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Exceptional in every way

Courchevel

Courchevel… another planet? One thing’s for sure, it’s definitely a resort unlike any other. Always in the throes of development, it ranks among the top three most prestigious resorts in the world thanks to its location, its ski area (the biggest in the world) and the quality of services it offers. This Savoy-located resort is truly the stuff of dreams...
A first generation, all-inclusive resort created in 1946, Courchevel was influenced from the very outset by the perspicacity of a few visionary enthusiasts, blown away by the area’s natural beauty and potential. Among them, Jean Blanc, the local champion, who installed the very first ski lift at Moriond (Courchevel 1650), and Emile Allais who was given the job of planning the ski area in collaboration with Jeannot Cattelin. Following in the wake of these pioneers, their heirs have continued to build a forward-looking ski resort that is not just fresh and innovative but also highly coveted.
5 levels and as many facets...
Nestling in the heart of the 3 Valleys, Courchevel is approached in stages along the sinuous mountain road as it spreads over five distinct levels. The resort has many facets, and its five levels present a variety of aspects, panoramas and ways to approach the mountain.
First of all, there’s St Bon, the resort’s historic birthplace, which sits at an altitude of 1100m and has no ski lifts. Further along the hairpin bends, you arrive at Le Praz at 1300 m in altitude and at the gates of the ski area. Visitors will be charmed by this picturesque traditional mountain village with its typical village chalets and narrow, winding streets. Le Praz is a major ski jump centre, and you can’t miss its superb Olympic jumping hills which stand out from afar! Slightly set back, the next level, Courchevel 1550, offers good value for money so it’s very popular with families.
Located on a balcony set back from the relief, Courchevel 1650 is a very sunny sector. Over the last few years, the level has been getting a makeover. It’s now much smarter so you hardly notice the concrete block architecture built during the years of expansion in the 1970s! Finally, you reach Courchevel 1850, the most impressive level, which boasts the world’s highest concentration of ski-in ski-out luxury hotels per square meter, temples to refinement, luxury, consumerism, Russian clientele and... exorbitant prices!

Overall, you have an infinite variety of offers for a highly diverse clientele: from the standard package holiday to customized stays, every desire will be fulfilled, the craziest above all, and the demand for top quality is evident on all 5 levels. Adeline Roux, manager of the tourist information centre, agrees: “Courchevel is a real gem. It condenses a number of exceptional advantages. It’s one of the rare resorts where holidaymakers live in a bubble and can create their own experience; our service providers can invent whatever it takes”... as long as you have a very fat wallet! It’s nonetheless true that the notion of tailored service has made the resort the stuff of legends, pushing the art of living to its limits.
The art of hosting
Transfer from the airport to the resort by helicopter, your shopping delivered and put away for you, your skis at home, a baby-sitter and a table booked for the evening, a ski instructor for tomorrow, a coach to kit you out and help you choose the right skiwear, a massage, a butler and cook…? Everything is possible in Courchevel, past master at the art of hosting. The resort was the first to offer customized service, to anticipate all the whims and desires of its ever more demanding international guests, attracting holidaymakers who enjoy the good life. The number of concierge services continues to grow, going out of their way to make life easier for the very wealthy, and sending them home starry-eyed... Moreover, ‘stars’ is a keyword in Courchevel, both in its real and its figurative sense... It lights up the sky in every February/March with Courchevel’s International Fireworks Festival, and there’s a plethora of stars at the annual skating gala ‘Les Etoiles de la Glisse’ (the stars of skating), which kicks off the season in December, as well as the Film festival ‘Ski et Toiles’, held at the end of March.
Lucky stars...
The resort’s hotels no longer count the number of stars they’ve been awarded. In fact, the resort boasts the highest concentration of luxury hotels on the globe, including two 6-star hotels, the Hôtel de Charme les Airelles and the Cheval Blanc. It has no fewer than fourteen 5-star hotels: Alpes Hôtel du Pralong, Amanresort Le Mélézin, the Annapurna, the Kilimandjaro, the Lana, the Sivolière, the Strato, the Suites de la Potinière, the Manali, the Saint Roch, the Carlina, the Palace des Neiges, the recently built K2, and the Grandes Alpes Private Hôtel, a new style of private mountain hotel. Not to mention the plethora of 4-star and 4 star plus hotels... Don’t bother looking for a 2-star hotel though, you won’t find any.
For foodies, gastronomy is also in superlatives and Courchevel has all the stars you could want with seven restaurants ranked in the Michelin Guide, a record for any resort. Pierre Gagnaire at the Airelles and Yannick Alléno at Le 1947, the restaurant in the Cheval Blanc, were awarded two stars in 2010, as was Jean Sulpice, the young chef at Oxalys in Val Thorens. They join Michel Rochedy, who’s held 2 stars for over 20 years at Chabichou, a legendary institution! The 4-star Chabichou, which was in urgent need of a facelift, has recently refurbished its gastronomic restaurant. It now offers gastronomic menus at around €45 at midday, an excellent initiative. Michel Rochedy wants to make his star-spangled dishes available to all, and he recently opened a second restaurant and a huge spa with his son in December 2011. The new 400m2 restaurant is designed along ‘bistrot’ lines, and offers high-quality meals that are affordable to all. In addition to the restaurant, the new 700m2 complex includes a bar, a mezzanine, an open kitchen, a delicatessen and a baker’s.
Afternoon break
Other upcoming restaurant stars include François Moreau at Azimut in Le Praz, who gained his first star last winter and now chalks up a full house for his 4 menus that range in price from €25 to €59, and Enrico Bernardo at Il Vino in 1850. This newly-ranked top chef has also been named the world’s top Head Sommelier. He offers a Degustation menu from €49, making luxury an accessible dream. Other stars worth a visit include Le Bateau Ivre with Jean-Pierre Jacob (1*), the Table du Kilimandjaro (1*) and the Strato (1*).
At the top of gastronomy
Riding the Milky Way
All of these stars almost make us forget the most important thing, in other words, what happens on the ski runs! Because skiing is what Courchevel is really about and, seeking to put the focus back on sport, it went back to organising the alpine ski world cup in December 2010. “Today, the ski area is considered as the main draw by visitors to Courchevel,” Claude Faure, Chairman of S3V, the ski lift firm, reminded us. Real luxury means opening the door of your chalet directly onto the ski slopes. From the very outset in 1946, Courchevel was planned on the virgin site entirely around the idea of skiing. Today, it sits at the heart of the 3 Valleys, the world’s largest ski area, which boasts some astonishing figures: 600 km of ski runs with 8 linked resorts (Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides les Bains, Val Thorens, les Ménuires, Saint Martin de Belleville and Orelle), 330 runs, 60,000 m of cumulated gradation, 10,000 hectares of off-piste, and 25 linked summits, 6 of which are over 3000m in altitude. The 3 Valleys ski area and its 400 km2 are equivalent to the 6 largest American ski runs combined, so beat that if you can!
“Its main strength is the huge variety of ski areas and levels of difficulty, as well as the adjustment to all levels and types of snow activity. Beginners are welcome, as are off-piste skiers, and even children and the less active can find their place. Skiers who stay several days can cover all 3 valleys and ski on runs that are never the same twice, including the easy and the blue runs. This is really important as, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the 3 Valleys. With 80% of the ski area above 1800 metres in altitude, the snow quality is excellent and the snow coverage highly resistant. Moreover, most of the slopes are north-facing,” Claude Faure explained.
It’s simple, in the ski world, you have to do the 3 Valleys, it’s a cult venue. If you want to stay in Courchevel La Tania, there’s no problem, the area is big enough whether you’re there to ski for pleasure or for sport, carving tight curves through the snow along the wide and smooth avenues, entering the corridors of the Saulire run, zigzagging through the forest as you ride down to Praz... Skiing is easy around the resort, and it gets more and more difficult as you approach the peaks, so there’s something for every level. Even better, the different ZEN (Evolution Zone for beginners) have adapted ski lifts that make learning easy for young and old alike, and the Stop Zone will help you to learn to brake.
Apart from a Family Park, with whoops and raised bends that are easy and fun for children and families, there’s talk of a new area with wooden modules. What’s really missing in Courchevel though is a snowpark that’s worthy of the name. But perhaps the resort doesn’t want to be associated with freestylers... The latter can find what they’re looking for in Méribel (Méribel Centre and Méribel Mottaret) and Val Thorens, two resorts that cater specially for this young and free-spirited clientele!
Skiing on velvet
With reliable lifts transporting around 70,000 people an hour, queues are rare, which means more time skiing on velvet, without any bother and in total safety. Historically, the resort was one of the first to understand the importance of grooming the slopes. “We have to manicure the pistes. When you have a golf course, you’ll have excellent ski runs,” Emile Allais used to insist in the 1950s after his appointment to plan the ski area along with Jeannot Cattelin, and who imported the first snowcat from the US in 1958. Ever since, maintenance of the ski run has been exemplary, and Courchevel serves as a laboratory for other resorts with people coming from around the globe to train there. The resort has done an extraordinary job and goes the whole hog to get the ski runs perfect. Courchevel - La Tania has 21 groomers with 50 drivers, who work shifts from 5pm until the runs open at 9am. “It’s not enough to have cutting-edge machines, here the groomer drivers are real enthusiasts; for them it’s more than just a job,” Thomas Thor-Jensen, the ski area manager, explained, before adding, “it costs us a million euros a year to renew the snowcats, not to mention the 28 million euros invested in artificial snow over the last nine years.” Indeed, just in case is doesn’t snow enough, 500 snow guns (2100 in the 3 Valleys) are ready to take over in Courchevel, covering 39% of the ski area.
On the other hand, the ski runs are perhaps just a tad too smooth; any uneven ground has been levelled out, giving way to smooth and undemanding ski runs on which anyone and everyone can believe they’re world champions. Of course, not everyone is a champion and really expert skiers can find what they’re looking for in the swathes of backcountry. However, by making life too safe and comfortable, there’s no doubt that some of the buzz has been lost...
There’s not just skiing, you can also spa
There are plenty of other activities for non skiers to choose from: shopaholics can make a big hole in their bank account at the prestigious shops, jewellers and other haute-couture names (Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Fendi...) that fight to have a shop front in Courch’1850.
A little something to keep the credit card from burning!
Others might choose to take a first flight – Courchevel is one of the few resorts that boasts a mountain airport-, or simply enjoy the fun of sledging with the family on the run that leaves from La Croisette at 1850 and arrives at 1550, a truly amazing experience at nightfall. Yet others will love being pampered at one of the luxurious spas – there are too many for us to mention all of them – just how much wellness can one place get? We’ll just mention one, a new sensorial space opened by Chabichou’s Rochedy family, which opened in December 2011. 1000 m2 is dedicated to relaxation, featuring, among other things, countercurrent swimming and walking, a Dead Sea bath, a cobra waterfall, 4 massage points plus a geyser, 3 underwater massages and a hydromassage, a banya steam sauna, a dry salt laconium sauna, etc.
There’s no lack of new ideas in Courchevel either, and several amazing new places opened in December 2011... Among them, ‘K2’, a luxury hotel complex with a constellation of 5 chalets of over 500m2 set out around the main central building and its 29 rooms and suites by an underground passage. The intimate and luxurious world of the central building boasts exceptional facilities: a 600m2 spa, an infinity swimming pool, a fitness centre, ski shop, hairdresser, games rooms, cinema and even a private night club. There are two restaurants to round off the experience, including a gastronomic restaurant supervised by the famous chef, Nicolas Sale (1 star in the Michelin guide), a bar lounge and a smoking room.

Note too the transformation of the Grandes Alpes, the resort’s historic hotel, which has become the Grandes Alpes Private Hotel, a hotel suite complex. “It was an opportunity to create a product that was still missing in Courchevel. With its 9 splendid suites, ranging in size from 130m2 to over 300m2, which benefit from all the hotel’s services, it’s now possible to invite between 8 and 10 guests ‘home’ with VIP service, a bar and private lounge, and direct private access to the swimming pool and spa. A butler, chef and housekeeper are available for the exclusive use of each suite, 24/24,” Joffrey Vallat, the project’s brainchild, explained.
Strengths and weaknesses
The words of Claude Faure, the president of S3V, who insists that “Courchevel is open to everyone and closed to no one,” should be taken with a pinch of salt as far as 1850 is concerned, a level that most people can only gaze at in awe as they can’t afford to pay €300 for lunch for three on the slopes. For the same quality, everything is more expensive than anywhere else: the restaurants (apart from the fifty-year-old institution, Le Tremplin), skiwear in the sports shops... at times it’s just absurd.
A resort initially built on social values, Courchevel 1850 has become a millionaires’ playground, with a security service to watch over their chalets, and cohorts of caretakers and house staff (the new valets...). The heirs of the pioneers nonetheless make sure that the investors retain a long-term vision, which is crucial if Courchevel is to continue to dazzle by its dynamism, and not sell its soul to the devil...
Magic Courchevel
Practical Courchevel
www.courchevel.com
www.facebook.com/courchevel

The whole of Courchevel in your pocket with mobile applications:
For iPhone: app Store / Courchevel
For Android: Android market / Couchevel

Courchevel in figures:
Winter-Sports.com publishes all the ski pass rates for Courchevel Valley and the 3 Valleys, adults/children/day/6 days... as well as the ski area snow reports.
150 km of runs in Courchevel valley (Ski run map)
600 km of ski runs linked by 173 ski lifts in the 3 Valleys
318 ski runs in the 3 Valleys, including 30 black, 108 red, 129 blue and 51 green
65 km of cross-country ski runs in Courchevel for all levels
2 ski jumps: 90 m and 120 m
1 Family Park with whoops and raised bends
1 stop zone to learn to brake
800 qualified ski instructors at the ESF ski schools in Courchevel 1550, 1650 and 1850, including 500 in Courchevel 1850: the biggest skiing school in Europe
Over 200 MediaHols.com holiday rentals
39 hotel spas including 27 that are open to non-residents
38 activities on offer in Courchevel
And to make sure you’ve got the right gear for Courch'1850, check out the latest 2011/2012 skiwear trends.
Like in Courchevel, Ischgl Austria also has a rich & famous side to it, but at more affordable prices.
Find all of our resort articles on Winter-Sports.com
Text and pictures: Sandra Stavo-Debauge
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