Is Les Trois Vallées the Best Ski Areas in the World?Your search for the world''s best skiing may well end in the French alpine region of Les Trois Vallées. The area''s many popular ski resorts, located 630 km south of Paris, offer exceptional skiing in spectacular natural settings, and top facilities that cater for skiers of all levels. These are the largest ski fields in the world, with 283 slopes and more than 600 kilometres of ski runs, plus 120 kilometres of cross-country trails. About half of the slopes are classified as easy or very easy, and the rest are divided between the intermediates and the experts. Accessing the slopes is easy via the 85 draglifts, 68 chairlifts and 42 gondolas.
Over 600 kilometres of ski runs under one lift pass
The ski region originally encompassed three valleys ? Allues, Saint-Bon and Belleview ? but now includes the Maurenne valley. Fortunately, all the areas operate conveniently under one ski pass.
The little village of Brides Les Bains is the gateway to the Allues valley. From here you can access Méribel''s main resort, located at the centre of the region''s top slopes. Enjoy spectacular mountain views in crisp alpine surrounds while you traverse gently sloping alpine pastures or try the downhill return from Mont-Vallon, which allows for a much more dramatic pace.
In the Saint-Bon valley, to the east, you''ll find La Tania at 1400 metres. This recently developed resort, situated near the lovely protected areas of La Vanoise National Park, caters for families, is pedestrian only, and has skiing to the door.
Courchevel is among the world''s most prestigious, international-standard ski areas
The Courchevel resorts, also located in the expansive Saint-Bon valley, are regarded as among the world''s most prestigious, international-standard ski areas. Here luxury accommodation and fine dining come at a price. The valley''s earliest ski runs traverse the area, with wonderful routes like Chapelets and le Petit Mont-Blanc traversing old alpine pastures and extraordinarily beautiful woods.
Méribel''s western neighbour is Belleville Valley. At its entrance you will find the small, picturesque village of Saint Martin. Close to fantastic skiing, this quiet village, with ancient stonewalls, retains its traditional architecture. Bounded by imposing peaks, Val Thorens resort, at the head of the valley, is Europe''s highest. The eastern-facing slopes provide magnificent skiing with long-lasting powder. Here you can access the wilder southern slopes leading to unmarked virgin snow routes. You''ll also find exceptional skiing at Les Menuires, located mid-valley, in the heart of the Savoie.
World class accommodation and après ski
There are numerous accommodation options at the valley resorts, from upmarket to budget, to suit individuals, couples families and groups. For example, Méribel-Mottaret, at the southern end of the Méribel Valley, offers good quality mid-range accommodation and leisure amenities ? many for children. If you are after luxury catered accommodation, then the traditional, alpine-style chalet of Chalet Rousillon, in the centre of Méribel, has wonderful character, and the spacious bedrooms have balconies with magnificent views and an outdoor hot tub.
While French après ski facilities are not as highly regarded as the Austrian, Les Trois Vallées is an exception. Val Thorens is one of the best destinations for evening entertainment, since the choice of pubs and nightclubs is extensive. The most vibrant after-dark scene is at fashionable Courcheval, with its array of restaurants, bars and clubs. Finally, the thermal springs at Brides-les-Bains are perfect to ease aching muscles after a hard day''s skiing.
Rod Ritchie, a travel writer and editor, writes for many publishers including AA Publishing and Fodors. Purple Ski offer a fine selection of luxury catered ski chalets in Meribel with the discerning skier in mind.