Loveskiing’s Méribel Review
Nestled in the heart of the Three Valleys, Méribel is split into 2 main resorts: Méribel Village at 1400m and Méribel Mottaret at 1750m. You could of course mention Bride Les Bains at the bottom of the valley at 600m, which is connected to Méribel via the long Olympe bubble, as well as Les Allues at 1100m, which can be accessed via an easy red (conditions permitting). The lift system is, on the whole, very good, with a lot of money being spent on upgrading it year in year out! In this review we’re going to scrutinise the Méribel ski area, how its fluffy white stuff is maintained, village charm and so on. We also try, wherever possible, to take a look at how it compares with other big ski resorts in the Alps in order to provide you with all the information you need to decide whether or not to wax up your skis and head to Méribel this year.
|Village height||1100m, 1400m and 1750m|
|69 chair lifts|
|74 drag lifts|
|40 cable cars/gondolas|
|Piste marking is mostly accurate|
|Size of the ski area||Over 600km|
|Nearest airport||Grenoble 1h45|
|Nearest train||Moutiers 45 mins|
Although it isn’t the most expensive resort in the Three Valleys, nor the highest, it does offer alpine charm, at a decent price and all from the heart of the world’s biggest ski area! Investment in the lift system is rife, with the new Saulire bubble taking you from La Chaudanne at 1400m to the Saulire peak and link to Courchevel at 2750m in just 12 mins for example. There are endless amounts of reds winding their way down the valley for you to enjoy all day long, as well as some easy tree skiing for beginners or when the conditions force you into cover!
– Fantastic array of reds and blues to glide down to your heart’s content, including the Combe Vallon
– Modern and efficient lift system
– Access to anywhere in the Three Valleys in a day, i.e. access to over 600km of pistes and high altitude
– Picturesque resort with many amenities, bars and restaurants
– Quality tuition on offer from both the ESF and independent ski schools
– Main links can get busy at peak times (same across the Three Valleys – 15 to 20 min lift queues at pinch points but pistes not too busy because of the various array available)
– The slopes aren’t piste-bashed enough, leading to annoying bumpy pistes!!
– Prices can often be inflated if you don’t search around as it’s a popular resort with tourists!
– Lack of a really decent snow park for freestylers.
Loveskiing most recently visited the charming resort of Méribel over Christmas 2013 and were lucky enough to find lots of early season snow to test all their gear on! We were staying in between Méribel Village and Les Allues at about 1300m and were fairly impressed by the free local bus service which shuttles people up and down the mountain every 10 or so minutes at peak times. The first thing we noticed about the lower Méribel Village resort was that everything tends to come into one place: La Chaudanne. It’s here that you’ll meet your ski school, here that private shuttle buses will drop you off, here that you’ll down a pint or two in true après-ski style… Also, if you’ve got the Olympe bubble up from Brides Les Bains or Les Allues then you’ll get dropped off here too.
Right, so where to from here? You’ve got a big choice to choose between from: there’s the Rhodos bubble up towards the altiport area, the Saulire 1 bubble (that was experiencing teething problems over Christmas 2013 as it had just opened) that takes you up towards Courchevel at rocket speed, the Tougnette 1 bubble which flies up to connect to the Tougnette 2 chairlift and thus provide a link to neighbouring Les Menuires and Saint Martin, and finally the Plan de l’Homme chairlift and the Roc du Fer chairlift. These two both provide access to other lifts which will take you to the top of the ridge shared with Les Menuires, but it’s definitely worth mentioning that the Plan de l’Homme is considerably more modern and thus the quicker option! There’s also the Stade draglift but this tends to just be used by the local slalom skiers and the ESF.
Starting from the altiport area of the resort just above Méribel Village you’ll come across some very easy greens and blues that glide their way down towards the village. Lapin would be a lovely choice for beginners looking for a more adventurous, longer blue run, but we’d only recommend doing it when snow conditions are good as it’s fairly low and the snow can get pretty sparse in warmer weather. Above altiport, we recommend taking the Loze lift and then tackling the Tétras black run, which isn’t too tricky but is nonetheless a good challenge for casual intermediates. Be aware though; this is one of the most sluggish lifts in Méribel so think twice about using it in adverse conditions. This is also a link over to La Tania and Courchevel; you can ski directly off the other side of Loze into either one of the two resorts. From here, head over towards the top of Saulire 1 and droop your jaw in amazement at the new Folie Douce just opened this year; it’s full of amazing furniture and offers delicious food at lunchtime. However, we all know this isn’t the main attraction there…head there around 2 30ish, get some beers in and find a table in a nice central location outside. The speakers are out-of-this-world (you can hear them from across the valley at the top of Plan de l’Homme) and the eclectic mix of live music and a DJ really gets the beer flowing through your blood; you’ll be on the table before you know it!
There are yet more fun blues and reds to play around on under Saulire 2, as well as the black sanglier, which is a mind numbingly easy run (for a black) and one we would even recommend to good beginners who want to take that next step. A word of warning, however, if you’re thinking of stopping for lunch at the bottom of this run (top of Pas du Lac 1)…then don’t. The restaurant in question is called the Chardonnet and we thought we’d give it a go having seen a good review in an article in the Telegraph recommending the place. The food was okay, nothing special for the price (average about 18-20 euros a dish) but what really let it down was the service; we spent two hours there in total, waiting for over an hour to be served our mains! Whenever we asked the waitress where our food was she would just look confused (we’re fluent in French so not because of language barriers!) and on the verge of tears. At one point we could see our coffees and desserts on the side of the bar, but they weren’t brought to us until we mentioned they were there ourselves to the waitress. She then proceeded to tell us the coffee was still warm, tasting it in front of us and then placing it down on the table. Long story short, they made no effort to accommodate us, nor to deliver our food as quickly as possible so we could get back out on the slopes. When we told them (in a nice, civilised manner) we really weren’t impressed and expected a discount for wasting our valuable skiing time, we were directed to the manager who told us it wasn’t in his interests to do that and to pay up or f*** off out of his restaurant and never lay foot on his doorstep again. Charming, we know… so maybe avoid Le Chardonnet whenever you’re looking for a nice lunch in Méribel. Unless, of course, you’re looking for a bit of controversy à la française…
Across the valley you’ll come across a further array of reds and some fairly easy blacks for those of you who are more adventurous…we recommend Bosses (under the Plan de l’Homme chairlift) as a fun black to mess around on; plenty of moguls and great fun in some fresh powder! We also like Mouflon, a red that curls round the Les Menuires side of the ridge before popping back through some peaks and towards the Plattières area. For any freestylers out there looking for a park in Méribel, this is where you should head to! Although it’s by no means the biggest park you’ll have ever seen, there are a few decent kickers and a good halfpipe to keep you busy! Be aware here though, this area can get cramped at the end of the day as everyone heads back to Mottaret and Méribel Village; so if you want a calm, empty run back then don’t be upset when you find yourself dodging beginners all the way home! Come to this side of the valley in the morning by the way, as it should have the best of the sun, while the Saulire side tends to be icy in the morning until the afternoon sun softens it up!
Now, now…we know, we haven’t mentioned the best run in Méribel yet, but before you crack the whip and tell us to get our act together, we’d better mention we’ve saved it till last to describe it in even more detail. The Mont Vallon bubble takes you to the top of Mont du Vallon at 2952m, where you will find spectacular views of Mont Blanc as well as a great view of the Three Valleys themselves. Check out the pictures below to get a sense of these views!
From up here you’ll have two choices, both reds but both completely different runs; the Combe Vallon faces North-West and offers a tricky start and then a beautiful long descent into the valley; the Campagnol faces South-West and tends to catch a lot more sun. Starting with the Campagnol, the run winds round the peak on a narrow track (if you don’t like feeling claustrophobic on the piste then don’t do this in bad conditions) then curves off down the mountain towards the Lac de la Chambre piste. This piste is fairly flat (not poling flat, but still…) and so the second half of the run down tends to be pretty monotonous. It’s for this reason that the Combe Vallon run is our favourite of the two (our favourite run in Méribel in fact). Once you’ve put your skis on after the bubble up, the run is the steep(ish) right which often has moguls. This section only lasts for a hundred metres or so, before you curl round to the left and the fun really begins; the aforementioned north-facing slopes here tend to maintain the best snow in the valley so you can really let yourself go, carving delicious turns into the piste as you curl and undulate your way down the mountain for a good 5 or 6 kilometres until you reach the Ours blue run that heads to Méribel Mottaret or the Mures chair which takes you back up towards the bottom of the Mont Vallon bubble. Finally, for anyone lucky enough to be there with fresh powder you can be adventurous and cut off the top of the narrow Campagnol piste and enjoy pow all the way down underneath the bubble (please watch out for avalanche warnings though as this area is VERY volatile). Alternatively hopping on and off the piste down the Combe Vallon proves to be safer but can be just as enjoyable with plenty of delicious powder-fields to share between everyone! The Ours run back down to Méribel is a very gentle downhill (possibly needing a push from your poles in bad conditions) and you can enjoy amazing views of the valley as you glide towards that tantalizing vin chaud awaiting you in resort.
To keep this clear and concise we’re going to answer a couple of simple questions:
Was it as we expected? In one word…YES: endless pistes (especially for intermediates), prices slightly elevated but not dreadful and good snow quality due to height. Only letdown was the piste-bashing; pistes were bumpy far too often.
Who does it suit? Suits intermediates and advanced skiers, as well as families looking for a fun resort and lots of room to play around in.
Therefore not ideal for:
– Beginners – although there are greens to resort, the area could be intimidating.
– Freestylers will find themselves looking for a bigger park (to be found in neighbouring Val Thorens)
– Intermediates who want to cruise and cover plenty of ground every day
– Experts looking for off-piste opportunities
– Families wanting a fun resort and plenty of pistes to cover
How does it compare to the rest of the Alps? Best area in the Alps without question; over 600km of runs, fantastic lift system that constantly evolves with modern demands and high altitude so that snow is guaranteed all-season long.
Were there queues? In peak season, pinch-points do get busy. We’d say a 15/20 minute queue would be the norm to start the day on a busy period over Christmas or New Year for example. However, there are two positives:
1) The excellent lift system means long queues actually move quite quickly
2) You aren’t likely to encounter two big queues in a row due to the sheer expanse of the ski area (skiers quickly go their own ways and queues away from the centre of resort are virtually non-existent)
Click the piste map to open a high resolution image