Being asked to provide a guide to the ‘best’ off-piste in Meribel is a rather unenviable task since it really comes down to personal preference. But at the risk of being shot down in flames I’ll stick out my neck and suggest you might like to try some or all of the following in what is turning out to be an absolutely epic season here in the Three Valleys.
Needless to say you should carry avy gear, know how to use it, check on snow conditions before you go and if in any doubt at all about the safety of a particular slope give it a miss – you can always come back another time. Even better, employ a guide.
1. Roc de Fer to St-Martin
I’m not alone in enjoying this run – I did it recently with a dude named Raoul from Magic Ski School who also considers it one of the best. “You’re away from the lifts, the people, the noise, in the heart of the mountains and it’s so easy to access; it’s also good for skiers who don’t want anything too challenging,” said Raoul.
Access is from the top of the Olympic chair. Simply ski straight off the chair and directly ahead and below lies 600m or so of gently angled wide open powder fields. As it gets tracked out just head skier’s left or right to find your own line. You’ll eventually come to a small stream valley and some widely spaced trees and shrubs, which you snake through to hit the lower section of the blue Biolley run in to St-Martin. This is a predominantly south-facing slope so you’ll need cold conditions or spring snow to get it at its best.
2. Roc de Fer to Le Raffort
Another great option off the top of the Olympic chair is to head right along the obvious ridge and ski back down to Le Raffort, the mid-station on the Olympe gondola from Brides-les-Bains. Stop and enjoy the views down into Meribel and across to the Mont Blanc massif before you hit the pow.
The drop off gets more gentle the further you go along the ridge, and will take you into lovely, rolling slopes which funnel down into widely spaced trees. You’ll eventually hit a few whoop-de-doops as you descend onto the red Raffort pistes and the gondola.
3. Côte Brune
There are two options here. If you can catch one of the first of the Côte Brune chairs on a powder day, simply hop off the top and ski straight back down under the chair. This is slackcountry rather than backcountry since you’re always in easy reach of the piste (and in full view of everyone on the lift – best be on top form!) but it gives you nearly 500m of wide, open descent on varying but never too challenging pitches, and since its north facing it’s usually in good condition.
When this gets tracked out head down Venturon red and after a few hundred metres take skier’s left and traverse beneath 3 Marches, which will take you around the back of a large rock tower to access a steep bowl that eventually spits you out onto the bottom of Venturon.
If you want it steep and deep this is a good option. From the top of Plattieres 3 gondola drop off the Mouflon piste back down beneath the lift line and towards Sitelle piste. The fact that you’re always close to pistes, lifts and humanity doesn’t detract from the excitingly steep couloir at the start of this run, and although the couloir opens out lower down the run, the pitch remains pretty consistent throughout. I did this a couple of days ago and it was one of the best runs of the day – waist-deep powder in places and face shots on the top turns.
5. The Spot
Turn left off the top of the long Roc de Tougne drag-lift, cross the Lagopède piste and you’ll come to the ‘Spot’. It’s a fun and quite steep descent all the way down to the Sitelle piste, with a number of options for access, all of them requiring a bit of steep traversing and a small drop in before the real action begins. The slope is wide as well as steep so you can spread out and enjoy yourself even if there are a few of you skiing it.
If the weather is socked in, consider heading up the Loze chair above Altiport, since beneath it and off the side of Pic Blue and Tétras pistes is that rare thing in Meribel, trees. The pitch is gentler off the side of Pic Bleu although the trees climb higher up the hillside here, and the spacing of the glades varies – you need to get in there and sniff around the find the best lines. Note however that the slope faces west so this is one for colder conditions.