Magical Megeve: Skiing At One Of Europe’s Iconic Ski ResortsNov 19, 2022 12:36PM ● By Story and photography by Lisa Ballard
There are certain famous places in the world that a skier like me needs to visit at some point in life. Megeve (pronounced may-JEVV), a posh historic ski resort in the French Alps, is one of those places. I had heard of Megeve for as long as I’ve had a desire to make tracks at famous mountain destinations around the globe, which is most of my adult life. Perhaps I’m showing my age, 61. Most hotshots on the slopes today think of Megeve’s neighbor, Chamonix, as the hot spot in Haute-Savoie. Today, Chamonix is an internationally hip place to carve turns, due to its outrageously steep, rugged runs—the kind of terrain reserved for only the best big-mountain skiers in extreme skiing films. Megeve is tamer, quieter, and classier.
Playground of the Wealthy
Located near Mont Blanc, the small medieval village of Megeve held a cross-country ski race in 1914, which is considered the start of its affinity for skiing. That said, it was the ire of Baroness Noemie de Rothchild that ultimately put Megeve on the skiing map.
In 1916, during World War I, de Rothchild traveled to St. Moritz anticipating a relaxing ski vacation as a break from the rigors of the war in Paris, France, where she had converted her mansion into a military hospital. Expecting a holiday among upper-class British skiers, she was astounded to find St. Moritz full of Germans who were deeply involved in the war and her enemies. She left immediately, vowing to create a “St. Moritz for the French.”
After the end of the war, she selected Mont d’Arbois above the village of Megeve as the site of her ski resort. By 1921, she completed a large luxury hotel whose early guests included King Albert and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Other royals, celebrities, and affluent families followed.
By the early 1930s, Megeve boasted a cable car for skiers, whereas most ski areas had only rope tows and similar surface lifts. Soon, another cable car whisked skiers to the top of Mont d’Arbois. When a local racer from Megeve, Emile Allais, garnered a bronze medal at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and then triple gold at the 1937 Alpine World Championships in Chamonix, Megeve was on its way to becoming one of the must-visit ski resorts in the Alps.
Though “Baroness Mimi,” as Noemie was affectionately called, passed away many years ago, in 1968, Megeve is still operated by the de Rothchild family, namely her grandson, Baron Benjamin de Rothchild. The resort continues to attract a wealthy clientele, but not the see-and-be-seen set. The guy sitting on the chairlift next to you might be a billionaire business tycoon, but in Megeve, he’s just another skier, enjoying a day on the slopes.
Megeve’s Modern Appeal
I’m not royal or a billionaire, yet I still found Megeve an intriguing place to ski. The chance came late last March, as part of a spring ski trip to France and Italy. Friends warned me that Megeve was low elevation-wise, 3,652 feet in the village and 7,720 feet at its highest point near the summit of Mont Joly. It sounded friendly on the lungs but possibly low on snow. In fact, it was both easy to breathe and with plentiful powder.
I loaded my gear into a rental a car in Milan, Italy, then headed west toward the French border and towering Mont Blanc. It’s impossible to visit Megeve without ogling Mont Blanc (15,774 feet), the highest peak in western Europe. Driving through the seven-mile tunnel under Mont Blanc was like passing through a gateway to winter fun. Glaciers spilled off Mont Blanc and neighboring peaks like tumbling whipped cream. The snow sure looked tasty.
From my hotel room at the L’Arboisie, a massive, four-star chalet at the base of Mount Arbois, I could see the village of Megeve nestled below the surrounding snowcapped peaks. I could hardly contain my excitement, but where to start? Megeve is part of a massive interconnected skiing region called Domaine Evasion Mont Blanc, which also includes Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, Combloux, La Giettaz, Les Contamines-Montjoie, and Saint-Nicolas-de-Veroce. One lift ticket is good on 116 lifts servicing more than 275 miles of alpine ski trails!
The next day, I headed to the part of Megeve called Cote 2000, mainly because it was close by. Two chairlifts later, I was at the top. A groomed run, called Chamois, looked like a good warmup. It undulated down the mountain, sometimes steep and sometimes less so. As my skis picked up speed, I smiled at the glorious views and lack of crowds.
I spent my next few runs exploring the other runs of Cote 2000. A few had untouched snow that had fallen the night before. It was light at first, but got heavier as the day went on.
The weather was warm and sunny. As a result, the snow corned up by midmorning and got downright slushy by lunchtime, so in the European skiing tradition, I stopped for a meal with no intention of returning to the slopes.
For me skiing is only half of a ski trip. The food is the other half, and an integral part of the whole experience. Since I was in France, I had a dining goal, to eat a real French crepe. I headed into the village of Megeve to look for one.
The village was a charming surprise. The center of town was old, dating back to the 1300s and built around a church called Eglise Saint-Jean Baptiste, which was part of an ancient priory that no longer exists. The church has survived and is the centerpiece of the cobblestone-paved pedestrian part of Megeve. On my search for a creperie, I discovered a skating rink with one of the original cable cars beside it. My random wandering took me past upscale ski shops, designer boutiques, several hotels, and a number of eateries, but I had my heart set on a crepe.
A brook flowed through the middle of the pedestrian area. Instead of crossing the bridge over the brook, on a whim, I turned left down a narrow side street following the brook. There it was! A restaurant called La Petite Creperie. As I relished the flat, fruit-filled pancake drizzled with otherworldly chocolate, I decided that Megeve may one of skiing’s best-kept secrets. Spring skiing, a historic village, and yummy crepes—now that’s a magical ski trip! I
Closest major international airports: Geneva Switzerland (54 miles), Milan Italy (164 miles)
Lift tickets and ski area info:
Lodging, Other Travel Planning: megeve-tourisme.fr/en/