Courchevel ski resort was built after the Second World War by the French Government as a resort for the people. It was the brain child of a town planner called Laurent Chappis and Maurice Michaud, who met in a prisoner of war camp in Austria. Both were keen skiers and were from the Savoie region. After the end of the war, in 1945 Chappis and Michaud returned to France, where the Savoyard General Council contacted them to begin the planning of the super ski resort.
Under initial plans it was suggested that the three valleys should all be linked, with a new resort being built in Courchevel and being linked to the already existing Les Allues valley and St Martin de Belleville valley. However, the Allues valley ski area was already being built by a British developer and the Belleville valley did not want outside interference and to be involved.
It was therefore decided to build the new ski resort of Courchevel around the St Bon area. It was developed through agreements with local land owners and farmers. The mayor of St Bon convinced all but one of the land owners to sell and around two hundred hectares of land above 1800 metres was acquired for the development of the new ski area.
In 1946 Chappis arrived in Courchevel to start the planning of Courchevel. It was decided to build in three separate areas – one for hotel accommodation, a cheaper area for accommodation and then luxury hotels and chalets in another part. Michaud persuaded hotel owners from north France, who had had their properties bombed to invest their war damages in places in Courchevel and build hotels and chalets. However, it was not long before problems started to arise and it became apparent that certain areas were being put aside for the rich to build their luxury houses and planning was being ignored. The residents of St Bon were also becoming increasingly frustrated and annoyed that they were only being given menial jobs such as ski lift workers and cleaners, even though they had been the ones to give up their land to allow the ski resort to go ahead. So in an act of defiance they decided to band together behind a new mayor and build a separate ski area at the village called Moriond (now Courchevel 1650). This was built only with money in mind and without any proper planning. There was only one road up to Courchevel 1650 and the higher, more luxury resort of Courchevel 1850 and so traffic became a massive problem, so twenty years down the line, a ban on further development was put in place and an agreement reached to hand back the whole of the ski area to the commune of St Bon and link all the Courchevel resorts together.
Only 5 years after Courchevel was built, the Saulire gondola was put in to connect the Allues ski valley to Courchevel and the resort of Meribel was planned. In 1963, the Belleville valley built Les Menuires and this was linked to Courchevel and Les Allues/Meribel area. Ten years later and Meribel ski resort and the collection of apartment blocks known as Meribel-Mottaret was finished and Val Thorens was built at the far end of the Belleville valley. All these ski areas were linked together forming the largest ski area in the world.
Courchevel 1850 was the first purpose built ski resort to be constructed in France and has since earned a reputation as one of the most prestige and expensive ski resorts in the world, frequented by celebrities such as Posh and Becks, Geri Halliwell and Prince William and Kate as well a constant stream of rich Russians. However, Courchevel 1650 caters more to those looking for cheaper accommodation and nightlife, while Courchevel 1550 is a more family friendly resort. Le Praz or Courchevel 1300 is a traditional Savoie village and where the lower lifts and pistes come to.
Meribel has more of a party atmosphere and hosts a number of slope side music events through out the ski season. Val Thorens is the highest ski town in Europe and is open from the middle of November through to May.
The Three Valleys is the world’s largest interconnected ski area with over 600 km of pistes slopes and around 200 lifts. The number of skiers that can be transported up the mountain in an hour is well over quarter of a million. There are close to two thousand snow cannons to keep the pistes in good condition through out the season and over three hundred ski patrollers for safety and 1,500 ski instructors to teach the millions of visitors to ski each year. There is also 130km of cross-country ski tracks, the former olympic ski jumps at Le Praz.