Resort Profile: Méribel
28 Nov '12 at 10:13
Méribel is the central resort in the 3 Valleys ski area and the village, as well as its skiing, have both been a success on a colossal scale. Nowadays Méribel has grown far beyond the original village with half a dozen 'neighbourhoods', extending the resort over 10km (6 miles) of the valley floor, and expansion is still continuing.
The resort holds the world record for high capacity gondola lifts, which means it can probably transport more skiers uphill faster than any other resort. Whether such a record matters to the average skier or boarder is open to debate, but the practical off-shoot is that queues are now almost unheard of and skiers get to ski more terrain than anywhere else faster than anywhere else, which must be worth something.
The Méribel valley was 'discovered' in 1938 by future British Colonel Peter Lindsay, who returned after the war to oversee its early development in partnership with French architect Christian Durupt. Although the men's plans were modest compared to what was to come, they did begin the task of building the resort in a traditional style, with gabled slate roofs and white pine and stone facades. Along with its perfect location, Méribel's decision to stick to these building requirements through its 50+ year history and through the era of the rectangular concrete tower block has won it ever more fans over the years.
Find out how to get a job in Méribel here
On the Slopes
When it comes to heading out on your skis or board, you may be slightly saddened to hear that Méribel’s slopes aren’t the highest in the 3 Valleys. As well as this, they also mainly face roughly east or west, and the western facing runs do tend to face the full force of the afternoon sun. In fact, if you are doing a season in Méribel then during the late season you may end up avoiding these runs in the morning when they are rock hard from the night before.
The snowmaking in Méribel, however, has been increased to the point where the lower runs now have substantial cover and the lack of snow is rarely an issue.
If we take a second and avoid mentioning the rest of the huge 3 Valleys, and focus on Méribel itself. There are a number of lifts that head up to nine high-points situated above the resort and there are two entry points into the Courchevel valley, six entry points to the Belleville valley shared by St-Martin, Les Menuires and Val Thorens, and Mont du Vallon, a very worthwhile cul de sac.
If you are after a casual morning ride in the sun then you should head up to the first two links with St-Martin where there are some very nice and quiet slopes back down to Méribel.
If you consider yourself an expert and are in need of some challenging runs then you are in luck as the vast 3 Valleys has plenty to offer. If you want to stick around Méribel and not venture too far then you will be pleased to know that Mont du Vallon has lots to offer. The Combe Vallon run is a red and is a cracking long, fast, sweeping run when nicely groomed, which it usually is, however, when it is covered in moguls it is a decent challenge for you to test yourself on.
If you are after a terrain park then you will be pleased to hear that the area between Platières I and II has a half-pipe and an excellent boardercross area with good terrain for getting air. There is a new snowpark with two half-pipes running from the top of the Plan de l'Homme chair called the Moonpark - it's less busy and not so extreme - perfect for trying tricks in private before heading up to the auditorium that is Platières.
One of the more popular off-piste runs in resort is the Rockgarden. You simply follow the ridge left from Platieres II, then you have a five minute hike to the top. The drop-offs and long pitches here are great for powder days. You can also cut right on the path before you hit the Reserve de Tueda.
The Elevator Shaft is another run that is worth checking out on a powder day. Take the Pas du Lac or Burgin-Saulire to the top and then take a hard left and walk under the building until you see a metal ladder. Then climb this carefully and use the rope support until you are at the top of the gully. This run is south-facing and narrow, so avoid after sun and particularly heavy snow.
Oh, and you can always head down the Mont Vallon , this one is simple, just drop down beneath the lift!
Living in Resort
So, now that you know a bit more about the snow, the slopes and the best places to head off-piste, it is time to find out what it is like to live in Méribel.
Although tempted to construct the inevitable altitude 'satellite off-shoot', Méribel Mottaret at 1800 metres in 1972, the resort ensured the giant apartment blocks still had chalet style design. The British influence in Méribel remains strong and vast numbers of Brits arrive each winter, the more well-heeled staying around Méribel Centre, the rest up at Méribel-Mottaret, whilst Courchevel in the next valley is popularly regarded as being more French, more chic (and more expensive).
Most probably you will not have any choice over where you live, but it’s worth remembering that anywhere outside the centres of either Méribel or Mottaret will involve a long walk home at the end of the night.
If you live anywhere higher than 1600 in Méribel you may find your enthusiasm to stay beyond the last bus home wanes as the season goes on. Hitching is always an option and is as safe as it’s ever going to be. If you have a car, remember that while you are extremely unlikely to be stopped by the police you will be by a wall – so drunk driving is not recommended.
For Mottaret staff, we do not recommend walking back up the Truite from a night out in Méribel. This very gentle run that gravity struggles to pull you down on is a surprising bastard of a climb back. If returning to the Hameau from the Rastro, you can pass the time by counting the 387 steps.
Bars and Clubs (compiled by Meribel Unplugged)
The social scene in Méribel is excellent with a growing choice of bars across the town:
Evolution - Season workers hang out by day and by night, free wifi, homemade hot chocolate, great food and chilled out times, are all offered by Evolution.
Le Pub - Traditional favourite with regular bands
Cactus Café – the only Caffreys in town!
La Taverne - Music, food, guinness...
Jack's Bar - Mutzig not compulsory
Barometre - Laid back and stylish alternative to the Poste
Le Loft - Late-night, French, stylish
Le Poste - Replaced saisonnier favourite the Capricorne. Stylish but pricey.
Scotts - Chill out on the sofas
Dicks T-Bar - Open til 4am for late night antics
Les Enfants Terribles - champagne cocktails
Chez Kiki - French get-away
Le Rond Point - Apres-ski venue with regular bands
Le Rastro – great music and reasonable prices
Le Grain de Sel - Smart French run restaurant (once Le Plein Soleil)
Le Lodge du Village - live music and great lunchtime & evening food
On those occasions when your need to get away from the kitchen, you can still get good value for money about the resort:
Les Enfants Terribles - French food, not overpriced
Le Rond Point - Expensive, but expansive BBQs
Pizza Express - As you'd expect
Le Refuge - Great VFM downstairs
La Taverne - Plenty of options for a night out
Pizzeria du Mottaret - Less British resto
Le Grain du Sel - v smart French restaurant
Le Rastro - great music and reasonable prices
Zig Zag - the best steaks in Mottaret and the lowest prices in all 3 valleys
Le Plantin - now a high class restuarnt, VERY expensive,,,but great food
If you're guiding or skiing with a group of guests, these restaurants are a good bet for a lunch stop:
The Ski Lodge (La Tania)
Le Rond Point (Méribel)
La Sitelle (Mottaret)
Much as Méribel is a fantastic place, sometimes you will want to get away. Skip Moutiers and Albertville and head for Annecy. There’s a large choice of shops and restaurants and the lake is beautiful. If it’s a fine day, you can hire a pedalo, head for the centre of the lake and really escape.
If you just want a different mountain to play on, then try one of the other Tarentaise resorts. If you have a 3V pass you get up four days in other resorts. Val or Tignes will take you about 1 ½ hours to get to.
Chamonix is only two hours away. At the end of the season, this can be a great day out. Argentière snow holds up better than elsewhere in the Alps, a Vallée Blanche trip is always possible and if you can afford it and it’s clear, the Aiguille du Midi is something you’ll never forget.
The usual transfer times between Méribel and its main gateways are Moutiers (30min), Chambèry (1 3/4hrs), Lyon (2hrs), Grenoble (2hrs) and Geneva (2hrs).
If you’re going to the airport, try to get Geneva on Sundays, rather than Lyon on Saturdays. It’s the difference between Bournemouth and Blackpool. Chambèry is the next best option (although only if you work for Crystal).
Moutiers is strictly for the snow train. There are now many different versions of the snowtrain, but suffice to say that the first arrival is bloody early! The steep valley walls mean Moutiers the darkest town in France, so you’ll regularly freeze your balls off while waiting. The compensation is watching the sun rise – a site which will warm the heart if not the cojones – plus an early return to resort.
Remember the transfer times above are from leaving/arriving from Méribel. In resort you may have multiple pick-ups/drop-offs to do depending on your employer. This system is almost guaranteed to annoy your guests, who may be able to see their chalet in Mottaret over an hour before they reach it, after stops through Les Allues, Méribel Centre, 1600, Rond Point etc.
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