Building building building......

If you’ve ever wondered what a ski resort looks like in the autumn, then look no further…we recently had a drive up to Courchevel to ‘have a nosy’, and there were building projects going on almost everywhere, with cranes galore!

In Courchevel 1850, the main project (other than lots of chalet renovations) is the new Grangettes gondola arrival station at the Croisette. This key lift, carrying skiers, pedestrians and sledgers alike between Courchevel Village and Courchevel 1850 has had a major facelift, with new 10-seater cabins, night lighting, and a vastly reduced journey time.

Developments in Courchevel Moriond include a couple of new luxury apartment blocks in the centre of town, and further down by Aquamotion, a vast project is taking place in the name of ‘L’Ecrin Blanc’.  This 75-apartment development will ultimately be linked to the Courchevel ski area by an 8-man chairlift, and a newly constructed piste ensuring ski in, ski out access. Other features will include a restaurant, fitness-suite, kids club, and direct access to Aquamotion via a private underground entrance (sounds very James Bond!).

Further down the valley, in Courchevel Le Praz, work is progressing on the new ‘Alpinium’ building, another huge project.  This multi-purpose building will incorporate the new Praz gondola base station, as well as a 500-space underground car park, tourist office, lift-pass office, ski lockers, children’s indoor play area, function rooms with bar and kitchen facilities, and a sports ground on the roof! The new 10-seater gondola will be much faster (just over 5 minutes), and the arrival station will be located near the top of the Tovets chairlift, making 1850 much more accessible for pedestrians and beginner skiers.  Expected completion is December 2019.

So, while it all looks a little ugly at the moment up there, it is all in the name of progress!  And, while we are still very much enjoying the warm autumn, hopefully soon we will have some snow which will make everything look a whole lot prettier…

It wasn’t all cranes…..we did also see some stunning scenery and some lovely cows :-)

Our very own Alpine version of "Hygge"

The word "Hygge" has crept into my consciousness over the last few months and appears to be becoming a bit of a “thing”.  It’s new to me, but by no means new to Denmark, where the concept was created.  The actual term comes from a Norwegian word meaning “wellbeing”, and first appeared in 19th Century Danish writing.  But what does it mean?  Well, it seems to cover a lot of things, really – sitting by the fire on a cold night, drinking mulled wine with friends, curling up under a duvet to read a good book, candlelight, being with family and friends.  In a broad sense, it’s creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you.  What’s not to like?  Perhaps this explains why the Danes are considered to be the happiest people in the world!

Although this is a new word to me, I believe “Hygge” is something we’ve been enjoying in the Alps for a long time…..ask anyone who has been on a skiing holiday and they’ll tell you what a wonderful atmosphere it is in resort, combined with fresh air, cosy fires, good food and wine, great friends.  Our very own Alpine version of “Hygge”!

Our Top Five Alpine "Hygge" Moments:

  1. Hot chocolate and pastries by the fire in the Hotel Chabichou Bar

  2. Watching February fireworks with a cup of vin chaud

  3. Curling up in your chalet with a good book watching the snow fall outside

  4. Enjoying a glass of champagne in the sunshine on the Hotel Courcheneige terrace

  5. Trying  something different - snowshoeing/husky sledding/cross country skiing

What happens in the Alps in October?

You may well ask.....October and November are pretty quiet months in the Alps.  While most resorts open in the summer months, the lifts here in the Three Valleys have long since closed.  This month, however we've been blessed with gorgeous, sunny autumnal days and, as it was the weekend, and a beautifully mild October day, I decided it was time to go and climb that mountain (Dent du Villard) that I’ve been looking at from behind my desk for the last two weeks! 

When I say, climb that mountain, that suggests starting at the bottom…..however, not being a ‘seasoned hillwalker’ (unlike a long ago summer working in Morzine where I became something of a mountain goat!), I, along with my fellow walkers decided to tackle the walk to the summit from the already relatively high Lac de la Rosiere which sits at the bottom of the Vallee des Avals (Courchevel Moriond), at 1520m.  So, with the Dent du Villard sitting at 2284m, that's only a 764m vertical ascent.....sounds easy peasy!

Lac de la Rosiere, Courchevel Moriond

The ascent from this stunning beauty spot follows a well-marked path, starting with a steady uphill climb through the pine forest, where the cool air was actually very welcome.  Once out of the forest, we zigzagged our way across and up, coming across a few “hairy-ish” bits (as I called them!), where the path narrowed with a fairly steep drop-off, hence the helpful ropes attached to the rock to, er….cling onto.  On the whole, however, this was a very clear marked path, with nothing terribly tricky to contend with.  I had thought that the suggested 2hr ascent time signposted at the start of the walk was probably on the conservative side, and about halfway up I genuinely thought we only had a short way to go (I was thinking this for the best part of an hour!), but it took pretty much two hours, give or take a few stops for photos, to admire the scenery, and to watch planes take off from the Altiport in 1850.

Views from the top were, of course, spectacular, with a 360⁰ view of all the local summits, and further afield to the majestic Mont Blanc.  As it was later in the day, however and as our weary muscles began to chill down, we didn’t hang about for too long before descending via the same path.  The descent seemed a lot quicker and easier, but, as always with descents, was a killer on our ageing knees!

Food Glorious Food!

Food is a subject very close to my heart, and here in Courchevel we have a plethora of choice when it comes to dining, both on the slopes and at the various resort levels.  As we are NOT on holiday, however (despite what many of our friends might think!), we're not out there tucking into big lunches every time we go skiing, but we do enjoy a few hot chocolate stops.  So, for a change, and following fab reviews from some of our friends here, my friend Jane and I decided last week that we really ought to stop at the  Cave des Creux restaurant and see what all the fuss was about!
Dish of the day was "Gigot d'agneau a la cheminee" or leg of lamb cooked over the fire to you and I - my mouth was certainly watering!
However it was only 11:30am and we were only on a hot chocolate stop after all, so we managed to contain ourselves.....unlike the couple sat by the fire next to us who were steadily making their way through a bottle of champers and a delicious looking mountain platter with "gooey" cheese and charcuterie - and why not!
So, we still haven't actually eaten there, but the hot chocolate was great, and I would return to try the dessert trolley alone:
Giles and I did, however indulge ourselves the other night at the Bistrot Du Praz.  With friends holidaying over in Meribel, Le Praz was a good central meeting point for all of us, and the Bistrot always delivers.  In my opinion, the starters are the most interesting, with a very unusual "beaufort mousse with eggs cooked at 64 degrees" (good reports), a choice of hot or cold foie gras, tuna sashimi (which Giles would have had but they had no wasabi!), oysters and various others.  On the starter "suggestions" they had one langoustine soup left, which had my name written all over it - oh it was good!  The remainder of the meal was basically meat - simple but well executed, although I had hoped to see some more interesting fish dishes on the menu.  We had no room for pud, but some of our party shared a café gourmande which looked excellent.  Just a coffee for me, followed by complimentary genepis all round.
Another exciting new culinary venture here is by the folks at Keeters Catering, who have started a regular Indian curry delivery service, with drop-off points at various villages all over the valley.  At 15 Euros per person for a main curry dish, rice, home-made garlic naan, poppadums and chutney, we reckon it's a pretty good deal and it's the nearest we get to the takeaways we enjoy in the UK.  Our order is in for Wednesday! 
But for now, I will tuck into my home made sweet potato and parsnip, Shelley, when do the Body Pump classes start again?!

How can it be February already?

Yet again, here we are suddenly with only one week to go until February can time pass so quickly!?  January swept by and will be remembered for its unusual weather, with massive temperature fluctuations - some cold spells, a couple of big dumps of snow then, towards the end of the month, some extremely warm sunny days (think March skiing!).  February is looking good, however, and as I write, I am looking out at a snowy scene even down here at HQ (approx. 840m altitude)!
Last week we had heavy snow in the middle of the week, and after two days of waiting in for a courier delivery (let's say no more about that!), and with a superb sunny day forecast, we set off on a spontaneous team ski day with our friends from Supreme Ski and Ski Class.  We started off on a recce to find a new restaurant hidden in the trees by the Meribel Altiport, "Le Clos Bernard". 

A very pretty and scenic ski along the cross country path through the trees, following the little brown marker flags!

Then, out of nowhere, this lovely restaurant, with comfy deckchairs and outdoor fire.....
Although it was a little early for lunch, the menu looked promising, with cheese and charcuterie sharing platters, starter and main sized salads, a range of meats cooked on the wood fired grill, and all the usual Savoyarde specialities.  Think we may be back.....
We then headed over to St Martin de Belleville, where we had a great lunch in the sunshine at La Loy (inexpensive, with great friendly service), after which we made our way back down to Meribel and over the Col de la Loze back into Courchevel, with some of us skiing the Murettes run down into Courchevel Le Praz.  It's days like these that keep us here in the mountains!

The forecast for the coming week is for snow and bad weather, but we will be busy in the office finalising arrangements for our half-term guests, and ensuring they have everything they need before travelling next weekend.  We are also looking forward to the beginning of the International Festival of Pyrotechnic Art (that's fireworks festival to you and I!), which starts in 1550 on Thursday.  But for now, bring on the snow!

Some snow, no snow, lots of snow (hopefully!)

Well, it has been another (not so) "funny" start to the season this year. Even if you haven't already ventured to the Alps this winter, you will no doubt be aware that once again there was a major shortage of snow across the Alps at the beginning of the season.  After an early snowfall in November, temperatures rose and the snow did not fall again until after Christmas :-(
However, what the media most likely didn't report was how well Courchevel and the Three Valleys fared compared to many resorts which were unable to open.  The Three Valleys currently has 2186 snow cannons covering a third of the runs overall which, combined with the huge efforts of the lift company staff, ensured that the Three Valley resorts were all able to open and that all pre-booked ski lessons took place (and that the Ladies World Cup slalom was able to go ahead, but that's another story!).  With all of our guests skiing for at least several hours a day, and most enjoying lovely mountain lunches in the sunshine, I'm pleased to say none of our guests went home unhappy!
Since the New Year we have seen at least 1m of fresh snow fall, and with 150cm forecast over the course of this week (even at low altitude), we are feeling optimistic.
Indeed, as it was snowing yesterday, I took the opportunity to try out the new Aquamotion centre in Courchevel with some friends.  With a 3-hr pass to both the 'Aqualudique' area (pools, children's fun pools, diving pool, waterslides etc.) as well as the 'Aquawellness' area (more pools, including both indoor and outdoor Jacuzzi pool with massage jets, saltwater pool, sauna, Hammam and so on), it wasn't difficult to fill our afternoon (we didn't even have time to read our mags!), and I will certainly be going back!

As it was a Saturday (and indeed 'Happy Saturday' i.e. half price :-)) and therefore a busy family day, we chose to spend more time in the relaxing Aquawellness area, but I did have to try the Pentagliss and Canyon slides (all in the name of research of course....), which were great fun! Afterwards we had a sneaky peek into the very chic 'Nikki Café' bar and restaurant by Nikki Beach, but weren't so keen on the pumping music, and I fear the drinks/food prices will put us seasonnaire/local people off...having said that earlier in the day they had offered a very reasonable 3-course set lunch menu for 22 Euros, and were advertising a 3-course set dinner for 38 Euros.  I'm just not sure that Aquamotion would be my preferred dinner destination...However if I felt the need for a snack whilst there I'd probably opt for the more reasonably priced Cabana Grill (also run by Nikki Beach) although this is very much the formica tabled, brightly lit 'café' one would expect in a leisure complex and not a patch on the former décor-wise!
So, our New Year's Resolution here at Exceptional Ski was to dust down our blog and start reporting more regularly from Courchevel during the winter.  We hope you'll help to encourage us by following our blog or indeed following us on Facebook.  But for now, bring on the snow!

New Year Courchevel Style......

It's always good to bring in a New Year, and nowhere quite like Courchevel in which to celebrate!  We had a lovely dump of fresh snow over Boxing Day, another dump on the 28th (which, coupled with the thousands of cars descending on the Tarentaise resorts that day caused complete chaos on the roads - note to self drivers, bring snow chains and learn how to put them on!).
Nevertheless, all was forgotten the next day when we woke up to bright blue skies and fresh snow.  It was a great New Year week here in resort, with fireworks, 'dance party on the snow', night skiing on the Verdons and a fantastic ski show on the 2nd January.
Now we've also had the Russian Christmas celebrations, the resort has emptied out a little, and those cunning guests that have booked January holidays will enjoy quiet pistes, sunshine (certainly at the moment!), and a bit of tranquillity - always a lovely time to come on a skiing holiday......
Happy New Year to all of our friends and clients, and wishing you a happy and healthy 2014.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...................

Now that the Courchevel webcams are back in sync with the rest of us (other than the Altiport one, which is still stuck on a sunny day in October!), it's great to see a good covering of snow down to resort level.
Fortunately, we have mates in resort sending us regular updates, and even video footage of some of them out "testing the snow" (and it's a long hike up Saulire!).  Looks great, and although the temperature has risen over the last two days, it is due to drop on Thursday again.  Conditions in Tignes look amazing - wish we were there right now!
But for now, we have the Warren Miller "Ticket to Ride" Premiere to look forward to this week, then the Exceptional Ski mobile office will be heading off to bonnie Scotland for a couple of weeks where we might even see some of the white stuff ourselves :-)

Back on British soil..........

It’s difficult to imagine that only a week ago we were sat in the lovely warm autumn sunshine in the South of France, trying to absorb enough sunshine to keep us going during our couple of months back in the UK… our feet are firmly back on (damp) British soil!

Luckily we have a few things coming up to look forward to – a good friend and regular Exceptional Ski client’s 50th birthday this weekend, for example…..the London Ski Show next week, and the Les 3 Vallées Apres-Ski Extravaganza, which promises to be the ski show after party!  Then there are all the usual bits and bobs we enjoy doing on our return to the UK, like going to the cinema, guest ales in the pub (Giles), H&M (Vicky) among other things. We’ve already had our fish and chips - truly, first night back - and the mandatory Indian takeaway will be happening very soon……

But are we busy!  All of our regular guests are booking up their holidays and breaks for the winter ahead, and we’re getting loads of new enquiries on a daily basis J.  There really is very little left for the New Year week, and the situation is similar for the main February half-term week.  Plenty availability for low season, which, if you’re not tied to school holidays, is by far the best time to visit. 

So for now, we’ll be keeping busy here in London, and looking forward to the season ahead – here’s hoping for another cracking winter like last year J.