Ski with a legendary Meribel family of ski instructors to get unrivalled knowledge of one of France’s most picturesque resorts, says Adam Bloodworth
It’s not often you go on holiday and meet the founder of the town. Hotel owners are always trying to shake your hand, but town founders? In my experience, they tend to be more elusive. I was surprised, then, to visit Meribel and be told over lunch that the other British guy a few tables away – the one competing with me for the most rosy cheeks post-ski – had close family ties with the place. “My father is generally thought of as the founder of Meribel,” he said, dusting snow off his jacket.
Outside, a snow storm had begun, and so the son of the founder of Meribel, me, and my ski guide had stopped for lunch. The Telebar is the sort of impossibly convivial on-slope dining establishment you can only find up the poshest of mountains. Here, bored children without any idea how lucky they are stare at their phones as their parents turn champagne bottles upside down in their buckets that cost unsightly figures. I doubt the tables have been rearranged since post-war, it’s the sort of place where there’s just no need.
The royals would play a game of “lose the security detail,” by waiting until the last minute to plunge down alternative ski runs, throwing off the royal bodyguards
The British founder of modern day Meribel wasn’t my only interest. My French guide, who was from the Laissus family, a legendary Meribel ski family, put the British stories to shame. His grandfather had been a local, French originator of the town’s ski culture. In the 1920s he and his friends would climb by foot to the top of the mountain and ski down on heavy wooden skis before considering the hike back up. If modern day skiers feel the need a long soak in the tub after a day of skiing, spare a thought – and some metaphorical bath salts – for the originators.
As we ski, I hear hilarious tales about when he was designated instructor to members of the royal family, including Sophie Wessex, when the duo played a game of “lose the security detail” by waiting until the last minute to plunge down alternative ski runs, throwing off the royal bodyguards.
Meribel has that sort of a reputation. One of Les 3 Vallees alongside Val Thorens and Courchevel, it has the sort of chocolate-box vistas that are framed by towering pine trees and wide open runs that force the shoulders to relax and the lungs to take long, deep intakes of air. Skiing with a proper local means seeing the scenery in new ways. We would stop to inspect local berries growing on piste side bushes, and to observe traditional architecture.
Many of these stone-built houses were built by the grandfather of my guide one hundred years ago. Meribel is a bouji, expensive resort, so many luxurious newbuilds punctuate the slopes, but the most characterful lodges are the smaller two-storey ones with the distinctive local stone-fronted facades. Once you spot one, you can’t miss them, (they still line the slopes, in-between the plusher luxury lodges) and it’s fun to keep an eye on the architecture and think to the town’s forefathers as you traverse the slopes.
He also has brilliant advice to better my skiing. “When you turn properly, you can enjoy the view better,” he says. Wise words. I stayed at the rather more modern Residence L’Hévana, with outdoor jacuzzi and endless seeming alpine views. New on the scene, it’s a symbol of how this ever-popular ski town has a strong foot in the present. But I was off to meet the Laissus family again, over Après-ski, to hear more tales of Meribel’s past.
Visit Meribel yourself
Book a Meribel holiday at Meribel.net; Adrian Laissus, one of the Laissus family, is available for bookings and has excellent Meribel knowledge. To book him visit Ski-school-meribelmottaret.com. Adam stayed at the Residence L’Hévana which is bookable via pierreetvacances.com