In the early 1900’s St. Bon was a farming village occasionally welcoming wealthy visitors from the neighbouring curiste town of Brides les Bains, eager to experience the charm of the mountains.
The maire of St. Bon, Louis Curtet, decides to open a hotel all year round, the Lac Bleu. The clientele begins to increase, and a new career is born, that of ski instructor. The first qualified moniteur in the valley is Jean Pachod. By night he teaches local youths; future key figures, such as Jean Blanc, Régis Chevalier, Jean Sulice, Gustave Mugnier and Eugene Chardon.
Savoie is dependant on income from hydroelectric power, made by the torrents of water flowing down from the mountains. However the nationalisation of the electricity industry means that the development of tourism is essential to save the local economy. Jean Blanc starts work on the valleys first ski lift, the St. Agathe on the slopes of Moriond, destined to soon become Courchevel 1650. However there are many skeptics to this huge investment, and raising finance is difficult.
Savoie acts. On the 3rd May, the Conseil Generale, headed by Mr. Pierre de la Gontrie, and the Commune of St. Bon decide to create a ski resort. An agreement is signed by the mayor, Francis Mugnier, and the land above the Plateau de Tovets is sold for a nominal fee. Not all locals were particularly pleased about signing over land that had been theirs for many generations. The site is to become the first ski resort in France to be built on virgin territory.
Under the guidance of the resort architects Maurice Michaud and Laurent Chappis (left), who had met as POW’s in Austria, work is started on the first buildings, and on the huge task of building a road up from le Praz. Chappis had originally planned to build a resort in Meribel as he had skied de randonee in the Allues valley before the war, but by the time they got to start on the project in 1945 they found that the English were already there. The first two ski lifts are the Touvets and Loze drag lifts. There is some disagreement about the name of the resort, as the original town of Courchevel (1550) is unhappy to give up its name nor for it’s new neighbour to be called Super Courchevel. Chappis had wanted to call the resort Touvets after the name of the plateau but eventually the decision is taken to name each district by its altitude. In fact they baptised the resort 1850 to be 50meters higher than the then highest resort of Val d’Isere despite the fact that no point within the resort is higher than 1747meters.
As the buildings developed so does the ski area. The Saulire cable car is built, linking Courchevel with its neighbouring resort Meribel, which itself is also under going rapid development. Chappis was keen to build a resort that was in harmony with the environment – the original plan left every boulder and tree exactly where it was found. You can still find traces of his dream in the form the Chalet du Petit Navire (designed by Pradelle). The point was not to create a faux-Tyrollean architecture in the Savoie but to create small, modest chalets in harmony with the environment. However big money starts to arrive and the result was unrestricted development in contravention of planning regulations. Most of the original station has been bulldozed to make way for vast chalets and hotels with little space in between. Disillusioned, Pradelle and Chappis left the resort in 1959 to work on the Parc de la Vanoise.
Emille Allais, the great french skiing champion, who had raced in the national ski team with Jean Blanc, is made Technical Director of the resort. It is perhaps his influence above all, that is to set the groundwork for Courchevel to eventually become one of the world’s great ski resorts. While everyone was worrying about how to get tourists up the mountain, Emille’s vision was to focus on how to maximise their pleasure in coming down. He invents and defines the role of a pisteur.
1955 – 1965
France encourages tourism with subsidised loans and private investors begin to see the potential.
Thanks to Michael Ziegler, the first international mountain altiport is built, giving rapid access to the resort.
The Le Praz bubble lift and the Jean Blanc olympic ski run are inaugurated. Leo Lacroix establishes a new record – the first time a skier has exceeded 100km per hour.
The Croisette complex is built in the centre of the resort. It houses all the resorts services under one roof. Courchevel’s 25 year project of construction is complete…..the legend continues.
A new resort, La Tania, is created, between Courchevel and Meribel, and the 3 Valleys skiing area is extended even further.
Courchevel hosts the ski jumping event of the Winter Olympic Games of Albertville.