Review of Les Menuires : The gateway to the Three Valleys

Les Menuires is the perfect base to explore the Three Valleys and has some of the best off-piste terrain right on its doorstep.

A review of Les Menuires

Traditionally, British skiers have flocked to the glitzier resorts of Meribel and Courchevel, but, as Bob Dylan used to sing, “the times they are a-changin’” and Les Menuires is now seen as a valid contender.  It is certainly kinder on the wallet and overall is better value for money than its neighbours.

My colleague and I arrived just before 3pm on a sunny, late March day.  We had been delayed at the airport and thought there was no chance that we would get any slope time that day.

But, we were glad to find out that the last lifts stop at 5pm, so as soon as we checked in to our hotel, we tipped our bags out and got changed faster than Superman in a phone booth, then hit the slopes!

We only had about an hour and a half of slope time so we stuck to the local slopes of Les Menuires.  We may have not had long, but the chairlifts and gondolas were fast and had no queues.  The conditions of the slopes were great, and it was a perfect warm up for what lay ahead.

Les Menuires – Off-piste on La Masse

For our first full day we met up with Jacquier Romain from ESF who was our guide for the day.  Both Luke and I expected Jacquier to want to take us cruising around the Three Valleys, so we were surprised when he threw us a couple of avalanche kit bags.

Instead of heading up towards Val Thorens, Jacquier led us up the mountain of La Masse in the opposite direction.  After a couple of fast and furious chairlifts (the Rocher Noir and the Lac Noir), we hiked up a distance of 260m to La Gratte, at an altitude of 2638m.

It was a baking hot morning and the 20-minute hike was hard work, but the stunning views from the top made it all worthwhile.  This is a side of the Three Valleys that many do not explore so we were the only people as far as the eye could see. Everything was so tranquil, with the only sound being our breathing.

Off Piste at Les Menuires, 3 Valleys, France

After a short break we dropped in and snowboarded through the soft and untouched powder.  Our descent was effortless as we snaked our way down in long arcing turns.

We made a few traverses across steep and challenging slopes with a few rocks and trees to contend with, but for the most part we were simply surfing the powder.

After a 1km descent, we finished our off-piste adventure at the bottom of Le Bettex lift.  This has to go down as one of the best experiences of my life! It was an adventure that you can only have if you know the area really well or have an expert guide and we were indebted to Jacquier for his expertise and detailed local knowledge.  Riding on a high, we decided to stop for a well-earned lunch!

riding off piste at Les Menuires, 3 valleys, France

Val Thorens and Folie Douce

With fast chairlifts and gondolas, Les Menuires is the perfect base for exploring the Three Valleys.  So, after lunch we headed up to Val Thorens which shares the same valley and is easy to get to.  Being Europe’s highest resort, it has guaranteed snow and has some wonderful runs.  It was slightly more congested than Les Menuires, but not enough to cause a problem and we had an excellent afternoon exploring the area.

Of course, we had to have a drink at the famous Folie Douce – after all, it would be rude not to!  For those who don’t know, Folie Douce is a chain of lively and extravagant mountain bars, where revellers dance on the tables, orchestrated by a DJ and fellow musicians (often in fancy dress) that inject the mixed tunes with live rifts from saxophones and other instruments.

It is great fun and well worth experiencing.  Val Thorens is directly above Les Menuires so it is easy to ski/snowboard down at the end of the day.

On our second full day we decided to keep local(ish) and explore more of the valley.  We headed up towards Meribel before exploring the many blue and red runs winding back down. The pistes were in excellent condition and not hard packed at all.  All the lifts were fast and efficient without any bottle neck queues.

Enjoying the sunshine, we enjoyed a long and leisurely lunch at the Chez Pépé Nicolas’ Restaurant.

La Folie Douce at the 3 Valleys, France

La Tyrolienne Zipline

After lunch we headed over to Orelle to have a ride on La Tyrolienne Zipline.  Travelling at over 100km/h over a distance of 1300m, it was two minutes of pure exhilaration.

I have never been great with heights so considering I was going to be suspended at 250m above ground, it is fair to say I was quite nervous about the prospect.  But as soon as I set off I had only feelings of pure joy as I glided silently through the air.

The start is reached by the Bouchet chairlift and is at the Three Valleys peak with an altitude of 3230m. The zipline run finishes at the top of the Thorens Funitel.  In case you were wondering, my snowboard was fixed onto the back of my harness.

En-route to Orelle, we snowboarded down the Combe de Rosael. This is a steep, long, and very enjoyable black run that is reached via the Cime Caron gondola. Not for the faint hearted, it was almost as exhilarating as La Tyrolienne Zipline – but not quite!

La Tyrolienne Zipline - The 3 Valleys

Meribel

On our final day we had an airport transfer booked for late afternoon, so had almost a full day on the slopes to explore more of the Three Valleys area.

We started by heading up and over to Meribel.  It was a cloudy start to the day and on our first proper run down into the next valley we had to contend with white-out conditions, although it soon cleared.

Heading down into Meribel was the busiest we had seen the slopes.  At one section, two narrow cat tracks merged together between pistes and it was like the M4 merging with the M25 in rush-hour with the sheer number of skiers converging on it.  This was the only bottleneck we encountered on the whole trip and it wasn’t much of a problem as it was only for a short distance.

Courchevel

Not hanging around, we headed straight over into the next valley heading down to Courchevel 1850, then to Courchevel La Praz and across to La Tania.

The blue runs down to Courchevel 1850 were so much fun. With perfect piste conditions I practised  my carving with long arcing turns.  We also had so many natural features to enjoy including side hits to pop off and my favourite, high snow banks at the side of the slopes to ride up.  These were my favourite runs of the Three Valleys.

Adding to the fun factor, there is a superb family snow park at Courchevel.  Not wanting to go too big, I headed straight down the easy line which started with a tabletop, followed by four kickers.  The run was so well designed that I hardly had to change speed between each feature.

Courchevel - the 3 Valleys - CC Flickr image by Ian Gratton

The famous Jerusalem run – searching for the Holy Grail!

Time was running out as we had a plane to catch, but I could not leave the Three Valleys without snowboarding down the famous Jerusalem run.  This long run with gentle rollers winds its way down towards St.Martins from the top of Tougnete.  Although signposted, Jerusalem is not the easiest run to find and it felt like we were searching for the Holy Grail.  Especially as a married couple on the chairlift told us how lovely it was and promptly sent us in completely the wrong direction from the top!  I think they must be members of the Illuminati and were protecting their secret.

Jerusalem ski run - Google Images CC image by snow-trax

After taking the St Martins Express chairlift back up to the top, we snowboarded all the way back down to Les Menuires on the very enjoyable Gros Tougnes blue run.  At times it was ever so slightly slushy which only added to our enjoyment.

After grabbing a delicious pizza for a late lunch, we headed back to the hotel to pack. As we headed to the airport we could only reflect on what an amazing few days it had been.

Le Menuire Chalet Hotel and Spa

A lovely friendly hotel that is in easy reach of the hub of Les Menuires with a 5-10 minute walk.  It is even easier to reach the slopes as there is a dedicated ski path that runs from the hotel.

At the end of the day, a series of trails lead back down opposite the hotel.  We only successfully navigated these on the last day as they are easy to miss but worth the effort if you get on the right track!

Review of Les Menuires - Le Menuire Chalet Hotel and Spa

The rooms were quite basic but big and airy with comfortable beds.  We also had a balcony with a stunning view.

The spa area was the ideal place to unwind after a hard day on the slopes.  I particularly liked the sauna that has a large window overlooking the mountains – very surreal!

Although we did not have evening meals in the hotel, the breakfast was perfectly adequate with both hot and cold options.

Review of Les Menuires - Le Menuire Chalet Hotel and Spa - spa area

Where to eat…

On our first night we had a meal at Restaurant la Haut which is near the Les Menuires centre and overlooks the La Masse mountain side.

This is a large and pleasant restaurant with a warm, modern ambience without being pretentious. For our meal we were presented with a large hot stone where we could cook a large selection of slender pieces of all types of meat on it as well as vegetables.

It was delicious, although it could have been my culinary skills!

Restaurant la Haut - Les Menuires, The 3 Valleys, France

On the second night we had a meal at the Mongolian Yurt. This was quite an experience as we were picked up by a carriage towed by a skidoo that whisked us over the lower slopes to the restaurant.

The restaurant is a series of faux Mongolian tents which seat about 12 people in each.  The hard seating is in line with the Mongolian yurt style.

The subdued lighting and Mongolian yurt-style furniture added to the intimate atmosphere.  Surprisingly, the food was more French than Mongolian but was very enjoyable and we had a wonderful evening.

The Mongolian Yurt is highly recommended and an experience that will enhance your visit to Les Menuires.

Review of Les Menuires – Summary

Not only is Les Menuires an ideal resort to explore the Three Valleys, it also offers incredible off-piste terrain, right on its doorstep.

All the resorts in the Three Valleys have their virtue, and Les Menuires is no different with a certain charm that is unpretentious and typically French.  It is not a party town so is rather quieter than some of its neighbours, but this makes Les Menuires ideal for families and couples.

Les Menuires also does not tug those purse strings quite so hard, which is a big consideration when taking the family on a ski trip during school holidays.

In my opinion, you can’t get much better than the Three Valleys, and Les Menuires is the ideal portal to make it all happen!

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Mark Barber

Snowboard Editor at Snow.Guide

Firmly established within the snow sports industry, Mark Barber is Snowboard Editor of snow.guide. Mark has a solid background in snow sports and travel writing, as well as being an international published author.

Mark is also the manager of Jamie Barrow (Britain’s fastest snowboarder)

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