Having posted a review on Val Thorens, Meribel and Courchevel. I am using this post to wrap things up a bit as sort of a summary. Whichever of these 3 ski areas you will be staying at, a wonderful ski vacation is almost always guaranteed. Worst comes to worst, you just need to traverse over to whichever side has better conditions and snow. Or whichever ski area rocks your boat because while they are all part of Les 3 Vallées, they do have subtly different characters. Thus I will use this post to write about how to get around these 3 resorts and write about which one I prefer.
Skiing from Val Thorens to Courchevel
To access the 3 Vallées from Val Thorens, skiers head for either the Pionniers or Plein Sud chairlift. Upon reaching the top, they ski towards the 3 Vallées where they will board another chairlift or gondola. Both starts out in the same area though the chairlift might sometimes be the faster way up if there are no queues.
This second chairlift or gondola ride will bring skiers to the top of Col de la Chambre at 2,850m, and there are distinct signs there indicating of which trail to take to reach your desired destination. Skiers could also access Les Menuires from here.
However to access Courchevel, skiers should take the red-marked Venturon trail before leading into the blue-marked Sittelle trail that leads to the Chatelet chairlift. Following this blue-marked run all the way down will lead them to join the Martre run towards Meribel-Mottaret. Be certain the trails lead to Meribel-Mottaret and then they will reach the village with plenty of chairlifts and gondola to choose from.
In the village of Meribel-Mottaret, skiers need to board the Pas du Lac cable car. If for some reason you end up in Meribel Centre, take the Saulire Express as they will lead to the same peak at Saulire. This peak marks the border between Meribel and Courchevel and following the Saulire trail will lead skiers down to Courchevel, thus completing the major ski trail encompassing the focal resorts of the 3 Vallées.
Skiing from Courchevel to Val Thorens
For the return trip, skiers should take the Verdons cable car from Courchevel 1850 to the mid mountain level and switch to the Saulire gondola that will return them to the peak where they can continue towards Meribel.
It is a bit tricky from here on as most of the trails from Saulire leads to Meribel Centre and skiers want to get to the bottom of Pas du Lac or to Meribel-Mottaret. There is only red-marked runs towards Meribel-Mottaret so beginner skiers might need to take a longer route to reach Val Thorens. To get to Meribel-Mottaret from Saulire, take the Niverolle or Marcassin trail before joining into Aigle. This will bring skiers back to the base of Meribel-Mottaret.
Once there, they can take the Plattieres cable car where they will then need to transfer to Plattieres 3 to reach the top of the 3 Marches which is essentially the frontier between Meribel and Les Menuires.
From the 3 Marches, skiers should follow trails leading to the base of the Mont de la Chambre chairlift. This chairlift will bring them back to Col de la Chambre where they would just take the Pluviometre trail connecting towards Traversée de Montaulever. This section will allow skiers to ski through Les Menuires and they could explore this area if they have the time. It is easier to get to Val Thorens from here since there are shuttle buses between the 2 areas for a fee.
A one-way journey from Val Thorens to Courchevel 1850 could take about 2 hours depending on your speed and the queues at the chairlift. Though with the high speed lift and gondola system, there really is not much delays most of the time. Thus a return trip would take at least 4 hours and it is worth it to spend the time to take note of the closing times for the chairlifts and the gondola, especially those that leads to the respective peaks as it could be an expensive lesson if skiers get stranded since it takes time and money for a shuttle around these valleys!
Comparing Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens
If I were to re-start my 3 Vallées ski vacation, I might actually consider staying at Meribel. It was after all my first choice when I planned a visit but I stayed at Val Thorens instead as it was easier to find accommodation there with more choices. Meribel makes more sense if exploring the 3 Vallées is your main motivation as it is right in the centre and thus takes half the time to reach either Courchevel or Val Thorens. Not only that I think the Meribel Valley has the second best terrain.
For the hard core skiers, Val Thorens is still the place to be at. Simply for its altitude, the snow here is better, the views slightly more majestic and the ski trails are generally more fun and steep. However there is less fun for park riders and beginners so families with young kids who are still learning might get more value from Courchevel or Meribel.
In fact, if the 3 Vallées is a destination for groups with people who do not ski, Courchevel might be the best spot as it has a beautiful village to explore. There are also more activities besides skiing in Courchevel and more fancy dining establishments that can satisfy gourmands.
As for me, having stayed at Val Thorens, I might just stick with Val Thorens as I do like the atmosphere here better. Furthermore, Val Thorens does have the most modern lift infrastructure that makes skiing more enjoyable. And when staying in Val Thorens, I would in the future just stick with a pass that gives access to Les Menuires and Saint-Martin-de-Belleville as these 3 areas would be enough to satisfy me. While the 3 Vallées is vast and magnificent as the world’s largest ski resort, there is only that limited time to spend in a day’s of skiing. Only on a fine day would I pay extra for a day pass to explore Meribel and Courchevel from Val Thorens.