Tuesday 28 February 2006

Skiing the 3 Valleys

We're back!  Actually, we got back yesterday afternoon, and very reluctantly.  For 3 days we did nothing but eat, sleep and ski - phenomenal.  Turned out that we had booked more of an organised group trip than we originally thought, which actually turned out to be ok, as they arranged everything for us: transfer from the airport to the hotel (which turned out to be a good two hour drive), skis and boot rentals in the hotel itself, lift tickets ready on arrival, breakfast downstairs, transfers to and from the gondolas (walking in ski-boots is NOT fun), everything except lunch and dinners was already done and paid for.  The only real downside is that somewhere along the way we got signed up for a twin room instead of a double, which meant two dorm room sized beds instead of one large bed and the hotel was full, so no way to change.  Not a huge issue, but not ideal either.  The hotel itself was standard ski resort fare; nothing super luxurious, but very simple, clean and accessible.  A solid 2 star hotel, which suited us just fine.   Our room though, did have a very nice view, looking out over the little town of Brides-les-Bains.  

The ski area itself covered three HUGE valleys (ironcially called The Three Valleys, pdf map is <a href="http://www.courchevel.com/img/leski/domaine/plan-3v.pdf">here</a>), supposedly the largest skiable area in the world, and I certainly believe it.  We had access to all of it too. *insert big grin here*.  The heart of the resort is Meribel, which the gondolas from Brides-les-Bains, the little town our hotel was in, arrived at.  From there you could head East across the first range into Courchevel or West into Val Thorens or Les Meniures.  For the first day, we decided to stick to Meribel, since that's where Stephen's lesson would be based.  We got there as soon as the gondolas opened and skiied several green runs to get warmed up, remind Stephen how to do a wedge, turn, and generally avoid other skiers/obstacles before sending him off to his lesson, while I sought out some of the blues higher up the mountain.  The weather was just ok - rather cloudy and the runs were a bit icy, which was something of a bit of a disappointment, but worked ok for the first day.  We got to talking with some of the other skiiers and heard that the snow in several of the other valleys was much better, so after looking at the map we decided that Courchevel looked the easiest to get to, so we resolved to head over there for day two.  Wow, were we glad we did!!  Not only was the weather better (sunny, and rather warm), but the snow was much better, helped by being much higher up than Meribel and getting several inches of snow the night before.  Not only that, but the views were AMAZING.  We got up to the top and just gawked.  

After picking our jaws up off our skis, we headed off for our first full day.  We skiied mostly blues, staying in the central part of the valley and had a grand time.  In fact, the skiing was so good that we decided to head back for day three as well.  Again sunny, a bit colder than the previous day, but with the same great snow.  We spent the day in the far east corner of the valley, tackled several really fun red runs (equivilent to an easy black or blue-black in the Rockies) and generally had the best time.  The latter two days we brought lunch with us - oranges, local cheese, salami and freshly baked bread from the boulangerie around the corner from the hotel.  Talk about fabulous.  The second two days we made a short pit stop at the base for mulled wine and a bit of a rest in mid-afternoon.  We skiied until we could ski no more.  

After skiing our little bums off, we headed into town for food.  This took a bit of adventuring, but we did hit one gem in particular.  It was Saturday night, and we had originally planned to do a bit of apres ski organised by the tour company, but there was some sort of mix-up with the venue, so we had a couple of extra hours to kill.  We hadn't had great luck with food so far, nothing really terrible, but very touristy.  Stephen was particularly set on finding a REAL french resteraunt, and after walking through the town several times, we found one tucked away on a side street - Val Vert.  The menu was entirely in French with several set meals that looked quite good.  So, in we went and it turned out to be fabulous!  It was a bit of a marathon though, we were there for over three hours and five amazing courses including wine, dessert and digestifs, and practically rolled out of the resteraunt.  The service too was brilliant - the perfect balance between attentive and giving us plenty of time to work our way through the meal.  I couldn't have asked for anything better.

All in all, it was exactly the kind of trip we needed, and we were able to come back completely relaxed and rejuvenated.  We couldn't have asked for a better vacation.