel’s nursery slopes, especially just above 1850, are superb and there’s a long history of learning to ski here, with beginners being very well catered for. The progression from nursery slope to blue run is also relatively easy and as beginners gain in confidence, it’s possible to link some longer runs together that avoid any really steep slopes. There’s also plenty of convenient places to stay close to the runs too, so travelling with ski equipment can be minimised. Whilst Courchevel (1850) might have the best facilities for beginners in terms of area and slopes, Moriond is a good alternative and it tends to be quieter on the slopes during school holiday periods especially.
You might say that Courchevel is the perfect ski resort for intermediates, and most people would struggle to argue against that. Long runs, mainly blue and red graded, immaculately groomed are served by a decent lift system that seems to cope well with the numbers, even during the peak holiday weeks. Most intermediate skiers could keep themselves perfectly happy in the Courchevel ski boundary area for a whole week, but of course there’s the chance to explore the vast and seemingly endless Three Valleys system that has its challenges in terms of ski runs, but generally offers a veritable smorgasbord of intermediate style skiing that brings people back year after year.
High altitude and snow sure
Even during the early season there’s normally good snow in the Courchevel bowls, especially up and above the 1850 area and up to the peaks over 2700 metres. Much of the slopes are north facing and they hold snow very well – Courchevel is one of the first resorts to open and the last ones to close, along with neighbouring Val Thorens - awarding them as some of the most snow sure resorts in the French Alps.
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