Snowboarding in Meribel Mottaret, March 2006

Sarah and I are just back from a week’s snowboarding in 3 Valleys. We had a blast. Here’s what happened, with some tips for anyone thinking of doing the same. Pics are also online.

Getting to Meribel Mottaret on the Eurostar snowtrain

We took the Eurostar snowtrain from Waterloo on Friday night, arriving at Moutier (at the bottom of the 3 Valleys) at 5.30 in the morning. The train was amazing – we went first class, or whatever it’s called, which meant reclining seats and dinner and breakfast (both excellent) was brought to us. We didn’t get much sleep due to our excitement, and that of our travelling companions, and the essential discomfort of sleeping in a seat. Despite this, it was a nicer experience than the train + plane + nasty transfer option. (Tip: if you’ve not travelled with Eurostar before, be prepared for an odd combination of plane and train in terms of customs and checks – you handle all your baggage all the way through). At Moutier, we were lucky enough to get the only cab that wasn’t booked (tip: book a cab in advance, or wait an hour for the bus up the mountain. The cab cost 60 Euros and cleaned us out of much of our holiday cash – there’s a cash machine at the station and, obviously, in resort). We arrived at our apartment at about 6.30am (tip: apartment was booked through – very good and friendly, but they don’t normally accommodate arrivals before 4pm and we couldn’t find an alternative for somewhere to leave our stuff should we not have had access to accommodation). We crashed for a couple of hours until Paula arrived at about 8.30, from a later train (tip: she’d had to change trains in Paris and, although the second train had beds, she said she didn’t get much sleep.) We stayed in Mottaret and I would definitely recommend it. We went down into Meribel a couple of times and found it to be posh, very English-oriented, and rather soulless (although we only went to the bottom area near the tourist office and below). We got the feeling that Mottaret, though smaller, was much more relaxed and more our kinda place, where you’re less likely to have everyone speak English at you.

Hitting the slopes (repeatedly) and gaining my confidence

After Paula arrived, we had a bit of breakfast and Paula adjusted her skis, then we headed out to the slopes at about 11. I had been feeling really ill on Friday and Saturday was not a good boarding day for me – the combination of being sick, tired and at altitude meant I fell, rather than boarded, down most of the slopes. This knocked my confidence something bad. After our last trip, we’d told Paula that we could now do red runs, which meant to us that we’d been down two, and meant to Paula that we’d go down them all day. Wow, was I glad of my padding. What was great, though, is that Paula’s skill and experience really pushed us in a way that we’d not done on previous holidays, and opened new horizons in terms of what can be done in a day. This was the first holiday that we didn’t take a lesson, but I think I learnt loads just by seeing how Paula approached the slopes.

On Saturday and Sunday it snowed, which led to some poor visibility and made me rethink my goggles. I currently have the Adidas Yodai LST lens, which is perfect on clear, sunny days, but too dark on flat light days. I want to get some goggles with a yellow or orange lens, or perhaps get a spare for the Yodai goggles (which fit great and give amazing peripheral vision). (Tip: another general equipment tip – Sarah and I both wear helmets, wrist guards, knee pads and some sort of arse padding. Without doubt, this setup has saved us several days of pain and curtailment of boarding. The only thing I’d change is getting higher trousers or a longer coat – my current setup let’s snow down my trousers which is not fun, although entertaining for others…).

In terms of boarding, Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, with lots of falls, but on Monday I got my act together and by the end of the day I was back on track. Finally! The trick, I discovered, was to practice on an easy run, and try all the stuff I know I can do – simple 360s, a bit of fakie, going fast, tiny tiny jumps over bumps. And, crucially, to then think I’m the best boarder on the slopes and I’ll show ’em all how it’s done. This perhaps reveals a frightening part of my personality, but it also reflects the importance of confidence in boarding.

Paula left us on Tuesday night, getting the bus down the Moutier and then the train overnight for a meeting on Wednesday morning. Madness! Tuesday was pretty storming as a result since she wanted to get the most out of her last day. Sarah and I took it very easy on Wednesday and met up with Sarah’s parents (who were staying in a very plush hotel in Meribel) for lunch at the top of the mountain. We spent the afternoon on some blue runs with her father, who’s learning to ski and pretty impressive for his second week.

On Thursday, we got out a bit late but got a good day in. The weather was amazing – with no new snow, but well packed pistes and glorious sunshine. We ended the day resolving to get out early and take full advantage of our last two days. And then…

Disaster and after

On Friday morning we discovered my snowboard had been stolen! We had locked up the boards in the ski locker in the basement of our apartment on Thursday evening and headed down into Meribel for dinner with Sarah’s parents (tip: the crepe place a few doors up from the Cactus Cafe does a lovely meal and is very cheap). On Friday morning when we headed out and went to pick up our boards, Sarah unlocked the locker and only hers was there. Frankly, it was unbelievable and we spent about half an hour staring at the locker, looking around the locker room, checking our apartment in case we’d madly got up in the night and put the snowboard in the room… Eventually, we headed to the tourist office to find out where the police station was and discovered we’d have to report it in Meribel, so we headed for the bus. I was totally gutted – I loved that board. It was a Nitro Fate and slightly beyond my capabilities, but I had grown into it. I’d got it a few years ago in a sale and I had put shiny studs on it to make it my own, and it had a tool pack on it that my sister gave me for Christmas. It was, emotionally, very much my snowboard. As acceptance began to kick in, we tried to retrieve the day and got clearance from the insurance people to buy a new board (Abbey home insurance is very impressive). I took what felt like ages deciding from a very small choice and ended up with a Burton Feelgood with Burton Stiletto (nasty platic, but a good fit) bindings. The setup is amazingly light (as was my last board), and narrower than the Fate. We finally got on the slopes at 3pm, with 2 hours to go before the pistes closed. We got in four runs, and I discovered that this board is amazing! It’s way more forgiving than the Fate, and incredibly responsive in all the right ways. I still missed my board, but this replacement was going to be fun.

So, Saturday was our last day and we got up early to pack up, clean the flat, and ditch our stuff at Sarah’s parents hotel so we could all head off together in the evening. This meant we didn’t get on the mountain until 10.30, but we managed a great day. Our count at the end of the day was 10 reds, 6 blues and the beginners boardercross. We had a packed lunch up the mountain, which was probably one of the biggest things we learnt this trip as it gives more time on the piste, and saves a lot of money. As long as the weather allows it…

Coming home

We got back to the hotel at about 6pm, and showered and packed up our stuff. After we ate, we got a taxi down the mountain and checked in, only to realise we’d be stuck on the train platform for an hour until our train showed up. (Tip: get to the train station an hour early by all means, but make sure you’ve got food / drink before you check in if you want it.) The train back was uneventful, apart from the risk of sleeping in a broken chair that didn’t recline. And the fact that we were woken at 4.30am for breakfast – that was harsh, but we slept well again afterwards, with arrival at Waterloo at 7.30. We were home by 8.30 (tip: again, you might want to book a cab here if you’re gonna want one). We slept for about five hours once we got home, but I feel as if I’ll be ready for work tomorrow. Again, better than the transfer + flight + train saga of flying.

So, would I go again? I’d definitely do the snowtrain again, but I’d probably plan to only get out on the slopes the afternoon of the first day, and I’d make sure my accomodation would allow such an early arrival. I’d also consider the day train in one direction, as it was odd going across France without seeing any of it. I’m not sure I’d go to Meribel again, but I’d consider Les Menuires or Val Thoren (I hear Corchevel is madly expensive and v. English).

If you’re a boarder, you might be interested in our run down of the slopes we tried at Meribel and the The 3 Valleys.