© Meribel Tourisme
It's December, the ski lifts are opening and the Christmas holidays are on the horizon.
December is a very special month to visit Méribel and the first weeks of the season are treasured by locals. There’s the thrill of being back on skis and the excitement of the start of a brand new season.
The virgin snow is soft and un-skied and best of all, the slopes are empty with a total absence of lift queues. Having the valley virtually to yourself in early December is the closest you can come to owning your private ski area.
We can expect sports competitions, opening parties, and there will obviously also be lots of festive celebrations including a visit from a certain Papa Noël. As you are no doubt aware, most things in December revolve around the last two weeks of the month, schools break up and travellers from near and far descend on Les 3 Vallées. There are a plethora of events coming up, from parades to special Christmas menus and New Year's blowouts.
Read on for a look at what we like to do in resort throughout December.
What are the weather and snow conditions like?
Whilst there will be snow up the mountain, a white Christmas is never a guarantee. However, it's definitely cold, with temperatures averaging from -6°C to 1°C, with around 11 days of snowfall. Make sure thermals are on your Christmas list.
What's on in Méribel in December?
Méribel grand opening party
The season starts on the first weekend of the month with a day of entertainment in Mottaret. Pop into the Tepee Village at the foot of the slopes to sign up for a whole range of free activities in the afternoon. Don’t miss the spectacular free show in Mottaret centre featuring lasers, DJs and live music.
Folie Douce opening party
December is a time of opening parties and the one not to miss is La Folie Douce. Music, DJs, dancing and a brand new cabaret are on offer all afternoon!
The Andros E-Trophy in Val Thorens
This insane show of car races on ice has an eco-friendly twist as they use 100% electric-powered cars. To be right next to the action you can buy one and two day tickets, and it is free for children under 12. The surrounding paddocks are free to spectate if you don’t want to enter the arena. There is even a possibility to meet famous F1 drivers so keep your eyes peeled!
Meribel in Lights
Enjoy a dazzling three dimensional laser light show inspired by the world of electronics and science fiction. Followed by an international DJ set.
Night sledging on Piste de L'Himalaya
Head to the summit of the Yeti Park, enjoy the night time views of Meribel and sledge down this spotlit green run. Then enjoy a hot chocolate, music and marshmallows at the bottom.
Christmas in Méribel
With so many families visiting the Three Valleys for the festive season, there is a real child-like excitement as the big day draws ever closer, and usually there's an opportunity to spot the main man himself meeting and greeting people around the resort.
To prepare you for your French Christmas, here are a few festive facts that make the French Santa Claus a little different:
- Rather than a red hat, Père Noël wears a red cloak with a hood trimmed in white fur - a small difference easily unnoticed.
- Children do not wake up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning, because traditionally Père Noël brings toys to good little boys and girls after evening Mass on Christmas Eve.
- Children do not leave milk and cookies for Papa Noël, but at the very least they'll leave him a glass of Calvados or wine.
- Children do not hang stockings, but rather leave their shoes and slippers out and if they have been good Père Noël will fill them with treats.
- Children in France behave around the holidays out of fear of Le Père Fouettard, who follows Père Noël to discipline naughty children.
School holidays skiing
The lifts and ski runs open progressively over the first two weeks of the season. For this first week, most of the major lifts and Three Valleys links will open. In Méribel, this includes Tougnète 1 & 2, Saulire 1 & 2, Golf and Altiport. In Mottaret, Chalets, Plattières 1 & 3, Combes, Mont Vallon, Côte Brune, Mûres Rouges and Plan des Mains. More lifts and pistes generally open for the second week, with full opening expected in time for Christmas.
Christmas and New Year is a popular time for families so the slopes are noticeably busier as soon as the holidays begin. Fortunately, Les 3 Vallées ski area is so vast, that even in high season you can find quiet slopes and minimal lift queues. Here are our insider's top tips for the school holidays:
- It will be almost impossible to book private lessons over this period, group lessons are the best option. Make sure to get your ski and snowboard lessons booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.
- If you're not in ski school, be an early bird. Arrive at the lifts before they open so that you get up and away before the ski school classes set out around 09:15.
- Ski over lunchtime. The slopes are calmer between 12:00 and 14:00 while the French take a leisurely lunch break.
- Pre-book your lunch and avoid the queues. Some restaurants offer a click and collect service. It's the best way to avoid the queues and make the most of your time in the mountains.
- Seek out the peripheral areas, try to avoid the busy main linking routes between valleys and head for calmer areas such as Méribel’s Roc de Fer, Courchevel-Moriond (1650m) or Courchevel Le Praz (1300m). Check out these little known runs in Méribel: Hulotte, Gypaète, Daguet, Coqs, Eterlou, Mouflon and Mauduit. Black runs are generally deserted too – the best are Face, snow-sure Bartavelle, empty Grande Rosière and high altitude Ecureuil
- Get off-piste. Competent off-piste skiers can book a local mountain guide and explore the vast off-piste areas in the valley or even go touring to find complete solitude in the backcountry.
Things to do in Meribel
Make sure you’re among the first to check out Méribel’s new runs. The Roc de Fer area is under development in preparation for the World Ski Championships, and has new red runs: Gypaète and Daguet. Gypaète is a red alternative to the much loved blue Choucas piste. The terrain has been left as natural as possible, with bumps, varied cambers and a series of bends that lead on to the blue Roc de Fer piste. Daguet is accessed from la Face black run. This promises to be an interesting piste, well away from the hubbub of the main ski area, crossing through virgin snowfields and forests. At the bottom, you can take either the Olympe gondola lift from le Raffort or ski to Les Allues.
Enjoy breakfast on a summit and early-bird skiing. You will take a private gondola to the summit of Saulire for a continental breakfast of bread, pastries, and a hot drink whilst watching the sun rise over the Alps, followed by a chance to ski on freshly groomed slopes in the company of ski patrollers, all before the official lift openings. Enjoy the intense silence and if you're quick you'll almost have time for a second descent before the general opening. In the same spirit, it is also possible to wait for the lifts to close, enjoy an aperitif as the sunsets on the terrace, and hit the empty slopes supervised by ski patrollers.
Make the most of Méribel’s Olympic Centre
During the dark December evenings, there’s always plenty going on at Méribel’s multi-sport centre. Pool parties, relaxing spa sessions, indoor climbing, bowling, aqua-gym, aqua-bike, paddleboard fitness, massages, beauty treatments – there really is something for everyone!
Bars and Clubs
If, like a lot of people, you like to follow several hours of exercise with several hours of drinking, especially during the festive season, you can hit up any of a number of local après-ski sessions. For late night entertainment, the clubs hold special nights on most days of the week.
New Year's Eve
Christmas is magical in the fairytale atmosphere of a snowy alpine village and New Year’s Eve is always celebrated in Méribel in style. If you're heading out, the restaurants will be busy, so it would be best to make a reservation to ensure you can get a table, and many bars and clubs will be ticket only, so if there's somewhere you plan to see in the New Year, make sure you've planned ahead.