News from the snow
Méribel is the central resort in the world's largest lift linked ski area, the 3 Vallées. One of the first in the post-war 'second wave' of ski centre development, the village and its skiing have been a success on a colossal scale. Méribel today 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 apace, helping to make the resort one of the most important in the world today. 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 rec-tangular concrete tower block has won it ever more fans over the years. 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).
In 1938 a British Officer created a ski resort, Méribel, in an almost abandoned mountain valley. Today Méribel is one of the world's greatest ski resorts. It now has an apartment built off-shoot, Méribel Mottaret, at 1750m.
The choice of skiing here is vast, with 150 km (93 miles) of trails in the Méribel Valley alone and of course more than five times that much lift-linked together in the neighbouring valleys. Which, incidentally, are a far more realistic bet for inter-area skiing through a variety of snow conditions that many other big areas, where vital links may only be maintained during a month or so of heavy snowfall mid-season.
Méribel has invested very heavily in its lift system and today has more high-speed gondola lifts than any other resort in the world. As modern gondolas are the fastest lifts there are, with the exception only of ultra modern funicular railways, faster even than the new breed of high capacity high-speed four, six and eight-seater chair lifts, this point cannot be over-stated.
Downhill choices are as close to limitless as they can be and, whilst the 3 Vallées generally receives the ubiquitous title 'intermediates' paradise' there is really plenty for experts to enjoy too, such as the off-piste Mt. Vallon face above Méribel-Mottaret or the legendary Les Bosses black. The Women's Olympic Downhill is not to be sniffed at either, nor the powder or tree skiing.
Easier choices include the 3.6km (2.2 mile) long red run down the Combe du Vallon or the Pic Noir descent through the trees from Col de la Loze. Beginners have easy runs up by the Altiport and Rond Point des Pistes, as well as a special beginners' area at Méribel-Mottaret.
The ski and snowboarding school employs a huge staff able to teach all disciplines and with some speaking most of the world's major languages.
Cross country skiers have plenty of trails in the Méribel and Courchevel valleys, including two exceptional routes around the Tuèda Lake and the Altiport Forest.
As part of the Olympic Park development there is now an exceptionally good base for the Saturnins nursery which takes children from 18 months to 3 years of age, and has its own restaurant. A second option, Kids Etcetera cares for children aged from three months to seven years. There are also three snow gardens organised by the ski school and some of the hotels offer childcare facilities or children's entertainments.
Several in-coming tour operators from the UK also organise their own day-care and the tourist office provides a baby sitter list.
With over 100 eateries to choose from the choices are once again vast, ranging from cheap but cheerful Italian to top notch ... la carte. The vast majority however are cosy traditional-style establishments serving Savoyard and Alpine favourites.