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Domain: Les Trois Vallees
Website : Lift Company Website, Meribel Website, Trois Vallees Website
Date: 9th February - 15th February 2006
Our holiday: This was a school trip. One that I helped out with the organisation of. Over 70 people in all from the school (must be one of the largest school ski trips in the country?). The range of abilities was immense. From first timers (although we organise and insist on lessons on the dry-slope in Gloucester prior to departure) through to a group of exceptionally competent skiers (I like to class myself thus). We also had boarders too, beginners to advanced. Most people went into lessons, whilst the more seasoned skiers/boarders ski in either the 'Academy' or 'Flying Squad' - both groups led by teachers - can't have 20 kids just going off and doing their own thing!
Basics : Most people travelled on the coach from Gloucester (hefty journey, and one I was glad to avoid) whilst four of us flew and hired a car. We then got lost between Geneva and Meribel, taking about 2.5 hours! The coach stayed in resort to ferry everyone around as and when was required (a mention here for Les and Pete of Watts Coaches who were fantastic all week) how often can you say that about coach drivers!?
Lift system : A very good lift system. I used one drag lift all week (and didn't even need to use it!). An array of gondolas whisk you off in many directions from the base of Meribel. Chair-lifts also leave the main area, meaning you can get to your desired skiing zone within minutes of putting your skis on. Quite well laid out, and you can do plenty of skiing before needing to use another lift. You can also avoid the flat run from Mottaret to Meribel with a quick lift ride allowing you to come down a red (the flat bit not being too bad - unless your towing boarders along it!).
The terrain : If you go for the whole 3V pass you've got over 600kms of runs to choose from, but there really is little need to upgrade from the Meribel pass (maybe one day of exploring Courcheval...). There is a huge choice of runs covered by the Meribel pass above Meribel and Meribel-Mottaret. There is very little in the way of beginners slopes. There are plenty of blues, some slightly more challenging than you'd expect. There was a large selection of reds to chose from, some of which could be described as slightly tame. There were suprisingly few blacks for such a major resort, and the one we did do was a straight-forward red really. A few mogul runs, and that was about it. I'd definitely recommend heading out to Mont Vallon and trying the two runs up there, wonderful reds to bomb it down, wide, good snow and in the sun, beautiful!
The snow : Mid-April, if I hadn't known, I'd have said it was February! Absolutely out of this world for the most part. We arrived Saturday afternoon and there was plenty of snow on the runs, a bit barren otherwise - we even lounged on the hotel balcony! Then for two days it was snowing non-stop, delivering tonnes of the stuff, powder everywhere, but poor visibility being a sad side-effect. The next two days were probably the best skiing I have ever experienced, all the fresh, beutiful snow had been bashed out, the temperatures stayed low and the sun was out with virtually no clouds. Perfect. Then, on Friday it started to warm up a bit, and got heavy and slushy by the afternoon (and too hot to keep much more than a t-shirt on!). Saturday it had obviously iced up over night, but the clouds were back, bringing a horrible flat-light with them. Just as I was getting upset at the thought of missing the afternoon's skiing (in order to get back to Geneva for our return flight), the heavens opened and it started to rain heavily - not such bad timing after all - most of the group returned anyway.
Off-piste : We used limited amounts of off-piste, but what we did was very good with the fresh, deep snow.
The resort : A reasonably sized village, was able to walk from one end to the other within about ten minutes. Very few shops other than ski or souvenir shops. Nice atmosphere, particularly when I walked through in the warm sun on Friday with live music being played on the balcony of one of the bars. It's an easy place to work your way around, with a number of free bus routes. There are a number of things to be doing, swimming pools, bowling, ice skating (or even ice karting) to name but a few apres-ski activities on offer (other than the obvious!). Very pretty - with the traditional look requirement really creating an exceptionally attractive village.
Food : The food in the hotel was pretty appalling - the starters and puddings at both lunch and dinner were vile and the breakfast was limited to some cardboard cereal (so bad was breakfast that mine consisted entirely of 5 cups of tea and 4 cups of orange juice each morning!). The main courses were okay, but that may be a bit generous. I did eat 'out' one lunch time - it was decided to have a packed lunch for the slopes rather than returning to the hotel. So I and a few teachers took the opportunity to bankrupt ourselves above Meribel and Courcheval with a â‚¬17 lunch (a bit of pasta and a diet coke) - it was however bloody lovely and very filling. Best meal of the week, all I wanted to do was sleep that afternoon.
Accommodation : With the exception of the food, the hotel we stayed at (Chalet Jeunesse et Famille) was fantastic. The staff very friendly and all (except the manager ) spoke excellent English - one of the bar staff even taught us some fantastic drinking games, including 'Grande Poulet' (big chicken). They also went to great lengths to prepare the disco for our theme night (well, it was a school trip). The hotel itself was just around the corner from a lift and a home run, but being the end of the season, both were shut. We also had a bar (with karaoke) about 15m from the hotel! We used our coach to go down to the slopes each morning, but there wasn't much need as the free ski bus stopped literally outside the hotel's entrance.
Costs: The price of the trip for paying pupils was a fantastic Â£580, including a full apres-ski programme, full board (including three-course cooked lunch), ski hire, lessons, accommodation, transport and ski pass. Essentially everything. Other costs however were quite high, as opposed to the â‚¬3 for a pint in Bardonecchia last year, it was not unusual to be paying in excess of â‚¬5.50 - nearly twice the price. Also, the mountain restaurants were a bit expensive, nice though it was, my pasta and coke was worth (even by mountain restaurant standards) far less than â‚¬17 (a bowl of chips was â‚¬7 alone!).
Conclusion: We agreed that this was probably the best ski trip the school has run for a number of years, the resort was fantastic, the skiing exceptional and the general feel of the place really good. Queues at lifts were unlike anything I've ever encountered in France before, even with short queues you expect pushing and shoving in France, and there was none that I experienced.
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