History Of Courchevel

The resort now known as Courchevel was, prior to its developement as a ski resort, a collection of small hamlets and farmers fields. We know that in 1032 the wider area of the Savoy fell under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire and from the 12th century concentrated on expanding its territory, becoming known as Gatekeeper of the Alps.

Not much was documented until the turn of the 20th century when Courchevel was little more than a few high mountain pastures and dense forest. There were no towns and barely any villages with most locals being farmers or working in the mill.

Courchevel was first visited by summer tourists, walkers and natualists keen to take in the air of the high mountains and discover the Alpine flora and fauna. The first hotel opened in 1925 for winter business but you had to be keen! With no lifts yet built, the only option was to walk or climb up the mountains and ski back down again.

The original idea of Courchevel as a resort was conceived during the Second World War when in 1942, the French Commission of Tourisn expressed and interest in creating a super ski resort. Their criteria included terrain between 1400 and 1800 metres and the feasability of installing a reliable lift system to link them together and create an enormous cohesive ski area. At this time Courchevel, Saint Bon and Moriond were seeking funding for regeneration and developement and so Courchevel became France’s first purpose built ski resort.

The actual designs for the new resort were initially conceived by two Savoyard men, Laurent Chappis and Maurice Michaud, whilst interred in a Nazi prisoner of war camp in Austria. Between February and April 1946 Chappis, a keen skier, made numerous surveys of the Trois Vallees area alone on his skis. His aim was to create a resort that was as close to nature as possible, no concrete or high rise buildings and no levelling of forests.

In March 1946 the first ski lift was begun and a chairlift between Courchevel and Les Tovets was installed. The plateau of Les Tovets was developed to become what we now know as Courchevel 1850 and the renaming of the levels of the resort would prove to be controversial. Courchevel was already the name of a small hamlet further down the valley, the inhabitants of which were incensed at having their name appropriated and being relegated to the title of Courchevel Dessous or Lower Courchevel. Therefore a compromise was reached and it was agreed to name all the levels of Courchevel, with their altittude included in the name to distinguish one from the other.

Emile Allais, the founder of the French ski school, spent 10 years in Courchevel from 1954 as technical and sports director. He used skills and experience that he had gained in America to shape Courchevel into the major resort that it is today.

Construction of Courchevel altiport was begun in 1961. It bacame the first international mountain airport and is renowned for having one of the shortest runways in the world-measuring only 525 metres in length it is angled at a gradient of 18.5% to help incoming aircraft to slow down!

The 1950s and 60s saw massive developements taking place, not always considered to be for the better. By 1973, it could truly be said, that the 1942 vision of the French Commission of Tourism, had been realised when the neighbouring resorts of Val Thorens and Meribel were linked to Courchevel, creating the largest ski area in the world.

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