Courchevel Altiport (LFLJ) Pilot Qualification

Every winter there are pilots in Europe wondering where to fly next for their ski vacation with their own aircraft. There are some options available in Austria, Switzerland and France, but with most of these options, you will have to drive afterwards for some more time to get to your skiing destination. One exception to this is Courchevel Altiport in the French Alps.

Snowboarding-3-Courchevel

Parked the PA34 at Courchevel, the ski slope is just behind the apron.

 

Courchevel

Courchevel Altiport is not for the faint-hearted. The runway is a mere 540 meters long. You fly your circuit at 7000 feet altitude. The runway upslope is 18.5% and there is no go-around procedure. On the French airport chart there is even a mention of a designated crash area, so that if you need to crash your aircraft, you should ideally do it over there.

Courchevel is the name of a ski resort located in the French Alps, in the Tarentaise Valley, Savoie, Rhône-Alpes region in France. It is a part of Les Trois Vallées, the largest linked ski area in the world.

Courchevel is the most eastern resort of the Three Valleys, the biggest connected ski area in the world. It is renowned for its excellent lift system which is virtually queue free, even at the busiest of times.

Although Courchevel consists of four satellite villages — Courchevel Le Praz, Courchevel 1550, Courchevel 1650 and Courchevel 1850 — it is most famous for its highest resort, the exclusive village of Courchevel 1850. Named the St. Tropez of winter sports, it attracts almost only a select clientele of VIPs, wealthy people and royal families, including Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Beckhams, Christina Aguilera, Geri Halliwell, the Saudi royal family, Robbie Williams, Roman Abramovich, George Clooney, Giorgio Armani, the King of Morocco, Robyn Sommerville, Robert Grant, Jared Gogek, and many others.

Courchevel has 11 hotels with a 5-star ranking. In 2011 France introduced a very prestigious 6th star ranking for hotels, named “palaces”. The palace 6th-star ranking is only awarded to the most prestigious, exclusive and luxurious hotels in France. No more than eight hotels in France have been crowned with this rating. Two of those eight hotels are in Courchevel tree-lined Jardin Alpin area. No other ski resorts in France have hotels with the palace ranking.

Courchevel is also known for its fine dining. It’s the ski resort with the most Michelin-starred restaurants. Seven restaurants share 11 Michelin stars, including four restaurants that have been awarded two Michelin stars, including Le Chabichou. It also hosts a variety of luxury shops including Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Valentino, Prada, Cartier, Fendi, Dior and Chanel.

However, there is also a Mercure hotel with lower rates. The Altibar right at the altiport also offers several apartments which are ideal for pilots flying into Courchevel to do some skiing and combine that with e.g. some mountain flying or flight training.

Courchevel-Altiport-Overview

537 meter runway, upslope of 18.7% and no go-around option.

You need either a French mountain-rating (on wheels) or a specific site-license in order to be allowed to land at this airport in the French Alps. The site-license can be obtained after 2 days of training with a mountain instructor and needs to be kept up-to-date by landing at least once every 6 months at the Courchevel altiport.

If you have a French mountain-rating, you are exempted from the 1 landing per 6 months rule. The mountain rating is a national rating that allows the pilot to land at all French altiports. The French mountain qualification isn’t yet a PART/FCL qualification. According to DGAC-France planning, this qualification will be PART/FCL on 8th of April, 2018.  DGAC-France is currently processing establishment of the conversion report with EASA. So, for now, you will get a French mountain-rating that is valid for life, but that will most likely in 2018 be converted to an EASA MOU rating with some sort of new re-currency requirement. The recurrency requirement could be something such as doing a check flight with a mountain examiner every 2 years to revalidate the MOU rating in your EASA license.

PA34-overhead-Lima Parking-Courchevel-Restaurant-Le-PilatusPA34-fuel-station-Courchevel

Above top left, I am flying a Seneca 2 over the ski slopes of Courchevel for an overhead join via Lima-point into Courchevel. I fly first overhead to inspect the runway and the wind before joining base at 7000 feet for landing at the altiport. Once landed, Courchevel has its own fuel station and parking. Most of the parking spaced available are outside, but there is also a limited capacity inside the altiport hangar.

PA34-flying-the-Alps

360 Video

Below is a 360 video taken with my 360Fly camera of my landing recently in a Piper Seneca 2 Twin-engine 6-seater aircraft at the Courchevel altiport. Not all browsers support 360 videos yet, so it is best to watch this video in Google Chrome. In this video, I initially fly from Maastricht (EHBK) to Lyon-Bron (LFLY) to visit the Opera that night in Lyon. Then, the next part of the video shows me together with Alex Combes flying into Courchevel. Alex is doing the radio while I do the flying. Click and drag your mouse to look around the 360 video even better: use a Google Cardboard for the optimal look-around experience!

Where and How to get the Rating

A mountain-rating consists of a mountain-rating “on-wheels” part and (optionally) a separate mountain-rating “on-skis” part. The training for the “on wheels” mountain-rating takes about 2-3 weeks of your time with in total about 20-25 hours of flying. In addition, you can train for the “on-skis” mountain-rating which allows you to land on snow on the glaciers. However, to land at Courchevel you don’t need any skis underneath your aircraft and thus also not the “on-skis” variant of the mountain-rating.

Mountain-rating-wheels-flying

Mountain landing-strip in French Alps.

For the site-license option, you should reserve 2-3 days of training with a mountain instructor. If you want, you can combine the site-license training for Courchevel with the training for the needed site-license for Saint-Tropez La Môle airport (LFTZ) and get both site-licenses in one go.

I did my initial training for Courchevel several years ago with Alex Combes of Aéroclub des 3 Vallées and started flying into Courchevel initially with a Piper Archer 2 (DEOMP), later with the Cirrus SR22T and Piper Seneca 2 (PA34). The mountain-rating flying is done on a Jodel D-140 Mousquetaire tailwheel aircraft.  I can highly recommend Alex to you for your Courchevel training.

Saint-Tropez La Môle Airport (LFTZ)

A site license is limited to one specific altiport or airport, while a mountain-rating is valid for all altiports in France as well as for e.g. the Saint Tropez La Môle airport. Below left I am on short final with the Seneca 2 on La Môle. To the right, I am flying overhead Saint-Tropez. The famous harbour is clearly visible below.

PA34-Saint-Tropez-short-final PA34-flying-over-Saint-Tropez Saint-Tropez-airport-building

Saint-Tropez La Môle (LFTZ) sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. That is why you need to also have a site-license or a generic mountain-rating “on wheels” for this specific airport. You can’t see the runway until very late. The airport has an IFR procedure. In the go-around, you have to be aware of the mountain right behind the runway. The two site licenses are easy to obtain from one combined training with (a) the Courchevel site-license training and (b) a short trip to La Môle as this airport sits only a direct 40-50 minutes flight over the Alps away from Courchevel.

PA34-Saint-Tropez-final

On short final Saint-Tropez La Môle airport (LFTZ).

In the next video, you see my landing at Courchevel with a Cirrus SR22T while there was a thin cloud layer above the altiport. At first, I circled around to see if I can see the runway and inspect its condition and the wind to then land at the altiport.

What makes Courchevel Special

Their spectacular runway and approach means something special to pilots. There is no go-around procedure and the upslope is 18.7%. Add to that the fact that you can land and park your plane and hit the ski-slopes in just minutes.

Short-final-Courchevel-Cirrus

Courchevel is at its best during the winter period from the middle of December until the end of April. You land your aircraft and park it and can be skiing in a matter of minutes afterwards. The ski slope Pralong runs right next to the altiport. If you were there before and bought your ski-pass and still have it, you can simply re-activate your ski-pass through the internet beforehand and you will then be all ready to hit the slopes.

Le-Pilatus-Restaurant-Courchevel

Altiport Restaurant-Altibar Le Pilatus.

The altiport hosts a restaurant called Altibar or Le Pilatus. A panorama view of the restaurant can be seen here. On the ski-slope side, you have a terrace where you can relax, have a drink and meet pilot friends or your family for lunch if they were skiing. The Altibar also has several apartments for rent. In that case, you have everything all at hand in one place.

A large portion of Courchevel’s visitors are Russians. In fact, the resort is known for the wealthy Russian elite who flock to the resort during Russian Orthodox Christmas and Russian New Year. These are celebrated two weeks later than in Western Europe, on the 7th and 13th of January. Because of this, Courchevel’s name has become synonymous with “winter playground of the super rich” in Russia. The first two weeks of January are high season weeks in Courchevel as a result here of, so it might be wise to omit these two weeks.

Courchevel is known to be an expensive resort. One of the reasons for this are the high prices of residential and commercial property. Courchevel 1850 is the 6th most expensive place in the world with average square metre prices of €37.000 per square metre of property. It leaves cities like Hong Kong, Cannes and Tokyo behind. If you just want to ski for one day, then it can be an option to use Lyon-Bron as your base. Airports like Chambery or Annecy are often restricted during winter high-season limiting arrivals of smaller aircraft. Right next to Lyon-Bron Airport (LFLY) you will find a small Kyriad hotel. It is simple, but with good breakfast in the morning and on a walking distance from the airport. Visit Brasserie Georges that night for diner in Lyon and then fly early in the morning from Lyon-Bron into Courchevel.

Cirrus-Chambery

Snowboarding-small-Courchevel Snowboarding-2-CourchevelSnowboarding-Courchevel

Mont Blanc Massiv

If you are in the Courchevel or the Trois Vallée area and the weather is good, you might want to consider flying your aircraft to the Mont Blanc Massiv. You do need permission to enter the restricted flying area around the Mont Blanc Massiv area. You could consider taking a mountain instructor along with you.

Mount-Blanc SR22T-Mont-Blanc-5   SR22T-Mont-Blanc-1SR22T-Mont-Blanc-4

I remember flying in the Mont Blanc area over the glacier at an altitude higher than 10.000 feet and hearing the five-hundred (500 feet) warning. Contact one of the mountain instructors in the area to arrange a flight into that area is you are not sure where to go.

Balloon Flying

Matthew from Skivol.com is the only guy that flies with his balloons over the Alps from Courchevel. Bring your family to enjoy a stunning journey in a hot-air balloon. Under good and stable weather conditions, you can ask Matthew to depart from the altiport.

PA34-balloon-Courchevel

 

Further information:

(1) Alex Combes – Mountain Instructor Aéroclub des 3 Vallées
(2) Altibar Apartments
(3) Matthew from Skivol for a balloon ride over the Alps
(4) AOPA Courchevel-Article of me flying to Courchevel in the SR22T
(5) Older blogpost I wrote on Courchevel

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