In Meribel, there's no shoe like a snowshoe, writes Peter Thompson.

Clambering up a sharp ascent, knee-deep in snow, I find that the huge dump of white stuff I'd been wishing for becomes increasingly unwelcome.

There were reports of a crisis in Europe due to a lack of snow earlier in the season, but the weather gods have been kind for my maiden trip to charming Meribel, a ski resort in the French Alps.

A few days before I arrived, heavy snowfall coated the slopes, and there's been bright sunshine ever since - perfect conditions to showcase this idyllic resort, which has been celebrating the 70th anniversary since its creation by Colonel Peter Lindsey.

Seeking a new site for winter sports, the Eton-educated ski fanatic born to Scottish parents was advised to visit the Meribel valley in 1936. Impressed by what he found, he purchased much of the land that is now Meribel town, and installed the first ski lift — a powered pulley line called the Red Dragon — back in 1938.


It's easy to see why he fell in love with this scenic area, located in the heart of the Three Valleys, which boasts the largest linked ski area in the world, with 600km of pistes and eight resorts.

Hurtling into Courchevel, St Martin and Meribel Village over the past few days, I've revelled in being able to roam slopes that are anything but congested.

Right now, however, I'm looking for the quickest way down.

"You can either ski down to the restaurant for lunch or try out some snowshoes," says Meriski founder Colin Mathews, one of our hosts.

I'd never tried snowshoeing before, so now seems like a good time to seize the moment on another crisp day beneath glorious clear blue skies.

Having unleashed my feet from the constraints of my ski boots, amiable guide Nicolas straps my trainers in for what I'm expecting to feel like a walk in the park.

But it's much harder than I imagined.

Clumps of snow drop from branches as I clumsily amble along, wondering if it might have been easier just to ski downhill.

Soon a waddle turns into a march and the welcome sight of Le Clos Bernard restaurant comes into view.

A succulent cote de boeuf, washed down with a couple of glasses of red wine, is my reward for taking steps into the unknown.

In fact, during my ski break, I discover a number of decent bars and restaurants in Meribel: Les Cretes restaurant is a quaint spot for a hearty lunch, live music accompanies diners in Le Rond-Point bar, and L'Abreuvoir serves superb cocktails.

Of course, such establishments were not around when Lindsey first set foot here.
What has undoubtedly changed is the variety of mountain experiences on offer — with activities such as ski touring, telemark skiing (a combination of Alpine and Nordic techniques) and ski joering (being pulled along by horses) now among the options available.

But the resort remains unspoilt with more than a touch of class.