All you need to know about ski holidays by train

Les Menuires - introduction

Those winter holidaymakers that go beyond the popular Three Valleys resorts of Méribel and Courchevel will find a real hidden treasure. Les Menuires is a high-altitude resort, with some excellent, long intermediate-friendly runs.

It also offers visitors the chance to explore the entire Three Valleys – one of the largest ski areas in the world – while keeping to a sensible budget.

Les Menuires sits at high altitude in the Vallée des Belleville, offering reliable snow and the convenience of having everything right on the slopes. The resort has changed considerably over the years since it was first conceived in the mid-1960s.

Let’s just get it said – an oil painting Les Menuires is not. Built during the height of France’s 1960s ski resort construction boom, which was about democratising the miracle that is winter sports, its core is an unlovely cluster of apartment blocks tacked together by a shopping and leisure precinct and dominated by a modernist bell tower that could have come from the prop room for Mad Max.

But its USP – being far and away the most affordable major resort within the world’s biggest and very possibly best linked ski area, France’s 3 Valleys – is a draw that just won’t quit. Plus, thanks to smart management and marketing in recent years, Les Menuires has learned to play beautifully to its strengths, while prettying up its edges with new chalets and hotels built in a warmer, more traditional style.

40 minutes by bus or taxi from Moutiers, the nearest train station, it also has a decent sustainability pedigree. It has invested heavily in making its lifts more efficient, trained its piste-basher drivers in eco-friendly driving techniques, set up its own climate change observatory and this year became the first French resort to become a member of the deeply groovy international campaigning group Protect Our Winters.

More family-focused than party-starting, Les Menuires is for most of the loyal French annual visitors who are its core market a self-catering resort, so there’s no shortage of busy restaurants in the village and on-mountain. Shopping is utilitarian rather than bling, and while wild nightlife isn’t Les Menuires strong suit, there are plenty of welcoming bars come après hour, many with generous, sheltered sun terraces, and a few late-night haunts when it’s time to dust off the dancing shoes. Snow-free sports facilities abound, notably in two excellent pool and leisure complexes, and there’s the usual roster of ski-free Alpine activities to check out, with a few intriguingly unusual options on the menu too.

But really, it’s all about the mountains, and with a base altitude of 1850m, Les Menuires is only bettered by 2300m Val Thorens just up the valley for snowsure conditions. There’s even a guarantee mechanism on lift passes which refunds you any days lost to lack of snow if anywhere else in Europe can offer better skiing. Local slopes add up to a very respectable 160km and include many of the 3 Valley’s very best, especially for intermediates with a taste for long, cruisey highways. Then of course the linked area’s further 440km are on tap for the mileage-minded. And fantastic local slopes for beginners and early intermediates.

And perhaps best of all, Les Menuires has its own semi-secret (sort of) high-altitude playground in Pointe de la Masse, a fantastic bowl of nippy red and black runs whose outlying position on the west side of the valley sees it largely overlooked by downhillers on a mission to cover as much of the 3 Valleys as they can manage. With some heart-pounding steeps, great off-piste options and dazzling mountain views, it’s a glorious adrenaline zone that seems to stay uncrowded even at the busiest times. And on ‘changeover’ Saturdays, when most package travellers are either incoming or outbound, you can find yourself with a wide-open piste all to yourself.
 

Highlights 

  • You’re in the heart of the glorious 3 Valleys, with 600km of pistes the world’s whoppingest linked ski area.
  • Loads of ski-in, ski-out accommodation is available.
  • Way more wallet-friendly than the 3 Valleys’ other big-name resorts
  • Locals are friendly and relaxed, and resort life has a gentle, unhurried vibe.

Lowlights

  • Les Menuires is quieter at night than Courchevel and Méribel so don’t come here if you are looking to party, party, party
  • Charm-light 1960s and 1970s apartment blocks dominate the resort.
  • A few of the local slopes are south-facing,  so can get slushy in afternoon in late season.
Ski area
Village Altitude
1850
m
Ski Altitude
1450m - 2850
m
Pistes
160
km
Green Runs
12
Blue Runs
34
Red Runs
24
Black Runs
6
Total Runs 76
Terrain Park
1
Cabin Lifts
6
Chair Lifts
13
Drag Lifts
6
Total Lifts 33