07 Apr A magical winter walk to Lac de la Rosière, Courchevel
Hidden just out of sight of the slopes of Courchevel’s ski area, Lac de la Rosière is an unexpected alpine beauty that’s easy to miss but an indisputable gem.
For the last few years, we’ve made a point of finding a couple of hours during our ski trips for a mini adventure off the piste. We’ve explored hilltop towns, spotted wild chamois and snowshoed through tranquil forest. It’s a chance to give our legs a breather, but also get to know the mountains a little better. As soon as we arrive in a new resort we’re immediately on the lookout for something a bit unusual to try.
Early on during our trip to La Tania in February, we got a great tip-off. A tour rep enthusiastically told us about a walk she’d just tried, that we wouldn’t need a mountain guide for. It sounded right up our street and earned a few bonus points for being free (free means there’s a few more Euros for our vin chaud fund).
We walked to Lac de la Rosière in the late afternoon after a morning on the slopes. The walk was challenging enough to feel we’d earned a hot chocolate but easy enough to complete without snowshoes. We weren’t the only visitors, but it still felt exceptionally quiet and peaceful. The lake is an unexpected contrast to the bustling resort just across the mountain – and place we’re glad we didn’t miss.
Before you begin
There’s a couple of things to know before heading out on this walk. Hiking in the mountains in winter is beautiful, but it also comes with its own unique hazards. Always do a little research and preparation before heading out – as one day in the mountains can be very different to another.
Firstly, check the details of the route in advance. Whilst it is signposted, do pop into the tourist information office for weather (and season) specific advice. Pick up a winter walking map and crucially don’t rely on Google Maps! This is really important as it shows every path across the mountain, but not all are accessible in winter.
Second, don’t forget that the usual rules of winter walking apply. This isn’t a particularly challenging hike, but make sure you’re suitably equipped and have checked the local conditions. Snowshoes are best, although we managed OK with walking boots as the snow underfoot was well-packed at the time. The path into and out of the valley is steep, so allow plenty of time and only tackle it if you’re confident in these conditions. And always take a look at the forecast (and skies above) – heading out isn’t a good plan in poor weather or after heavy snowfalls.
Lastly, the light levels vary massively here throughout the day, so it can look very different depending on when you arrive. During the winter months, the lakeside is at it’s brightest at midday – but lies in shadows early in the morning and later in the day. Don’t let this discourage you from visiting at these times though, we arrived around 3.30pm. The water lay in shadow but the late afternoon sun sparkled on the peaks around the valley, looking spectacular.
The route to Lac de la Rosière
The walk starts in Courchevel 1650. If you’re staying anywhere in the Courchevel valley, it’s easiest to hop on the free shuttle bus to get here, just like we did. If you’ve got a car with you, you can drive a little closer to the start of the trail.
Check the latest ski-bus timetables on Courchevel Tourism’s website.
The first part of the route isn’t especially exciting as it leads you from the resort centre to the start of the snowy trail. Follow Rue du Belvedère away from the town centre, sticking to the footpath alongside the road. It meanders past a few chalets and building plots. Be patient, there’s good things coming.
After five hairpin bends (bear with me here!), you’ll approach a wide arc in the road with a small parking area next to it. By the parking spaces is an information board announcing the start of the trail. After an initial scramble through a snowy gap, you emerge onto a wide path called
Chemin du Lac de la Rosière. It had been freshly groomed by a piste-basher we when walked here, making it easy underfoot. With tall fir trees reaching into the skies on either side we suddenly felt a million miles from the centre of the bustling resort (although in reality, we were no more than a mile away).
Getting of the beaten path (literally)
This wide path leads all the way down to the lakeside, by a rather roundabout route. But if, like us, you fancy a bit more adventure and to discover some of the more spectacular (and precipitous) viewpoints, look out for a signposted turning on your left. A
From here, our pace was a little slower. It’s a footpath, plain and simple, and isn’t groomed. Snowshoes would definitely help here, but we got by. The path descends quickly through trees, ever more quiet and peaceful. After dropping a few hundred metres, we spotted a signpost off to the left announcing a ”
The photo doesn’t really do it justice. Had I been here with anything other than my phone I’d have managed something a bit more reflective of what we actually saw – but if I’m honest, I hadn’t expected to find something this exceptional on an afternoon jaunt. From here, you can see the whole lake below, as well as the snowy crevasses and crêtes framing the other side of the valley.
We picked our way back through the snow to the main path and made our way, now more swiftly, down into the valley. The path steepens for a short while before shallowing out as you approach the lakeside. After ten or fifteen minutes the trees suddenly thin and the lake opens up in front of you.
By the lakeside
Lac de la Rosière is at the bottom of a steep, narrow valley. Sheltered by forested slopes on almost every side, the southernmost point of the valley is crowned by the magnificent Mont Charvet. To the north, the water slowly drains from the lake along the Torrent de la Rosière, leaving the valley through a narrow gap eroded by the water.
Down at the lakeside, there’s plenty to do.
At the northern end of the lake, a wooden boardwalk zig-zags its way across the water. Packed several feet deep with snow in February, it felt like we were floating on the surface. In the middle of the lake, where the water’s surface isn’t frozen, you can look down into its sapphire depths. Head back towards the margin and you’ll see the snow-capped trees all around reflected on the ice. It’s a strange and wonderful experience.
Once we’d had our fill of exploring, it was time to brace ourselves for the climb. What goes down must come back up, eh?
While you’re not having to watch your feet quite as much on the way up as on the way down, the steep path takes a little while to tackle. Allow yourself at least as much time as the walk down, especially if its later in the day. You don’t want to get caught with the light levels dropping.
You can breathe a sigh of relief when you get to the top of the woodland path and onto the Chemin du Lac de la Rosière. (Alternatively, swear never to underestimate walking in the mountains again and then immediately question how soon you can have a glass of wine. or maybe that’s just us). From here, it’s an easy stroll back to Courchevel 1650 – with Mont Blanc in the distance all the way.
Why it’s great to go off-piste – on two
It’s really easy – and perfectly understandable – to want to spend your whole ski trip on the piste. If like us and you’re only able to get away to the mountains for one week a year at best, you want to make the most of every moment. Besides which, lift passes are pretty pricey.
But I’ve never regretted taking a few hours off to explore a little further or try something different. It’s easy to see only what can be found on the piste map. But head beyond this and you’ll be rewarded with the raw, wild beauty of the Alps. I love being on my skis – but our walk to Lac de la Rosière was a real highlight of our trip.
Now, just promise me you won’t go telling everyone about this lake … let’s keep it the best-kept secret in
Want to know more about Courchevel and Les 3 Vallees ski area? Read more in my essential guide to the world’s largest ski area.