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Can you Ski the 10 Main Resorts of Les Trois Vallées in just one day?

clock 25th October 2013 | comment0 Comments

In March of last year Igluski's Sales Director, Adam Johnson took 3 Iglu team mates on a mission to conquer the largest linked ski area in the world, Les Trois Vallées, in France. AJ takes us through their epic day...

Can you Ski the 10 Main Resorts of Les Trois Vallées in just one day?

The answer is yes, and it’s an excellent day out that gets you to all the corners of this massive ski area. We started our ambitious mission in the most central resort of the largest ski area in the world, Méribel {1}, in the middle Les Allues Vallée. We were staying with Total Ski in the lovely Chalet Cedre Blanc in the Mussillon area above Dick’s Tea Bar. Around the dinner table in the Chalet, my team and I had planned our whole day travelling anti-clockwise on the map around the 3 Valleys the night before. However, there was a hitch from the moment we opened the curtains in the morning. It was a Powder day above 1600m! And as everyone knows, the 1st casualty on any Powder day, is the plan! On a day like this you need to be up with the sparrows and queuing for the 1st lift. My IGLU veterans crew of Scotty on K2’s with Telemark bindings, Boyd on Volkl Grizzlies, Damian on some heavy rubbish he hired, and myself on Stöckli Coral Snakes, were more excited than 6 year olds on Xmas morning.

Kick off at 8.30am at the Chaudanne

The plan called for us to head for St Martin de Belleville {2} at the bottom in the next Vallée that leads up to Val Thorens. The quickest way up was to take the Tougnete 1 Gondola and then the Express 6 seater, Tougnete 2, which would very swiftly take us from 14520m to 2434m. At the top we skated off right looking for the Seasonaire’s favourite Red run, Jerusalem. This is a long fast banking red that never gets too steep but has oodles of tempting powder stashes left and right. And here in lies our 1st error. Scotty got so excited by the depth of the Pow that he stayed on the right hand side of the piste for too long and ended up on the Blaireau Red piste taking us back to the Tougnete 2 express chair. OK, not much of a detour except that the crowds had caught up to us so we had an annoying 15 min wait. Back at the top we were away again and this time we frolicked in the pow on the left of the piste heading to Jerusalem and had a ball. Freshies all the way to St MdV. It’s a Village that most visitors to the 3V never get to and that’s a shame. It’s a sweet little Savoie village with more character than its neighbouring purpose built resorts and it hosts some lovely restaurants like Le Montagnard owned by Eric Suchet a local cheese maker, and just down the road at St Marcel is Chef Rene Meilleur’s Michelin starred La Bouitte. You can ski there off-piste or call for a lift from St Martin.

The main street of St Martin de Belleville

Already, at only 10am, we were late and behind plan. We quickly got on the St Martin #1 Gondola and then the St Martin #2 (painfully slow) quad chair. Once back up at the Tougnete peak we jumped on the long flattish blue piste Gros Tougne down to Les Menuires {3} at 1850m. Not a lot to look at in Les Menuires but it is incredibly popular with families who like the convenient village, slopes and cheapest prices in the whole ski area.

Les Menuires looks better at night ;)

We skied through the crowds in central Les Menuires to the short Doron Chairlift which gave us enough elevation to ski to the fast Bruyéres Gondola. You can stay on this from 1850m all the way up to the Col de la Chambre at 2850m. We peeled off to the right and skied down the skiers left* of the 4 Vents red piste and joined onto the Mont de la Chambre blue for a speed tuck straight through Val Thorens{4} the highest ski resort in Europe at 2300m, for the 3 Valleys #1 chairlift. We had planned to have a break in VT and the drinking terraces did look inviting but time was getting away from us. It was past 12 midday already and we had a long, long way to go. The 3 Valleys # 1 chairlift is quite fun. You travel through town at around the 3rd floor level looking straight into the apartments on either side (not that we peaked through the curtains) and at the top of the chairlift you can see one of the great on-piste parties of the skier’s world. The new for last season La Folie Douce, the same crew as the original Val d’Isére Folie, passes right by within touching distance of the table top dancing girls and was ever so tempting. But we were on a mission, so we jumped straight onto the Bouquetin Gondola for a fast ride back to the Col de la Chambre.

*For the uninitiated, skiers left or right is always the view looking down from the top. Not the tourists view from the bottom which is the opposite.

The 3 Valleys #1 lift and VT Folie Douce

Now we were heading back into the middle Les Allues Vallée and the next stop was Mottaret {5} at 1600m, the slightly cheaper, slightly uglier and quieter, but far more convenient resort for ski in/out than it’s close neighbour Méribel. Our plan had been to hit the Famous (Seasonaire’s secret) Mottaret Montagne Burgers. I was sure I was smelling a Montagne burger as we came shooting down the skiers right of the Venturon red piste under the Cote Brune chairlift. FYI: As we splashed around in the piste side pow, we noticed a few guys hiking up the slope to our skier’s right. We took note of this and did the same hike, scrambling over the little terrain park entrance 6 times the next day. An awesome little painless hike for the deep untracked. By this time of the day we were famished but to our great despair the Montagne Burger café had a queue of scruffy, woolly hatted chalet staff about 20m long.

Damn I wanted that burger!

I sought consolation in Boyd’s hip flask of mighty fine skiing single malt and headed for the Pas du Lac Gondola to the famous Saulire peak at 2738m and entry to the 3rd Vallée called St Bon. We still had 5 more resorts to visit in the Courchevel area. At least we knew Courchevel has a plethora of awesome mountain eateries. We were just slightly wary of the usual wallet melting bills that go with it. From the top of the Saulire we had to forgo the usual skiers left dip into the thrill and spills that are the Courchevel Couloirs. On a day like this they would've been awesome. Instead we decided to go as far out to the boundaries of the area as possible so the rest of the trip would be coming back towards home. So we zoomed down the Marmottes red run and jumped on the Chanrossa chairlift. It was about now that I had an inspiration, perhaps brought on the Boyd’s medicinal administrations. I remembered the Ski Instructor’s favourite restaurant in Courchevel, The Bel Air. Still not cheap, but within our budgets and a cracking south facing terrace. The food is great and the service somewhat mindboggling. How do those waiters move so much food and drink through the crowds at such speed and accuracy?

Luckily for us the service at the Bel Air is famously fast and we appreciated getting in and out in under 45 mins. Now it was 2 pm and we still had 5 resorts to go. 1st on the list was 1650, now known as Courchevel Moriond {6}. We had a nice little romp down through fluffy white stuff under the Ariondaz Gondola all the way to town. We couldn’t stay so we were straight onto the Ariondaz and zipped up to high enough to get over to the Aiguille du Fruit chairlift. We could’ve jumped on the Gravelles and skied across the Altiport, but why would we waste an opportunity to bomb the Suisses Black run on a powder day. The lads larked about and jumped off anything they could find and this got me worried for time. I cracked the proverbial whip and chased the crazy fools all the way down past the Altiport, down the Bellecote, and through Courchevel 1850 {7} only stopping for a photo.

Next stop was after a thrilling but icy Brigues Red piste down to Courchevel La Praz at 1300m {8} the lowest point of our circuit. La Praz is another little gem of a resort. The Ski Jump from the Albertville Olympics stands proudly over the entrance to the village. This village is more like a Savoie town than a ski resort and although it’s pretty quiet it has some really nice Restaurants like the Michelin starred Le Bistrot du Praz. But no time to waste here. Another photo and away we go on the Praz Gondola. We really should've gone to 1550, Courchevel Village 1st but we missed the turn off. Now we were running it damned close for getting all resorts done.

Courchevel Village at 1550m {9} is the workers village of the St Bon Valley. Lots of staff from the Hotels, chalets and ski schools live down here. This makes the town a lot of fun and very functional. The bars and restaurants cheaper and well suited to looking after the young people that really make the Valley work. There is a selection of well-priced accommodation down here for the British market and it’s ideal for being able to have a drink in Courchevel 1850 before either sledging or skiing straight down the Tovets blue piste to get home in the dark. You’ll see lots of workers doing exactly that all night long. By now it approaching 3.30pm and we still had to do 4 long lifts to get back to the Col de la Loze peak that would enable us to ski all the way back to Méribel. We jumped on the Grangettes Gondola and nervously watched the minutes tick by. At the top we ran onto the Chenus lift as the clocked seemingly flew past 4pm and then 4.15pm.

The Grangettes Gondola up to Courchevel 1850 from 1550

At the top of the Chenus Gondola we jumped in our skis in record time and just tucked it for La Tania {10}. We weren't popular as we raced past (or through) groups and families having a lazy last run on the red pistes Bouc Blanc and then Moretta Blanche, but we were on a mission that could go very wrong, very soon. If you miss the last lift back to your own Valley the Taxi drivers rub their hands together with glee and start assessing you for how cash all of you can get out of the nearest cash machine in one go before setting the fare. There’s not a lot you can do as the public transport doesn't go from Valley to Valley and 4 wild eyed and desperate men with big skis hitching is almost impossible. After scaring a few dozen La Tania guests and ourselves at around 100kph we hit La Tania just after 4.30 and we still had 2 long lifts. Would the Dou des Lanches Chairlift still be open when we got to the top of the La Tania Gondola? They were closing the Gondola as we arrived but the Lifty knew from our sweaty and desperate faces that there was no way weren't getting on that Gondola. We were the last on.

We hoped that they would always take the last skiers on the Gondola onto the Dou des Lanches chair to make sure Méribel guests got home but we weren’t sure of it. As we approached to the top we prepared to argue for all our worth to get on that chair but there was no need. I think the Lifty was expecting us and he hurried us on and off we shot for the Col de la Loze and enough elevation to get us all the way back home. We broke out the celebratory hip flasks and toasted our achievement. Now that the pressure was off it was time to decide which of the 2 main sunny south-facing on-piste après ski bars of Méribel to go for, the new upstart, La Folie Douce or the long standing favourite, The Rond Point. I’ll spare the blushes and not mention the ages of my IGLU crew but when we pulled up to La Folie Douce and looked across the vast sea of table dancing and champagne fueled smiling faces, and noticed that very few of them were born before 1990 we realised that this might not be the scene for us. Off we went to the Ronny for a few Jugs of Mutzig and to relive a most excellent Trois Vallées adventure.

Top tips for making the circuit

1.Take a packed lunch
2. Don’t do it on a powder day
3. Don’t take someone trying on Telemark bindings for the day (thanks Scotty) or any boarders, bladers or monoskiers
4. Try and get as much done before lunch as possible. Afternoons seem to slip away
5. Do your talking in the Gondolas or on Chairlifts. Leave the piste-side chats to the instructors and awed bystanders

Apologies to the resorts that some would consider to be part of the 3 Valleys like Brides Les Bains and Orelle which have gondola access to the ski area but aren't possible to ski to in late March.



Ski Hosting Why We Love It And What's Gone Wrong

clock 20th February 2013 | comment1 Comments

This week a French court in the Alpine town of Albertville ruled that ski hosting offered by British tour operators is illegal and has therefore been banned. Following the news several tour operators we work with have come out and stated they are no longer offering the service.

The court ruled that under French law you have to be a qualified ski or snowboard instructor to lead groups on the mountain and under the scrutiny of safety, the staff offering ski hosting were not qualified to do so. Therefore, under French law the ski hosting that has been offered is both illegal and dangerous.

What Is Ski Hosting?

Ski hosting is where either your resort rep or chalet host take you out for a day on the mountain. The tradition behind hosting has always been to get like-minded, intermediate skiers together, show them the best blue and red runs and to point out interesting runs, sights and good lunches. The good old British etiquette has then been for the group, as a whole, to buy lunch for the host/hosts.

Having offered the hosting as a chalet host myself and also having been on a morning's hosted skiing with a reputable tour operator, it's easy to see what people love about ski hosting, or social skiing as Crystal call it.

Why Do We Love It?

Ski hosting offers three main positives. The first is being shown around the resort and being given a local's opinion on good areas to ski and great places for lunch — more often than not with good food, service and prices.

The second aspect is the chance to meet other skiers of a similar level. Imagine you are away and your other half is in ski school all week, it means on a couple of mornings there are like-minded people to ski with, which is both sociable and fun. Thirdly, it's a good way to get to know your rep or chalet host a little better, and as they are looking after you all week, it has the potential to make for a more fun holiday all round.

The big thing here is the social aspect of skiing — people to ski with, to chat to and to lunch with, regaling the morning's fun with each day. Having hosted guests, it's great fun and you can't beat a week in a chalet when you have a good rapport with your guests or hosts.

What Went Wrong?

There is much debate about why ski hosting has been banned, but with the courts citing safety, let's stick to that.

One problem with hosting is people who turn up, get on the lifts and then are unable to ski the slopes they are being taken down, due to over exaggerating their ability — and believe me it happens. The other is sometimes down to a few bad eggs in resort. The resort rep may know of some irresistible powder, and decide it's safe to take the guests there, even though they are not qualified or insured to do so.

As is often the case, the minority can sometimes ruin it for the many.

Who Loses Out?

So, who loses out? Well, to be honest, everyone. Holidaymakers miss out on the fun of skiing with new people, finding out the best spots to ski & have lunch and the social aspect of skiing within a group. The hosts miss out, whether a chalet host or resort rep, as building up a rapport with guests is both fun and vital to ensuring everyone is having a good time. And finally, many local businesses miss out — restaurants off the beaten track or that may look unappealing, but offer great food, will lose this stream of customers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I'd like to see a sensible solution to this being put in place. Tour operators don't have the finances to pay ski instructors to offer the hosting and the same guests are never going to book a day's guiding with a ski school. So where do we go from here?

I'd like the ESF, as the national ski school, to work with the operators in resort and to run a two day course with all the reps working in each resort — but based in the resort they will host, as opposed a generic course hub. The course would ensure the ski hosts were safe enough skiers and understood how to safely guide a group of people around the resort's intermediate runs. I would then like the tour operators and the ESF to police this together. Anyone who is deemed to be skiing dangerously, off piste or attempting to teach guests would lose their lift pass along with their job.

This way the ESF will know who the individual ski hosts are in each resort and can be confident they are skiing within pre-arranged guidelines and sensibly. Holidaymakers could continue to enjoy the ski hosting and everything that goes with it, in the knowledge that those hosting them have been approved by the local ski school. Whether this ever happens is another story.

I enjoy going on a morning of ski hosting and used to enjoy hosting my chalet guests on the mountain. Though it won't put me off skiing in France completely, it will mean that Switzerland and Austria are going to be more prominent in my searches from now on.

By Stephen Adam



Bernard's First Chalet Holiday

clock 18th January 2013 | comment1 Comments

Long time skier but chalet holiday virgin, Bernard Goyder, stayed in Chalet Rive Gauche, Val d'Isere, before Christmas. Here are his thoughts on what the chalet holiday experience is really like.

So, what is it actually like to stay in a catered ski chalet?

I love skiing, but had never stayed in a chalet before. Coming from a big family, my parents always took us on self-catering holidays, because they felt it was cheaper. We had great trips in resorts like Meribel and Les Arcs. These holidays were followed by the university ski trip, a day on the coach from Victoria on the way, and the panicked cleaning of our tiny Tignes apartment on the way back.

Compared to self-catering, my first chalet holiday has been an incredible experience. Having tasted the food, the service and the atmosphere, it is going to be hard to go back to self-catering. Having yet to turn the heating on tonight in my London terraced house, I'm already missing the warmth and dryness of the chalet, with its under-floor heating and climate controlled rooms.

The Rive Gauche is beautiful. Spacious and cosy, it is ideal for a party of eight. The chalet sits underneath the Fornet cable car, by the ravine that passes through Val D'Isere.

The first impression of the chalet is the warmth of the architecture. Open beams of untreated wood salvaged from Savoie farms give a traditional feel to the interior. But the steam room and plunge pool add a modern touch of luxury.

It is the attention to detail that makes this a 5 snowflake rated property. The mirrors so clean they are mistaken for doors and the wood covered fittings add to a feeling of cosy luxury.

If you haven’t been on a chalet holiday before, it is difficult to estimate quite how well looked after you are with a premium operator.

The tea and homemade cake, the four course meals with canapès, delicious main courses and wine all blow self-catering out of the water as a ski holiday experience. Considering you can pack your breakfast bread and croissants as a packed lunch — the full English cooked breakfast was good enough for me - leaving more money for après-ski.

Val d'Isere has a brilliant apres scene, from the Moris Pub and Saloon via Dicks Tea Bar to Doudoune, a night club over the piste that hosts DJs from across Europe. But a new addition to the after hours festivities that I would recommend is Fall Line — a bar which had a great cover band on, when we went for a pint.

All in all, a great holiday made memorable by the high standard of accommodation and catering. I'd recommend a chalet holiday to a party of keen skiers looking to splash out on something special.



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