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HAPPY 80TH MERIBEL - Jane Peel, Meribel, French Alps
Thursday January 18, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

The ski resort at the heart of the Three Valleys is celebrating a big birthday this year. PlanetSKI hits its slopes and delves into its history.

It's the 1930s and British skiers have been driven away from Austria after its annexation by Nazi Germany.

They're looking for a new playground.

Step forward Peter Lindsay, a British property developer.

Peter LindsayPeter Lindsay

















He'd seen the potential of the Les Allues valley in the Savoie region on an earlier visit.

He linked up with a French architect who'd already drawn up plans for a new resort and together they worked to bring their vision to life.

Lindsay's role was to raise the capital and bring in private investors.

And in 1938, Meribel - but not as we know it - was born.

The first lift opened. Well, a lift of sorts.  It was a sledge attached to cables.....

First ski lift/sledge in MeribelFirst ski lift/sledge


...and the first ski chalet opened at the foot of the lift.

The Doron had four bedrooms and a garage to store the sledge.

Chalet DoronChalet Doron (photo taken in 1949)















Things have changed a bit ......

MeribelThe Doron from the same angle today - it's on the far left
















Chalet Doron, Jan 2018Chalet Doron today in the heart of Meribel
















The valley that was once home to 500 farming families now has 1,900 permanent residents and as many as 40,000 people staying every day in the peak winter season.

MeribelMeribel Centre today
















Almost 40 per cent of them are British.

Meribel is probably the most British of all French ski areas.

In MeribelYours truly - a Brit in Meribel














What do we see in it?

Well it's now part of the biggest lift-linked ski area in the world with 600 km of pistes across the Three Valleys which include the resorts of Courchevel, La Tania, Les Menuires and Val Thorens.

More than 80 per cent of the ski area is above 1,800 metres.

Three Valleys Three Valleys
















There is skiing and snowboarding for all levels and plenty of off piste. Timid intermediates can cross from one side of Three Valleys to the other on gentle runs.

There's also extensive snowmaking - not that it's been in great demand so far this season.


















But Meribel, which sits at 1,450 metres altitude, is where it all began - the first resort in the Three Valleys - and, despite all the development, it retains much of its charm.

Some of the early buildings constructed of stone, wood and slate, still exist; others have been built more recently in the traditional style.

Chalet Bambis, Meriski Chalet Bambis - Original & traditional


Chalet in MeribelOriginal & traditional
















MeribelOriginal & traditional
















To mark the 80th anniversary a new book 'Meribel Since 1938' is being published in February in two versions -  French and English.

It's author, Jean-Marie Choffel, told PlanetSKI a little more about why and how Meribel came to exist:

Back in the beginning, the development of Meribel could so easily have ground to a halt.

The outbreak of the Second World War a year after the first lift was installed put everything on hold.

The founding father Peter Lindsay went off to Burma as a British Army officer with the Special Operations Executive.

But he returned to Meribel in 1945, continued to develop the resort and never left.

Architect Christian Durupt & Peter Lindsay in MeribelArchitect Christian Durupt & Peter Lindsay overseeing a chalet build in the 40s
















Lindsay died in 1971 just before work began to build Mottaret and Val Thorens, creating the Three Valleys ski area (Courchevel had already been linked to Meribel in the 1950s).

The only physical evidence of Lindsay's huge contribution to Meribel is an unremarkable stone memorial on the green Rhodos run.

Peter Lindsay memorial in MeribelPeter Lindsay memorial
















Most of the hundreds or thousands of skiers or snowboarders who pass it every day in the winter have probably never noticed it, even when it's not partly hidden by snow.

But some who do know of Lindsay's legacy think the powers-that-be should name a piste or a lift after him.  Perhaps they will.

For now, though, they're concentrating on a big 80th birthday party to be held on the evening of 28th February at the foot of the slopes at Meribel's La Chaudanne.

Olympic skiing stars past and present will take part in the show that we're told will be worthy of an Olympic Games opening ceremony; there'll be music, fireworks and "a surprise".

















As for the future, Meribel faces the same issues affecting all alpine resorts - and one of the biggest is climate change.

"Concern has arisen in the past few years over global warming, which is forcing our resorts to think about a future that may no longer be
based exclusively on winter tourism," says the Mayor, Thierry Monin, in the closing words of the book 'Meribel Since 1938'.

"Meribel, in common with other resorts, will have to think about inventing new activities and entertainments to continue to satisfy its loyal
clientele as well as attract new ones, in summer as well as in winter."


Listen to Colin Mathews - founder and chairman of luxury chalet company, Meriski - recount the fascinating history of one of Meribel's ski chalets, which played a  key role in the Second World War and beyond:

Chalet CorbeyRebuilt after the war - Chalet Corbey had been a base for the French Resistance















  • The name Meribel comes from the Latin, Mirare Bellum, which means "the point from which the view is beautiful".
  • The 1992 Albertville Olympics brought major development, including the gondola to Meribel from Brides-les-Bains.  The women's alpine ski events and ice hockey matches were held in Meribel. 
  • In 2015, Meribel hosted the Alpine World Cup Finals.
  • Meribel, with Courchevel, is a candidate to hold the 2023 Alpine World Championships.  The bi-annual event has not been held in France since 2009. A decision on the successful bidder is due on 17th May 2018.
Meribel 80th birthdayHappy 80th Birthday!


















Jane stayed with Meriski in Meribel Centre.  Thanks to Colin Mathews of Meriski, the Meribel Tourist Office and Jean-Marie Choffel for their assistance with this article, and also to Meribel Ski Service for providing the means to get around.

'Meribel Since 1938' will be published on 12th February and on sale to the public in Meribel for €25.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

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