Why Ski Just One Valley When You Can Ski Three (or four)? Les 3 Vallées, France

February 7th, 2024
The French Alps are spectacular and offer one of skiing’s great experiences. Photo: Tony Harrington

Mountainwatch | Rhylla Morgan

Mountainwatch was overdue for a European adventure, so with a phrasebook in our back pocket (oú est les toilettes s’il vous plâit?) and an appetite for raclette it was off to the Alps to start 2024 en grande style. The French Alps are crammed with great ski areas but a check of the forecast and a decision to seek high altitude for snow confidence made Les 3 Vallées the obvious choice.

Spoiler alert – Les 3 Vallées is enormous, so we’re going to do an overview to kick off and then dive into each valley separately, otherwise we’ll never do the place justice.

The pistes go for kilometres and off piste is seemingly endless. This groomer is the Tète Ronde, riders heading towards Val Thorens. Photo: Tony Harrington


  1.   Did we mention it’s big? 

Les Trois Vallées is the largest ski area on the planet, by a long leg-burning margin. It encompasses seven individual ‘resorts’ taking the stats to mind-blowing levels – we’re talking 600kms of runs and 1500 hectares of piste. The good news as we face more low-snow seasons is that 85% of the ski area is above 1800m and the different areas are connected by lifted linkages high on the ridges, not on the valley floor. The five largest ski areas in the US can all fit inside Les 3 Vallées trail map so you get the idea of the sheer scale of this place. It’s 20kms as the crow flies from Courchevel in the east across to Orelle (technically in the fourth valley) across in the west.

The trail map is hard to absorb at first and each lift takes you up and over to another valley and another resort area. The marked pistes are just the start, and when the conditions permit there is so much off piste you’d need to stay for the season, or move here permanently, in order to ski it all.

Aussie snowboarder Luke Fitcher  on Grande Rosiere at Meribel where he and Harro enjoyed 1000m vertical metres of snow like this. Photo: Tony Harrington


  1.   It really does have all skiers/snowboarders covered

For the real skiers this is a true alpine experience. Steeps, off piste, ear-popping gondola rides to high peaks and options to explore couloirs and plenty of très difficile options if black diamonds are your gem of choice. However, there is a generous sweep of red and blue across every valley for everyone else, well-shaped terrain parks and a sprinkling of gentle green zones offering more than enough runs for the littlest or most cautious beginner in your group. The incredible network of gondolas (most offering downloading) make it possible for everyone in your crew to join the chargers for lunch on a sun-soaked deck with sweeping views while you all tuck into tartiflette*.

Photo:Rhylla Morgan


  1.   You’re not surrounded by Aussies

No shade on our fellow countrymen and women, but why fly halfway around the world to rub shoulders with half of Bondi?  This is real European skiing and as soon as you get out of Geneva airport and around the shores of Lake Annecy you are blown away by the centuries of history, stone farmhouses, ancient churches and giant looming granite massifs. Sure, there are tonnes of folk here who can speak plenty of English (and pockets of English tourists) but part of the experience is taking in the rhythms of French life and language.

Photo: Rhylla Morgan


  1.   French food!

This is the place to forget the diet and lean into all things involving bread and cheese and wine, otherwise you’re missing half the fun. If you search the bottom of the menu there are of course vegan options and you could order a pad Thai with tofu – but you’re in the proud culinary heart of the French Alps so if there was ever a time and place to say ‘oui’ to fondue, try a pierrade* and that strange looking sausage at the deli counter – it’s here.

Any ideas of dieting go out the window when you’re in France. Photo: Rhylla Morgan

It’s also a great place to ‘picque-nique’. The locals do it and you should too. Stock up in le supermarche, get a fresh baguette, some tasty bits from the deli and skip an expensive lunch for something simple and just as scrumptious. You’ll find picnic tables all over the ski area and on storm days there are even picnic rooms (salle de picque-nique) at key locations with hot water, microwaves and a warm spot to do lunch with a killer view. Rub shoulders with the locals and save a few euros to put towards your next round at après.

Tony Harrington enjoying Le ‘picque-nique’ in the sun. Nice view. Photo: Rhylla Morgan

Les 3 Vallées includes some iconic French ski areas whose names you’ve heard – Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens – as well as smaller lesser-known places you’ll uncover on this incredible ski pass, Les Menuires, Saint-Martin-De-Belleville, Brides Les Bains and Orelle.  We’ll unpack these in separate stories valley by valley as they all have distinct styles, terrain and appeal for different skiers – the brilliant thing about this sprawling place is, you don’t have to choose just one!

Jess Winston-Smith, a race coach from Mt Hotham cruising the Campagnol run Mt Vallon in Meribel. Photo: Tony Harrington

For Australians, make sure you give yourself enough time here.  Jet lag is a thing and anything less than seven days will barely scratch the surface.  In addition to the skiing and cheese eating you’ll want time to try all the other stuff like a tandem parapente flight, the mad sled runs (Meribel has one that is 3kms long), the intense zip lines across the Val Thorens ski area, snow shoe tours, ice skating, sleigh rides and of course an afternoon dancing on the tables at Les Folie Douce.

  • Got an Epic Pass? Use your 7 days at Les 3 Vallées
  • Season Member at Mt Buller? You have 3 days at Les 3 Vallées included

Start your Les Trois Vallées experience here: https://www.les3vallees.com/en

Meribel Mottaret sits at 1750m and is the highest village in the Meribel Valley – our pick for great access to all valleys and ski-in, ski-out with a traditional French vibe. hoto: Tony Harrington

*tartiflette – a French delicacy that is the best, cheesiest potato bake you’ve ever eaten. It usually comes with a green salad, probably on the insistence of the Heart Foundation.

And while we are talking traditional Savoyard foodie things a couple more words for your travel dictionary:

*pierrade – a traditional shared/cook it at the table meal like fondue that is popular in the Alps.  BBQ thin pieces of meat on a stone or plate in the centre of the table, served with vegetables and sauces.

*Farto – [giggle] – is a cheese cellar.  Note – if you go overboard on cheese consumption you may need to hold in a farto or two in the gondola.

La Bee is a wild double zipline experience from high above Val Thorens down into the village.  It’s nearly 2kms long with three stages and you can fly side-by-side with a mate.  They ask if you have any back issues and are adamant you must lean back and brace for the stops which they explain are ‘strong’….  10/10 for thrill seekers. Put it on your list.