Our 3rd and last winter here in France, it’s no surprise that we wanted to get as much out of the Alps as we possibly could before we move back to (mostly) sunny South Carolina.
This time around, we had to do a little more planning on the front end, now that we have a little furry friend to make plans for.
My good friend, Marie-Sophie’s daughter-in-law, Aude, lives in Clermont and, newly married, she is studying full-time for her upcoming professional exams and was going to be in town over the holidays. Thankfully, she was up for the challenge!!
We enjoyed a lazy week leading up to Christmas and after getting Aude all squared away in our apartment for a week full of CoCo, we were off to the Alps.
Unlike previous Alps trips, we were a little late out of the gates. It’s funny looking back, because when we first moved here, we’d heard legendary stories about the traffic jams leading to the Alps. So, the first year, we left the night before and stayed in Lyon, just to be an hour and a half closer and a chance at an early start and avoiding the traffic. Last year, we left at 7am and still did pretty well avoiding traffic all in all, what should last 3.5-4 hours, it was probably a 4.5 hour trip. This year, we didn’t end up leaving until 9:30a. And we didn’t arrive to Méribel until 4:30. Yuck.
Once we hit traffic, our google maps “time remaining” stayed at 2 hours for over 2 hours. Sometimes, it even went backwards. Miss Google even re-routed us, but when we took the exit she was directing us to take off the highway, we were stopped by the Gendarmerie, the highway patrol, redirecting us back onto the highway, they weren’t allowing people to take that detour and wanted everyone using the autoroute only. Ugh. At that point, though I had packed some snacks/drinks/you name it, we had to stop. Maybe we could find lunch?
We got off at the only notable rest stop we came across, but unfortunately, so did the rest of France.
It was so crowded inside the rest stop, you literally couldn’t walk. There was a restaurant with a serving line where every single person was waiting to get whatever food was being served and even longer lines for the bathroom. Owen and I thought we’d be smart and head to the “convenience store” part of the rest stop, only to find that it was almost as bad. People were grabbing whatever off the shelves, but there wasn’t much that interested us. We have never really gotten to the point where chicken/mayonnaise or, say, salmon/mayonnaise sandwiches, foie gras or rillettes have sounded good enough to grab over snacks. So snacks is what we returned to the car with. And lucky for us, we found a separate little building with 2 toilettes and almost no wait.
Apparently, long traffic jams increase the level of all basic needs. Including coffee. Though we needed it, it wasn’t worth the wait. We never even got coffee! Which I”m not sure I could’ve survived if you’d told me that ahead of time.
We arrived to Méribel and a beautiful setting sun over the mountains. Sunsets in December take place at 4:30!
Our place was on the main street (Rue des Jeux Olympiques) in Méribel Center, where we’ve stayed the last 2 years. Luckily we are really familiar with the area now and were able to park, get bindings adjusted on our skis, grocery shop and check in with the agency all within 30 minutes once we arrived!
First night back was to Barometer, a great spot on main street where we’d been with the Springharts last year.
I couldn’t wait to have the escargot again. Since I didn’t have Pat to eat them with me I was able to talk Charlie into trying one.
They come soaked in the yummiest garlic butter and, when you throw in some bread, they are to die for!
The next morning, it was time to hit the slopes! We decided to put the boys in french ski school this year, as opposed to the English-speaking school we’d used the last 2 years- Parallel Lines. ESF (École du Ski Française) is the biggest ski school in France and uses a different level system. After living in France for awhile, and talking about skiing with their friends, etc. the boys have been curious what their “French” level is, so we signed them up. It also happened to be 1/2 the cost and 2.5 hours each morning as opposed to the 4 hours they’d done the last 2 years.
As always, the first morning is a little rough getting back in the routine of putting on all the layers of long johns, pants, coats, hats, sunblock, and buckling into boots (not easy), carrying skis/poles, not to mention there is no sleeping in when you have ski school! So we were all a little grouchy but were so excited to be on the slopes again!
This guy is always ready to hop onto his skis 🙂
While the boys were at school, we jumped in.
It was a gorgeous sunny day with not one cloud in the bluest blue sky.
I was so happy to see Mont Blanc again. Such a majestic peak that sits above everything else.
Our most favorite spot in all of the valleys we’ve skied was Les Cretes at the top of Tugnette 2. This was also the best place to grab a coffee and take in the views, so we of course, headed there first….
but when we arrived, it was closed up! We were so sad. So we settled for a quick coffee at the top of Loze lift instead.
After grabbing the boys and a quick sandwich, we spent the afternoon skiing some more.
It’s normal to be rusty the first day. But the boys seemed to get off to a great start! I could definitely already see a change from last year, in all 3 of them!
In the past, Wells was usually spent after about 2pm and one of us would usually take him back to the apartment to chill.
But this year, we pushed him a little. There aren’t many beginner slopes at Méribel and the ones that you can find are often followed by some steeper blues that you have to take to get to the bottom. It took some encouragement, but got him to try some more difficult blues and get his confidence up so that he’d believe he could ski harder stuff, stuff that we could all do together!
And there might have been a slight bit of bribery involved that first day as well.
He and I called it a day a bit early for something hot to drink while Charlie, Chuck and Owen kept going.
Lapin. We spent lots of time on this one this year in the afternoons. It was a great mix of steep slopes intermixed with flatter trails.
The slopes close early in December (4:30 usually) since it gets dark so early! Day 1 in the books!
Charlie has absolutely fallen hard into love with skiing. Really from day one.
As someone who wouldn’t consider himself a “sports guy”, he has definitely found his niche. Over the last 2 years, he has skied all over the 3 Vallées and has an tireless thirst for more, higher, steeper, more challenging.
Blessed with really good balance and Chuck’s “map brain”, he is able to orient himself well regardless of where he is on the mountain. He is always trying to figure out which direction we are facing, where we are in which valley at any given time. In the month or two leading up to our ski trips, he spends time studying the map of the trails/slopes. He’s always reading about what new lifts and trails have been added, he even knows the elevation of all the different peaks and summits. It’s been such a great interest for him.
There has been one peak in particular that really has intrigued him, Dents du Bergin.
An interesting ragged looking peak, it looks like teeth and is therefore named as such. When we were still driving on the interstate through the valley before climbing the mountain into Méribel the first day, he could spot it from miles and miles away. The first day, he, Chuck and Owen skied down from there, but the second day, he took me.
The views from up there were incredible. He is able to capture views with my camera that I just can’t.
It makes me smile that he doesn’t even warn me when we are coming up on a steep red slope right below us. He just turns and heads down. Sometimes I think, he is my CHILD. If he can do it, I can do it. But he doesn’t look back, which might just mean he thinks I can keep up with him. Ha!
Skiing “en famille” continues to be one of the greatest things we have ever been able to do as a family. To me, it is such an incredible opportunity to support, encourage and challenge each other while spending time being active with nature. Everyone is together to help each other out in real time. There aren’t many other activities we’ve done that allow us this opportunity.
I feel like we each go into it with our own personal goals and everyone just cheers each other on. Sometimes, someone might doubt themselves. Or get stuck on a flat trail and be too tired to push. Sometimes, someone falls and the person lower down has to pop out of their skis to climb back up with a wayward pole or ski. Or someone takes the wrong turn and we wait. Sometimes, someone is too tired to carry their skis home. The whole thing is one big bonding experience.
That night, back at the apartment, I went to use the cooktop and after a flash and a complete blackout in the apartment, we were able to flip the switch in the fuse box and get the power back on, but not the cooktop, fridge, or microwave. The agency called an electrician to come, which, very luckily was around and working that Sunday night. He came by and after lots of disassembling, crawling around underneath the counter, etc. he told us that the cooktop wiring had been incorrectly installed, that it had been irreversibly damaged and would need to be replaced. He was able to get the other things to turn back on, but there would be cooktop. No scrambled eggs or pancakes for breakfast. No special Beef Ragu recipe for New Years Eve. It was looking like we were either going to have to eat out at night, or get creative with a meal we could “cook” in the microwave. Yikes.
The next morning, Chuck and I wanted to go to an area we’d never been to, Mont du Vallon. At 2952 m elevation, it is the highest peak in Méribel that you can get to by lift (the higher ones don’t have lifts up to them) and also the highest point he or I have ever been on earth during our lifetime!
It was so clear and blue, we could see forever.
How is it that Mont Blanc looks similar in height when it’s even 1900 meters higher than even this?
Day 2 of ski school in the books!
For lunch, O and I were craving smoothie bowls, so we decided to go to Arctic Coffee on the main street. It’s the only coffee/smoothie/juice bar in Méribel that we know of. But last year, the chef had quit and they were out of so many things the few times we visited (one time, even milk!) that we joked about it all year. They were in such bad shape, there was NO way they could still be open. But we were surprised to find them still there when we got back to Méribel. There was no way they could be out of everything again. Right?
Chuck had wanted something to eat but they were out of chicken and weren’t going to be serving any wraps or sandwiches that day. So he opted for a another sandwich from the man at the carousel. Charlie and Wells got crepes, Owen got his acaí bowl and I was happy to have my cookie dough smoothie.
It was a nice change and it was so nice out, we sat outside in the sun to warm up before going back up the mountain.
Owen had a tough afternoon, he’d twisted his knee and then fell again with his skis wayward, twisting the same knee. He was toast by mid-afternoon.
He was past the point of no return. Which meant….Early aprés-ski!
And after hot showers and street clothes, dinner at one of THE best- Brewer’s Den.
A hole in the wall owned by some peeps from the UK. They have the BEST wings with Alabama sauce. As I’ve said in other Méribel posts, one of the other things we love besides the skiing and beautiful scenery is the variety of restaurants! Suuuuuch a nice break to have non-French food sometimes!
Afterwards, we stopped by the SPAR, smallish, and not super fancy, but easily the nicest grocery store in Méribel. Unfortunately, we got there at 7:30 on the night before New Year’s Eve which meant that everyone else was there the last 30 minutes it was open also, stocking up on all their party food.
We had decided before we left Clermont to make a Beef Ragu recipe that Chuck had found and brought most of what we needed from home, but what we thought would be a quick stop at the butcher’s counter turned into a 30 minute wait on one couple in front of us who ordered no less than 8 different kinds of charcuterie… each one had to be the perfect thickness, the perfect marbling, etc etc etc. When it was finally my turn, I left with my meat for “3 people”, which ended up being enough for 10!
For lunch the next day, since we hadn’t had any luck trying to get into the restaurants down at the base of the mountain, we decided to stop at a Brasserie in Méribel Village, a little village a bit higher up the slopes with a few restaurants. It’s tucked at the bottom of Lapin, next to the Golf lift.
It was great to find an area that was much less crowded and more relaxed. And the food was pretty good!
After lunch, we skied a bit and then W and I headed back. He and I were both super spent. I wanted to get dinner started, but first, a nap. I never nap!
I ended up sleeping until 5. When I woke up, it was dark and I wanted to get dinner going because I knew with the portable 1 burner cooktop, it would take a lot longer haha. And I had lots of chopping to do.
The boys got home and all 3 couldn’t stop talking about the sunset they’d seen.
As I fired up the portable one burner grill, I could not get it to stay on. Every time I would turn it on, it would turn right back off. After about 20 minutes, some cursing and a vision of us eating cereal as we sipped our champagne, Chuck walked back over to the rental agency to fill them in. As a kind gesture, they offered to pay for a meal out at a restaurant, but we wanted to stay in our cozy chalet rather than eat more pub food (all the other restaurants had been filled by reservation days ago) and by the way, we had all this food and no way to cook it! The kind woman said she’d be right over. By the time she arrived with a nice bottle of Moët & Chandon and some coloring books for the kids, we had tried several different pots and finally found a big one which was large enough to activate the induction burner. Things should not be this difficult!
At 6:30, there were fireworks over the mountain. In the midst of all the ragu drama, I sadly missed the torch descent, where all the ski instructors ski down with torches in the dark. We loved that last year. But it was fun once again to be able to see fireworks from our balcony.
And dinner was not great, but edible….
The next day, Chuck had to visit the infirmary in the morning to have some stitches removed and the boys were in ski school, so I was on my own.
Knowing how directionally challenged I am, I was a bit nervous to be on my own without either of my navigators. It is VERY easy to get lost in a ski station this big… some trails connect from one valley to the other just by a fork in the trail and I had gotten lost in the past- once when Chuck was far ahead and I took the wrong turn, another time I got separated from our whole family. Ugh! It is a real struggle for me to avoid getting lost.
That morning, the lift lines and trails were much less crowded so I decided to take advantage and ski an area we hadn’t been to yet this year. I made a few runs with no problems and on the lift back up in another direction, I started having this overwhelming feeling that I wanted to ski Face, a black run that we had passed a few times. Never having skied a black in my life, we’ve skied lots of reds by this point and I’m completely ok with staying right there. No need to ski anything harder. Skiing Face had come up in conversation between Chuck, Charlie and I, but none of us had done it yet. I was extra curious about it because it is slope where the 2022 World Championship competition will be held. It is in a more quiet, newer area of Méribel that feels almost untouched, it’s is much less crowded and absolutely beautiful.
I got off the lift and skied toward it, thinking that I might just ski past it and maybe decide at the last minute. So at the fork, I went left, following the black signs for Face. There were a few reds listed alongside it, so I figured I could always take one of those if I chickened out.
The further I headed down, I realized that there was only option ahead of me. Face and only Face. Pure panic spread over me as I looked down to my right. I looked back up to see if maybe there was another way. There was not.
There was no one around and after talking myself off the ledge, I started to work my way down. It was definitely the steepest slope I have ever skied but I took my time and tried to remember how I would ski any other slope.
In the end I made it down with all my arms and legs intact! I was so excited (and relieved) but I didn’t even have Chuck or Charlie to share it with.
The 5 of us met at ski school pickup and Chuck had packed a picnic lunch which we would have up on the slopes. It was nice because we could avoid the crowd and then we be ready to ski again quickly.
There are lots of picnic tables here and there for picnicking. The boys had so much fun playing in the snow and even a food fight. It’s been a few years since we’ve had snow or a backyard to play in it so W loved making snow angels in snow so deep he made his own cut out shape. Owen purposefully got himself stuck.
The next few days were more of the same. Lots of great skiing under a bright blue sunny sky with not a cloud.
As the week went on, we skied higher and higher with Wells each afternoon. It was exhilarating to be up on higher slopes all together and I tried to take it all in…
Luckily, though he was tired at times, he rallied. The longer rides up the mountains were the perfect break!
A few times, we came upon signs like this…. Avalanche warnings. Yikes! We were so lucky because, besides the weather, we escaped some risky days just before we arrived. There were a few days the week before where the slopes were closed and the Avalanche risk score was 5/5. But this week, it was back down to 2.
Thursday, we skied St. Martin, another valley. Longer, less crowded trails through the wide open valley with beautiful views.
And where we had our first Irish Coffee ever in Méribel.
Thursday night, C and I had a date night, our first in 3 years at Méribel:) We’d never been at a point where we were ready to leave the boys but this year, we were in a great location near so many great bars and restaurants.
Some friends of ours had stayed at Le Savoy, a boutique hotel with a great cozy bar, so we went there first.
Chuck had an old fashioned, me- champagne. They brought cute little aperos to nibble on too. I was in love with these tiny sardine cans!
After searching for a spot to have dinner and striking out (lots of places require reservations during such a busy week), we were so lucky to find 2 seats at the bar at Copiña, a tiny Spanish tapas bar right next to our condo which we’d been eying up for the last few years.
It was really a fun meal. We watched the bartender make these incredible drinks using cloches, smokers and all sorts of interesting techniques.
And some of the best patatas bravas we’ve had.
The last day, Friday was testing for the boys at ski school. Unlike previous years, this seemed to be a “bigger deal” through ESF. We heard lots of parents talking about it at drop off and the boys had told us about the skills they needed to know to “pass” the test and get their medal.
Owen seemed to be the most nervous. He’s definitely at a point where he’s transitioning from intermediate to more advanced and with it comes learning more difficult things as the week went on. I really saw such a big improvement with him.
O really seems to enjoy skiing and is always lots of fun to ski with because he’s always nearby, whether behind you or right below you.
He is a smart and cautious skier.
All went well and the boys earned their stars! Owen- 3 and Wells-1. They were thrilled.
Our last day of skiing was great. Wells had a big spill which scuffled him up a little and gave him some battle scars on his chin (like last year), but he got right back on his skis and we said a silent prayer of thanks for helmets.
Each time we visit Méribel, we realize how lucky we are to be there and we do our best to live in the moment, recognizing that only our masterful God could create mountains like this, beauty like this.
I love these pics that we took because it reminds me of just how small we are in this big beautiful world.
We will come back one last time in February and then we will say goodbye.