Frozen at the precipice of a seemingly miles-deep engulfment of natural, snow-entrenched earth, its far walls rising into jagged, dagger-sharp peaks some unfathomable distance beyond, I struggled to absorb the titanic scale of the mountains in crystal-clear focus before me.
Lift pass flapping in the wind, I stood within the French Alps’ Les Trois Vallées, the largest interconnected ski region on earth. The Three Valleys encompass eight resort areas—ranging from traditional and charming (Saint Martin de Belleville) to flashy and luxurious (Courchevel)—linked by chairlifts and complimentary ski buses.
Earlier that morning, I’d awakened to room service at L’Apogée Courchevel, the brightest, most opulent, and newest accommodations atop the area still commonly known as Courchevel 1850 for its altitude (in meters, of course). Appropriately, 1850 is the highest and most exclusive of the former Courchevel villages directly below (1300, 1550, and 1650, all renamed in a recent rebranding effort), the winter playground of Russia’s super-wealthy, Prince William and Duchess Catherine, the Beckhams, and George Clooney.
From my cavernous suite’s massive living-room window, I watched a Chanel-logoed gondola rise over my quarters while breakfasting at a white-linen-covered table spread with baskets of baked-in-house croissants, porcelain bowls of steaming whipped eggs and silky crème fraîche, and miniature Le Creuset-style casserole pots.
The nouveau, contemporary newcomer to Courchevel, with a rare six-star, or “Palace” rating, is part of the Oetker Collection, siblings with Le Bristol in Paris and Eden Rock St. Barths. And while the hotel’s overall look might be less staid, the sizeable Sisley spa, with a hamman-like pool, is as decadent and hyper-chic as Le Comptoir de L’Apogée, the hotel’s cavernous main dining destination, where a staff of four or five might serve your extravagantly priced, five-course meal. (My suite’s two full, separate marble baths, one with a deep tub for soaking and sipping chilled Champagne in after a long day on the hill, were similarly exemplary.)
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Boots fitted (and buckled) in moments by the hotel’s ski-shop pros, a valet graciously led me—this way, madame—five steps out the door of the richly carpeted equipment room-slash-boutique, where my immaculate Kastle skis and a pair of perfect-height poles waited atop last night’s new snow—along with René, my charming and knowledgeable guide. In a minute, we’d zipped straight down the flat connecting trail directly behind L’Apogée into the wide-open basin of 1850’s town center, La Croisette. With shopping galleries and designer storefronts (Prada, Dior, Cartier), as well as local specialty shops, wine bars, and a mix of lower-key and mid-range cafés and restaurants (like La Fromagerie, a favorite for fondue in a rustic setting), the feel is alternately modern and distinctly mid-century French-alpine.
Several lifts, as well as the aforementioned gondola, converge here, too (though, miraculously, long lines do not). Swiveling around to take in the 360-degree views as our chair rose higher and higher—over low, partly underground chalets and mini-villages built right into the sides of the slopes; wide-open, never-ending runs; and an ocean of tree-covered mountains at our back—René outlined the whirlwind tour ahead, noting that riders of any skill can experience all three valleys in a single day.
In Méribel, passing by La Folie Douce, a watering hole right on the mountain, René, amused, mimed “boys, girls, dancing on the tables, drinking…” mid-run. Flying past the 1992 Olympic ski jump at Le Praz, I craned my neck upwards; at another populated lift area, the scene was that of a quaint, bustling village, with smiling families enjoying steaming chocolate-dipped gaufres and crêpes at picnic tables in the snow, and tots shuffling single-file behind their jovial ski-school leader.
Braving the trails alone on my second afternoon out, my head spun at the miles (373 to be exact) of options: Some 180 lifts (including brand-new, high-speed six-seaters) serve 318 official runs, in addition to virtually endless expanses of all-natural, off-piste skiing to satisfy any expert. Note, all six of the US’ largest ski resorts could fit inside Les Trois Vallées, with tens of thousands of acres left over. And all of this is accessible with a single pass.
The snow was fresh, fluffy, and deep (man-made flakes supplement consistent precipitation thanks to the high elevation). After a couple of hours hopping buoyantly down a nonstop choice of marathon, uninterrupted lines, I stopped (gratefully) halfway down the mountain at Les Verdons, a lodge-style brasserie with a sprawling outdoor terrace and rows of lounge chairs lined up in the snow, in which holiday-takers turned their faces up to the warm sun. It might have been Nice, except that life at the peak might very well be better.
Details: L’Apogée Courchevel features 53 rooms and suites, as well as a private, five-bedroom chalet; $1,141 to $9,948 per night (chalet and penthouse rates upon request). Reserve ski passes through your booking concierge, or www.skipasscourchevel.com or www.les3vallees.com. Contact: www.lapogeecourchevel.com