A long-standing favourite amongst a dedicated core of enthusiasts who return regularly most seasons, Méribel has a well-deserved reputation for offering a fabulous range of great skiing and snowboarding terrain, and for being one of the liveliest resorts in the Alps.
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', including Brides les Bains and Les Allues, extending the resort over 10km (6 miles) of the valley floor, helping to make it one of the most important in the French Alps.
The Méribel valley was 'discovered' in 1938 by British army officer Peter Lindsay, who oversaw its early development in partnership with French architect Christian Durupt. A longstanding and commendable policy of restricting the architectural design to maintain the traditional wood-clad, stone-tiled, chalet-style typical of this region, has resulted in Méribel being one of the more attractive resorts of its size in the French Alps.
The wooded setting further enhances the effect and lends Méribel a pleasant Alpine village ambiance, despite the fact that it's actually a purpose-built ski resort. Although tempted to construct the inevitable altitude 'satellite off-shoot', Méribel Mottaret at 1,800 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).
Méribel - Ski Map & Pistes:
Skiing Méribel is just for starters. Located in the central valley of the huge Three Valleys ski domain, Méribel is a paradise for intermediates, entertaining for experts and great for snowboarders. The choice of skiing here is vast, with 150 km of trails in the Méribel valley alone and more than four times that much lift-linked together in the wider Three Valleys ski area.
An amphitheatre of ridges and peaks sweeps round from above the Western side of the resort and curls around the head of the valley above Mottaret to run all the way above the Eastern flanks of Méribel; slope users are therefore able to follow the sun and best snow conditions around the valley throughout the day, all accessible via an extensive network of mostly fast declutchable chairlifts and recently upgraded gondolas.
Progressive novices don't really need to leave this local ski area, but most visitors are attracted to Méribel by the enormous scale of the full Three Valleys domain: there are half-a-dozen inter-valley link points on the Eastern ridges, linking into the Belleville Valley towards Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, Les Menuires, Reberty and Val Thorens; to the West there are a couple of cross-ridge link points into the St-Bons Valley, which houses the equally extensive, internationally renowned ski resorts of Courchevel and La Tania.
Beginners may find the scale and pace of the principal Méribel slopes a bit too daunting, but the scenic parkland-like Altiport sector at the uppermost suburb of Méribel has gently rolling wide pistes which are perfect for learners. There's also a special beginners' area at Méribel-Mottaret.
For more experienced skiers and riders, the Plattieres-Vallon sector above Mottaret, and the Tougnete sector on the Eastern slopes above Méribel, are the principal areas of focus in this valley: particularly noteworthy are the long sweeping snow-sure red pistes and terrific lift-served off-piste access on Mont du Vallon, as well as the excellent 'Moon Park' snowpark in the Arpasson area.
Méribel invested very heavily in its lift system and today has more high-speed gondola lifts than almost 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 for Méribel skiing include the 3.6km long red run down the Combe du Vallon or the Pic Noir descent through the trees from Col de la Loze.
Méribel - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
With such a vast amount of terrain to explore, it's no surprise that Méribel and the 3 Valleys have some great off-piste to play in, topped by Mt Vallon, but always, always go with a guide. In Méribel, specifically, take the Loze Express chairlift and ski along Boulevard de la Loze track towards the Dent du Burgin chair. About halfway along, drop off to the right for fabulous open powder fields. Beneath the Loze Express chair, is a very popular off-piste run - but it gets tracked out very quickly. Another top tip is area around the Cote Brune chairlift but again, do get the advice of the local guides.
The run down from Roc de Fer to St Martin de Belleville gives you 600m of mainly south-facing slopes that are ideal for those fairly new to powder. Alternatively take the same Olympic chair and head down to Raffort.
Take the Roc de Tougne and it will immediately become apparent where you should be skiing. Long off-piste runs stretch out on either side of the drag track and a bit of a traverse at the top will be sure you find you some untouched fluff. The ski schools here should all offer off-piste days to ensure you not only get to the best snow but you learn how to ski it properly too!
Méribel - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
Despite the fact that the vast majority of Méribel's guests are hosted in catered accommodation, the number of eateries to choose from for dining out is fairly good, and covers a wide range of budgets and tastes.
Méribel has some of the liveliest après of any resort anywhere - so long as you stick near the village centre. Méribel-Mottaret and the other outlying neighbourhoods are mostly quiet. La Folie Douce is world-famous and when you're done there, head to Le Rond-Point (Ronnies) which is a Méribel institution. The Pub and Jack's are two of the leading lights down in the village itself.
If you feel the need to expend more energy, the Olympic Centre, near Méribel's principal Chaudanne base area, which was built for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics has an indoor pool, plus kids' pool, water slide, fitness centre, climbing wall, spa and full-size ice-rink. Off-slope activities include snowshoe walks, horse-sleigh rides and snowmobiling.
Méribel - Ski Hire:
Méribel - Ski School:
It's France, so the ESF is the big ski school in Méribel, offering its full range of group ski lessons and individual classes. You could also seek out Oxygene, New Generation, The Snow School and Parallel Lines. The SkiBro platform can also help you find instruction that's right for your ski holiday.
Méribel - Snow Forecast:
The latest three-day snow forecast for Méribel, along with the embedded Méribel webcams will keep you informed as to what's happening with the weather in Méribel.