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How to Ski Like a Billionaire

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There's something wonderfully egalitarian about skiing. It doesn't matter whether you're a billionaire in a super-luxe chalet, or a ski bum in borrowed boots surfing couches: you're all riding the same lifts, carving the same snow.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the 3 Valleys in France, the world's largest ski area and surely among its very best. Jump on a cable car in Courchevel 1850 - the most upmarket of half a dozen connected resorts - and you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with a square-jawed Russian oligarch and young companion in the latest his-'n'-hers designer kit.

One difference is you won't be eating lunch at the same restaurant. There are places in 1850 that cater exclusively for the mega-rich ... because what normal person in their right mind would pay 60 bucks for a plate of spaghetti bolognese?

Luckily, there are places to stay, eat and drink that make the 3 Valleys - with its incredible 380 miles of pistes and 6,500ft vertical drops - surprisingly affordable.

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I recently returned from La Tania, a quiet resort at the bottom of a scenic tree-lined valley tucked away between Courchevel and Meribel. Many visitors to the 3 Valleys don't even know La Tania exists (there are no champagne bars or Michelin-starred restaurants) but it's perfectly positioned to explore the whole ski area with rarely any lift queues.

I stayed at the Hotel Montana, which is cheerily basic compared to the palace hotels of Courchevel, but backs directly onto the slopes and served very good food at sensible prices. Nearby was a handful of modest family-run restaurants, and a real estate agent where a two-bedroom apartment in the village was priced at €130,000 ($140,000). This is less than you'd pay to rent some chalets in Courchevel for a week.

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The lift system in the 3 Valleys is so efficient that you can quickly whizz around from one resort to the next. My Ski Tracks app told me that on my last day I skied a total of 40 miles with a total vertical drop of 36,000ft.

In the resort of Courchevel 1650 - much less expensive than 1850 - I found a cosy wood-beamed restaurant, Le Petit Savoyard, where the plat du jour, sauté de veau, was outstanding and cost a modest €14 ($15).

In France, ordering the plat du jour at lunch time is invariably a smart move, and the price rarely exceeds €15, except at the most expensive restaurants. At Le Bouc Blanc, a mountain restaurant above La Tania with a sun-drenched terrace, I lunched on duck confit with orange sauce and gratin savoyarde, while in the high-altitude village of Val Thorens, I enjoyed my best meal of the trip: Rougail saucisse with rice and lentils, for €13.90.

There are even cheaper options. In the centre of Val Thorens there's a Ski Food shack with outdoor seating that serves great burgers: try the Cheesemoutain, which is topped with rosti, raclette and onions and costs €5.50.

Who needs a billion in the bank when you have great snow, sunshine and French food?

* Mark Hodson is Editor of 101 Holidays. All photographs by David Tweedie.

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