Nouveau-riche regent of France's leading ski resorts, Courchevel enjoys by far the highest profile of all of the big-name mega-resorts of the Tarentaise Valley, and boasts the most extensive local ski area amongst its linked entourage of famous resorts in the magnificent Three Valleys ski domain.
Courchevel isn't an individual resort though, it's actually a grouping of four separate resort villages, each with its own personality and each appealing to a different character of clientele; the generally accepted notion being that the higher the village, the higher the prestige - and the prices. Each of the villages is commonly referred to by its approximate corresponding altitude in metres above sea level, prefixed with the adopted collective resort name (e.g. Courchevel 1850), but recently the lower-altitude villages have reintroduced their original local names: Courchevel Le Praz (aka 1300); Courchevel Village (aka 1550), site of the original hamlet of Courchevel; and Courchevel Moriond (aka 1650); the prime resort of Courchevel 1850 is simply referred to as just 'Courchevel'.
Despite being best known for its bling factor and its celebrity clientele, Courchevel is actually not quite as exclusive as it might seem. Certainly it has many deluxe hotels, sumptuous chalets, opulent boutiques, swanky bars & clubs, and one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants outside Paris, but the central quarter of the main resort still reveals much of its unpolished and now dated purpose-built roots. There's also more than enough choice of accommodation, services, and venues, across all four villages, to cover all categories and budgets; just remember to glance at their price list first, or not as the case may be
The one truly egalitarian feature of Courchevel is its great ski area, offering a diverse range of terrain covering a full gamut of slope classifications to suit everyone.
There are beginners' zones at all four village bases; the most extensive ones are located at Courchevel Moriond and in the Pralong area above Jardin Alpin, these two sectors also offer the best selection of gentle progression pistes out on the main slopes, although those from Jardin Alpin and Verdons to central Courchevel often get uncomfortably busy.
Progressive novices and intermediates have some of the best slopes in the Alps to play with, here in the Courchevel sectors and further afield throughout the immense Three Valleys domain; many visitors however are content to remain in the Courchevel valley for the duration of their stay, such is the extent and quality of the local ski area. Particularly noteworthy are the great selection of cruise-able long blues and fast wide reds in the upper reaches of the core Saulire-Creux sectors and in the Chanrossa sector above Courchevel Moriond, and, when snow conditions are good, the thigh-burning long red runs on the wooded slopes down to Le Praz and La Tania.
Advanced ability skiers and snowboarders have the additional choice of lots of inter-piste powder slopes and steep mogulled black pistes, as well as seemingly limitless off-piste possibilities in the Three Valleys as a whole. The highest profile in-bounds challenges in the core Courchevel area are the seriously steep couloirs down the rugged flank of La Croix des Verdons to the looker's right of the Saulire cable car, only one of which - the Grand Couloir - is marked as a black run on the Courchevel piste map, the others are narrower and tougher off-piste descents.
There's currently just the one snowpark at Courchevel, albeit fairly well equipped, situated in the Verdons area just above central Courchevel; keen freestylers are best advised to head for the much bigger Le Park and Moon Park over on the far side of the next valley, above Meribel-Mottaret.
Off the slopes and apres ski
The principal resort village of Courchevel (1850) offers the greatest range of off-slope attractions: with dozens of shops, including many ritzy fashion boutiques, jewellers, and art galleries; plus a weekly street market; a host of stylish cafés, bars and restaurants; and a good range of alternative activities and sports facilities. Courchevel Moriond has a fair selection of shops, bars and restaurants, but nowhere near as numerous or as glitzy as those in the main resort hub. Courchevel Village and Courchevel Le Praz are much quieter and contain just an adequate selection of local shops and a few friendly bars, although Le Praz does also have a handful of nice restaurants.
The Forum Centre in Courchevel is the largest shopping and sports complex in the resort, housing a good selection of shops and a large supermarket, a couple of bars, cafés and restaurants, plus various sports facilities: including an Olympic standard ice rink (dating from the Albertville 1992 Winter Games), a ten-pin bowling alley, a fitness suite, and a climbing wall/ropes installation.
A new aquatic leisure and spa complex is being developed at the site of an existing summer-only facility located in the Grandes Combes area between Courchevel Village and Courchevel Moriond (scheduled for completion for the 2014/15 season); in the meantime, many of the resort's leading hotels do of course have their own swimming pools, together with some very plush spa and 'wellness' facilities in some cases.
Alternative activities available locally include snowshoe trekking, snowmobiling, ice-circuit karting, quad-biking, and various forms of airborne adventure sports and sightseeing trips; one of the most easily accessible daytime & evening activities is the 2 km long tobogganing/sledging run that starts near the Forum and snakes down to Courchevel Village.
Apres ski is again focused on the main village and very much reflects the polarised demographic of Courchevel's clientele, with some very upmarket slope-side venues around the Altiport, Jardin Alpin and La Croisette focused on a cool style-bar ambiance, whilst a good number of more informal music-bars and pubs dotted around the centre of the resort draw a more diverse crowd; one of the most popular of these central venues is the piste-side KU DE TA (aka Kalico), located under the Forum Centre, a daytime snack-bar that turns into a buzzing apres-ski bar, then an evening restaurant, before morphing into a nightclub.
The primary focus for Courchevel's leading socialites is on the resort's great range of excellent restaurants, some of them very swish indeed, followed by drinks in chic lounge bars and rounded off in an uber-stylish nightclub such as Les Caves. For a slightly less cash-vaporising alternative, much fun can be had exploring the pubs and music-bars dotted around the resort villages: Courchevel Moriond offers a good selection, and is popular with Courchevel's seasonnaire population, noteworthy venues here include Le Bubble and Rocky's; Courchevel Village and Le Praz are both very low-key, but the Chanrossa and The Bar in Courchevel Village and the Drop Inn and the L'Escourchevel in Le Praz are all worth a visit.