A CANADIAN IN THE ALPS: PART THREE
17th February 2019 | Marie Taylor. Les3Vallees, France
Marie Taylor has skied the finest resorts in Canada, but never the Alps. In a series of special reports for PlanetSKI she compares the two.
As a first time skier in Europe where is the best place to go?
Well, why not the largest linked ski area, not only in the Alps, but in the world.
Step forward Les3Vallees in France.
600kms of piste served by 180 lifts.
The skiing starts at 1,260m and goes up to 3,230m – 1,970 of vertical.
Even the largest ski area in North America, Whistler in Canada, would fit into a tiny corner of it.
With plenty left over.
My favourite in Canada is Lake Louise in Alberta: 10 lifts and a decent 4,200 acres of terrain.
Skiing starts at 1,645m and goes up to 2,635m – 990m of vertical.
It could hardly be more different than the Canadian ski experience.
Canada v France – who’s going to win?
Marie will be looking at the ski area, the snow, the accommodation, the mountain restaurants, the atmosphere, the après and the overall experience.
And any other comparisons she comes across.
She’s been posting already:
So, which will come out on top?
THE SNOW AND THE SKI AREA
If this is what the snow is usually like in the Alps then I have been somewhat misled.
There is a general view that the snow is better in North America than in Europe – well not so on my 3-day visit to Les3Vallees.
The first 2 days it was snowing pretty much non-stop and then we had a blue sky powder day.
Not a bad first taste of skiing in the Alps.
The first day we were able to explore over to Val Thorens from our base in Les Menuires.
But on the second day the visibility and avalanche warnings kept the connecting lifts closed, so we kept to skiing just in Les Menuires.
It was a shame to be in the largest linked ski area in the world with many of the links closed, but that’s life in the mountains.
However, on the third day the sun was out and we caught first lifts over to Meribel and Courchevel.
Pretty much every single run that we did, until 4pm that day, we were able to get into fresh snow.
The amount of terrain and the pure size of Les3Vallees is hard to grasp for a Canadian.
I simply could not believe the size of it.
The area is nothing like any of our resorts in Canada.
Back home in the Rockies our biggest areas would just about cover Les Menuires and that is just a small part of Les3Vallees – there’s Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens.
And lets not forget La Tania and Bride-Les-Bains.
Have I missed any others?
When you’re in Les 3 Vallees, everywhere you look can be skied.
Now in Canada, we have just as amazing of views (actually they are better – sorry!), but not everything you can see in your 360 degree sight is skiable.
Usually within one resort it is just one or two sides of the mountain that is skiable terrain and has lifts for access.
Most of our resorts have anywhere from 10 to 15 lifts.
Nowhere near the 180 lifts that operate in Les3Vallees.
This brings me to the amount of people that are on the hill in one day alone.
Even though pretty much everywhere you look is skiable, with the number of people who are visiting the resort much is tracked out by the end of the day.
Often by the end of the morning.
In Canada you can get fresh lines with ease, not quite so in Les3Vallees but we managed a few times.
And on piste – the crowds!
I don’t even think I can say there was a single run that I did without being cut up by someone.
Seen through Canadian eyes there is simply not enough room on the piste for all the people.
This was the main reason why we did not ski on piste much – there were way too many people for my liking.
And it was a Monday and out of high season.
What must it be like this week, in the busy half-term period?
It is skiing on an industrial scale.
But then again, the snow was also so incredible we were searching for powder every chance we could get.
One thing I love back home is skiing in the trees, especially if they’ve been gladed leaving plenty of room for skiing.
This is something I found really hard – to find some great tree runs.
I’m not sure if this goes for all of the Alps, or if it’s just Les3Vallees, but I did miss skiing through the trees.
And having tree runs is something that is also good to have, especially when the lighting is flat, as you are always able to see much better in the trees.
And as I chatted to a local on a lift I mentioned the fabulous snow.
“Yeah, the trouble is it will probably warm up in a few days.”
He told me how he had skied in Canada often and the biggest difference is not actually the snow, but the temperature.
“The great thing you guys have is the cold and that preserves the snow. When winter comes in Canada it stays, but here in the Alps the temperature can go up and down like a yo-yo and that plays havoc with the powder.”
So, the snow is different, the size is different and so is the whole skiing experience.
I don’t pretend to make any definitive judgements on the differences – all I can do is make my subjective comparisons in the brief time I was in resort.
Now what about some scores ( and I am doing them football-style)?
SNOW – In my experience over 3-days it was a 1-1 draw between Canada and France.
SKIING SIZE – I’m waving the white flag, it’s 10-0 to Les3Vallees.
THE SKIING EXPERIENCE – Now this is a hard one… I’m giving it 3-2 to Canada as size is not everything.
But the biggest difference of all are the rules about where you can ski on the mountains and this is also why Canada wins in my book.
The Alps has on piste and off piste… Canada simply opens a mountain face and you can go wherever you want knowing you are insured and it is safe.
The Alps has a very strange system where the resort takes responsibility for what is between the marker posts and not the other side even though everyone seems to ski there anyway.
I know which one I prefer.
I’ll be explaining in my final blog later this week.
And taking a look at the apres ski, the mountain restaurants and anything else that springs to mind.
But my overall reaction?
Long live the differences!
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