It is with some trepidation that I write of our visit two months ago to Les 3 Vallees in France. We’ve just spent the past three ski seasons at Beaver Creek, including the amazing winter of 2010 – 2011; however, this past March near Albertville in the Alps was, without a doubt, the absolute finest skiing of our lives.
Locals say that 2013 has brought more snow to the Alps than most folks have seen in living memory. It’s been 50 years since this much snow fell here, covering the slopes with over 6 feet of base.
Les 3 Vallees is large — the largest ski area on earth in fact. At 40,000 skiable acres, it dwarfs Vail (whose total area is a bit over 5,000 acres). Compare the size of Les 3 Vallees – which is roughly 13.5 miles in width and 7,000 feet of vertical drop – with our home ski area at Beaver Creek. If you made Vail’s Blue Sky Basin three times the height, and could ski to Edwards through Beaver Creek, you’d start to get an idea the scale of Les 3 Vallees. Compare that to our home in Virginia, and it’s as if you could ascend from Arlington a mile and a quarter and ski over to Reston — for lunch. In other words, it’s vast.
After a lovely first day on the slopes (complete with delicious European lunch fare at Le Bouc Blanc in Corchevel) the snow started falling quickly and furiously. Nearly a foot had fallen outside our Meribel Mottaret condo overnight. Our plans for tree skiing in Corchevel the next day quickly changed as we were forced off the Pas du Lac gondola at the mid station – the upper mountain was closed for avalanche work. Shrugging, we exited the gondola – and plunged into foot-deep powder. The next run, we dared to venture off-piste and quickly found ourselves in over-knee powder. Over and over, we turned off the groomed runs to plunge through the light, fluffy snow. Once the ski patrol dropped bombs and cleared the upper mountain of dangerous snow, the higher lifts opened. As the lower mountain’s power tracked out, the upper mountains offered us fresh power – again.
The same evening, snow fell once again. While the snowfall in our village seemed about 4 inches, the next day on the hill it was clear that another foot of light powder had fallen – on top of the previous day’s dump. We headed to Mont Valon, where a vertical drop of 2600 feet of off-piste powder awaited us. The turns were bottomless — powder often reached our waists. Under a blue-bird sky, we skied the mountain again and again, finding fresh lines each time. Here’s a short video segment of some sweet powder skiing (I’m in the orange jacket, and Kent’s in red).
After the five days of amazing skiing, including two big powder days, a sudden snow shower hit Thursday evening. Friday morning, although temperatures had warmed, we once again hit creamy, untracked power (albeit heavier than the previous three snowfalls), descending thousands of feet off-piste in untracked snow. Our last day, we made the grand tour of about 60% of the area. We skied through three valleys – speared by by 10,000 foot peaks – and crossed rocky ridges to vast, treeless valleys with ski runs snaking down. We skied a single run from the top of the Val Thorens glacier down over 6 miles and 4500 vertical feet (not even to the end of the run) to the valley below.
Our week in Les 3 Vallees luckily coincided with the best conditions seen in 50 years, allowing us to enjoy three days of amazing power skiing, daily European lunches and runs that went forever. Although I do not use these words lightly, it was truly an epic ski vacation.