Ski La Tania - Our Ski & Ride Guide to the Three Valleys
Some of our favourite spots around the Three Valleys / 3 Vallées
The skiing links in to the massive 3 Valleys system - you're 2 lifts away from either Méribel or Courchevel 1850. The stats are massive - 175 lifts with a capacity to carry 260,000 skiers per hour, 2500 hectares of groomed pistes some 600km in length with 293 marked runs and 130km of cross country tracks. There's also 1500 snow cannons, 75 piste bashers, 320 ski patrollers and over 1500 instructors to keep everyone happy.
There are now 3 runs down into the resort, a roller coaster blue through the forest, a wide red run with a consistent gradient down to the gondola and new for Winter 2005/6 was a green run winding it's way down the mountain through the forest back to the top of the Troika beginners run. The runs in the village can be seen on the aerial photo / interactive map.
The blue Folyères run is helped by 38 new snow cannons which were installed for the 2001/2002 season along the entire length of the run - this has kept it open from the start to the end of the season ever since except for twice in 15 years. The red run and green runs also have cannons now installed. There's a free drag lift and a short run for absolute beginners in the heart of the resort. For intermediate skiers, a day's skiing / riding to Val Thorens and experiencing the whole Three Valleys is a must - only 4 (or 6) lifts away.
The Quickest Way to Val Thorens
Take the La Tania Gondola then the Dou Des Lanches 4-man chair (or from 2013/14 you can use the new 6 seater Bouc Blanc chair which is a slightly longer route) and ski over to the Courchevel side.
Go down the main Lac Bleu run and follow the track through the trees (go back on yourself) to the left hand Sources drag lift. From the top of the drag ski across the main piste to the Saulire Cable Car (or the Vizelle gondola again slightly slower) and take this to the top of Saulire. A preferred though slower route would be Biollay and Suisses chair to avoid taking skis off.
Ski down into the Méribel Valley to Mottaret and take the Plattieres Gondola 1 and 2. Come out of the second station, turn left and ski down to the Côte Brune 4-man chair which takes you to the ridge above Val Thorens. Alternatives include using the Chatelet 6-seater chair via the Combes chair out of Mottaret to access Côte Brune.
At the top of Côte Brune keep left and high (give it some on a board to get up this bit) and drop into VT via the black on the left or the red to the right. Don't miss the last lifts back!
The route via Dou des Lanches, the Loze Boulevard and down to Méribel and then accessing Mottaret via Plan de l'Homme is generally considered a slower route to VT.
Folyères, Jerusalem, Cospillot, Murs, Park City, Lapin, Allemands, Combe Pylones, Jockeys, Combe de Rosael, Combe du Vallon, Goitshell, Beranger, Rochers.
All for there own reasons - some steep, some fast, some pretty - just check them out...
Off-piste around La Tania - our favourites
Usual warnings apply - Shovel, probe, transceiver (and know how to use them - especially how to use a grid search with the analogue types). Ski or board with someone who knows exactly what they're doing and remember that simply going down marginal areas one at a time and waiting for that person to move to a safe area will save lives, only 1 person gets buried, the rest can search.
Plumbers Crack straight ahead and directly above Col de la Loze is one of the more famous off piste runs. The Courchevel Free Ride competition has been held here down the large couloir accessed by walking up the ridge on the right to the summit of Rocher de la Loze. It takes from 30 minutes to an hour to walk up and avalanches frequently. Additional ways down are further along the ridge towards Chenus, over the back (the classic "Butchers" run) and down in to the Méribel Valley to the Boulevard de la Loze.
There are at least 3 routes down the Col de la Loze to the right of the Dou des Lanches chair (see Moguls below) accessed by walking across the ridge at the top. These are known locally as Gazex 1, 2 & 3. The Gazex machines are the large pipes that stick out of the mountain blasting compressed gas out to set off controlled avalanches - all remotely controlled now. There were originally only 3 - suppose we could have a run called Gazex 9 now... Routes to the skiers right from the top take you towards the Dou des Lanches black run and are generally easier the further away from the top lift station you start.
Even the main Gazex route under the chair which get heavily skied can be unsafe and you must traverse right above the tree line to return to the piste. There is a route through the trees to the Folyères piste but this can be tricky in poor snow conditions and there is now a fence to prevent access to the tree area to protect the Black Grouse nesting in this area - please respect this.
Moving further around along the Col de la Loze blue run has drop-offs in to Leg Break Alley - the bowl and plateau looking across to the Bouc Blanc chair.
The Dou Des Lanches black run has lots of options especially to the right (watch for the cliff below the first ridge though) and some nice drop-offs, chutes and gulleys between the few trees to right of the narrower steeper section.
There are numerous options from the top of the Col de la Loze into the Méribel Valley (Three Valley pass needed). Keep away from going directly under the Rocher De La Loze chair though - it ends in a very steep and narrow cliff-like chute between the trees (I have seen it skied though....).
The far side (skiers right) of Anemones / Lac Bleu offers a great run down in to the Courchevel Valley coming out at the edge of the trees near to the Sources drag lift. There is plenty of avalanche debris usually near this route and steep slopes above so be aware, take the usual precautions and follow any warning signs / advice.
Finally, (we're not giving all our secret spots away) the runs through the trees around Boulevard Arolles can be fantastic after a heavy fall - although the trees tend to stop avalanches this can still be dangerous, as anyone who has fallen in to a tree hole will tell you. Known locally as the La Tania Trees there are several standard routes through crossing the green run once or twice depending on the line taken. Needs someone to show you the way the first couple of times to get used to it! The route can be continued by following the La Tania gondola to the base of the Bouc Blanc chair too.
Off-Piste further afield- More favourites
A personal favourite is the run down towards St Martin de Belleville straight off the top of the Olympic chair from the Méribel side. This is a wide open snow field with a relaxed gradient for about 400 metres before you cut hard to skiers left and avoid the cliff lower down to eventually re-join the Verdet piste running down to St Martin. An alternative is to carry on down more to the skier right down to the hamlet of Béranger.
The Creux bowl has several great runs after traversing from either the Chanrossa chair or hiking along the ridge from the Creux Noirs - plenty of avalanche activity in this area though and beware the flat spots before joining back on to the Creux piste.
The Méribel Valley side (accessed from Saulire and a long traverse left until your above Mottaret or via the Creux Noirs chair) is another great route down but watch out for some big boulders with big drops on the other side!
The trees above and below the Plantrey lift, Mt Vallon (over the back or between the pistes), Mario Land in the Méribel Valley, the routes down the back of the Signal chair and Hidden Valley in 1650, Lac de Lou from La Masse and lots of routes in to Val Thorens including the terrain straight above Restaurant Genepi accessed by traversing to the left from the top of the Moraine & Col chairs are some more classic routes.
Ask a local about the Les Avals Valley and the wonderful isolated runs in (and the hike out).
There is a terrific book with some fantastic photographs available all about skiing off piste in The 3 Valleys. Les Clés Des 3 Vallées by Didier Givois describes over 100 off piste routes across the whole ski area including longer itineraries over to Pralongnan, down to Orelle and some where bus or taxi may be required to get back. Lots of attention to safety, the dangers and the necessary experience and equipment needed are included too.
Published by Stige Spa in French & English ISBN 978-2-9522498-2-2
Often found under the 4-man Dou Des Lanches chair lift directly above
La Tania - not a marked run (as described above) but quite heavily skied and hence the bumps.
The top part is fairly steep and can be tricky in poor conditions. Suisses
in the Courchevel Valley usually has some great bumps too.
Get the first La Tania gondola in the morning at 9am. When you're told
the 4-man chair isn't opening straight away belt down Folyères
in a straight line (but only if you've got first tracks). This is a roller
coaster of a ride - watch the humps - when the run is empty and covered
in fresh snow it's amazing how fast you are travelling and how much air
you get out of these. Take care though, more than one La Tania local has
ended up crashing off the piste and flying into the forest, there are
no nets! If you're in to speed, think about others, wear a helmet and
please don't go for it at the end of the day when this slope is full of
beginners! Alternatively try Saulire first thing when it's been
perfectly groomed. A group of us managed 97km/h down it early one morning,
timed via GPS - so wide it didn't actually feel that fast.
Our local is in Courchevel, below the Verdons lift
- but more family orientated now, although there is a more serious air bag jump too. Skier/boarder X course is usually
available and maybe the odd rail. Locals often create a jump under the Lanches chair
to the amusement of people on their way up. There's also a major park near the Plattiers 2 gondola station - Area 43. The Moon Park above Méribel is another large installation with plenty of jumps and competition held regularly. All the other
major resorts have a "snow fun" area of some type.
Bad weather and resort runs
Use the tree lined runs down to Le Praz and La Tania, it's amazing
how much contrast the trees give in white-out conditions. There are 2 good
black runs and a red down to Le Praz, the blacks (Jean Blanc & Jockeys)
have steep sections followed by flatter bits so are quite manageable in
good conditions - they can be hairy when icy however. The runs down
to La Tania are great fun in fresh snow - the red is consistently steep
but usually wide and smooth. The blue Folyères run is a roller coaster
- see above. The green beginners run is also great fun with cuts between the trees and banks on the turns keep it interesting. Snow cannons continue to improve this and the blue run and relieve the
traditional icy points on the odd exposed / steeper section. There are a couple of "chicken
run" paths into the forest that avoid the steeper sections - they
aren't really sign posted though so ask your instructor / guide.
More information on off-piste skiing below from Dennis Summerbell (RIP) - some useful info (from 1995) here but please note the disclaimers here and above. Off-piste skiing and snowboarding is dangerous.
A guide to
black, off-piste & difficult skiing in the Trois Vallées
Copyright © Dennis Summerbell
This document may be freely
published, whole or in part, electronically or in print provided that
there is no commercial or financial reward involved and provided that
this notice of copyright and the disclaimer are included.
Disclaimer: These notes were
produced originally as light entertainment for myself and as an aide-memoir
for my old age. They are idiosyncratic and do not pretend to be an authoritative
or accurate description. If they are useful to others as a way of encouraging
an imaginative approach to skiing then you are welcome to read them. My
only advice is that you consult with the pisteurs, avalanche control,
tourist office, ski school or authorised mountain guide before attempting
anything. The great majority of skiers essaying these runs would probably
enjoy them most under the guidance of a local professional or expert.
I would be grateful for any suggestions for other interesting routes.
If Courchevel were no longer linked to the other two valleys it would probably still claim to be one of the world's Top Three ski-resorts. It is the prettiest valley with superb views of Mont Blanc and Belleville (the La Plagne mountain). Most of the skiing is in a gigantic north facing bowl that preserves snow on the steepest slopes, but there are extensive pistes facing all directions of the compass. It has the most varied range of skiing in the Trois Vallées with superb opportunities for every skier from total beginner to expert. Courchevel 1850 is the perfect resort for a mixed ability party.
The Couloirs The Courchevel Couloirs can be seen from almost anywhere in Courchevel. They snake down the North Col of Saulire, thin ribbons of snow separating the ribs of rock. Before attempting them for the first time, ski down Combe de Saulire and traverse left off the piste. One passes successively on the left the exit from Sous-pylons (right under the cable car), Emile Allais (the narrowest, steepest and longest) and Grand Couloir (the widest, and generally considered the easiest). Get a feel of the steepness and snow conditions and watch two or three groups skiing (or falling) down the couloirs. The bad news is that falls are frequent, the good news is that they seem to rarely cause injuries (other than to pride). Now make up your mind, but err on the side of caution, this is serious skiing.
The Couloirs can only be approached by taking the 140 man Saulire telepherique (cable car). 95% of the passengers turn left on leaving the lift, the intrepid few advanced or expert skiers turn right. The runs are currently listed as black itineraries. The couloirs are approached via a 2-3m wide gently descending beaten track along the ridge between Courchevel (right) and Méribel (left). At the start of the path there is normally a blackboard giving guidance on snow conditions. (Usually a warning that the runs are only open to very good skiers.) Intermediate or weak advanced skiers should not attempt these runs except with a professional guide or instructor. If in doubt you can visit the pisteurs in the first aid station on the far side of the cable car. They are usually helpful about giving advice. Before committing yourself to the path look left down the steep slope into the Méribel Valley. This is Couloir Tremplin, its more difficult than the Courchevel Couloirs but you may wish to attempt it later .
Grand Couloir is by convention the easiest Couloir, and most people ski it first. Ski down the path and look into a shallow bowl with unpleasantly uneven and awkward bumps. This is your last chance for a change of heart and an easy retreat. If you don't fancy these bumps you probably shouldn't be in the couloirs, you'll have to take off your skis and retreat back up the path. There are two possible entries to Grand Couloir. The most popular lies straight down the fall line of this upper bowl towards the lowest point of a shallow crest directly ahead. On arrival at the crest you look straight down a steepish slope towards Courchevel 1850. This is Grand Couloir. It may be slightly tricky getting started (particularly if snow boarders have cut up the entry) but the further you go the easier it gets. To reach the alternative entry traverse high left in the shallow bowl around the shoulder above the main entry. This gives access to the upper (northern) arm of Grand Couloir which is narrower and slightly steeper. Usually the snow is better on this arm and you get a longer more dramatic run.
Sous Pylons is the easiest to find. There are various variations of entry and two alternative exits. All are clearly visible from the cable car and can be reconnoitred during your ascent. Much of it is also visible from the upper station platform. Entry is from the ridge path and usually involves skiing through a cornice where there may be short drop off. This is tricky only if the couloir is icy. Sous Pylons looks the steepest narrowest and most intimidating couloir but I always think that it is the easiest.
Emile Allais lies between Grand Couloir and Sous Pylons. This is the most difficult to find, but careful reconnoitring during the cable car ascent will help to pinpoint the two possible entries. Technically it is probably the trickiest, but because fewer people attempt it the snow is usually better than Grand Couloir. If you thought that Grand Couloir was fun rather than frightening you will definitely enjoy Emile Allais. If you came off Grand Couloir glad that it was over, don't attempt any of the others.
Couloir Tremplin descends on the Méribel side of Saulire. One can reconnoitre Tremplin from the bottom by traversing right of the Saulire-Meribel piste. The piste is technically no more difficult than some on the Courchevel side. BUT: 1). A slip near the top is potentially more dangerous, the gully is narrow in places and there are a few awkwardly placed rocks; 2). Also, it receives sun in the afternoon and on old snow tends to be icy in the morning. Tremplin becomes unskiable long before the north facing Courchevel couloirs. After fresh snow one can enter Tremplin straight from the Saulire cable car. This rapidly deteriorates exposing loose rocks under the snow. It then becomes necessary to traverse in from successively lower levels off the path leading to Grand Couloir. Take it gently at the top, you have to watch for rocks and think out the turns.
I should mention Death Couloir because you will hear people talking about it. Forget it. This is a very unofficial route on the Méribel side and should not be attempted. It may be possible with a professional guide (unlikely). You would be in big (and expensive) trouble if you got into difficulty on it. You risk losing your pass if your caught skiing it. If your this macho try working off your excess testosterone on the off-piste climbs on the Courchevel side instead (see next).
Croix de Verdon is a clear escalation of challenge. All of the four couloirs listed so far were listed routes on my last visit. (Rules change from year to year so check with the Tourist Office when you get out there). However there are further opportunities for the more adventurous. Set off as if heading for the upper entry to Grand Couloir. Continue traversing left across the top of the upper branch to the foot of a snow field. You can't go too far or you'll finish up traversing on rock. Normally you won't be the first skiers there (the pisteurs and lift attendants have an unfair advantage) so you should be able to follow their tracks. In any case, take off your skis and set off straight up the fall-line, either kick steps or follow the existing track. The climb looks vertical but is actually quite comfortable and short (about 50m vertical). At the top is a very narrow snow ridge, definitely insufficient room for a picnic, indeed its usually only comfortable for one person to put on skis at a time. The reward is the longest couloir, sufficiently steep and narrow to look terrifying from below, but actually gratifyingly easy after the steep climb.
Per ardua ad astra, if you want to venture further you'll need to work harder. Croix de Verdon is just the start. The possibilities of climbing up the ridge and descending on the Courchevel side continue. However my personal experience ends here. Further progress clearly means more arduous climbing. If in the slightest doubt, hire a guide.
Aiguille de Fruit Easily the highest mountain at the Courchevel end of the Trois Vallées the Aiguille de Fruit provides splendid off-piste skiing on its lower slopes. While the Couloirs provide dramatic skiing, those preferring isolation may prefer the Aiguille de Fruit. This is a lonelier world. There is always someone passing by in the Couloirs to help pick up the pieces, but if something goes wrong on the Col de Fruit you are unlikely to be so lucky. Be cautious, and be sure that someone knows where you have gone.
With one exception the skiing lies in a gigantic Creux Bowl stretching from Vizelle in the east to Chanrossa in the West. Reconnoitre the terrain first looking across and down from Vizelle. Next ski down the easy red Creux (q.v.) stopping to look up at the ridge on your right. Finally go up the Chanrossa chair where you get further views into the bowl. Initially the bowl does not look promising. First, its obvious that there are avalanches down the Aiguille de Fruit. However, there's a pisteurs hut at the top of the lift at Col de Chanrossa. They of course flag if the area is open or closed, they also tend to get the first shot on the traverse. I usually like to call in any way to check on snow conditions. They can tell you if its fluffy, heavy or crust. They also know that your out there if you do have problems. Second, there are no open slopes with even gradients and beautiful sets of linked turns. That's part of the charm of the skiing. The area is full of complicated tricky bits of snow that will test any skier and there's usually still untracked snow three or four days after the last fall. Third, the bowl looks like a trap with long hikes out from the bottom. There will be a bit of walking at times at the bottom but this usually leads to gentle down slopes that bring you back out at the Creux chair complex. The lift company usually bash a piste into the bowl to assist easy exits.
One should start the skiing by going up the Chanrossa Chair. A few years ago this was all off-piste but the company have now marked the area to the left of the lift (looking down the mountain) as a black run. They have also cut a path to detour round the most difficult parts so that even good intermediates can descend without problems. (See intermediate adventures.) Advanced and expert skiers have not been forgotten. The area to the right of the direct Sous-Pylons is a glorious unpisted black bumps field with a vertical fall of about 400m. The area is normally fenced off to discourage casual interest, but when snow conditions are adequate the pisteurs leave a narrow gap to permit entry. Choose your route carefully and this can be very steep and exciting. However it receives sun all afternoon and can also be icy and dangerous in the mornings. Treat it with caution. If you get on to the bumps and decide that you can't cope with them you are better to keep traversing of to your right where the slope gradually gets less steep.
The deep snow skiing is to the left of the piste (looking down). From the top of the chair turn right and ski off the left hand edge of the piste onto an obvious traverse. This traverse is avalanche prone but if dangerous the entrance will be very obviously closed. If in doubt enquire at the pisteurs hut at the top of the lift. The traverse sweeps round for about 1.5 Km on the north face of the Crete de Chanrossa towards the Aiguille de Fruit. Gradients off the traverse vary significantly from place to place so that you can choose something that suits your ability. Nowhere is it very steep and it tends to become easier towards the very far end. The slopes are predominantly north facing and surprisingly lightly skied.
There are also runs on the east side of the Chanrossa ridge (see Courchevel 1600).
The more difficult skiing in the Creux Bowl is approached from the Creux Noir chair lift. If you turn right at the top of the chair there is the choice of a difficult red piste back down to Creux, or you ski off the other side of the ridge down towards Mottaret. The start of the Mottaret run is clearly signposted (when open).
Most of the off-piste skiing is to the left of the chair (looking up the mountain). It is possible to walk (there's no need to take off one's skis) along the ridge for about 1.5 Km. One can descend almost anywhere on the left hand side. There are various small precipices, and the gradient varies sharply from place to place. So its best to plan an approximate line of descent during your earlier reconnoitre On the whole the gradients are steeper and the descent more satisfying the further one proceeds along the ridge. Finally one arrives at a rock face at the Col de Fruit, from this point it is possible to ski very close to your tracks from the longest traverse off Chanrossa.
There is one last run to describe. (I've left the best until last). Though one can in principle ski anywhere on the Courchevel side of the ridge (the Creux Bowl), the other side of the ridge is the Parc National de Vanoise, an alpine wild life reserve. It is absolutely forbidden (ABSOLUEMENT FORMELLEMENT INTERDIT) to ski anywhere in the park. There is one exception. Traverse along the ridge to the Col de Fruit. Keep your eyes open to the right because the domain is rich in alpine wild-life. Eventually you reach a final saddle before the ridge ends in a vertical face. On the right is a magnificent snow field directly under the west face of the Aiguille de Fruit. It is permitted to ski this field, you can ski straight down or traverse south before descending. You may not traverse to the right. At the bottom of the snow field lies the Allues brook. Cross the brook as soon as is practicable and ski over gently sloping lightly wooded meadows to the Ski de Fond above Mottaret. Alas you now face a 20 minute walk along the Ski de Fond Piste before you arrive at the lift. This trip takes a good half day. Its probably advisable to take a picnic or at least a snack. There are several places at which you will feel like stopping for a rest. There is nothing technically difficult about this route, it is easier than much of the skiing into the Creux bowl. But the distance and the isolation suggest that beginners at off-piste touring might be wise to seek a guide or ski school instructor to lead the trip. Apart from the walk along the ski de fond this is one of the nicest runs in the Alps.
1650 There is little of interest for the advanced skier in 1650, this area is more a playground for beginners and intermediates. There are some off-piste runs on the eastern slopes of the Chanrossa ridge. These provide long runs back to Courchevel 1650. They are probably of more interest to advanced intermediates. They provide a wonderful introduction to this type of off-piste skiing and are best attempted with a ski-instructor or guide. Enquire at the Tourist Offices to see if any trips are planned. There is also good tree skiing for all in bad weather.
Loze There was always good off-piste skiing on the slopes of the valley to the north-east of Loze. The opening of the La Tania resort and the new Telecabine, and the provision of the Col de Loze lift from Méribel have much extended the available area. It is particularly suited to those just starting to enjoy off-piste skiing or to the less adventurous advanced skier. The slopes are north facing and relatively little skied so its possible to find good snow well after other areas are skied out. The off-piste is easily accessible, rarely far from the piste and retreat is easy if the conditions are not to your liking. Much of the area is lightly wooded so it can also be an attractive venue in poor visibility.
Vizelle Vizelle is a much underestimated area. In any other resort it would be featured as the showpiece. In Courchevel it is a forgotten area on the way to somewhere more interesting. It has no less than three significant black pistes (each over 500m vertical descent) and two interesting reds. Between these lie extensive off-piste terrain with steep north, south, east and west facing slopes. The best of these is Suisses. Suisses taken direct under the lift is an exciting testing run with several very steep stretches. Technically it is probably much more difficult than the Couloirs. The challenge is somewhat spoilt by the ease with which one can retreat from the difficult parts of the slope back to the prepared piste. However this does make it a very good area for people wishing to extend themselves physically without the associated danger of isolation. As the fresh snow deteriorates the area turns into an excellent bumps field with big, varied moguls. It is usually very quiet.
The Méribel valley has extensive off-piste skiing opportunities for all levels of ability. Perhaps least well served are the advanced-experts insofar as the most sustained and out of the way runs are served by lifts in the two adjacent valleys. In practice this is unlikely to be a handicap because the great majority of skiers will have purchased a Trois Vallées lift pass. There is also one important warning. The South-Eastern Valley (from Mottaret towards Aiguille de Fruit) is a Nature Reserve. With two precisely defined exceptions it is absolutely forbidden (formellement interdit) to ski within the boundaries of the reserve. The pisteurs keep this terrain under careful observation and unauthorised entry will usually result in interception, and at the minimum, confiscation of your lift pass. This ban is taken very seriously.
I start with Tougnette because :
1. it is the obvious area for those starting a romance with off-piste skiing
2. it is usually the first area to open following a decent snow fall
The area is extensive, safe and its easy to traverse off the more difficult slopes. The better skiers will have moved on to more difficult areas after their first run. Its therefore perfect for the less experienced to practice all but the most difficult grades of off-piste skiing. Absolute beginners at deep snow should quickly book a lesson. Those with some technique but no confidence should head for the middle station, take the Arpasson teleski and then try any of the beginners slopes of Grive, Tetras or Escargot. Even average intermediates will be able to enjoy the fresh snow lying on pistes which were perfectly groomed as the snow began to fall. Later you will be able to venture onto the snow lying to either side of the piste and onto the Charferie Teleski. Lower down the mountain there are also ample opportunities for deep snow skiing both in open terrain and between the trees. Often there is still untracked snow here days after the last fall. For the more adventurous there are also long routes down to Meribel Les Allues, and on the other side of the ridge to St Martin de Belleville. The latter deteriorates quite rapidly if the weather stays fine and should be attempted within two or three days of the last snowfall. All of these routes are suitable for the self-reliant skier of moderate ability who wants to explore. The more cautious may prefer to book a guide or take advantage of the new snow by joining a three day deep snow clinic.
There are few opportunities in this area for the advanced/expert skier. The area to the Meribel side of Cretes running down to the middle station provides plenty of varied off-piste runs. The routes, problems and pit-falls are all obvious from a cursory examination from the telecabine and do not deserve a detailed description. On the whole, the gradients are steeper towards the south, but there is nothing that is particularly severe.
Col de la Loze / Burgin The opposite side of the valley is similar to Tougnette but lacks both the difficult and easy extremes. This is a good safe area for those with basic technique. They can safely practice their skills both at skiing and planning a route without exposing themselves to risk. The area includes moderately steep sections, broken terrain and tree skiing.
A special warning about La Mur (the Wall). In France the name La Mur is usually given to very steep slopes. These can be quite short (as in the famous steep drop off the glacier at Tignes) or long (as in the infamous 350m descent killer piste at the Portes du Soleil). In Meribel the name is typically given to a jump lying to the side of Marmotte (Marmot). The jump is clearly off-piste. Those attempting it do so at their own risk. The jump is a fairly unpleasant near vertical 6m wall (hence La Mur) at the foot of a moderate slope. It can have a very steep, or even undercut lip. The landing area is a bit too flat for comfort and can be quite uneven due to the graves of previous fallers. As it is off-piste with good visibility on the run in there are normally few problems from crossing skiers. For the good skier it poses no problems. In bad snow conditions, over-ambitious intermediate-advanced skiers risk serious injury. I know to my cost and still bear the scars from 20 years ago. All your friends will coax you to try it. If in doubt, don't. If you do, take it easy. This still applies another ten years later - Toffa
From Saulire there are three significant areas.
One can descend anywhere from the traverse linking Saulire with Burgin. These slopes are south-west facing and the snow rapidly deteriorates, so be cautious. Half-way down, the slope is cut by a gentle path from the middle station of Pas du Lac to Burgin so that you can always traverse off to the right. Below the path the slope tends to funnel you into a steep sided bowl ending in a stream bed at the Meribel-Mottaret road. The very steep right hand slope (looking down the hill) is usually one of the first areas in the valley to avalanche so treat this area with extra caution. Regulars to Meribel will know the area well. For most of the season the danger area is marked by the brown scar of exposed earth, but of course this is hidden after fresh snow. At the foot of the slope you will normally have to take of your skis to cross the road before joining La Truite (The Trout).
The other two descents are much more interesting but are approached via lifts in Courchevel. For completeness I will cover them again here.
The descent to Mottaret at the southern extreme of the slope is approached from the Creux Noir (Black Bowl) chair lift in Courchevel. If you turn right at the top of the chair there is the choice of a difficult red piste back down to Creux, or you ski off the other side of the ridge down towards Mottaret. The start of the Mottaret run is clearly signposted (when open). Remember not to stray to your left into the National Park (clearly indicated by boundary posts.
The final route is the Couloir
Tremplin (Springboard Gully), now apparently renamed Tournier.
One can reconnoitre Tremplin from the bottom by traversing right of the
Saulire-Meribel piste. The piste is technically no more difficult than
some on the Courchevel side.
1). A slip near the top is potentially more dangerous, the gully is narrow in places and there are a few awkwardly placed rocks;
2). It receives sun in the afternoon and on old snow tends to be icy in the morning.
Tremplin becomes unskiable long before the north facing Courchevel couloirs. After fresh snow one can enter Tremplin straight from the Saulire cable car. This upper entry rapidly deteriorates exposing loose rocks under the snow. It then becomes necessary to traverse in from successively lower levels off the path leading to Grand Couloir. Take it gently at the top, you have to watch for rocks and think out the turns.
Mont de la Challe There are useful patches of snow on both east and west sides of Mont de la Challe. These are suitable mainly for advanced skiers improving the range of slopes on which they feel comfortable. They are also extensively used by the ski schools for teaching the less advanced off-piste classes. Nothing here is particularly difficult nor particularly exciting. The piste immediately adjacent to the Roc de Tougne lift used to be an excellent medium black bumps field. These days the lift company grooms far too much of the slope to make an easier descent via Lagopede (Ptarmigan). This has come close to spoiling a good black run without producing a particularly memorable red one. The other side of the lift is marked on the maps as a red itinerary and therefore presumably considered particularly suitable for those wishing to practice off piste. The restaurant at the foot of the Roc de Tougnette lift, Arpasson, is my favourite mountain restaurant in the Meribel Valley.
Roc des Trois Marches The Meribel side of Roc Des Trois Marches (Rock of Three Steps) provides interesting and challenging skiing for good advanced and expert skiers, arguably the best in the valley. There is a conveniently located pisteurs/avalanche control hut at the summit and they are usually happy to advise on suitable routes and possible dangers. The main piste here, Bouquetin (Mountain Goat), is a good guide to the level of skiing that you can expect. Bouquetin is a genuine black. Never groomed, never easy, never suitable for non-advanced skiers. It can be reconnoitred in detail from the Plattiers Trois Telecabine. From this vantage point the most obvious feature of Bouquetin is the vertical cliff to the left of the piste (looking up the mountain). In practice this never comes into play whilst skiing the piste and there is no danger. However its always there in the mind which adds sufficient tension to make the piste a challenge. The entry to Bouquetin starts immediately under the lift cables to the right hand side of the Mouflon (Mountain Sheep). Cut through the cornice (or down a very small drop off) and start straight down the fall line. The start is divided by a ridge of rock into two gullies, the right hand one is easier but carries one closer to the dangerous cliff. Once past the gullies the slope generally carries one away from the cliff so there is no further danger. Bouquetin's only drawback is its relatively short length, only 300 m vertical descent.
If you find Bouquetin enjoyable rather than challenging and have also skied the Courchevel gullies (to establish your skiing credentials) you should call in at the pisteurs hut and enquire about the gullies to the right hand side (looking down the hill) of the Platiere lift. These start off as three difficult steep gullies leading to interesting broken terrain that drops down 400-500 m towards the path from Platiere to Plain Des Mains.
The easiest route sets off in roughly the same line as the Allouette piste but gradually diverge towards your left so as to ski round the shoulder of the ridge that runs back towards Bouquetin. As the valley comes into view keep traversing left, the further you go the longer and steeper the descent on your right will become.
A little more difficult is the route just to the right of the Platiere cables (LDM). It drops down a narrow gully past the gasex anti-avalanche device. As you emerge from the gully the valley bottom comes into view and you can pick your own route over the broken terrain.
I have not skied the third route but the pisteurs tell me (and distant viewing of the terrain confirms) it is the most difficult. The entry lies midway between the other two routes directly in line with the Plain Des Mains lift. It is narrow and steep but not life threatening.
Cote Brune The Cote Brune is a complete contrast to the intimidating broken gullies of Trois Marches. This is a bare, steep, east facing slope ideal for those whose who dream of producing perfect pretty sets of linked turns. Although accessible from Roc de Trois Marches, it is probably better to approach it for the first time from Mont de la Chambre. Before doing so check at the pisteurs hut at Roc Des Trois Marches that the cornice is safe, then take the Cote Brune lift up to Mont de la Chambre. The Cote Brune slope lies parallel to the lift to your right. From the lift you can see the entire slope and the three access points are immediately obvious.
From Mont de la Chambre first ski into the obvious bowl lying between Les Pylones and Venturon. The bowl itself usually has good snow but the runs are short. If the snow in the bowl is too difficult for you, you can always ski back to the Venturon avoiding the longer slopes of the Cote Brune. Otherwise exit the bowl as high as you can on the left hand edge. You are now on the southern end of the main Cote Brune traverse and can descend down towards the Venturon piste at virtually any point along the traverse. Do not be concerned about the shallow depression between you and the Venturon piste, there is a gentle slope on it that makes the trek out to the lift easy. Do not ski too far along the traverse, you will spoil the snow in the centre of the slope that is best accessed from higher up on the Les Menuires side (see next).
To reach the central entry point take the lifts to Roc Des Trois Marches and ski down the Allemand piste to La Becca teleski. At the top of the lift take off your skis and climb straight ahead to the cornice. Ski through the cornice. If your early enough and lucky enough the snow will be untouched all the way to the valley floor some 500m below you.
The lazy skier who does not fancy the climb to the cornice can turn off the Allemand piste at the obvious col just below Roc Des Trois Marches. This is the northern third entry point to the Cote Brune. A right hand traverse brings you out onto the sunlit eastern slopes. Weaker skiers will usually find the snow at its easiest on the less steep gradients of the earlier part of this traverse. It is possible to cover the entire slope from the southern and northern entry points but this rather wastes the snow on the central entry.
Finally on the Cote Brune, there is a very enjoyable easy off-piste itinerary under the Cote Brune chair. This is neither steep nor difficult and provides a suitable opportunity for those just getting into off-piste skiing to practice their skills. The safety of the Venturon is always only a short traverse away if the snow becomes too difficult.
Retour Val Thorens The return from Val Thorens to Mottaret from the Mont de Peclet was at one time considered a classic alpine itinerary. It's normally skied as part of the circuit of the Trois Vallees so I have dealt with it under the Val Thorens skiing.
The Belleville Valley provides fewer opportunities for testing off-piste skiing for the visiting skier. There are a number of long touring routes ending outside the valley that require organisation of transport, and the Tourist Office or ski-schools can advise on appropriate guides. There are still some significant runs that the advanced-expert skier visiting the Three Valleys for a limited period should not miss.
Les Menuires There is an enormous area of easy, gently sloping off-piste skiing on the west facing slopes above Les Menuires. This is suitable for the relatively inexperienced. They will encounter ski-school classes making use of local knowledge to find good snow well after the last snow fall. The advanced-expert skier will find little of interest in this area except for two black runs off Mont de la Chambre: Les Pylons and Leo Lacroix. Both are just genuinely black, but are of interest only on steep ungroomed sections near the top. These develop into enjoyable, but fairly short, bumps fields. The La Becca lift also gives access to the Cote Brune off-piste in the Meribel Valley
La Masse Skiers of all standards from intermediates up should enjoy a visit to La Masse. To get there ski down the Les Menuires home slopes into the square formed by the buildings. In the far right-hand corner ski across the bridge over the main road then turn sharp left. A wide path leads to the main La Masse lift. Whatever you do, before leaving La Masse, be sure to: 1) visit the top station to admire the superb views. The restaurant here has all the charm of a bus station cafeteria so instead, 2) stop off at the middle station restaurant for a meal, a beer, or coffee. The restaurant is cut deep into the rock of La Masse and should not be missed.
There is nothing that is particularly severe on La Masse. In normal snow conditions advanced-expert skiers will find the runs interesting rather than challenging. The best is perhaps the Lac Noir area which provides varied easy gully skiing. There are numerous variations so that the weak advanced skier will be able to pick out a relatively easy route while the expert will find sufficient small drop-offs, steep walls and narrow gullies to maintain interest. The broken terrain is sufficiently interesting to tempt you to return and do it again.
Aside from the main runs on La Masse there are two long itineraries that in good visibility can be attempted without significant difficulty. Les Yvoses starts from the top of Lac Noir and returns to Les Menuires via Le Bettex chair (check on the indicator board at the foot of Masse I that the chair is running as you set off up La Masse). Lou starts from the top of La Masse and drops down into the valley between La Masse and Cime de Carron. The only significant difficulty is crossing the stream before coming out at the Plan de l'Eau lift. Here one can choose either to go up the lift into the Val Thorens skiing or to return to Les Menuires via a rather flat path. For my taste, if your in the Three Valleys for only 6 days you may wish to combine La Masse with a trip to Cime de Carron. If your there for longer it deserves a day to itself.
There are also much longer and more exciting itineraries starting at La Masse. These require local knowledge and transport arrangements. Enquire at the tourist office or ski school for information about guides. The run over the back towards St Martin can be superb when conditions are right - taxi or transport to St Martin required at the bottom - Toffa.
Cime de Carron Cime de Carron at approx. 3200m provides the highest skiing in the Trois Vallées. If one is staying at Meribel or Courchevel it is difficult to do justice to the skiing at Cime de Carron in a single day. Those fortunate to be staying for two weeks should budget their time to include at least two visits. From the top, there are only two pistes, one black, Combe de Carron: one red, Mediene de Carron. Both are straightforward and of average difficulty for their grading. The slopes are mainly north facing and so the snow stays good. If you have time ski either of these pistes before trying one of the two itineraries. Weak advanced skiers may then wish to attempt the relatively easy itinerary dropping down into the Vallee du Lou. This is straightforward and brings one back to Cime de Carron (via Boismint), or down to Les Menuires. The other itinerary Plan Bouche is currently marked on my piste map as a red itinerary. In my view it would be more suitably marked as black. When gently bumped with good snow conditions it is suitable for weak advanced skiers. Otherwise it is only suitable for advanced-experts. The slope is usually one of the last to be opened and because it faces predominantly south-west the snow usually looks beautiful but is frequently both deep and heavy. It requires technique, strength and fitness to ski it with enjoyment. Once there is crud and/or bumps it again becomes much easier. Good skiers will appreciate the run at its best by skiing left just below the summit restaurant (this variant definitely promotes the difficulty to black). There's usually a slightly tricky passage through the cornice but after that one has the best of the run. At the bottom, one can ascend again only to the Col de Rosael. From here there's a short but tiring walk up a cutting through the ridge. Straight ahead lies an interesting little head wall. It looks quite steep but nothing special. Its the only place where I've seen an instructor obviously struggle and then fall, followed by a chortling colleague who suffered an identical fate. A third instructor led all three classes off on a traverse to the left where presumably they found an easier way down. The pitch is quite steep, but its also quite short and has a safe run-out at the bottom. This whole area is a wonderful deep snow off-piste area for three to four days after snow. Its high, north facing, a bit out of the way and often one of the last bits of snow to get tracked. It seems to be particularly popular with snowboarders. Whichever direction one takes here one can eventually head for the foot of a lift.
Ideally those pushed for time should try to ascend the Fond 2 Telesiege. At the top climb up the ridge. On the other side of the ridge is one of the best open snow off-piste slopes in the Three Valleys. Its probably only suitable for advanced/experts, because at the bottom there's a tricky cliff. If your lucky to find the snow good and untracked you'll never forget this run. Snow conditions can be very variable. Like the Plan Bouchet Itinerary this slope tends to be opened late. It can therefore be soggy and difficult. However, often it forms a stable thick wind packed crust where you can carve delicate turns in the surface without going through. My 50 Kilo wife would make Legolas jealous (Tolkien: Lord of the Rings, The Ring goes South). She skis this snow like an elven princess. In January, please, please ski somewhere else, there's only space for about twenty tracks and you should leave some for her. At the foot of this slope one arrives at a short but shear precipice. I'm not into rock drop-offs so can't advise. Instead traverse right or left. To the left the terrain falls away allowing a relatively easy way through, to the right there's a slightly trickier narrow arrete. Below the precipice ski off to the right where you can rejoin the piste down to the Plan Bouchet.
Good intermediates and weak advanced skiers should walk up and look down this piste. In a few weeks skiing this could be you. However there is no need to feel left out now. There is a wonderful run off the Chaviere Glacier that comes down the same valley and which is perfect for you. You will need a guide, so if your tempted check with the ski school or tourist office who will be able to advise.
There are two restaurants here that are a must. I usually try to get to Cime de Carron as early as I can then stop off in the Chalet Caron near the bottom station of the lower stage of the Caron lift for coffee or snacks. At this time if your lucky you'll even get a seat by the log fire! In fine weather I later head for the terrace of the Chalet Refuge de Plan Bouche. This is a very attractive spot for a late lunch if there's warm afternoon sunshine. In cold weather I would probably return to the Chalet Caron.
Slower skiers staying in Meribel or Courchevel may wish to consider an interesting strategy for making the most of the Cime de Carron area. The local Tourist Office will assist you in booking an overnight bunk in the Chalet Refuge de Plan Bouche. You will need to carry a sleeping bag and a toothbrush but will be able to buy an evening meal and breakfast in the restaurant. This would allow you to make the most of your time in Val Thorens.
Val Thorens Val Thorens used to have some of the best skiing in the Three Valleys. In those days it was the quietest resort in the area and usually had the best snow. The snow is still there, but these days the resort is much, much more crowded. I regret that I don't have much to say about the skiing here.
Running down to the resort from either side of the Aiguille de Peclet are two courtesy blacks, Beranger and La Moraine. Neither are particularly difficult. Beranger is accessed from the Funitel de Peclet (a not to be missed machine apparently stolen from Darth Vader just prior to the destruction of the Death Star). This could be a very exciting fast piste if prepared as a downhill. Unfortunately the capacity of the Funitel turns it into a slow slalom (round the bodies of struggling intermediates). Boy racers should consider getting up early to catch the first lift in the morning. In my foolish youth I used to do this, its where I learned to curve the racing line. Running parallel with the bottom of Beranger and served by its own chair lies a very attractive bumps field, Cascades. This is a genuine hot dogging field with the bumps pointing down the fall line. Frequent skiing by the very best bumps skiers have turned the moguls into a nightmare for the rest of us. Still one keeps going back, that elusive rhythm is somehow almost there... and one last run might just catch it for ever.
The best off-piste skiing is off the back of the glaciers on Peclet. These give access to seriously long runs. Starting on glaciers with difficult crevasses they are dangerous and certainly need a guide. My recommendation would be the route down the Glacier du Borgne.
The final run in the guide is the famous Retour Val-Thorens. At one time this long (14 Km) black itinerary was the most famous and most sought after run in the Trois Vallées. Now it has been demoted to the status of a red piste. It is still long and is most frequently skied late in the afternoon after a tiring round trip from Courchevel or Méribel to Cime de Carron and Val Thorens. It is therefore still not to be taken lightly by intermediate or weak advanced skiers. Do not leave it till late to leave Val Thorens. The upper stages of the twin Trois Vallées lifts are a notorious bottleneck and you can queue here long enough to make the descent a race against time. Avoid this by setting off home early (not so bad now with the new Funitel - Toffa). Those from Courchevel are in the greatest danger they still have to catch the Pas du Lac Gondola in Mottaret. Be warned that the lift company does not always clear the queue before closing the lift. It is common to be refused passage here after closing time and this will involve a very long bus trip down to Moûtiers then back to Courchevel or an expensive but quicker taxi ride. Returning to La Tania requires a further lift to gain access to the ridge above the resort. From 1850 take the Chenus Gondola or Plantrey Chair (or the Coqs Chair from the lake next to Biollay). From Méribel take the Loze slow 4-man Chair at the end of the valley - accessed from the Rhodos 1 & 2 or Burgin 1 Gondolas out of Méribel or the Pas du Lac 1 Gondola out of Mottaret - Toffa.