© Sylvain Aymoz
As part of Les Trois Vallées, one of the world’s legendary ski areas, you simply have to ski Méribel at least once in your life. It's fantastic for all levels, but especially for intermediate and experienced skiers and snowboarders, who can make the most of its enormous potential. A word of warning: you may never want to ski anywhere else again.
Here are a few reasons why advanced skiers and snowboarders should pay Méribel a visit.
Reds and Blacks
There are a wealth of challenging runs for experienced skiers in Les 3 Vallées – 33 blacks and 110 reds in all. Méribel itself has 23 reds and seven blacks.
The most famous of Méribel's black runs, the Face, was created for the 1992 Winter Olympics women's downhill competition. It's deliberately left ungroomed, so head there after fresh snowfall. The World Cup racing piste, Maudit, has a vertical drop of 1km, narrowing and steepening as you go through the trees. Another to give you jelly legs is the red Combe du Vallon run, legendary across the Three Valleys and one of the longest at 3km. Starting from Méribel's highest point, Mont Vallon (2,952m), it begins steep and narrow, twists and turns, is full of moguls, and feels like it just keeps on going (simply pretend you're stopping to admire the view when you need a breather). For another exhilarating descent you could do worse than the tree-lined Col de la Loze to Méribel Village (900m drop). There are also two new red runs, Daguet and Gypaète.
Finally the Couloir Tournier is the steepest run in the valley with a 37 degree slope at the top. Narrow and with no escape routes, this really is for experts only.
Les 3 Vallées offers fabulous off-piste skiing, with everything from glaciers and wide open powder bowls, to tree-skiing.
For some amazing off-piste head from the Loze Express lift to Dent du Burgin. About half way along the Boulevard de la Loze track you can drop off into some incredible open plains of fresh pow pow. Under no circumstances should you take this route if the track is closed due to avalanche risk. Whilst you're over there underneath the Loze Express gets tracked out pretty quickly, so head there first on a powder day. The area around the Côte Brune chair is beautiful to ski in fresh snow. Alternatively take the Roc de Tougne - a notoriously tough drag lift, especially on a powder day, but the long off-piste runs on either side should make it worth it.
After a big snowfall, if you're desperate to ski the fresh powder but want to remain in safety on the pistes, Méribel offers you the best of both worlds. Leaving certain pistes ungroomed after a big dump, you can float through the powder risk-free. Find these special runs on the lift map where they are noted with a special ‘peuf’ (powder) symbol, and get there early to put down first tracks.
Off-piste skiing or snowboarding is different to piste skiing or snowboarding, and therefore needs a slightly different approach. It's definitely worth a lesson in 'off-piste' techniques if you're new to it, or would like some tips for riding steep and deep powder. It also pays to have someone with a bit of local knowledge, a mountain guide/off-piste instructor will be able to show you all the best spots to suit your ability.
For those of you that ski tour, the ultimate high mountain experience is Méribel’s Gebroulaz glacier. A short ski tour takes you into a world of sparkling ice walls and gaping crevasses on this unforgettable route through the National Park.
Ski touring and avalanche gear can be hired from most ski shops. It’s recommended to go with a professional, and never to go off-piste on your own.
Once you've had enough fun bouncing around the reds and blacks, and in and out of the powder fields, how about some rails, boxes and jumps?
Méribel’s snowparks delight rookies and experts alike. The Elements Park is ideal for novices with soft impact boxes, rails and jibs. Mottaret’s DC Area 43 is perfect for experienced freestylers, with a pro half pipe and some seriously big kickers. This renowned park hosts events such as the French Slopestyle Cup.
Of course you can tick off the Olympic and World Cup runs, but to really see all that this domaine has to offer, look further afield than Mont Vallon. Les 3 Vallées is the largest fully linked ski area in the world, with a vast network of 600km of pistes offering a total vertical drop of more than 62,000m. Méribel lies at the heart of this immense ski area, making it the ideal base from which to explore Courchevel, Val Thorens, Les Menuires, St Martin, La Tania and Orelle, with 12 ski summits over 2,500m and varied skiing ranging from high glaciers to picturesque forest runs.
If you like to cover as many kilometres as possible, plan a day skiing to the furthest extremity of the area, Orelle. Sometimes called ‘the fourth valley’ this area beyond Val Thorens offers superb views, plus the highest skiing point in the whole area at 3,230m. There is a new Orelle gondola replacing the 'Three Valleys Express' which make access there and back much quicker and easier, plus Orelle’s sunny orientation makes it a perfect spot for a long picnic lunch before heading home. The furthest point in the opposite direction is the Chapelets run above Courchevel-Moriond. Worth visiting for its charming scenery and the peacefulness.
Great weather and snow conditions
Les 3 Vallées ski area ranges between 1,300m and 3,230m, and 85% is located above 1,800m. You can always find great snow, whatever the weather conditions, thanks to its situation and excellent snow-making facilities.
Les 3 Vallées spends millions of euros each year upgrading its lifts, meaning you are whisked at speed and in comfort to the summits. The result is you spend more time skiing and less time sitting on lifts or queueing.
Recently the colourful bubbles that made up the Plattières 3 gondola have been replaced by a new six-seat chair to whisk you 302m to the summit of the Trois Marches in just 2m30s. There are also new lifts in Les Menuires, and a whopping 10-seat gondola travelling 3km instead of the Lac Noir and Rocher Noir chairs.
Ski in, ski out
Méribel has the bonus of being a ski-in, ski-out resort with some accommodation located on the pistes. This is ideal if you are an experienced skier or snowboarder, because what better way to start the day than to be straight on the slopes the minute you walk out of the door. And even better to finish off the day with that last run taking you straight back home again, no lugging skis, snowboards and the like on and off buses and through the streets. Dump your gear and get straight out for après, or pile into that tea and cake your chalet hosts have so kindly left out.
Something else to do
Even the most die-hard skiers and snowboarders need some down time, and whilst it's difficult to imagine needing a break from all of that, it's good to know there's something else to do in resort when you want to spend time with your family and friends. Whilst Méribel has great bars and restaurants offering up some of the best food and après-ski in the French Alps, there are other ways to entertain yourselves in the evenings and on that much needed day off.
You can drive a dog sled or horse-drawn sleigh, go skidooing or ice skating. Alternatively if 'chill' is at the top of the agenda, visit a spa for a relaxing treatment or take a dip in the pool at the Parc Olympique. There's definitely no shortage of things to do, or not, in Méribel.
Exploring beyond the ski resort boundaries is an amazing experience for anyone who's physically fit and has mastered the pistes well enough. There are, however, risks associated with venturing outside the safety of the marked/patrolled ski area, including awareness of your actions on those below you on the slopes. Mountain guides are professionally qualified and have extensive knowledge of the local terrain to provide you with the safest and most enjoyable possible experience in the mountains; as a visitor here we highly recommend you hiring one. Many ski schools also provide instruction in off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and mountaineering techniques. Make your time in the mountains unforgettable for the right reasons, ski safe!
Off-piste skiing and mountaineering are dangerous. The opinions expressed in these articles are very much time and condition-specific and the content is not intended in any way to be a substitute for hiring a mountain guide, undergoing professional mountaineering training and/or the individual's own backcountry decision making.
These are just some of the great reasons to come and visit Meribel and ski some of the very best pistes that the Alps have to offer, but there are many more. So get out here and give it a whirl.