02 April 2017

Late-season skiing in Les Menuires

While many people are happy to see the back of winter, some of us can’t get enough of larking about in the snow – specifically on skis. There’s much to be said for late-season skiing – milder temperatures, longer days, lazy lunches on mountain restaurant terraces, generally quieter slopes and cheaper accommodation. The downsides? Well, be prepared for icy slopes first thing and slushy pistes at the bottom.

Altitude helps, of course. I was based in Les Menuires in the third valley that makes up the Trois Vallées, the largest ski domain in the world. The base village is at 1850m, but I was staying in Reberty at 2000m, which is right on the blue Boyes piste. It’s a newer, traditionally styled village that isn’t filled with the modernist architecture that makes Les Menuires one of the less aesthetically pleasing resorts in France.

But what Les Menuires lacks in beauty it more than makes up for in its ski area and ease of skiing to the other resorts in the Trois Vallées. I’d had a brief taste of it a few years ago when I stayed in its smaller neighbour, Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, and had wanted to come back and explore it properly. I’d known it had excellent skiing, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how good it was.

Over three gloriously sunny days, our ESF guide Jérôme (Saint-Martin native and all-round great chap) showed off the best of his resort. Long, wide, cruisey blue runs – including Grand Lac which started at 2,704m – snaked their way down to Saint-Martin and its extremely pretty village centre. If we wanted to, we could have swung into Méribel from several peaks. Instead we carried on back to Les Menuires and up to Reberty, where La Ferme de Reberty’s large sun-trap terrace was a convivial spot for a lunch of diots (smoked Savoyard sausages) and crozets (tiny pasta squares) smothered in melted Beaufort.

On the western side of Les Menuires is La Masse, another playground of wide blues and reds plus a few blacks that I left to more adventurous skiers. The long red Fred Covili run (named after a local champion skier) started just below the 2804m Pointe de la Masse and was an exhilarating way to get down the mountain before we had to endure the slushy lower-altitude run that led down to the village.

By the time we made it back over to the southern side of Les Menuires and up the Sunny Express, we had more than earned our lunch at Chalet du Sunny. While I was diving head first into a tartiflette, a party was getting under way on the slope side of the restaurant. Out came the silly hats, costumes and onesies as a Polish DJ and dancers did a fantastic job in re-creating the raucous atmosphere at La Folie Douce. It saved me the effort of having to trek over to Val Thorens – and back – to experience it first hand.

As it happened, Val Thorens was the destination for the final day, which was very easy to reach via the runs coming down from the 2786m Mont de la Chambre. Europe’s highest ski resort had a decidedly different atmosphere from its family-focused neighbour, appealing to a younger, rowdier crowd. It also has a giant ear-popping gondola that takes you up to Cîme Caron at a dizzying 3200m for superb views across the Maurienne Valley and over to Les Deux Alpes.

As we skied down towards the sinuous Cumin run that leads back to Les Menuires, I could see just how vast this area was – especially as we were heading all the way to Saint-Martin for lunch. Friendly family-run Le Corbeleys sorted out my cheese fixation with a bowl of gooey Beaufort ravioli.

If the lunches were superb, the evening meals were taken to another level in our catered chalet, Le Chamois, run by Powder N Shine. Professional chef Shaun Francome came up with one exquisite dish after another: succulent beef fillet, delicate goat’s cheese mousse, velvety white onion velouté and probably the best cheesecake I’d ever eaten. The high quality of the food, wine, afternoon tea and early-evening canapés matched the warm welcome from hosts Heather and Layla, faultless service, relaxing atmosphere and the cocooning pine sitting room with its big squashy sofas. Tired post-ski legs were instantly soothed in the terrace hot tub, where we basked in the sunshine and views of the slopes. For a final fix of winter, it was unbeatable.

Travel with voyages-sncf.com, which has direct trains from London St Pancras to Moûtiers. Transfers can be arranged with Skiidy Gonzales

All photos © Adam Batterbee

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