Les Trois Vallées: the largest ski area in the world

It does not get much better than skiing in the French Alps, and where better to slide your way through the day than in the largest ski area in the world? Les Trois Vallées - or the Three Valleys - consists of seven separate ski resorts within three neighbouring valleys, which are linked through over 600 km of interconnected ski slopes, making it the largest connected ski area on the entire planet. 

© Les 3 Vallées / unknown author

With guaranteed snow and 337 pistes to choose from across all three valleys at differing difficulties and altitudes, visitors are spoilt for choice if they choose this destination for their skiing holiday. But even though they are connected, the resorts all come with varying personalities - and each valley has something unique to offer.

Courchevel

When many people think of Courchevel, they think of luxury. With** eleven luxury 5-star hotels, two palaces (which have six stars!), seven Michelin-starred restaurants, shops like Chanel, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton lining the streets, and guests including royalty, you can see where this reputation comes from. But there is a whole other side to this resort that is - how can I say - more normal. If you venture down the mountain from the prestigious Courchevel 1850, you will find Courchevel’s other villages that are (slightly) more affordable and way more laid back. With lively bars, great restaurants, and something for everyone from groups of friends to family getaways lower down the mountain - Courchevel** certainly does not begin and end in 1850.

When it comes to skiing, Courchevel has pretty much everything you could want. With most of the slopes above 1800 metres, the snow is stable throughout the season, and for any off days, there is the help of over 700 snow canons creating it artificially. There is ample skiing for both beginners and experts on and off-piste, and Courchevel 1850 is home to the famous grand couloir - known as one of the most dangerous black runs in the world. Courchevel 1650 is on the very edge of the entire Three Valleys ski area, so it is often quieter than the main resort of 1850, with no traffic heading into Méribel - the resort next door.

© Canva / georgeclerk

Méribel

Méribel is known as ‘le coeur des Trois Vallées’ (the heart of the Three Valleys) as it sits in the centre of the vast area, with great access to both valleys on either side. Méribel is a popular resort for those purely looking for a good time - with a lively, bustling town and great après-ski venues, including the well-known Rond Point. On the mountain, the views are picturesque as many slopes meander through the pines, which can look beautiful after a fresh snowfall! Méribel is also home to the famous Folie Douce. With views across the peaks, this extravagant spot is home to alpine debauchery - think champagne showers, dancers, fireworks, and dancing on tables (yes, in your ski boots!). It is a one-of-a-kind experience that should be enjoyed at least once.

© Ella Selfe

The skiing itself in Méribel can be touch and go. The snow conditions can vary from icy to slushy, and being in the centre of the Three Valleys, the resort sees all the through traffic from skiers heading from one side to the other, which can leave the snow extremely choppy and hard to ski on. However, saying this, Méribel has many great runs for all abilities, with a lot of beautiful trails through the trees, which can not be said for the other two valleys. And, of course, it is in the perfect location to enjoy the entire Three Valleys ski area, with Courchevel to one side and Val Thorens to the other.

© Ella Selfe

Val Thorens

Val Thorens may not be the name of the valley itself (Belleville), but with an altitude of 2300 m, it is the highest resort town in not only the Three Valleys but the whole of Europe! Located in the cheapest valley of the three, Val Thorens is extremely popular with large groups, and the resort will often see many university trips let loose on its slopes and streets. So to keep up with the clientele, Val Thorens has plenty of bars and nightlife to suit all parties. It is definitely the least picturesque of the resorts, situated above the tree line with large apartment complexes rising up out of the hillside, but it is definitely more affordable compared to the quaint wooden chalets and luxury hotels of Méribel and Courchevel.

© Canva / TadejZupancic

As the highest resort in the Three Valleys, Val Thorens undoubtedly has the best snow and is open longer than Méribel and Courchevel from the end of November until early May (snow permitting). With the higher altitude and better snow conditions, the crowds are unavoidable, but there is nothing better than a sunny day on the fresh snow of Val Thorens. Up and over the very edge of the resort, you will come across Orelle - which many have named ‘the Fourth Valley’. With only a couple of lifts, a handful of pistes, and one restaurant at the bottom, there is not much to do here. But it is worth dropping in at some point, if only for the views from the top!

It goes without saying that the Three Valleys offer some of the best skiing in the world, let alone Europe, with hundreds of different ski runs through various landscapes and villages. With the largest ski area in the world, you could ski here for a week without having the same day twice. And with a number of resorts to choose from offering something unique, there is a trip to remember for anyone visiting this beautiful part of the French Alps.

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