Just over 80 years ago, in 1946, the Courchevel resort built its first ski lift: the Sainte Agathe lift.
The name refers to Agathe Curtet, who in the early 1900s opened the first hotel in the commune of Saint-Bon: the Lac Bleu. This establishment marked the beginning of the area's touristification. Initially created to meet a summer need, its opening was extended to all year round, to develop the resort's winter activity and welcome the first skiers from Courchevel...
Skiing was initially a form of transport For millennia, skiing has been used in the Nordic countries as a means of transport, just like the rest of us use cars, trains or buses. It is only very recently that its function evolved into a sport and therefore a leisure activity.
The 1920s: Reserved for the most athletic! From 1925, Louis Curtet and André Vilna, aware of the potential that the region could offer for activity across all four seasons, decided to offer a hotel in the commune of Saint Bon, open all year round.
In these early days, there were no ski lifts! For skiers to enjoy a descent, first they had to summon up the energy to hike up the mountain on foot or using skins attached to their skis.
The most energetic headed out in the morning, climbing all the way up to Col de la Loze, Vizelle or Roc Merlet… All these summits which are today accessible easily and with minimal effort thanks to the ski lift infrastructures in place (much to everyone’s relief!) Imagine… To get to the top of Vizelle in those days would take over 7 hours, whereas now it is less than half an hour! At that time, the French Alpine Club, the Saint Bon Ski Club and the Touring Club of France started to organise downhill, slalom and ski jumping competitions, to attract newcomers and promote this new sport. And so the profession of ski instructor was born, to help more people discover skiing.
In Saint-Bon the first ski instructors were Austrian, employed by Louis Curtet and based at the Lac Bleu Hotel. As the years went on, local youngsters trained and took on the roles. Jean Pachod was the first Saint Bon resident to qualify, followed by Régis Chevallier, Eugène Chardon, Jean Sullice and Jean Blanc.
Improving the infrastructure to develop the activity In the following years, the rising popularity of winter sports led to the first urban development. Skiing was becoming a sport and leisure activity which was accessible to all: ski resorts developed, and a new winter tourism economy was born.
In Courchevel between 1928 et 1940, Louis Curtet, now local mayor, wanted to make the most of this buzz to develop a tourist infrastructure and improve the reception for winter visitors. Mountain huts were opened, and fitted out as lodgings to accommodate young skiers. These were followed by chalet-hotels in Le Praz, in 1550 and Moriond… Numerous constructions were planned, prior to the planning for the first lifts in the 1930s, but were unfortunately put on hold because of World War II.
1942: the potential is recognised It was the Vichy government in France that reinitiated the planned projects in the 3 Valleys region.
Jean Blanc, a local skier and three times French ski champion, realised that the area was not yet able to rival the Swiss and Austrian resorts. He therefore actively participated in the development of the resort and was at the origin of the first ski lift: the Saint Agathe drag lift, located in Moriond and built in 1946.
The same year, the General Council of the Savoie decided to participate in the development of the region to open a major new winter sports resort. Plans included the construction of a road, the first hotels and new ski lifts (Loze and Tovets drag lifts).
Origin of the name “Courchevel” A name had to be created for this future major ski resort. The name Tovets plateau, where the resort was initially situated, was not seen to be a catchy enough proposition in the eyes of those in charge.
Their preferred option was ‘Courchevel’, which referenced the word “ecortzevé” meaning “skinned” in local dialect, which referred to a place at 1500m altitude where the shepherds had to be careful with their livestock as the tempting, abundant spring grass could damage their tongues!
Courchevel benefits from Emile Allais’ experience In the 1950s, the development of the resort reached a new level with new equipment: six drag lifts, a cable car from Verdons to Saulire (linking up with the Allues valley), three gondolas at Verdons, Le Praz and Grangettes… The start of the Courchevel that we know and love today.
Emile Allais was Technical and Sports Director of the resort. He invented the idea of a groomed and maintained ski area to make skiing easier for visitors. For him, it was more important to help skiers descend than to help them get up the slopes.
This was also the precursor to the question of slope safety, as it was Allais who invented the profession of ski patrol, today present and accessible in ski areas all around the world.
These days, Courchevel has 60 ski lifts for its 93 downhill ski slopes, and has hosted numerous sporting events, such as the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games, and coming soon… the world ski championships 2023. This resort has become an international reference in the landscape of winter sports resorts, and is part of the largest ski area in the world: the 3 Valleys.
To find out more about the history of Courchevel, click here to visit the National Audiovisual Archives website about the resort.