Méribel Celebrates 80 Years of History
This year, the beautiful ski resort of Méribel will have been running for 80 years, and with it comes a whole host of celebrations. We’re taking a look at the history of the resort, and what made it the favoured resort that it is today.
Many people, and certainly Méribel veterans, will know that Méribel was discovered by Scottish Major, Peter Lindsey in 1936, with the first lift, a télétraineau, being built in 1938 and marking the official opening date of the resort. This lift was a 31 seat sled, pulled by a fixed cable and trudged skiers up to a height of 1900m. A far cry from the high-speed lifts we now have operating in resort.
In the same year, building work on hotels began, alongside carefully selected architects. This was when the vision of Méribel was first conceived, and why you now see all of the buildings in the resort, even today, succinct with a distinctive alpine feel – and not a high rise building in sight. Right at the beginning of the creation of the resort, it was stated that buildings had to remain below a certain height, and use natural materials such as slate and wood. Keeping the fir trees in the area meant that the buildings have always sat amongst the nature and wildlife that today you still frequently see. This has kept the resort’s charm, unlike resorts such as Val Thorens where you are greeted by high rise grey buildings. The intention to blend the buildings into the surrounding nature has certainly been maintained, even 80 years later.
When the war started in 1939 the Savoie region was taken over by German forces, and Méribel stood as a centre for the resistance, until work could continue. When work did continue, if Lindsey couldn’t afford to pay people he would offer them land in exchange; one of the reasons why much of Méribel has been owned by local French families for as long as the resort has existed.
By the 1950s, after just 15 or so years of the resort having begun, Méribel already had 50 chalets, 17 hotels and an impressive 4 ski lifts, 80 years later there are 166 lifts to take you around Méribel. Amazingly, at this time the first nightclub, the Shangri-la also existed – now known as O’Sullivan’s, and formerly as the infamous Dick’s Tea Bar.
When the next decade arrived, the altiport area was created, providing a new way of arriving to resort, and also what would become a fabulous beginner’s area. Méribel continued to expand over the next few years, naturally expanding and eventually expanding as far as Mottaret, which was created in 1972, but by the Savoy Council. The area of Mottaret still operates separately from Méribel. Whilst sitting under the same umbrella, they operate a different lift company and are run separately (not that the average visitor would suspect this, as they run alongside Méribel).
Once Méribel and Mottaret had found their footing and gained more size, then was the time to start creating the snow-sure areas, and as such the first snow cannons arrived. Méribel now boasts over 65% of the resort covered by snowmaking facilities and a new reservoir to support this.
Every part of Méribel hosts an important story, and each building and event over the last 80 years has contributed to the beautiful resort it is today. In 1992, Méribel hosted the Women’s Alpine Ski and Ice Hockey events at the Olympics which brought with it a new level of modernisation, one which still stands in full use today. This included the Parc Olympic Sports Centre which today still houses the ice rink, a large swimming pool and various other facilities from Bowling to a Spa. This also prompted the introduction of the Olympe Gondola, which runs from Brides Les Bains to Méribel Centre, passing through Les Allues and Raffort en route. One of the few lifts which does feel as though it was built a long time ago!
The inter-connection of Méribel’s 15 villages continued in 1998 when the Golf chairlift was built, bringing Méribel Village into the accessible resorts.
80 years on, and Méribel now boasts 1000 hectares from Les Allues at 1100m, all the way up to Mottaret, with top points of 2700m. They have a permanent population of around 2,000 people and a total capacity of 36,000 beds. Out of 300 ski resorts, it has been named one of the ‘Top of the French Alps’ and is now linked with Val Thorens and Courchevel. Named ‘The Heart of the 3 Valleys’, Méribel is also the oldest of the three.
The name ‘Méribel’ originates from the Latin “Mirare Bellum” meaning “The point from where the view is beautiful”, and being one of the only resorts to house a Nature Reserve, Lac Tueda, it certainly does maintain its name.
Méribel, even amidst continuing building work and new chalets popping up, continues to maintain its beauty while blending with the surrounding environment. It is not unusual to come across deer, or wild boar whilst driving or walking around the more remote areas of the resort at night.
Méribel will celebrate 80 years on the 28th of February on the Chaudanne with “A ski show inspired by Olympics Games Ceremonies. A look back at sports, fashions, technical and architectural evolutions of the resort”. This will be an event not to be missed, and you can find more information on their website.
In keeping with the beauty of Méribel, our luxury chalets perfectly compliment the surrounding nature in their exclusive locations. See our full collection now.