Meribel History 1936-1971
Meribel ski resort is heavily dominated by the British and some wonder why. The reason is simple.
PETER LINDSAY 1900-1971
Peter Lindsey was born in to the Lindsey clan of Scotland in 1900. His father was Scottish (LINDSEY) and his mother Nora was Irish (BURKE).
In 1918 at the age of 18 Peter joined up to fight in the first world war, which fortunately ended 1 year later. Peter then went back to his studies.
1936 – 1938
A keen skier, Peter traveled to Meribel in 1936 to ski one of the 12 most famous runs at the time, Saulire to Bride, 12 km downhill and off piste. He was so impressed with Meribel valley that he purchased much of the land that is now Meribel town. He intention was to create a new ski lift company for the Meribel valley and his first actual lift was the Red Dragon in 1938 from near what is now the Doron Pub up towards the Rond Point area. The “Red Dragon” was an engine powered pulley (rope) line.
His activities and plans were curtailed for 6 years after the Germans invaded France in 1939.
However before, during and after the war Peter gradually purchased much of his landholding in the valley, and so became the major influence on the development of Meribel.
1945 – 1970
In 1945, he teamed up with 2 local architects, and together they created a master plan for Meribel. This entailed building regulations that insisted on stone built buildings, with sloping slate roofs and wood cladding. His foresight is the reason Meribel more or less escaped the ugly developments seen throughout the rest of the French Alps.
If you look down upon Meribel from the top of Tougnète you can see the result today. Even though it has expanded greatly since the 70’s it is still an attractive, if large village.
Peter however was fortunately not a greedy land grabber by any means. In fact he was well known for his generosity.
Peter purchased the land in the first place in order to influence its development. His main project was Meribel Alpina, the lift company he created solely for Meribel. As he planned the lifts, he sold back for very fair prices and in some cases even gave back land free to locals; on condition they opened businesses to benefit Meribel as a ski resort. This included the land for hotels, chalets, ski shops, etc.
Peter was the managing director and a major shareholder in Meribel Alpina, until 1970. He persuaded the board to sell Alpina to a private company, run by and owned by a member of the French aristocracy.
The French government, encouraged by General De Gaulle, had control of all of the lift companies in France except Meribel Alpina and Peter was determined to keep it that way.
He succeeded, more or less up to the present day.
With the injection of new money, Meribel Alpina and Meribel itself expanded fast in the 70’s.
Sadly Peter died of a heart attack just 1 year after retiring.
He had re-joined the army again in 1939, at the outbreak of war. Due to his earlier experience, his age and his education, he was made up immediately to Major.
During the war he was awarded the DSO for bravery and promoted to Colonel. Peter’s health suffered badly, receiving serious war injuries during a retreat in Burma, plus he also caught Malaria. Malaria often re-appears in later years and this contributed to his final heart attack at age 71. Dora, his wife then moved back to Britain with her family.
All now live in Britain, but David still visits Meribel regularly with his family, and is a fully qualified instructor with the ESF. He also runs special ski courses which are well worth enquiring for.
Meribel became very popular with the wealthy English due to Peters association and gradually the rest of us got to hear about it. Prices became a little more reasonable and hence it is now one of the most popular resorts for British skiers and boarders in Europe.
One of the first tour operators in Meribel was a company called Supertravel. They helped bring thousands of skiers to Meribel. Later came Snowtime which has since died as did the founder Don Kramer. However many of the old Snowtime staff still live on including Colin Mathews, who founded his own company, Meriski,not to mention James, the ex bar manager of the Rond Point, who started life in Le French Connection, imitating a French waiter together with stripe jersey and false “ello ello” mustache. The French connection featured the locally famous “Avant Gardeners” band every Friday afternoon. The top apres ski venue at the time.
Le French connection is now the Sherpa Supermarket, after life as a Mexican bar called El Poncho, for seval years.
History of Meribel’s Social Scene
Years before the Pub, the main bar in town was the Capricorn, which was first to sell the wicked Mutzig. In fact it was the only bar in town at one time. Sadly Manu the very popular owner died and it is now a very chic bar called Le Poste.
Up in Mottaret the first bar to open was Le Rastro in 1986. It became famous in the 90’s for its wild Tuesday rock nights and most of Meribel’s locals would show up every week for the wildest party in Town.The crazy DJ Rob Smart (your editor!) finally retired in 2010 after 20 years non stop Tuesday nights. Tabletop dancing and the rest! There were actually times you could not get in the door as it was packed to the rafters.It was featured on UK channel 5’s “On the Piste” in about 1999.
The 1992 winter Olympics came to the region and Meribel hosted the ladies down hill and ice Hockey. Together with the decision to hold the olympics in the Savoie came the government finance to improve the road-rail connections. Many new hotels were also constructed, but during the Olympics itself Meribel was actually extremely quiet due to high prices keeping tourists away. The superb swimming pool complex and ice rink is a direct result of the Olympics being held here.
Around this time. Chris York, a Brit, took over the Rond Point , captured the Avant Gardeners and in 2 years turned the restaurant in to the no 1 apres-ski party venue of Meribel, displacing the French Connection from its top position. Two years later he left Meribel for family reasons. The Mark Warner organization then took over his “Yorkies”, & changed the name back to the original Rond Point and went on to create the most famous apres-ski venue in the Alps. Nicknamed now just “the Ronnie”. The famous band “The Feeling” started life here as a rock & roll outfit called “Superfly” and fantastic they were too. I was there the afternoon they changed their music style. The lead singer was so nervous about the change, I overheard him chatting to the others coming up from the rest room. “do you really think they like it “. Obviously they did !! Well done guys. Nice bunch and came back often to honour their roots too !! Shibbolleth & Bring Your sisters are two other great bands that played here in Meribel & La Tania for years. Tim Wall, (ski lodge Pub) opened the LDV bar for the Olympics in 1992 and this now rivals the Ronnie for top spot among locals.
Up in Mottaret the Plein Soleil had changed from a restaurant to a Pub + restaurant and also transformed Mottaret for several years with live bands most nights of the week. This has now also gone, replaced by the Le Grain de Sel restaurant now called the Rotisserie or something similar.
The only bar in Mottaret with live music is now the Downtown Bar and occasionally le Rastro, so Mottaret is really quite lacking in Apres ski / nightlife nowadays as at 2020. (Covid year !!).
History of Meribel Skiing
Meribel is fortunate to be at the very heart of the 3 Valleys so all 600km is available each day to Meribel clients. The 3-valley circuit started to take shape in 1950 when Meribel linked up with Courchevel. Ten years later the Tougnète bubble was built, linking the Belleville Valley to Meribel.
Mottaret was opened in 1972 and has itself expanded greatly over the last 37 years. This satellite village has the advantage of door to door skiing but does not have the same atmosphere as Meribel.
Until the end of the 80’s there was only one ski school in Meribel. The ESF, which is the national French Ski School. This was established in Meribel in 1947. In January 1986 the ESF introduced its first off piste course. It was called “Rally Savage” and Rob Smart , one of our team was actually the very first client, having bought his ticket from David Lindsey (son of Peter). David had been helping the ESF create and develop its international section for British clients. The course name of Rally Savage was changed a few years later as the name itself was thought to scare off potential clients! It is now called ski discovery.
David Lindsey was the driving force behind the international section, seeing a need for English speaking instructors for British clients. He later left to go back to live in the UK.
Our editor Rob Smart also promoted it for 3 years (1989-1992) but also resigned after the Olympics. The International section gradually lost it’s appeal with nobody to promote it and no longer exists as at 2020.
At this time, snowboards were yet to appear, only the mono-board had arrived. Hence the off piste was relatively unspoiled as not many Brits could ski powder. January was absolute heaven in 1986-1987-1988: 2 metres of cold sugery powder and nobody in it! 1987 January saw minus 30c one day !! All the diesal cars in Meribel had their fuel frozen !! An incredible day of blue sky and -30c . Wow. 1 m of Powder like sugar!
The Rally Savage group actually skied in 2m of deep powder in 1986 right through the middle of the trees that lead down to the truite. I was with them.
The head Bladon Lines rep with us had to be rescued from hanging upside down by his skis. It was so steep he fell and ended up in the branches of trees that were so close together. Sadly the snow has never quite matched these 3 golden years since.
The course still runs as “Ski Discovery” and is thoroughly recommended for good skiers.
Heli skiing has also been introduced by way of a trip to La Rosiere on Italian / French border. A little disappointing actually I found but worth a trip just for the experience.
A private company Ski Cocktail fought many court battles in the 80’s in order to operate in Meribel and eventually won the right to compete with the ESF. However a few years later, in the latter part of the 90’s it died a death but not before the flood gates had opened for private schools. Many still remember the famous “shaker”. This was a bumps competition organized by Ski Cocktail each March, up on the Bartavelle run. It was always the party of the season, not least because a regular feature was the “Naked Shaker”. An adventurous (and Brave) young chalet girl skiing or snowboarding the course completely naked! The last one ever to do this was the infamous “Jill Dance ” 4000 french francs (400 quid) was bid so off she went totally naked on her snowboard. A wild chalet girl if ever there was one. Ah, fond memories!
Now there are approx. 12 different ski schools competing in Meribel, most of them specializing in teaching UK clients and several under British ownership / management. But all down to Ski Cocktail, kicking open the doors in the late 80’s for the others to follow later.
Finally special courses have been introduced for British skiers and boarders to become qualified instructors. See our seasonal work section for details.
It’s a great way to spend your winter!
If you have any historical stories or photos that might fit in this section send us an e-mail.