First Ski in Europe: Les 3 Vallées

We sit at 2800 m elevation, having an espresso and a platter that includes whole prawns, smoked salmon sandwiches, ceviche, salad and, of course, a basket of French bread. There is live music and the sun sparkles off the snow on the mountains around us. Life is good.

I’ve always visited Europe in the spring, summer or fall, so this is my first time skiing here. To be honest, I had never skied outside of British Columbia until late 2019.

This was at Chalet du Sunny, half way down the runs from Sunny lift.

How is it different than North America, friends ask, and my first response is always about food!

Like all ski resorts, the food and beverages are expensive, but that is where the similarity ends.

My first on piste (slope side) resort lunch was a cheese tart that sent me into raptures. Scott had trout on a sweet potato mash. Savoy specialties often involve cheese. We ate “salade de chèvre chaud avec miel et noisettes,” delightful dressed green topped with rounds of goat cheese toasted on French bread and drizzled with honey and chopped nuts. We had a pasta dish that was layers of tiny buckwheat cubes, cream and cheese. I had another salad that simply had slabs of grilled cheese on top.

At La Ferme de Reberty, slope-side and almost beside our chalet.

Comparable North American on-slope fare? Burgers, fried foods, pizza, sandwiches in plastic wrap, mediocre pastas, almost always served cafeteria style as you shuffle through the lines in your clunky ski boots with your tray, trying not to spill your beer or paper cup of coffee while you search for an empty seat at the long, communal tables.

A new experience for me was staying in a catered chalet. To me, that was the preserve of billionaires who flew into resorts on their private jets, but in Europe it is common. Our breakfasts and dinners were included. I expected average food but our chef produced amazing meals. Duck confit, raclette, panna cotta for dessert, and always a snack when we got in from skiing, followed by appetizers and Prosecco around the wood stove at the start of dinner.

Raclette at the chalet

Of course there is fine food in the towns around North American resorts. Whistler Village is a gourmet destination on its own, with food and wine festivals before and after the ski season. But in France there is superb food in the villages AND on the slopes.

“Did you even ski?” asked a friend, after seeing my food posts on Facebook.

It’s hard to compare the mountain and the skiing when I was only here for a snapshot of the season. Snow and weather can vary, and Les 3 Vallées is the largest ski resort in the world. (For reference, Whistler comes in at number 9.) I did note a few general differences, though.

There is much more equipment here for the amount of runs. Fleets of groomers roam the mountain at night, and the lift to run ratio is probably double what I’m used to. Runs are generally wider, what those of us used to glades and narrow trails would call “cruisers.” Of course, combine that with the extensive grooming and we could ski really fast, without having to worry about the crowds you usually see on groomed runs in North America.

So many runs…

Lift lines in North America are much more organized. Liftees direct traffic to make sure that there are no empty seats when the lifts are busy. Here, it was just a throng, pushing their way to the front like Italians at a motorway espresso stop. Families and groups of friends would use the singles line to get to the front, and let car after car go up with free seats as they waited for enough space to have everyone together. At ski-on lifts, people would stop right at the gate to wait for friends, blocking others from getting on. Of course, here the young people who would be liftees at home are catering chalets, planning their days so they can ski in the middle!

Some of the 11 of us who stayed together at the chalet

What is the same? The chalet, except for the catering, could have been one I’d stayed at in Wyoming, in Vermont, in Whistler, or on my home mountain of Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. The group of chalet-mates had mostly English accents, but were the same fun-loving type of people that I’d skied with many other places. The hot tub and the cold beverages were just as appreciated après-ski.

The boots were as difficult to get into and to walk in. The shin bruises and sore muscles were the same. And the skiing was pure joy.

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