Think Meribel’s all about rowdy seasonaires and Jägerbombs? Not so! Sure, the nightlife is spectacular, but so is the skiing: 600km of pistes, some of the best powder stashes in the Three Valleys, a new DC snowpark and couloirs that’ll get your knees knocking.
Slap bang in the heart of the Three Valleys sits Méribel, a charming mountain town surrounded by 600km of piste. Hang on. Méribel? Charming?
Actually yes, it’s true, so try to put those images of rowdy seasonaires and exuberant youth to one side and embrace something of the town’s rebirth. There’s no doubt its nightlife is still spectacular, but as far as traditional French ambiance, coupled with a top-class ski area suited to all levels, goes you’ll be hard-pressed to find a resort that ticks as many boxes as Méribel.
While its motorway pistes are perfect for cruisers, skiers looking for something to get their pulse rate up will find plenty to entertain them, including almost 30 black runs, cracking off-piste on Mont Vallon and hard-to-reach couloirs that will get you shaking in your ski boots. The only thing the resort was missing was a top-class snowpark, but it now has one of those too, thanks to the opening of a new DC park last winter.
The views aren’t bad either – on a good day you’ll catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc, as well as the Grand Casse, the Écrins and many more classic Alpine vistas. See, we told you it was rather good… We catch up with local boy Jeremy Saunders to find out about his favourite spots on and off the hill.
FOR AN EARLY- MORNING LEG BURN
For a flat-out hoon I like to head to the top of the Saulire express. This new bubble means you can get from the base station to the Saulire summit (2700m) in just 12 minutes! Once up there, there’s a good choice of fast runs down and I know this route so well it’s the perfect opportunity to put all my worries to the back of my mind, switch off and just straight-line it down the mountain.
FOR FIRST LIFT FRESH TRACKS
I’m always keen on first lifts, but it very rarely happens! When it does, I head up to the top of the Tougnète 2 chair, which takes you to the top of Tougnète at 2434m in the direction of Val Thorens. It’s the quickest way to the top from Méribel and there is a great choice of routes down for all levels, and some easily accessible off-piste, if you know what you’re doing. The high-speed chair means you can usually get a good two or three runs in before it gets too tracked.
FOR A LATE-AFTERNOON POWDER HIT
I would be lynched if I gave you that information! Mont Vallon at 2952m is always a safe bet, as it’s the furthest away and highest point in the valley. For more experienced riders, there are always some great lines to be had off the back of Mont Vallon and on the nearby Côte Brune (bring your backcountry kit, if you have it). But if you’re hitting the off-piste in the late afternoon, make sure you keep an eye on the snow conditions after a day of sunshine.
MÉRIBEL’S MUST-SKI RUN
For the most spectacular view of the Alps, and a glimpse of Mont Blanc, head to the top of the Olympic chair. Then take the run down the Grand Duc and the Stade, which will be the route for the Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals in 2015. If you want to ‘get the T-shirt’, hit the Couloir de l’Échelle or ‘Death Couloir’, as it’s commonly known. Not quite as scary as it sounds, but definitely one for experts! You’ll need a head for heights too, as to reach the couloir you need to scale a steep ladder from the top of the Saulire chairlift.
FOR JUMPS AND JIBS
The most popular jib run with seasonaires is known as the ‘6 Man’, from the top of the Adret chairlift. The run is scattered with rollers and small jibs, and the fact it’s on one of the busiest areas of the mountain provides an ideal opportunity for riders to show off their skills in front of easily impressed tourists! If park is your thing then the new DC park in Mottaret is the place to go.
For the first time, Méribel finally has a world-class snowpark and halfpipe, and it was awesome to see some of the world’s best riders descend on the town last season. There are some massive booters and rails, and also plenty for intermediate riders to have a crack at.
BEST BAR FOR APRÈS-SKI
Apart from Jack’s? The Rond Point, or The Ronnie, as it’s popularly known, on Rond Point des Pistes (rondpointmeribel.com), is famed for its raucous dancing and its terrace is buzzing on Wednesdays, seasonaires’ day off, when they usually lay on the most popular bands in town. Some of the French mountain bars have upped their game in the last few years, such as the Coeur de Cristal on Piste des Rhodos (lecoeurdecristal.com), which definitely has a very Euro feel but is good fun.
The big-name DJ nights at Dick’s Tea Bar (dicksteabar.com/meribel) – Roni Size, DJ Yoda, Dub Pistols to name a few – always bring everyone out from the woodwork. This year also sees the arrival of a Folie Douce bar (lafoliedouce.com), from the people who have made a name for themselves in Val D’Isère and Val Thorens as having the craziest après in the Alps, so it’ll be interesting to see how that adds to the après-ski scene here in Meribel..
FOR MOUNTAIN EATS
I tend to avoid the mountain restaurants as they can be overpriced. Instead I head down to Evolution, located next to the main ski lifts (evolutionmeribel.com); it is the only place in town that stays open all year round, so has a lot of support from the local crowd, and its good-value, modern menu makes for a refreshing change from the usual mountain stodge; for a light snack I usually opt for a bowl of noodles, but if I’m starving, their massive home-made Bad Boy burger is a must!
For a real quick munch, I’d recommend trying the legendary Mountain Burger at the Mottaret Snack Bar, which is at the bottom of the slopes in nearby Mottaret village. You’ll have to eat on your feet but €6 buys you a taste of a true seasonaire secret – a monster burger smothered in raclette cheese.
FOR A SLAP-UP SUPPER
Flash is not really my style, but I do like the Cro Magnon (+33(0)4 79 00 57 38). It’s cosy, traditional and not ridiculously priced. If I was feeling really flush then I would love to try the Michelin-starred La Bouitte in St Martin de Belleville (la-bouitte.com, +33(0)4 79 08 96 77), but unfortunately I’m not that rich… More my style is The Den (+33 4 79 08 98 54) above Dick’s Tea Bar. New two seasons ago, their modern tapas-style menu is different to everything else in town. Plates to share, with live music thrown in, should do the trick if I was trying to impress a lady, but if all fails then we can head down to Dick’s Tea Bar for a few more drinks.
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT MÉRIBEL?
I couldn’t hope for a more amazing place to live than Méribel. We have one of the best ski areas in the world right on our doorstep. The amount and variety of terrain never ceases to amaze me. It’s the snow that brings us all out here, but it’s the people that really keep us here. There is a such a cool crowd of like-minded people who live here, and a great sense of togetherness that you often don’t find in other resorts.
Pistes and Passes
Ski area: 150km of pistes in Méribel; 600km in the Three Valleys ski area 101 146 28
Lift passes: €212 for six days, Méribel only; six-day Three Valleys pass €260
Words: Susan Greenwood