Megeve is known for being exclusive, expensive, and not the most extreme of resorts. Before visiting I thought of it as a place for rich people to ski for a bit, look good in their gear and do some Parisian style shopping. However Megeve has a lot more to it, which I’ll share with you in this review of Megeve snowboarding holiday.
Including Megeve as part of our freeride snowboarding road trip in France may seem like a strange choice. It is low, not very steep and not renowned for it’s off-piste. However if driving from the UK it is just seven hours from Dieppe or Calais, meaning on the first day you will get a couple of extra hours snowboarding. Plus off-piste is not always about the extreme, it is often nice to shred some easy powder – particularly if you are the only ones doing so.
Megeve is at the heart of the Evasion Mont Blanc ski area with 445km of not quite lift-linked piste to explore, including six snowparks. There are free buses linking where the lifts don’t go but the vast majority of the piste is interconnected around Megeve and St Gervais Mont-Blanc. Ranging from 1050m up to 2350m it is a low ski area, however this means that nearly all of the piste is below the tree line making it picturesque and less affected by poor weather.
Created in the 1920s by Baroness Noémie de Rothschild as a French alternative to Saint-Moritz, Megeve was the first purpose built ski resort in the Alps. She had become disenchanted with the Swiss resort and decided to create a French alternative for the rich and famous. She did a very good job as it is still known as an exclusive resort and a rich persons playground. Interestingly the Rothschild’s still play a part in Megeve, regularly attending events and helping to maintain its allure.
You only have to spend a few minutes walking around Megeve to realise it is a little different. Most purpose built resorts lack a central focus and a feeling of community – many also look like something my son would build from lego. Instead Megeve has elegant Parisian style buildings on car free streets that draw you towards it’s centre – a square with a giant Christmas tree and attractive church. The streets are lined with shops (actually lets call them boutiques) and the square is lively with stalls selling Vin Chaud.
Overall Megeve has the feeling of a town tourists would flock to just to spend time in regardless of the skiing and snowboarding. Walking around I realised my wife would love it, cosy bars, Michelin starred restaurants and 220 shops would mean her afternoons and evenings would be filled maxing out my credit card. We saw lots of families walking around and there is plenty going on to keep kids interested.
If you are planning a visit to Megeve from the UK we can recommend booking with Stanford Skiing – the only British Megeve specialist. They have been operating their own catered chalets and chalet-hotels in Megeve for 25 years and can also book your choice of three and four star hotels at the best rate. They can arrange your transfers, equipment and instructors and using their experience will help you plan the perfect Megeve holiday.
Review of Megeve snowboarding
On arriving in Megeve it seemed like a warm spring day rather than mid January. There was no snow in town and much of the ski area was not open due to a lack of snow. Determined to make the most of the conditions we headed up the mountain with our jib sticks (Pathron Slash and Bataleon Evil Twin) not expecting any significant riding.
The snow was thin and a bit slushy but there were enough runs open to have a blast around and virtually no one else there. With lots of little lumps and bumps we were soon popping air and doing some tricks, having fun and making the most of the conditions. We rode until last lift and felt we had earned a beer.
A couple of centimetres of snow was forecast overnight but there was not enough expected to make a difference. I was pleased to find out that the French weather forecasters are as bad as the English as the little snow turned into 40cm and the pistes were turned from patchy snow to powdery heaven overnight.
We met our guide Nico from Evolution 2 just after nine and he took us to the deserted Rochebrune lift. On the way up he explained that as the slopes are quite gentle most of Megeve and St Gervais has no risk of avalanche. He also said that because the resort is less extreme and most clients less hardcore the slopes are normally empty until 11 – so we should get to enjoy the powder all to ourselves for the first few hours.
The fresh powder at the top of Rochebrune was about 40cm deep and we were glad to be riding our all-mountain boards (Striding Edge Ponya and Pathron Flaxer). By the time we hit the first piste it was 9:30, but as far as I could tell only ski patrol had been down it. We played in the L’Alpette and Rochebrune area for a while doing four or five powder filled runs before we saw anybody else. Nico took us down a couple of closed runs and showed us areas where if the snow base had been better we could have snowboarded through the trees.
We then took the Rocherbois Funicular across the valley to explore the St Gervais side of the ski area. We started with a lovely run down the closed (but powder filled!) Milloz to the midstation of the Télecabine of Princess Rotschild. For the first half the snow was fantastic but the further we got the wetter and shallower the powder became. Soon the base beneath had disappeared we were riding on wet powder over grass. Nico stopped us and gave us the option of walking, but he also explained that in Megeve there are not many rocks, so we carried on.
From the top of the Princess we headed up the Mont Joux to ride in the St Nicolas area. As it is is a little higher the runs start above the treeline and we were able to freeride between the pistes, although taking it easy as the base below the powder was thin and patchy. It was so much fun around here that we shuttled the Croix du Christ chair a couple of times playing in the powder.
We stopped at the Folie Douce for a late but well deserved lunch – more on that later. After lunch we boarded down to the base of the Mont D’Arbois and took the bus over to Cote 2000 – Nico’s favourite area for a powder day. Although it is lift connected to Megeve it is at the far end of the ski area, past a couple of tricky drag lifts, so less people make it there meaning the snow remains untouched. Furthermore it’s in a steep sided valley protected by the two highest peaks in the area so it often collects extra snow. We weren’t to be disappointed.
Being late afternoon we were not the first to ride in the area, however even the powder on the piste was not yet tracked out and was deeper than elsewhere. Nico took us between the pistes and on some great runs between the trees. All in all it was a great end to the day and legs were burning when we finished.
Freeride snowboarding in Megeve
We were very lucky to get some fresh powder as it had been a very poor season for snow all over France and Megeve was struggling. We got to ride plenty of powder on the piste and to enjoy some between piste freeride. However the proper freeride opportunities were not open to us due to a combination of avalanche risk and lack of significant snow base. However Nico told us all about them….
All over the ski area there are fantastic runs through the trees. You can ‘explore’ the trees between pistes but get a guide if you want to head further afield as everything heads down to streams at the base of the valleys so a wrong turn could lead to a long wet walk. He said there are great runs with nicely spaced trees which brings you back to roads and a short bus ride to town.
In Cote 2000 off the back of Marmotte is a really fun freeride area, however there is risk of avalanche around here and rock falls from the steep cliffs above. On St Gervais over the far side of the Mont Jolly lift there is some great freeride back to the same lift but again you need all the avalanche gear if riding here and unfortunately it was closed during our visit.
The best freeide on a Megeve snowboarding holiday is to do a tour into Let Contamines. With a guide you can leave from the top of the Mont Jolly and freeride down the opposite side of the mountain into Contamines. You can then either get the free shuttle bus back to Megeve, or drop of the back of the Veleray lift which brings you back to the base of the Mont Jolly or into Cote 2000. There is a difficult narrow chute at the start so this is for advanced riders only, the route is not obvious and there are some big drops around so a guide is essential and of course all the avalanche gear is required.
Review of Megeve snowboarding holiday: Accommodation
We stayed at the three star Le Coin du Feu which is a 5 minute walk from the town centre and the nearest gondola. It is a lovely hotel with really friendly and helpful staff. With warm furnishings throughout, log fires and traditional wooden Savoyard style it has a welcoming and cosy feel.
I was surprised it is only a three star as the rooms are gorgeous, they are quite romantic and would be great for a trip away with your partner. The only thing I could say against the Coin du Feu is sometimes the lighting is a little too subdued – particularly first thing in the morning when a little extra light is needed to get the brain cells working.
The breakfast is served downstairs in the lounge area and was a typical continental style which costs an extra €18 per day. In the basement is the Saint Nicolas restaurant (more on that below), residents can add an evening meal for €35 per person. There is also a spa onsite run by Spa Altitude – unfortunately we did not have time to pay them a visit.
The Coin du Feu has rooms for one, two and three people plus family rooms that are good for two adults and two children. Prices per room start from €140 a night, but in the main season for a double you will pay from €190 a night. You can find out more and book a stay by visiting: www.coindufeu.com or book with Stanford Skiing: http://www.stanfordskiing.co.uk/
Review of Megeve restaurants
On our first night in Megeve we ate at the Saint Nicolas restaurant below the Coin du Feu. Serving freshly cooked Savoy specialities we had a sumptuous three course dinner. They have a good range of options and cater very well for vegetarians. The head of service is a fun character who clearly enjoys his job and wants everyone to have a good time. You can book a table by calling +33 (0)4 50 21 04 94.
Folie Douce is new to Megeve this year so we had to pay a visit. We arrived for a late lunch having ridden powder all morning so had worked up quite an appetite. The food is produced in a huge open kitchen and was tasty and came in generous portions. It is all served with the backdrop of one of the best views in Megeve – unfortunately it was too cloudy to see it!
We had not been there long when the live music started with a violin and a dude singing swing – all very civilised. We were told the live entertainment is from two thirty until four thirty everyday, and like any Folie Douce it becomes more upbeat and moves outside in good weather.
The new building has been aged and retro decorated to look like an old building that has been restored. They have done a very good job as without being told I would not have noticed. All in all a very nice lunch experience and I would well recommend it, you can find out more and book a table here: www.lafoliedouce.com
On our final night in Megeve we ate at the Italian restaurant Di Vino. It is a cosy restaurant with a bear theme – everywhere you look you see bears. They serve fine Italian cuisine, using top quality ingredients that is all freshly prepared. We went for the set menu and were not disappointed as they served up a hearty and tasty selection. You can find out more here: www.restaurant-italien-megeve.fr
Review of Megeve snowboarding holiday: Conclusions
To conclude my review of Megeve snowboarding holiday I will go back to the three preconceptions I had about the resort: exclusive, expensive and not very extreme. Although Megeve is known as an exclusive destination for the rich and famous, it is more a state of mind then a set of rules. Anyone is welcome here and everyone is treated the ‘exclusive’ way which makes you feel like a VIP. So you could say it is inclusively exclusive.
Yes it is expensive in Megeve, however most French ski resorts are expensive. I paid about the same here for a beer as I have in many French resorts, food prices are also about the same as is a package holiday. The difference is that Megeve doesn’t have any budget options, but then it is not trying to appeal to students, or those looking for a cheap boarding break.
It is true Megeve is not very extreme, but most of the people that go there are not extreme either. This means that when it snows there is a lot of untracked powder to play in and minimal competition for off-piste lines. With relatively easy and safe off-piste available it is also a good place to learn to freeride, plus if you need a dose of extreme Chamonix is less than 40 minutes away.
I can see Megeve being a hit with families and mixed groups. The town is pretty, interesting and vibrant so it has a lot to keep those that are less into slope time interested. The pistes are extensive and varied with plenty of snow parks and freeride opportunities for the more hardcore. But it’s the inclusively exclusive vibe that the town generates by treating all its guests as if they are rich and famous that sets Megeve apart from other resorts.