Fulfillment of the Dream – Skiing Les 3 Vallees of France

For years, we have talked about skiing in France, this year we finally got there. Our final European ski destination of the 2021/2022 ski season was in 3 Vallees, France. I skied nearby many years ago, but Mike had never got the chance. We have tried to ski in Europe for the last several years, but it wasn’t possible. Our lift tickets were courtesy of our Epic Ski Passes, which included 7 days at 3 Vallees. On this trip, we decided to stay in the middle of one of the valleys in a village called Les Menuires.

Weather Challenges Getting to Les Menuires

Les Menuires, is about 2 hours away from Grenoble in the southernmost of the 3 Vallees. Light rain on departure turned into steady snow as we drove up the very windy road to Les Menuires. Mike’s anxiety rose with the altitude as we slowly navigated the hillside road to our slope-side hotel.

We were quite upset to find that we were not driving the all-wheel-drive vehicle promised in Nice. After a bit of misdirection in the snow, we were finally able to park outside our hotel. We were very relieved to have arrived safely, even more so as we watched 5 inches of snow blanket the car overnight. Once we were parked, we decided to leave the car where it was until the roads were cleared, which turned out to be 3 days later.

The Mountains at 3 Vallees

The ski mountains of France look quite different than the terrain in Italy. The skiing here is almost exclusively above the tree line and the mountains look much more round because of their glacial formation. The vistas in 3 Vallees were stunning but in a different way than in Italy. Judge for yourself.

The valley we were in, with Val Thorens at the end, looked like the box canyons in Colorado. It seemed broader than either the Meribel or Courchevel valleys. All of the mountains are connected by more than 40 gondolas and chair lifts. It feels huge and based on all of the lifts ad gondolas, I’m not certain we could make it to Courchevel and back in one day.

Click this picture to see a beautiful mountain panorama.

The Skiing at 3 Vallees

We were told that we could get our lift tickets in the next ski village over. After making our way on skis there were about 45 minutes of copying our Epic Passes and our IDs and filling in online forms before we finally got our 7-day ticket. Then we walked outside and found it a little daunting to find our way around. It seems the key was to find a lift line that wasn’t too busy to get out of the base areas as quickly as possible.

Once you get up the mountain, the ski area is vast and completely interconnected. On our first day there we had fresh snow because we arrived in a snowstorm. But neither of us was quite up to it and we agreed to explore a bit. The runs are not as well marked as in Italy and our only indications were direction signs and the color at the start of the run. It was the same red, blue and black as in Italy. Honestly, the entire time we were there I was battling an increasingly painful right knee. As a result, it was hard for me to enjoy the actual skiing, I took more pleasure in just being there and soaking it in. It is hard to take in the amount of skiable terrain in these valleys. So different from the four lifts we usually ski at Heavenly.

Seeing Mont Blanc

We had beautiful weather the entire time with visibility all the way to Mont Blanc. We had planned to drive over on one of our off days to see it but that wasn’t necessary. Another thing of note, years ago when I skied in France, one of the first words I learned was the word for “stop”. This was in reference to the crush at the lift lines. It seems that is no longer necessary because they have lanes set up with automatic card readers, just like Italy, followed by markings where you are supposed to stand. Much more civilized than in the past.

Staying on the Slopes

Les Menuires is actually made up of four different small base areas (we had no idea until we got there). There are lodges, restaurants, shops, and ticket offices at each of them. Our little village of Les Bruyeres even had an alpine slide that was much cheaper to ride than the one in Steamboat. But alas, we skipped it this time.

We stayed at a very expensive traditional ski chalet hotel. While it was ski in ski out, it cost 1/3 more than our accommodation in Italy and wasn’t nearly so friendly. Breakfast wasn’t even included because I just couldn’t pay 19€ each for it. There was a small kitchen in our room with a sink, dishwasher, fridge, microwave, but no plates or silverware. There was a little sign that said they would charge us 45€/day to use anything other than the kettle, microwave, and fridge. We were able to manage coffee and breakfast in the room. I asked for extra pillows and another towel and I was told no. Not what I expected for nearly $400/night.

That said, it was ski in ski out and they had nice lockers for our ski stuff. We saw the pool and the sauna but it was usually full of kids in the afternoon. It turned out to be a school holiday in France for the last 2 weeks of February. Something to remember for next time. As in Italy, the views from our balcony were really beautiful.

Ahh, the French Food

Mostly we ate dinner at the various small restaurants in our village, so we wouldn’t have to drive in the snow. The village was like most of the ski base areas we are used to with a few shops and about five restaurants. The fare is alpine – centered on fondue, raclette, and goulash.

On the mountain, the food is a little more varied and just depended on which lodge you stop at for lunch. There were tiny cafeteria-type restaurants but mostly sit-down restaurants where you were expected to take your time and enjoy your lunch along with a beer or a glass of wine. Lunch was usually an hour and a half affair. Which wasn’t a huge problem because the slopes were pretty crowded with ski school classes.

Lunch in Meribel

Meribel is the next valley over from Les Menuires so we took a day to ski over the top of the ridge and down into the Meribel upper village. There was good skiing at the top of Meribel and a gondola that took you to the top of Mont Vallon. I didn’t go up there but Mike took a run from the top. Then we skied down to the Meribel-Mottaret village where there were a bunch of restaurants. Since it was a beautiful day, we sat outside on the patio and traditional ski fare. For Mike, that meant Fondue. The village was cute and had a few lifts to get you further up the mountain but by the time we finished lunch, it was time to work our way back to Les Menuires on the other side of the ridge.

Road Trip to Courchevel

We decided that we would have one meal at one of the four Michelin-starred restaurants in the 3 Vallees area. As is our style, we picked a one-star restaurant based on their menu and we decided to go for lunch as it is always less expensive than dinner. This restaurant also had the advantage of being in Courchevel, which I really wanted to visit. The lunch was delightful and relatively inexpensive, my 4 course Prix fix was 65€ and Mike’s was 50€.

Click the picture to see the presentation of Mike’s soup.

The town of Courchevel is quite small and didn’t seem old at all. I’m guessing that it was developed for the 1992 Olympics. There are two lifts in town, that we did see, but the main base village is up the mountain some and we didn’t see it. The Olympic ski jumping stadium is also in Courchevel. We never made it over to Courchevel on skis so I can’t really talk to it.

That’s the End of Skiing 2021/2022

Overall, we really enjoyed our ski time in France and Italy. It is hard to describe just how beautiful and interesting everything was in the mountains. We hope to return but would try different locations for variety’s sake. Perhaps Austria, about which we have heard good things from multiple people.

The ski runs are fewer for a given area and longer compared to the western US. The layouts lend themselves to more leisurely skiing, at least for us. We enjoyed the opportunities to just explore, which made it a bit more of an adventure than skiing in the US.

Would you go to 3 Vallees to ski?

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5 comments

  1. Mike, we have been there and done that courtesy of the Borie family that stayed with us in San Mateo for a number of summers.

    Colin got to helicopter ski from the top of Val Thorens. Helene and I did “Les Trois Valleys” and back, all in one day. I can recall skiing past that tiny airstrip carved into the side of the mountain.

    The photos bring back pleasant memories.

    Rod

    PS: We also recall that harrowing tiny bus ride up the mountain

  2. You guys are living the dream! Thanks for the weekly reports.

    Mike – In unrelated news I have taken a break from Synopsys to do some contracting work for a small company. New address is my surname @gmail.com

  3. We have been a long time ago 2 times in Les Menuires, but on a budget in a cheap hotel (which we loved). In France a more expensive hotel doesn’t necessarily mean better service 😉
    Or what many people do is rent an apartment, and cook themselves (combined with a couple of times dining out).

    All wheel drive cars are hard to rent in Europe, so I’m not surprised the rental company didn’t have one. But they should have supplied tire chains with the car. The windy road is quite scary when it’s snowing.

    I do love 3 Vallees, it’s such a vast area and great for skiing day trips. You have to return on time though, to make it to the last lift. For next time, check online the European holiday weeks in January, February and March. During holiday weeks (Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France) it can get really busy, and these weeks are also way more expensive. The 2nd and 3rd of January fe are really quiet and cheaper.

    We went skiing 2 weeks in France this year, and 2 weeks in Austria. And are already talking about next year. Maybe Italy, I’ve never been there. But it’s a long drive for us (and expensive gasoline… hopefully prices will be down next year).

  4. Thanks for the guidance on checking vacation days. Looking forward to getting back!

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