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Courchevel's Couloirs

  Courchevel, in the heart of the Three Valleys ski area in the French Alps is part of the largest linked ski area in the world. It offers some of the best and most extreme skiing in the world, with the many of the ski slopes being in a large north facing bowl, so keeping a good snow cover, but also offers a wide variety of pistes, suitable for all abilities and ages. Most of Courchevel's steepest and most challenging runs are accessed from the Saulire Telecabin and snake down the rocky face of the mountain, forming thin ribbons of snow in amongst the rocky outcrops. Turning right out of the telecabin takes you to the main ski pistes over to Meribel or towards Courchevel 1850 and Courchevel 1650. But there is one couloir this way, the short but steep Panoramique. Turning right from the telecabin and you have the choice of the Sous-Pylons right under the track of the cable car, the narrowest one called the Emile Allais, the most popular and most skied Grand Couloir and the Crois de Verdons, which is the hardest to get to. To access the couloirs you need to traverse along a narrow path before launching yourself down the steep, narrow and often bumpy descent. These pistes are for the serious and advanced skier only and once you take the plunge, there is no option but to continue down to the bottom; one way or another! The Grand Couloir is deemed the easiest of the couloirs and is the one you should probably start first on. Whether it is classed as a ski piste, off-piste run or itinerary run depends on the conditions and snow cover. The path to access the couloir is just as frightening as the slope itself. The first part of the Grand Couloir is a small shallow bowl full of large moguls but then the run opens out and becomes easier the lower you get. You can also enter the Grand Couloir from a more northern access point just under a prominent rock outcrop after the bowl at the top. This more northern route is steeper and narrow but usually has better snow cover. The Emile Allais is the hardest to find the entry to. There are two access points; one is just after the path at the top ends and you enter into a bowl and need to keep to the far right. You will come to a dip in the slope and will see a gases pipe (for avalanche explosions) just above you. This is the more common entry point but you can also ski further down towards the Grand Couloir and enter from there. The Crois des Verdons is much harder than the perviously mentioned couloirs and is far harder to access. You need to continue traversing right along the top ridge until you hit a rock crop. At this point you need to take your skis off and climb up around 50 metres to the ridge and you can then launch yourself into the longest couloir. From the path at the top you can also access the Couloir Tremplinn, often called the Couloir de Meribel, as it goes down towards the Meribel valley and is more difficult than those on the Courchevel side. But as the slope receives the afternoon sun, the snow cover is usually much poorer than those on the Courchevel side and extreme care should be taken as there are many rocks and narrow gullies to navigate and a lot of loose skree at the top, which will wreck your ski bases. There is more fantastic off-piste skiing from the top of the Chanrossa chair into the Creux Bowl but check with the pisteurs hut at the top for avalanche danger and snow conditions as this is an area prone to snow slides. The area directly under the chair and to the right is a large mogul field or you can ski off to the left of the main piste and traverse across for around one and half kilometres until you get to the north face of the Crete de Chanrossa. You can also take the Creux Noir chair lift (very old and slow 3 man) to the highest point in the Courchevel ski area and there is much off-piste skiing to the left, after traversing across for a while. © Rachel Gawith runs TheSkiBug - a small French registered company offering chalet and apartment cleaning, airport transfers from Chambery, Geneva, Lyon and Grenoble to the Three Valleys ski area.