Last season I headed to the Three Valleys for the first time in over a decade. I was there to visit Les Menuires which is below Val Thorens one valley over from Meribel. In this Les Menuires snowboarding review I will give three reasons why I would like to return: friendliness, freeride and the Three Valleys.
We visited towards the end of March in 2018 – a season that had seen record snow levels across the Alps. It was warm and sunny and approaching spring conditions. It hadn’t snowed for a few days before our arrival so we didn’t expect much off-piste action – but we were in for a surprise!
As I said at the beginning of this Les Menuires snowboarding review, there are three reasons I would like to return. The first is it’s friendliness. And this is not just because it is marketed as Friendly Menuires.
Compared to many resorts I have visited I found people to be especially friendly. In some ski resorts staff seem to consider customers as a hindrance, and have forgotten that without the holiday makers they probably wouldn’t be able to live in the mountains.
But in Friendly Menuires this didn’t seem to be the case. In the Hotel Le Menuire & Spa they weren’t just welcoming but effusively helpful. From directing us to the route to the slopes and teaching us the secret way back to the hotel (we only managed it 1 out of 3 attempts!), to being genuinely interested in our day and what we had been up to.
The friendliness continued in the kit hire shop at la Godille. Even when I returned one run later for a different snowboard they were happy to help. On day three the bindings broke on my friends hire board, we were still in Le Menuires but in a different area, so we took them to the closest rental place. They replaced them with a smile despite being a completely different company, and said they would sort out the exchange.
There were ‘bonjours’ on chairlifts, handshakes in restaurants and bar service with a smile. At points it was almost unsettling, but not quite. It felt to me like the whole resort was pleased to be working in the mountains and genuinely appreciated our custom.
Other guests also seemed to be friendlier. We with some in the lift, corridors, boot room and over breakfast. Which is something I haven’t noticed that often in French resorts before.
Also on day three I dropped my wallet in the boot room and didn’t realise it was missing until lunch. When I arrived back late afternoon it has been handed in at reception. There are many places where that would not happen, or at the very least the €100 cash would be missing.
I love to head off-piste, so with a sunny forecast I was pleased but also a little disappointed I would not get fresh snow. It had snowed three or four days before our arrival, but with warm temperatures I was sure there would be no freeriding going on.
On the first day we enjoyed the pistes above Les Menuires, and experienced some slushy and some icy off-piste. So we were very surprised when our ESF guide for the day pulled out avalanche transceivers and declared we would be freeriding.
We took the Rocher Noir and then the Lac Noir chairlifts up to the far right side of the Three Valleys ski area. On the way up our guide explained that these two slow chairs were his favourites. As most people avoid them leaving the huge areas of off-piste relatively untouched.
Being at the very edge of the ski area there are a huge amount of options in all directions. We boarded down a short way then hiked to the top of La Gratte at 2638m. It is a ridge on the piste map between Vallee des Encombres and Combes des Yvoses offering over 1000m descent.
The hike was not technically difficult, and not that long either. After less than twenty minutes we come to a point where we could have set off, however our guide recommended we hike another 10 minutes to reach the top.
It was a very good recommendation as we were the first to reach the top since the recent snow. It is always nice to reach a peak, you are rewarded with 360 degree views. Plus we had untouched snow to look forward to.
After a short downhill section in surprisingly nice powder, we traversed along a ridge for a short way. We then jumped off a cornice – there were options for small or large drops but all were blind and so daunting. Assured it was fine we set off, landed in powder and whooped our way down a huge open slope that was completely untouched.
We enjoyed a few more untouched sections before meeting tracks from people who had not hiked to the top. It was still fairly good snow at this point, but it soon started to become crusty powder. Close to the bottom many more tracks appeared and the conditions became icy the rest of the way to the Bettex chair.
In a winter during which I had experienced plenty of powder, this was one of the most fun runs of the season. A few days after snow it was a huge surprise to get untouched snow during this Les Menuires snowboarding review. Particularly in one of the world’s busiest ski areas.
After a lovely lunch at 7ème Ciel – I recommend the burgers! – we headed up Pointe de la Masse which is at 2804m. From here we dropped off-piste over the back towards Vallon du Lou.
There were some easy routes to drop in that were quite tracked out. So our guide took us a tough technical route from the peak to find better snow. Other people had been there before us and the route was rocky, icy and felt quite exposed.
We were rewarded with some powder, although there were tracks through it you could still pick a fresh line. Unfortunately very soon it met up with the tracks from everyone who had gone the easy route. It was still fun in the cut up powder higher up, but about halfway down it started to get icy so we hopped onto a path the rest of the way down to the Reberty chair.
From here we headed up above Val Thorens for a drink at the Folie Douce. It was it’s usual busy, wild and crazy self, mixing dance tunes with live vocals and saxophone. We only stayed for one drink before heading up the mountain for a long and excellent run back to Les Menuires.
With 600 km of piste the mighty Les Trois Vallees, or Three Valleys as us Brits call it, is the biggest ski area on the planet. That alone is a good reason to visit Les Menuires, as it makes a great base for a trip to this excellent ski area.
We spent the third day of this Les Menuires snowboarding review exploring the pistes around Val Thorens and Orelle. There are some incredible slopes in both areas, with those over at Orelle pretty steep and seemingly less busy than those close to Val Thorens.
Once you get away from the town, most of the pistes in the Val Thoren area are also fairly quiet. I particularly liked those heading down toward Les Menuires as there were plenty of natural features along the edge of the pistes to try tricks.
We stopped for lunch at the lovely Chez Pépé Nicolas’ which is found just off the road between Les Menuires and Val Thorens. I had a delicious mountain trout dish, which I enjoyed on the lovely sunny veranda.
A highlight was heading up towards Pointe du Bouchet and the Three Valleys highest spot at 3280m. Rather than snowboarding down we took the Tyrolienne zipline from the peak to Col Du Thorens. It is Europe’s highest zipline and is a thrilling ride reaching speeds of over 100kph!
On day four of this Les Menuires snowboarding review we headed out to explore the wider Three Valleys. We did a huge circuit of the ski area, heading from Les Menuires over into Meribel Mottaret via the DC snowpark. Unfortunately visibility was terrible so the park was closed.
From Meribel Mottaret we took the Pas du Lac over to the Courchevel Valley. Visibility had improved and we enjoyed a few runs in this impressive area. There were a few very busy areas, and although there were clearly many more people on the slopes than we had experienced in Les Menuires for the most part it was OK.
We enjoyed a great run in the family park. Then headed through Courchevel 1850, into 1550 and then down to Courchevel Le Praz. These runs were a lot of fun as they were much quieter so great for carving, and lower down the snow was slushy which on a snowboard is always fun.
From here we took the Fornet lift up, and then did a run down into La Tania. A couple of chairs later we were at Col de Loze from where there was a lovely long run down to Meribel Centre – although watch out for the flat bits!
The Tougnete gondola then took us back over to the ridge between the Meribel and Menuires Valleys. From here we took the infamous Jerusalem piste – often described as the best run in Three Valleys – down to St Martin Belleville. It is a nice undulating run but poor visibility meant we didn’t experience it at its best.
From St Martin it was a couple of chairlifts up before a long run back down to Les Menuires in time for a late lunch at around half two. Our transfer was due at 4:30 so we needed to drop hire gear back, get changed and packed etc. So it was the end of this Les Menuires snowboarding review.
During this visit we stayed at the lovely Hotel Le Menuire & Spa which can be booked with Neilson. As previously mentioned it is a very friendly hotel, the staff were always on hand to help and even the other guests seemed friendlier than other places I have stayed.
Our bedroom was a three person room with three single beds, so for the two of us there was plenty of room. It was all very comfortable and clean and relatively recently decorated. It’s not overly luxurious, but it doesn’t claim to be, and it made a great base during this Les Menuires snowboarding review.
Staying on a bed and breakfast basis breakfast was good. There was a great selection of hot and cold options, including all the typical continental bits and pieces plus bacon, sausages and egg. The dinners looked very good, although we did not get to try them.
The highlight of Hotel Le Menuire & Spa is the pool and spa area. It is a gorgeous pool and the perfect place to relax after a day on the slopes. There is also a hot tub and a sauna, plus massage treatments are available.
The only slight downside is it’s location, which is about a ten minute walk from the town centre. There are free buses, and you can pretty much ski to and from the hotel, so it’s not a huge issue. Although it should be added that the path used for skiing to the hotel is tricky to find and not the easiest, likewise skiing from the hotel is not ideal for beginners.
We had a couple of memorable meals that are worth mentioning.
The first was at Mongolian Yurt restaurant. Just getting there is a bit of an adventure as it includes a snowmobile ride along the pistes. We had a set menu that included a selection of stunning starters, followed by Tartiflette and a delicious dessert.
Also worth visiting is the Restaurant là-haut, where we enjoyed a stunning meal. It is a very French style restaurant with many of the typical mountain favourites. We enjoyed a selection of meats that you cooked to your liking on a hot plate. It came with a selection of sauces, plus chips, salad and vegetables.
If you want a party on the slopes then the Folie Douce above Val Thorens is hard to beat. You can ski from here all the way back to Les Menuires – but it’s quite a long way so don’t drink too much!!
Being two blokes away from wives and family we of course had to sample the apres. Our visit crossed over with Gay Ski Week, and on our first day there there was a big outdoor party. Unfortunately, we were refused entry as you needed to be part of the organised week – still we sat outside a nearby bar and enjoyed the music.
That evening the town was pretty dead so we gave up after a couple of low key pints at Le Tilbury. On the second night everywhere was much busier. It was a saturday and there had been a lot of new arrivals in town who were keen to have fun.
We ended up being out until the small hours. There was live music in Le Challenge and a vibrant crowd mixing locals and holiday makers. After this we headed to Le Kube where there was a big group of people from Belgium in fancy dress and a great party atmosphere.
As mentioned at the beginning of this Les Menuires snowboarding review there are three very big reasons I would return. First Les Menuires is a very friendly resort, all over people seem happy to be sharing the mountains with you. This friendliness was noticeably more than other ski areas.
Second, the freeride is easily accessible from Les Menuires and very good. There is plenty of between piste options on both sides of the valley that don’t get tracked out as quickly as elsewhere in Three Valleys. However, it is the vast backcountry that really appeals – our guide said it is the least skied in the Three Valleys which is always a good thing.
And the third reason is the mighty Three Valleys. Nowhere offers more slopes, and the variety is staggering. We did a huge circuit, but there is so much we didn’t get to explore that I will just have to return. And when I do Friendly Menuires will be top of my list.
A week at Neilson Hotel Le Menuire & Spa costs from £1025pp, including flights, transfers, seven nights accommodation on a half board basis. This also includes the Neilson Mountain Experts guiding and coaching service.
I hope you enjoyed this Les Menuires snowboarding review. To find out more about the ski area visit: www.lesmenuires.com