Clambering up a sharp ascent, knee-deep in snow, the huge dump of white stuff I’d been wishing for becomes increasingly unwelcome.
There were reports of a crisis on the continent 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 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 it was created by Colonel Peter Lindsey.
Seeking a new site for winter sports, the ski fanatic born to Scottish parents and Eton-educated was advised to visit the Meribel valley in 1936. Impressed by what he found, he purchased much of the land which 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 the past few days, I’ve revelled in being able to roam slopes which are anything but congested.
Right now, though, 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, though, 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 Colonel Lindsey first set foot here.
What has undoubtedly changed is the variety of mountain of 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.
WHERE TO STAY
l Chalet Kalliste
Sleeping up to eight adults and two children, this stylish pad is spacious, but a roaring fire makes it feel cosy. An outdoor hot tub is a definite allure - as is the food served up by the chalet team.
l Chalet Kashmir
A tranquil option for those wanting to unwind away from main resort, this 12-person property features a huge homely living and dining area, as well as a massage room.
l Chalet Le Pousse Caillou
Located in a quaint cul-de-sac in the Mussillon region, this chalet sleeps 10 adults and up to four children. A ten-minute walk from the resort, it’s extremely well located.
l Chalet Le Grenier
Take a dip in the Jacuzzi or sweat it out in the steam room. This swanky six-bedroom abode, which sleeps up 12, also benefits from a games room, an exclusive concierge service and five staff to cater for your every need.