For Vincent Lalanne, Director of the Three Valleys Association in France, there are two kinds of après-ski. The first is the type when you don’t actually stop skiing. One of his favourite ways to end the day is to go ski touring up to the Col de la Loze, above Courchevel, with his wife Magali. “At the top, we look out over the lights of the resort and the mountain summits under the stars,” he says. “It’s so calm and beautiful.”
The second type involves a glass or two of vin chaud…
Fortunately for him, he lives in the Three Valleys – the largest interconnected ski area in the world – so he can have both. Here, he’s asked six long-time residents where to toast a big day on the mountain.
The Rond-Point, Meribel
Recommended by Marco Pietrini of the New Generation ski school. Marco grew up in the town of Susa in Piemonte, not far from Sauze d’Oulx, and spent his childhood skiing the Milky Way. He started teaching in Meribel in 2009.
No holiday in Méribel is complete without an afternoon at the Ronnie. Just below the midpoint of the Rhodos gondola, this epic après bar is best known for its daily diet of live music, and its vast terrace overlooking the piste. It’s a natural gathering point as the lifts start to close, and comes to the boil between 5 and 6.30pm. On a big night, it’s half-way between a mosh pit and a North Face fashion shoot.
To get the party started, you can share a bottle of toffee vodka with your friends or grab a few pitchers of beer. But whatever you’re drinking, get in several rounds at once, because you don’t want to spend your evening fighting to get to the bar. I’ve seen people body surfing to reach it. Going to the loo is a lot easier, by the way. They’ve installed a slide to get you down to the lower floor without mishap.
Once the sun goes down, the party starts to wind down and everyone heads back to their chalets for dinner – or maybe to one of the bars in Méribel Centre if they’re in the mood. Fortunately, there’s no need to ski down, if you’re feeling wobbly. The road to the top of the resort winds past the bar and there’s a bus stop nearby.
The Cheval Blanc and Le Mangeoire, Courchevel
Recommended by Neal Manuel. Neal set up the holiday company Flexiski in the late 1980s, and moved to Courchevel for the 92/93 season. “Having sold the company just before the Millennium, I thought I’d leave and try some other resorts,” he says. “But, there is nowhere like the Three Valleys. It really does have something for everyone.” Not surprisingly, he knows Courchevel inside out – and shares his expertise through tailor-made ski-holiday specialist Green to Black.
Dancing in ski boots is definitely not for me. I prefer to get changed, and meet for an aperitif. The bar at the Cheval Blanc is my favourite. The drinks are expensive, but the canapés you get with them are excellent, and they’re effectively your first course for dinner.
The clientele’s a real mix – hotel guests, people who are staying in posh chalets and want to get out for while, and the odd French seasonnaire. People tell me it’s where the famous people go, too. But I don’t know who any of them are, so I’m oblivious. It’s just a really nice, civilised place for a drink.
After dinner, there’s only one place for me; Le Mangeoire. It’s a restaurant, but it also has a bar where you can have a drink. It’s totally over-the-top. People get very drunk, and they’ll do things there they wouldn’t be seen dead doing back home. It’s absolutely brilliant.
The Lodge du Village and the Barometer, Meribel
Recommended by Julie Pomagalski. One-time member of the Ski Club de Meribel, and World Snowboarding Champion in 2004, Julie also competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics. After a spell in Annecy, she’s back in Meribel, and is a ski instructor in the Three Valleys.
A lot of people start their apres-ski up at the Folie Douce, but afterwards I like to ski down to Le Lodge du Village, in Meribel Village. It gets the sun in the afternoon and there’s some superb skiing amongst the trees if you want it.
The whole of Meribel Village is in there at the end of the day – holidaymakers, seasonnaires, a sprinkling of locals – and they’re all out on the terrace if it’s sunny. There’s usually a live band or DJ, too. I always drink beer when I’m there: they serve their own Alpine-brewed IPA.
Later on, Barometer is the place – whether it’s before, during or after dinner (it’s also a restaurant). It’s run by an Englishman, Clive, and there’s a real mix of people in there, both British and French, visitors and long-term residents. It’s right in the centre of town, next to the bakery, and it has a lovely atmosphere. It’s not too wild, although just occasionally, when everyone’s in the mood, it can be.
Fire and Ice and La Cabane, Courchevel Moriond
Recommended by Nick Morgan. Nick was just 21 when he took a healthy slice of Yorkshire common sense, and applied it to the chalet market in Courchevel. That was in 1982 – and his company Le Ski has been in Courchevel Moriond ever since.
If I’ve just clicked out of my skis, then I’ll go to Fire and Ice at the Hotel Portetta, at the foot of the slopes in Courchevel Moriond. It’s a “guests” kind of place, rather than a seasonaire’s haunt, so it’s vibrant but not too loud or messy. You can actually hear each other talk! I like the fire pits best – they’re great place to sit with a warming glass of vin chaud (which is definitely not your average cheapo stuff).
Later on, once I’m out of my ski boots, I’ll go to the Cabane, in the centre of Moriond. It’s literally a cabin, plonked on the pavement; it has funky music, great cocktails, low lighting and a cool vibe. It’s a little hidden away and lots of people pass it without realising what it is.
Le Pourquoi Pas, St Martin de Belleville
Recommended by Ruth Downey. Ruth first skied in St Martin de Belleville 10 years ago, and was blown away by the place. “It’s so traditional and charming,” she says, “and yet you’re in the midst of the Three Valleys.” In 2013 she returned to set up White Mountain Chalets with her husband James. The company has recently joined forces with another St Martin chalet specialist, The Alpine Club.
Le Pourquoi Pas is nestled in heart of the village, by the church, and it’s very “St Martin” in style – a lot more Ed Sheeran than Lady Gaga. It has vaulted ceiling, a big open fire and lots of candles – and most British holidaymakers and expats make a bee-line for it at the end of the day. It feels very personal and homely, and they do live music there from 4 o’clock on some afternoons. It’s about 30 seconds walk from the bottom of the slopes, so you can go there in your ski boots. It’s a great place for a glass of Malbec or a Leffe – although this year the new owners are featuring local craft beers too.
That said, if I’m up in Val Thorens I am quite partial to a glass of champagne and a dance on the tables at La Folie Douce – as are some of our guests! So we run a pick-up service from Val Thorens or Les Menuires at the end of the day for anyone who wants to join the party.
La Folie Douce, Val Thorens and the Skilt Bar, Les Menuires
Recommended by Francesca Smith, co-founder of Three Valleys specialist Powder N Shine – which offers catered chalet holidays in Reberty, the cute, low-rise suburb of Les Menuires. She’s lived in the Three Valleys since 2009.
You can’t really go wrong with La Folie Douce in Val Thorens. Euro-beats, sparkling wine showers, table-top dancing, cameos by saxophonists, live MCs/singers: they’ve got the lot. The crowds that form here can be immense, especially when there are big student groups in town. Bear in mind, however, that everyone has to ski back down to the resort, so the party stops at 5pm. Is there such a thing as pre-apres-ski? If so, this is it.
Down here in Les Menuires, the Skilt Bar is the place. By day more of an restaurant – with lots of seating both inside and out – this snowfront venue on La Croisette transforms into a classic après bar, complete with happy hour incentives, lots of live music, and regular open mic contests.
Do you have any recommendations you’d like to add to the list? We’d love to see them! Just add them to the comments box below. For more on the Three Valleys, check out our features on the best skiing and the best restaurants in the area.