I am a third-generation Californian and not much of a snow bunny. In fact, the last time I went skiing in the French Alps, I came home in an ambulance. Needless to say, friends and family were all a bit nervous when I announced that I’d be going back this winter. I’m happy to say that this trip was much more successful, a grand time was had by all and I’ve returned with notes and addresses of places to share with those of you brave enough to consider spending your February break skiing in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
There are lots of famous places to ski in the French Alps, but I am going to focus on the Trois Vallées (Three Valleys) region because this is the largest ski resort on earth, with four valleys (despite its name) and several villages that are all connected by chairlifts and ski slopes.
On this trip we stayed at the somewhat luxurious Kaya Chalet Hotel at Les Menuires, which was fantastic, with direct access to the slopes, nice design and excellent food, but it’s a bit removed from the center, which made dining out a challenge on the nights we didn’t feel liking going to the restaurant. Previously, we tried Le Portillo in Val Thorens, which is considerably more basic, but it’s an apartment-hotel so we could dine in and if we felt like going out, we were in the center of town. These two resorts are known for their family atmosphere. For something considerably more chic, Courchevel is a second home for Russian oligarchs and Arab sheikhs, while Méribel is home to the French aristocratic set, with chalets that have been handed down for generations.
The shopping in these resorts reflects the local homeowners. You’ll find fur and fine art in Courchevel, while Les Menuires is all about sporting gear. The same is true for restaurants, with Courchevel boasting several establishments with Michelin stars, while Les Menuires has only one, La Bouitte.
Once you’re on the slopes, its a whole new playing field. Even a beginner like myself was able to ski from Les Menuires to Méribel for a lovely lunch on the slopes at Le Chardonnet, which can also be reached by telecabin for those who don’t want to ski but still enjoy dining on mountain peaks.
If you’re nervous about hitting the slopes, or would just like a guide, the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) has classes and private instructors at every resort. Group and private lessons are available for all ages and all skill levels in French or English (just to name a few of the languages offered). Local families are known to hire instructors because they often know the best places to dine, and having a guide in a classic red ESF ski suit means you get to use the fast lanes at the chairlifts—leaving you with more time to ski!