Off-Piste Skiing In The Three Valleys
Méribel, smack bang in the middle of what could well be the biggest interconnecting ski area in the world. The off-piste? Vast and incredible, from easily accessible front-side to great Backcountry routes.
This vast area can be split into three main valleys. To the east, Courchevel and Les Avals. Centrally, directly up from Brides-Les-Bain, the Les Allues Valley via Méribel encompassing both right and left flanks all the way up to the Mont Vallon and the Tougnes areas. To the west the Belleville Valley encompassing St Martin de Belleville, Les Menuires, La Mass, Val Thorens and Cime de Caron.
You want off-piste? Look no further.
Courchevel – Sectors: Les Avals, Creux, Saulire and Loze
The eastern most sector of The Three Valleys. A couple of lifts from Méribel and you have access into the whole of this area with great routes into the Les Avals sector opening up amazing off-piste potential with routes taking you into the quintessential village of Pralognan via the whole area surrounding the Petit Mont Blanc. You also have direct access into all the off-piste of Creux, Loze and the steep couloirs of the Saulire and yes some are pretty steep, testing for even the most adventurous off-piste skiers.
Les Allues – Sectors: Right Bank, Vallon, Tougne, Left Bank
The area heading up the central part of the Three Valleys. Easy and quick access to a world of off-piste skiing. The valley stretches for over 20km and rises from Brides Les Bains to over 3,000m at the Gebroulaz Glacier, the source of the rivers that wind their way down the valley. This is the heart of the Three Valleys and skiing at it’s best. You have access to all the Méribel side of Saulire and Fruit. You can access this sector with a short hike from the top of Val Thorens to reach the Dome de Polset and access the Gebroulaz glacier and literally ski back to Méribel. From Vallon you have direct access to plenty of off-piste and a skin can take you to the Glacier du Borgne. Further around on the skiers left of this valley and you’re on to the tree laden slopes that take you down to Les Allues. Combine this with all the nooks and crannies and hidden gems of off-piste and you’re spoilt for choice.
Belleville – Secteurs: Right Bank, Val Thorens, Caron, Mass, Encombres, Left Bank
The westernmost part of the Three Valleys starting from St Martin de Belleville through Les Menuires and up to Val Thorens. Under 10% of this valley has been developed so you can imagine what’s left for those that are willing to search out the undeveloped areas – off-piste skiing at it’s best. Starting on the skiers right bank you have the whole side of the valley between Les Menuires and the Méribel sector all the way up to Val Thorens. From here you can access the Gebroulaz Glacier or continue around to Caron. This area has easy access to a bounty of off-piste. Moving back around to skiers left of the valley and you’re between Caron and La Masse. Here there are endless off-piste trails leading back down to Les Menuires or further down the valley to St Martin. Drop over the other side and you’re into the Vallee des Encombres. A short taxi ride back up to Orelle and the Forth Valley with access back into the Belleville Valley.
What level do you need to be?
To start the off-piste journey you just need to be reasonably fit with a good mental attitude and if you can competently ski Reds and easy Blacks then you are ready to go off-piste. Snoworks level 4. The journey begins on the All-Terrain Course. Once you have learnt some key skills and practiced in some side country off to the sides of lifts then you are ready to go on to a full out and out Off-Piste Course. This doesn’t mean to say you will be out of your depth on the contrary Off-Piste Courses start at level 4+. From here it’s Backcountry and the whole mountain environment opens up. Most Backcountry courses start at level 5 (competent off-piste skier) but many start at level 4+ (front-side experience) and also cater for experienced and expert off-piste skiers alike. Check out the Snoworks levels.
What equipment do you need?
You need fat skis unless of course you want to make it difficult for yourself but what’s the point of that? Off-piste skis are around 100mm underfoot. They are easy to find. Just ask in any ski hire shop or look on the ski it will be written somewhere. 100mm and everything becomes a lot easier. Less than this it depends how experienced you are. But try going off-piste on a 70mm ski and it’s the equivalent of going canoeing in a leaky boat. You could do it but you on the verge of sinking most of the time.
Fitness helps a lot. No pies and cakes except the odd one, switch to a great diet, run, cycle, walk or swim and in 6 months if you are not already fit you will be by then. You need to be able to sort yourself out in the off-piste. Fall over and there’s nobody to help you back up. Unless you fall by the instructor which takes great skill and precision! So you’ll need to be able to stand up after a fall.
Should you do it?
Absolutely. Unless you want to stick to pistes for the rest of your skiing career. Get fit, get some fat skis and come on a course. The mountains are waiting.